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Gophers vs. Runnin' Rebels: Game 1 preview

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It's go time for the football Gophers again. Their 2013 season starts Thursday night at TCF Bank stadium, as they open against the UNLV Runnin' Rebels for the second consecutive season.

What to expect? Here's a quick primer of the season premiere:

What's at stake: If Minnesota loses the non-conference opener at home against an inferior opponent, what hope does Jerry Kill have of capturing that "signature" Big 10 win later this year? Slim. And none.

The last time they met:  On Aug. 30, 2012, Minnesota squeaked out a 30-27 triple-overtime win over UNLV in Las Vegas. Jordan Wettstein kicked a 32-yard field goal to ice the opener. As a result, Coach Kill won his first road game in Minnesota.

Mind-boggling number: Aug. 29 is the earliest the Gophers have ever started a season, according to gophersports.com. The last time the Gophers played a home game in August was 2008, when Minnesota beat Kill's Northern Illinois team.

Best Coach Kill quote: Attendance could be better at home games. TCF Bank Stadium is magnificent, and Kill wants it full -- be it a non-conference or Big Ten foe. But in a long, how-he's-luring-fans-to-the stadium piece on FoxSportsNorth.com, Kill was very honest -- as usual: "Those things don't happen overnight."

The point spread: The Gophers are 14-point favorites in many betting circles. If they beat the spread: "How could you doubt us?" If they don't beat the spread -- or lose: "It was the heat." Our pick: Minnesota 28, UNLV 24.

Keys to the game:The Pioneer Press has five keys, including one that involves the backup quarterback. Redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner is expected to rotate in and out of the game with starting QB, Philip Nelson.

The right direction:Jerry Kill thinks his squad is headed in the right direction, but he won't judge this season -- his third at the U of M -- by wins and losses.

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