Front Half of Gopher Football Schedule Will Renew Old Rivalries but Feature New Faces

Photo: Star Tribune

Back in early August, the Big Ten postponed the 2020-2021 Football Season because of COVID concerns. But with the help of fans, players and parents, we once again have a Fall Football season for the Big Ten. They even released a schedule over the weekend. Coming off of their most successful season since the 60’s, PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers are poised for another big season in 2020.

Let’s take a look at the first half of this 8-game conference-only schedule

Game One – vs Michigan

The Gophers will open up the 2020 Football Season battling the Michigan Wolverines for the Little Brown Jug. The last time these two teams met was in 2017, PJ Fleck’s 1st year as Head Coach at the University of Minnesota. Michigan comes into this game with a lot of unknowns on both sides of the ball. Let’s go over the offense first….

1.) Brand new QB, Joe Milton, will be making his first career start.

2.) The Wolverines will be breaking in 4 new Offensive Line starters.

3.) The wolverines lost 2 starting wide receivers. Nico Collins opted out, and Tarik Black transferred to Texas.

That is a lot of unknowns for Michigan and that’s only on offensive side of the ball. Jalen Mayfield is the lone returning offensive line starter, and he was opted out until this weekend, when he opted back in. Both Michigan running backs from 2019 will be returning as well. Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins combined for 270 carries, 1,348 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns last season.

Michigan’s defensive strength is their line. They have THREE new linebackers and inexperience in their secondary. Cornerback, Ambry Thomas opted-out (for now) and safety, Josh Matellus, is now in the NFL (with the Vikings). If Tanner Morgan can exploit Michigan’s inexperience in the pass game, the run game should follow.

Who knows… maybe Fleck will establish the run first, no matter what the Wolverine defense looks like. We all know how much our head coach likes to control the clock. Auburn had three D-lineman get drafted in 2020 and the Gophers ran all over them in the Outback Bowl.

In fact, Michigan faced four good offenses in 2019; Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, and Alabama. They surrendered an average of over 5 yards per carry those four games. The new Wolverine linebackers could struggle moving vertically and adapting to the RPO early on, too.

I think Minnesota SHOULD win this game but it all depends on how quickly the Gopher offense can get going and take advantage of an inexperienced Wolverine defense.

Game Two – @ Maryland

The Gophers’ second game will take place at Maryland. This is a team the Gophers absolutely thrashed last season (52-10) and I’m expecting the same to happen this year. Just like Michigan, Maryland will also be breaking in a new QB, Taulia Tagovailoa.

The Terrapin assumed starter, Josh Jackson, opted-out of the season back in August. Before that, Maryland lost start running back, Anthony McFarland, to the NFL draft. I don’t think Maryland’s defense will be able to stop the Gopher offense, whether they run or pass.

If I’m the Gophers, I hand the ball off to Mohamed Ibrahim all day long. There’s no chance Maryland’s front seven will be able to stop it. The Turtle offense, which struggled in Big Ten play last year, can’t score with Minnesota, either. This is a game PJ Fleck and Co should win handily.

Game Three – @ Illinois

The Gophers hit the road for the second-straight week and this time they’ll be heading to Champaign. This is another team Minnesota buried last season (40-17). In that game, Rossi’s defense only gave up three points to the Illini offense. The other 14 points were courtesy of a pick six and fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown.

While Minnesota scored 40 points on this Illinois defense last year, they played pretty sloppy. I’m higher than most on this Illinois team, in general. They return starting QB, Brandon Peters, who will be protected by a solid offensive line. Peters will have at least one good wide receiver to throw to, in Josh Imatorbhebhe.

They did lose most of their running back production when Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown. On the defensive side of things, they lost some players in the front seven, which could certainly be a concern, but they do return a couple of good linebackers in Milo Eifler and Jake Hansen. They also return some solid pieces in the back end, including Nate Hobbs.

I might like this Illini squad but I’m still expecting Minnesota to win this game. The Gopher offensive line should be able to generate a good push on this inexperienced defensive line of the Illini. They ran all over Lovie’s squad in 2019, racking up 332 yards (!!). I’d like to see that again. Feed Mo.

Game Four- vs Iowa

The Gophers go back home in week four, where they will do battle with the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Floyd of Rosedale. The Gophers fell in a heart breaker last year in Iowa City, 23-19.

On that heart-breaking weekend in November 2019, the defense seemed non-existent in the first half and the offense got off to a terribly slow start. At half time, it was already 20-6 in Iowa’s favor. The Gophers turned it on in the second half, but it was too little too late.

The 2020 Hawkeyes are going to look a lot different. Nate Stanley (also with the Vikings) is gone and it’s now Spencer Petras time. He will be the 3rd new QB (out of 4 games) that the Gophers will see up to this point. Fortunately for Spencer, he has some established skill position players to speed up his learning curve.

Wide Receiver, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and running back, Tyler Goodson, both showed out in 2019. Tyrone Tracy (RB/Slot WR) and WR, Brandon Smith, will be back as well. They did lose Tackle, Tristan Wirfs, but in classic Iowa fashion, they still have two very good offensive lineman mauling guys, with Alaric Jackson at Tackle and Tyler Linderbaum at Center.

On defense, the Hawkeyes lost a lot of talent, especially up front. They keep Chauncey Golston but lost the rest of their defensive line. Star, AJ Epenesa, and Cedric Lattimore are both playing in the NFL.

They did add Northern Illinois transfer, Jack Heflin, who looks to be a very solid add to there roster. In the line backing core, they lose Kristian Welch to the draft and Dillon Doyle to transfer. In the secondary Geno Stone and cornerback Micheal Ojemudia both left for the NFL too. Overall, I’m expecting the Hawkeyes defense to be fairly solid, but look for a step back after all of those talented departures.

This game seems to be a toss up, just like the Michigan game. The outcome could depend on whether or not the Gophers can start hot (unlike last year). Iowa’s offense will go by how Spencer Petras goes. On defense, will the Hawkeyes be able to generate pressure with so many new faces on the DL and in the secondary?

If the Gophers can keep Iowa from parading and and out of the end zone, I think Minnesota wins this game and we get to bring the Floyd of Rosedale back to the trophy room at the Athletic’s Village. Let us never forget 2002.

That concludes the first half of the Minnesota Gophers 2020 football schedule. Set notifications and be ready for the back half, which will release in the next 24 hours.

Max Carroll | Minnesota Sports Fan

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