All Aboard the 2022 Minnesota Gophers Hype Train

Photo: Gopher Football

The Big Ten West has been in existence since 2014 and not once have the Minnesota Gophers worn the division crown. Wisconsin has dominated the field but both Iowa and Northwestern have jumped up for their shot in the Big Ten Championship game, too. Not the Gophers, though.

Could that change in 2022? Well, there’s a lot of hype building around Minnesota’s chances, of late. Like, Stewart Mandel (The Athletic), who picked the Gophers to finish 9-3, tied with the Iowa Hawkeyes atop division.

Mandel isn’t the only Big Ten writer who believes in PJ Fleck & Co this season. 10 of 11 took the over on Minnesota’s over/under win total of 7.5. The same 10 that picked Nebraska to fall short of the same mark.

Last Chance at Big Ten West Crown?

This is one of the last seasons where Big Ten divisions will exist, at least in their current form. Rumors have swirled that the West and East divisions will be eliminated, as early as next season. In 2024, USC and UCLA enter the picture.

Currently, the Big Ten’s expansion plans include 20 total teams. So whether it happens next season, or shortly thereafter, the route to a division championship in the Big Ten is going to change.

The Athletic isn’t the only media outlet hyping the 2022 Minnesota Gophers. Big Ten Network is all over the them too.

Still not convinced? How about Barstool? They have two CFB experts picking PJ Fleck as coach of the year. Kayce Smith might as well buy shares in Dinkytown the way she’s obsessing over maroon and gold. She has the two above picks, along with the Gophers as “Most Underrated Team”.

Hype Overload

Not a fan of Barstool? I get it (no I don’t). Then, how about ESPN? Senior writer, Mark Schlabach didn’t have the testicular fortitude to outright pick the Minnesota Gophers as West champions. But he did include an entire paragraph about how badly he wanted to. Mark also wrote about how Scott Frost wouldn’t make it through the season. And after an week one loss to Northwestern, he’s looking pretty smart on that prediction.

Minnesota wins the West: I went with Wisconsin, which seemed like the safer pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gophers in the Big Ten championship game, either. Minnesota has to throw the ball more than it did last season — only NavyArmy and Air Force attempted fewer passes in 2021. Quarterback Tanner Morgan should be better under offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who was there when Minnesota won 11 games in 2019. Tailback Mohamed Ibrahim, the Big Ten running back of the year in 2020, is back after tearing his Achilles in last season’s opener.Mark Schlabach (ESPN)

Why so much hype?

The hype building around the Minnesota Gophers is based on a few things. First, the West division is one of the more wide open in all of college football (Wisconsin fans may disagree). And that is more true this season, than in any in the division’s 9-year history.

Second, this is the deepest team since Fleck took over, even more so than the 2019 squad. On his weekly radio show / podcast, PJ talked about his comfortability playing 10-11 defensive linemen. And DL may not be the deepest position group on the team. Tanner Morgan has Athan Kaliakmanis and Cole Kramer biting at his heels. Dylan Wright, Chris Autman-Bell and Michael Brown-Stephens make the best threesome of wide receivers in the division.

Linebackers run four to five deep. The secondary has four starters with a ton of experience and two transfers that would start on most Big Ten teams. Mo Ibrahim, Trey Potts and Zach Evans might make up the best running back group in the West, too.

Lastly, the schedule. Minnesota is slated to play just two top-25 teams all year. Michigan State in week 4 and Wisconsin in the season finale. Penn State, in week 7, will be a challenge as well. But most importantly, there’s no contact with Michigan or Ohio State.

Rose Bowl Dreams

A Big Ten West championship would also bring a very good likelihood that the Gophers return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1962, a historic postseason dream for Minnesota football fans, that may cease to exist after next season.

So can the Gophers, who once dominated the nation in college football, win the Big Ten West and find their way back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 60 years? Yes, they can. And I’m not the only person who thinks that.

So… Row the boat. Ski-U-Mah. Go Gophers.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan