Big 10 Preview: Minnesota

2018 Big Ten Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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P.J. Fleck came to Minnesota rowing his boat, but the current was too strong in his first year. A Golden Gopher team that went 9-3 in 2016 went 5-7 last year, got shut out for two consecutive games and saw its 5-year bowl streak end. Year 1 started winning the first 3 games of the season, but it was all down hill from there.  Year 2 in the Big 10 will be tough for Fleck, if the team doesn’t improve,

Recruits

Minnesota had the 37th best class in the nation and the 7th best class in the Big 10. Fleck was able to bring in the best class for the Gophers since 2009 when they had the 35th best class in the nation. The Class of 2022 has strong skilled players at QB and WR which gives P.J. Fleck’s rebuild a strong core to build around.

Quarterbacks

Minnesota has one scholarship QB on the roster. After Vic Viramontes left following the spring season, Zack Annexstad, a preferred walk-on, and Tanner Morgan a true freshman will lead the quarterback crew. With training camp starting soon, there is not much time for the young QB core to get ready for the first game on August 25th. For a team that had 9 TDs on the year there is a lot of catching up to do.

Offense

Last year, the offense averaged 308.5 yards a game, with most of the yardage led by SO QB Demry Croft, JR RB Rodney Smith and SR QB Conor Rhoda. Rodney Smith is the only returner on the team with Croft leaving for Middle Tennessee and Rhoda graduating. No single player on last year’s roster had more than 1000 yards passing, running or receiving. With a new quarterback taking lead, offensive production will rest on Smith, as the senior most player on offense.

Defense

Minnesota ranked 79th in the country in sacks with 23 a game, 89th in the country in interceptions with 8 and 19th in the country for fumbles with 14. The Gophers lost 3 of 5 linemen from last year and lack strong experience in the secondary. For the defense to succeed in the 2018 season, Minnesota needs help from their offense. It doesn’t matter if how much points the defense give up if the offense gets shut out two games in a row.

Schedule

sched

Prediction

P.J. Fleck has a favorable schedule in his second season as the head coach for Minnesota. Minnesota has 6 Tier 2 Games, 2 Tier 1 games and a Tier 3 game with Illinois (you can read about my B1G Tiers here). It’s out of conference schedule isn’t difficult with the toughest game coming against Fresno State. I could see Minnesota fighting but failing to reach a bowl again. The biggest matchup will be at Illinois, where Fleck will look to encroach on Lovie Smith’s Chicagoland recruiting grounds with a win in Champaign.

 

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