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The Gophers have won three, six and eight games in their three seasons under head coach Jerry Kill, so progress is being made in Minneapolis. And last year the Gophers even made some noise within the Big Ten, splitting their eight conference games, beating a ranked team for the first time with Kill and giving a couple of the big boys hard times.

But now the word is out; Minnesota is a program that can't be taken for granted anymore. However, to take the next step the Gophers will have to start beating some of those big boys, instead of just giving them good games.

Minnesota Odds to Win Big Ten: 66/1 at Bovada
Minnesota Regular Season Win Total: 6.5 at Bovada

Just like in 2012 Minnesota started 4-0 last year, beating nobody of any note. The Gophers then lost at home to Iowa and at Michigan, and it looked like they were off to another losing Big Ten season. But then they did something they hadn't done in 40 years; they won four conference games in a row, winning at Northwestern, upsetting Nebraska, winning at Indiana and beating Penn State to get to 8-2 on the season. Minnesota then closed with tough losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State, then lost another tough one to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl to finish 8-5 SU, 9-4 ATS.

The eight wins was the Gophers' most in a season since 2003, and their 4-4 Big Ten record was their best effort since 2005.

This year the Gophers return 15 starters, one less than last year. Eight starters are back on offense, led by thousand-yard rusher David Cobb and four along the offensive line; and seven starters are back on defense, including three on the front four and three-quarters of the secondary.

Minnesota opens this season with a couple of winnable home games, then visits TCU, then hosts San Jose State. So the Gophers have a shot at starting 4-0 again. From there they play at Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin, and host Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State. And they miss Michigan State.

Minnesota might not be ready to contend for the West Division title yet, although it should go back to a bowl this year. But the Gophers better get their wins early, because November's slate is brutal.

Big Ten Championship Odds at Bovada as of August 5

Ohio State 10/11
Michigan State 15/4
Wisconsin 9/2
Nebraska 11/2
Michigan 10/1
Iowa 12/1
Northwestern 40/1
Minnesota 66/1
Indiana 100/1
Maryland 100/1
Illinois 200/1
Rutgers 200/1
Purdue 300/1

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Minnesota hasn't posted a winning Big Ten record in 10 years. The Gophers have definitely made some progress in two seasons under head coach Jerry Kill, so now it's a matter of taking the next step; beating some of the bigger dogs of the Big Ten and winning a bowl game. After going 3-9, then 6-7, Minnesota is now in its third season under coach Kill. And college teams often seem to make significant improvements in the third year of new coaching regimes.

Odds to Win Big Ten: +8500 at 5Dimes
Regular Season Win Total: 5.5 at Bovada

Minnesota had six starters back last year for their second season under coach Kill, and the goal was simply to make a bowl, after sitting out the bowl season the previous two years. Thanks to some light early-season scheduling they did make a bowl. The Gophers started 4-0, beating UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse, which meant all they had to do was win two Big Ten games to become bowl-eligible.

They then lost to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, but picked up that first needed victory over Purdue. They then lost to Michigan but got what they needed with a win at Illinois. UM then lost to Nebraska and Michigan State, but then put in one of their better efforts of the year in losing to Texas Tech 34-31 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl as 13-point underdogs, a game they led late. So the Gophers finished 6-7 overall, 2-6 in the Big Ten, and 6-7 ATS. But while they won six games they were still fairly non-competitive against teams like the Badgers, Wolverines, Huskers, and Spartans, to whom they lost by an average of three touchdowns per game.

This year Minnesota returns 16 starters, second-most in the conference; ten are back on offense, including their starting QB, leading rusher, and all five along the offensive line, while six are back on a defense that ranked seventh in yards allowed in conference play last year. But they will have to replace last year's top two tacklers and DL Wilhite, who led the team in sacks last year.

The Gophers warm up this fall with four winnable non-conference games, although San Jose State might give them a good test. And they better take advantage of every winnable game on the slate, because there are no gimmes on a Big Ten roll that includes home games with Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, and Wisconsin and road dates at Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan State. Minnesota might be favored in each of its first five games, but might not be favored after that.

Big Ten Championship Odds at 5Dimes as of August 5

Ohio State -115
Michigan +520
Nebraska +750
Michigan State +800
Northwestern +900
Wisconsin +1000
Indiana +5000
Iowa +5000
Minnesota +8500
Purdue +10000
Illinois +20000