How bad was Minnesota's defense last year? Atrocious, and only exacerbated by the loss of 2006 2nd team All-Big Ten Willie VanDeSteeg's injuries. Giving up 38 points a game, nearly six yards a carry, while being -6 in turnover differential and amassing seven sacks in the Big Ten schedule is no way to go through life, Goldy.
The defensive line should be improved though, assuming VanDeSteeg stays healthy. He had 10 sacks in '06, but as previously mentioned, suffered through injuries last year. The linebacking corps will improve as well, mainly because I'm loathe to imagine what a drop-off could look like. MLB Deon Hightower led the team in tackles for losses last year (9.5), but four-star recruit Sam Maresh could be breathing down his neck for that spot.
The Minnesota pass defense was equally as horrendous last year, allowing 289 yards through the air per game in '07; however, it wasn't that much of a fall off from '06, when they allowed 268 YPG. The two returning starters in the secondary are sophomores with 14 starts between them, while the other two starters are junior college transfers. If the secondary improves, it won't be by much.
Last year, Jason Giannini eventually ceded to Joel Monroe. Monroe made the best of what he was given, going 28-28 on point afters, and 7-9 on field goals, including a 54 yarder, the longest field goal made by any Big Ten kicker last year. Enjoy the Metrodome for one last year Joel, because in 2009, your job, along with the ball, is going to get a little harder in the chilly Minnesota fall. The punter's name escapes me right now, but I remember he was in the top half of the Big Ten. I'll update this as soon as I remember, but he was solid, and that's one of the few parts of their game that Minnesota won't have to worry about.
Minnesota lost more than a fair share of close games last season, and should look to improve. They could go 4-0 in their nonconference, but with a trip to MAC title contender Bowling Green and much improved Sun Belt frontrunner Florida Atlantic, 3-1 or, God forbid, 2-2 is more likely. However, they should win at least one of those Big Ten games that eluded them last season, and 4-8 seems like a sound prediction, with good chances for a bowl trip in 2009.