College football news goes so fast that this feels like a decade ago, but in 2016 the hot new G5 coach wasn’t Scott Frost, who Nebraska hired the year after, it was PJ Fleck, fresh off of leading the Western Michigan Broncos to an undefeated regular season with his ‘Row The Boat’ high energy recruiting style. Fleck was hired away to Minnesota, and after a 5-7 year one, the Golden Gophers took a step forward in 2018, finishing with a quiet 7-6 record with wins over Fresno State and Wisconsin. The question is, will that be as good as it gets, or, with 16 starters back, can Fleck make a push for a Big Ten West title?
Minnesota’s offense was incredibly young last year, their two QBs who split time, their top two backs, and three of their top four receivers were freshmen. The Golden Gophers expectedly were volatile last year, but now they’ve got everybody back from last year’s team. The QB looks to be Tanner Morgan, who threw at a 59% clip on 9.2 yards per throw. He’ll be joined in the backfield by the now-sophomore duo of Mohamed Ibrahim (1,160 yards, nine touchdowns, 5.7 YPA) and Bryce Williams (502, four, 4.3) as well as two guys returning from injury, Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks.
Morgan needs to improve after what was an inconsistent freshman year, but practically the entire receiving corps returns, including pro prospect Tyler Johnston (1,169 yards, 15.0 yards per catch, 12 touchdowns) and deep threat Chris Autman-Bell (16.0 YPC). The line returns five guys with some starting experience, and as long as Morgan can show some improvement I think this could be an under the radar great offense.
The defense is a little bit more experienced, and they return almost as much as the offense. The line will be anchored by end Carter Coughlin, perhaps the captain of the defense after a 9.5 sack, 5.5 TFL year. He’ll need to be supported in the pass rush though, and someone is going to have to step up, maybe Notre Dame transfer Michael Dew-Treadway or sophomore tackle Jamaal Teague.
The front seven has a couple of interesting pieces outside of Coughlin, but the best part of the defense is without a doubt the secondary. Terell Smith is back at corner after 8 PBUs last year, he’ll be joined by former Florida transfer Chris Williamson who had four of his own as a backup. The top three safeties return, including sophomore Antoine Winfield who has been excellent when not dealing with injuries. I think the defense improves.
Minnesota hasn’t been getting hyped up a lot but I don’t think they are far behind Nebraska for the Big Ten West’s up-and-comer this year. Minnesota gets Nebraska and Wisconsin at home and avoids the top two from the East. The youth on offense makes this team high-variance but I think they improve from last year and very may have a shot at a conference title heading into the final weekend.
|Date||Opponent||OPp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|29-Aug||south dakota state||NR||n/a|
|7-Sep||at fresno state||51||-1.5|
Average Projected Record: 7.0 wins, 5.0 losses (4.7 wins, 4.3 losses)