Minnesota's football program has shown continuous improvement each year under head coach Jerry Kill. That improvement has raised the bar of expectations in some circles, as the Golden Gophers are being mentioned as a front-runner in the Big Ten West, despite losing two of the conference's most talented offensive weapons from a season ago.
The 2015 slate will present plenty of challenges for Minnesota in its attempt to win a division title and possible more. Matchups with a couple of top-5-caliber teams as well as some tricky road games are scattered throughout the schedule.
Here now are Minnesota's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 19 vs. Kent State
This will be the first home game of the season with no limelight or pressure on the Gophers. The early start should eliminate any butterflies and allow Minnesota to go out and take care of business as expected.
11. Sept. 26 vs. Ohio
Ohio will be the third consecutive Group of Five team the Gophers play to wrap up their non-conference schedule. They'll need to remain focused, as Ohio head coach Frank Solich has won bigger games against better teams. His Bobcats will be ready.
10. Sept. 12 at Colorado State
Win or lose against TCU to open the season, the Gophers will need to be mentally prepared for a road trip against a team that won 10 games a season ago. New head coach Mike Bobo is trying to instill a bit of "SEC toughness" in Colorado State.
9. Nov. 21 vs. Illinois
Illinois' strength is going to be its passing game. Thankfully for Minnesota, the secondary may be the defense's best unit. Aside from being more talented than the Illini, Minnesota's style of play is conducive to a sound win in this one.
8. Oct. 10 at Purdue
The Boilermakers are going to be in the same boat as Illinois. Purdue's strength will be its offense, but it'll still be no match for the talented playmakers on Minnesota's defense. The Gophers should be able to win this game even with a pedestrian effort from their offense.
7. Oct. 3 at Northwestern
The Wildcats are consistently one of the tougher teams to read and predict. This game being the Big Ten opener doesn't make things any easier for Minnesota. The Gophers will be favored, but anything can happen in Evanston.
6. Oct. 31 vs. Michigan
The Wolverines are probably going to get back to the top of the conference under Jim Harbaugh, but it won't be in 2015. These two teams have similar talent in a lot of places, but coaching continuity in Minnesota and question marks at quarterback in Michigan both favor the Gophers in this one.
5. Nov. 14 at Iowa
Kinnick Stadium is never an easy place to place. It's even tougher under the lights with the fans dressed in all black. The Hawkeyes have enough talent on both sides of the ball to make this battle for the Floyd of Rosedale an interesting one.
4. Oct. 17 vs. Nebraska
Minnesota has beaten the Huskers twice in a row. Nebraska wants to end that streak in the worst way. New coach Mike Riley is likely going to field a much more composed version of the Huskers. They won't crumble when the chips are down, and this one won't be decided until the fourth quarter.
3. Nov. 28 vs. Wisconsin
These two teams are almost mirror images of one another. The Badgers are going through a coaching change, but in reality, that's not going to mean much in terms of strategy and attack. This could be the de facto Big Ten West Division title game.
2. Sept. 3 (Thursday) vs. TCU
The Horned Frogs could very well be the best team in the country. The Gophers are going to find out just how good TCU is in Week 1. This game will either serve as a measuring stick for how far Minnesota needs to go or an announcement to the nation that the Gophers have arrived.
1. Nov. 7 at Ohio State
Minnesota played the Buckeyes tough a season ago at home. This one could be different. Ohio State might be better than it was last season and the Buckeyes will likely be firing on all cylinders in November. Incidentally, this might be the first of two meetings between the teams in 2015.