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Way-too-early 2015 Big Ten football power rankings

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4. Minnesota Gophers

mitch-leidnerMaxx Williams surprised no one by declaring for the NFL Draft, but his loss may be the biggest to this team heading in to 2015. Sure, the Gophers will also deal with the loss of the single-season Gophers rushing record in David Cobb, but Williams was the go-to player in what existed of a passing game.

The Gophers are coming in to 2015 after only the fifth back-to-back eight-win or better season in school history, and that means something has to give this upcoming season. Either the Gophers continue to turn the corner in to a perennial West division contender or they fall back a bit.

Offensively, not only does this team lose Williams early, but they are going to have to replace the two best offensive linemen and the No. 1 and No. 1 running back. Luckily, redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards showcased some good things (30 carries, 140 yards and 2 TDs) and appears poised to be a nice solution to the issue at running back.

The bigger issues exist on the defensive side of the ball as five starters are lost to graduation and among them happen to be four of the biggest cogs on a very good group last season. Minnesota has to replace the heart of the defensive line in DT Cameron Botticelli, the heat of the entire defense in LB Damien Wilson and two underrated DBs in Cedric Thompson and Derrick Wells.

Minnesota’s 2015 season will likely hinge on the ability to replace those defensive starters and on Mitch Leidner’s ability to improve in the pass game. The Gophers are building an underrated and under-appreciated program that could be a true contender now that Kill has his stamp on the program as a whole.

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Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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