PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Gophers dodged a bullet Wednesday, when the Big Ten announced the reinstatement of their fall football season. After a month + of uncertainty, the season will now begin on the weekend of Oct. 23-24. It will be a conference-only, eight — possibly nine — game schedule.
The Gophers were coming into this year hot and ready to continue their surge up the Big Ten ladder, and across the college football world. They finished last season with an 11-2 record, capping off a stunning year with a bowl game win against Auburn.
247Sports Likes Minnesota in the West
There’s a lot to feel good about in Dinkytown. Just ask Brandon Marcello of 247Sports.com, who picked the Gophers as the only team who will challenge Wisconsin this season, for the Big Ten West crown.
Minnesota stands to be contender for a second straight year, but the Gophers suffered a big punch in the gut when receiver Rashod Bateman (1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns) opted out of the season in early August to prepare for the NFL Draft. Minnesota still has a game-changing quarterback (Tanner Morgan) and six returning starters on defense.
Eight starters return to the Big Ten’s third-best scoring offense (34.1 points per game), and only Ohio State scored more touchdowns (88 vs. 62) in 2019. Minnesota was actually better in conference games (34.6 ppg).
It was difficult placing Wisconsin over Minnesota in June, but not so much today. The Badgers’ defensive line and the fact they are expected to host the Gophers is more than enough to give Wisconsin the No. 1 spot in the West.Brandon Marcello – 247Sports.com
Who is leading the way?
Morgan came off an outstanding second year where he threw for 3,253 yards along with 30 TDs while completing 66% of his throws. He was ranked fifth by PFF among all quarterbacks going into this season.
Morgan is going to have a lot on his plate coming into this condensed season. Expectations are high for the Junior but he doesn’t have nearly the same weapons around him.
Reloaded Offensive Arsenal
Losing Bateman is going to be a hit on offense, but if you have to replace a guy like that, Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas are very viable options to turn to. Obviously, the WR group takes a step back from the one-two punch it had in 2019 (with Tyler Johnson and Bateman) but both redshirt juniors showed what they were capable of last year.
Mohamed Ibrahim is poised for a huge redshirt junior season, after Rodney Smith FINALLY graduated in the offseason. He has been a big part to the offense for a couple years now, especially in the Outback Bowl game last season, and now has the number one spot to himself.
Mohamed Ibrahim (@_MoIbrahim) is a name to watch next season. He’s wildly underrated. He’s so difficult to tackle and should have a great season with Minnesota as their featured back in 2020. He was great against Auburn #RowTheBoat #SkiUMah #GoGophers #Minnesota #NFL #NFLTwitter pic.twitter.com/wTKRrycxL9— Jared Barsness NFL (@JaredBarsNFL) May 23, 2020
The offense will rely heavy on the run-pass option again, even after some major changes at offensive coordinator. That scheme is only as successful as its run game. Ibrahim, along with his stable of backups in Bryce Williams, Cam Wiley, Ky Thomas, and Trey Potts, will need to have success for this offense to go.
If there is any coach in football who cares more about time of possession than PJ Fleck, please find him/her for me. If PJ and his revamped offense can take control of games on the ground, we already know Morgan reads the Run/Pass Option as good as any QB in the NCAA.
The biggest questions the Minnesota Gophers have, coming into this season, is on the defensive side of the ball. It’s almost a complete flip for Joe Rossi’s gang. We’ve already seen how that has worked out for the Vikings. There won’t be any C-level non-conference games for Joe to get them right, either.
When I say “complete flip” I might have been exaggerating slightly. The Gophers do have two starting cornerbacks and a safety returning… That secondary experience could prove to be very important, early in the season, as the rest of the defense settles in.
I really believe the Minnesota Gophers dodged a bullet when the Big Ten season was reinstated today. What would’ve happened to some of these stars, had they lost a full year of football?
The Gophers are trying to build off of the only dominant season they’ve had since the 60’s. If they had not been allowed to play this fall, more of their top talent could have walked and who knows what this team would have looked like, when the dust settled.
But we don’t have to worry about that anymore. All of those concerns were put to rest Wednesday, when the Big Ten University Presidents made the right decision and reinstated the fall college football season.
AJ Condon | Minnesota Sports Fan