Kill, Gophers fired up for big test vs. No. 2 TCU

Minnesota has quite the season-opening clash next Thursday at 8 p.m. CT. TCU won 12 games a year ago and is ranked No. 2 nationally in both major polls.

Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Kill is constantly receiving pep talks these days, all over the University of Minnesota’s campus.

The motivational speeches aren’t needed, however. With a date against powerful TCU fastly approaching, Kill’s already anxious enough as it is.

". . . If I walk outside the door here and go down here to get a Starbucks coffee, I have about three or four people say, ‘Hey, Coach, good luck against TCU, hey, we’re going to be there,’" Kill told reporters on Saturday. "About everywhere I go, I think people are excited. I think the state is excited."

Yes, the Gophers, coming off their first trip to a January bowl game since 1962, have quite the season-opening clash next Thursday at 8 p.m. TCU won 12 games a year ago and is ranked No. 2 in both the AP and USA TODAY national preseason polls.

Kill is trying to view the nationally televised game as a welcomed challenge. His Gophers squad appears to be receptive to his message.

"I think it soaked into our players, as soon as the offseason started, that we were going to open up with somebody that was either going to be No. 1 or No. 2 in the country," Kill noted, "so our work habits were different. I think it helped us out tremendously."

With just six days left before this anticipated matchup, the Gophers are largely healthy, could be ready to unveil a few new wrinkles like a no-huddle offense, and have a veteran quarterback in Mitch Leidner whom Kill says "has got a boatload of confidence right now."

Still, none of those factors will prevent the Gophers from being viewed as sizable underdogs against TCU. The Horned Frogs humbled the Gophers last season, winning 30-7 in Fort Worth, Texas. Perhaps as a result of that one-sided outcome, most Las Vegas sportsbooks have installed TCU as a 14- to 16-point favorite next Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Among the countless arrows TCU has in its quiver is athletic quarterback Trevone Boykin. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior passed for 33 scores last season and registered 4,608 yards of total offense. As such, he has been tabbed as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.

Latest from FOX Sports North

"Boykin is a guy that’s got a very strong arm, and he can throw BBs out there," Kill noted. He "gets the ball out quick, so he’s hard to sack, and he can run it as well as throw it. . ."

TCU averaged an eye-popping 46.5 points per game last season, and boasts impressive speed across the board offensively, especially at the wide receiver spot, where the Horned Frogs will test Gophers defensive backs like seniors Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray.

"They’ll have their biggest test right off the bat," Kill said of his DBs. "They’re going to go against guys (that) run 10.2, 10.3 in the 100 meters."

Said Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys: ". . . We’ve got to play well, play high energy against good teams. And, if you don’t, they’re capable of scoring 70 in a hurry. We’re going to have to play fast, tackle well, not give up a lot of yards after the catch, and keep the ball in front of us."

Those factors — plus the fact Kill will square off with a close friend in TCU head coach Gary Patterson — make this a tall task for Minnesota.

Yet, Kill sounds largely excited about the chance to make some early season noise on a national stage.

". . . They’re coming on the road and playing at our house," Kill said of the Horned Frogs. "I guarantee you when both teams come out of that tunnel, there will be a lot of energy from both sides of the ball.

"You’re not normal if you’re not feeling a little adrenaline," Kill added, as he envisioned the pregame atmosphere next Thursday night. "I think it’s a great opportunity for our football team and for our coaches and our state."

Follow Kelly Beaton on Twitter