Coach: Jerry Kill, first season (127-73 overall in 17 seasons)

Last year: 3-9 overall, 2-6 Big Ten (tie, ninth)

Returning stars

MarQueis Gray is "the most gifted athlete on our squad," Kill said, and he combined with receiver Da'Jon McKnight for 90 catches, more than 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. McKnight will remain at receiver but Gray is moving to quarterback, the position he was recruited for but has not played for a full season since he was a junior in high school in 2006.

Newcomers to watch

With Gray out of the mix at receiver, junior-college transfer Ge'Shun Harris or freshman Marcus Jones could be complements to McKnight. Harris enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Freshmen also could be needed to fill voids in a rebuilding offensive line.

Keys to the offense

There is nothing fancy about Kill's offense, which often will incorporate two tight ends and aims to run the ball 60 percent of the time. How reliant the Gophers are on the run will hinge on how reliable Gray becomes as a passer. He has the athleticism to create problems for defenses in the read-option, but coaches don't want to expose him too much for fear of injury.

Keys to the defense

The signature of Kill's defense is pressuring opponents with the front seven. He has his work cut out in inheriting a defense that produced only eight sacks last season, fewest in Football Bowl Subdivision. "But I think that everywhere we've gone, we've been able to get better on defense fairly quickly," Kill said.

Special teams standout

Troy Stoudermire, who switched from receiver to cornerback midseason last year, gives the Gophers a threat every time the opponent kicks off, which has been a lot. He averaged 27.2 yards on 29 returns last season and is 190 yards from breaking the NCAA record for kickoff return yards.

Question marks

They abound. Can Gray be an effective quarterback in his first fall in the cross hairs? From whom will his help come? Can one of the worst defenses in the nation keep the Gophers in games?

Outlook

Kill is the antithesis of his predecessor, Tim Brewster, and is not ramping up expectations for his first season. He has rebuilt programs before and says it's a process, but one he thiks he will succeed at again because of the continuity in his coaching staff. "I think when you take a new job over and you're going into a new place, having people that are familiar with what you're doing, it helps us get maybe started a little quicker," Kill said. How's that for muted optimism?