Gophers 2022 Backfield Bursting With Experience, Talent After Trey Potts’ Return

Photo: Gopher Sports

Running the football wasn’t an issue for the Minnesota Gophers in 2021. Even without their top two running backs for most of the season and without four of their total six by the end of week 8, Minnesota’s backs piled on the rushing yards (195 YPG) and attempts (45.5 APG), finishing 29th and 7th nationally in the two categories respectively.

Trey Potts was the bona fide RB2 behind Mohamed Ibrahim entering the season. So when Mo went down in week 1 vs Ohio State, the bell cow role was handed down to Trey. And he (pun intended) ran with it. In 5 total games, Potts ran for over 500 yards and 6 touchdowns on 122 attempts (4.9 YPC).

Suddenly, a backup who entered the season hoping for fill-in reps behind an All Big Ten running back was well on his way to claiming his own such honors. But that dream ended when he suffered a mysterious injury vs Purdue that landed him in an Indiana hospital for nearly a week before he was cleared to return to Minnesota.

Trey Potts Comeback Tour

On Tuesday, we got some good news from Trey Potts, himself. After months of mental and physical battles, he announced (via his social medias), that he’s feeling better and says he’ll “see you” in 2022. Potts will also be on the sidelines for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, AZ on December 28.

For Trey, this is amazing news. Many of us weren’t sure what his future held or whether he’d ever return to football. Hopefully Potts’ football career has a lot of days ahead. He’s a great kid who works hard and oozes talent.

Potts’ return means the Gophers might have the deepest and most proven running back group in the entire country. Obviously, it will all start with Mohamed Ibrahim. But Trey proved what he could do last season. So did freshmen Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas, both of whom ran for over 550 yards (4.5 YPC) themselves.

Holy Running Backs, Batman…

Neither Irving’s nor Thomas’ success was unexpected. “Bucky” was one of only four, 4-star recruits in Minnesota’s 2021 class. He had offers from just about every team in the Big Ten (including Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State). Ky Thomas was a 247Sports.com 4-star high school recruit too AND he won Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Kansas in 2019.

Together, they were supposed to be “the future”. But that status quickly had to transition to “the now.” Those who follow recruiting closely knew the Minnesota Gophers’ running back room was one of the deepest on the team. Nobody, however, foresaw them using up all that depth during the 2021 season. Now, all four will return for 2022.

This wouldn’t be an honest blog without addressing the elephant in the running back room. How is PJ Fleck going to keep all of this talent boxed up in Dinkytown when a starting opportunity is just a transfer portal entry away for any of these guys? You can guarantee that both Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving have already felt pressure to test the portal by any of friends, family and/or social media. That started back when Mo announced his return in November.

Transfer Portal Risks?

When the transfer portal is as easily accessible and readily available as it is in 2021, you can never rule it out. And, if the Minnesota Gopher backfield is blessed with better health in the upcoming season, playing time will be much harder to come by. That’s before you get into the NIL aspect of everything, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

But as mentioned earlier, both Bucky and Ky got way more run (another pun, I’m sorry) than they expected last season. All four guys are on the radar of NFL scouts, even they younger ones. As long as they’re patient, they’ll all get their shot at being the workhorse for a Big Ten West team, one of the only conferences that remains stubborn about using running back weapons as such.

And for every Jack Gibbens, there’s 100 transfer portal entrants who find that grass is not greener on the other side. There’s absolutely no guarantee they enter the portal and ever find a situation that can showcase their talents like PJ Fleck’s offense will. We just have to hope they realize that too. This running back room seems like one of the closest on the team. That should help.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan