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Minnesota Gophers Football In-depth 2020 Preview

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Spartan13's picture
April 4, 2020 at 3:02pm

Minnesota had an incredible 2019 season. They won 10 games in the regular season and then went on to beat Auburn(who beat Bama and Oregon) in their bowl game. This was one of the best season in program history and led to a 7 year contract extension for almost $5 million per year for PJ Fleck. Minnesota finished as the 13th ranked team in SP+. Something a little interesting about the contract is it gave Fleck a huge buyout of $10 million this past offseason, but that number drastically drops to 4.5 this upcoming offseason and then 3 million for the remainder of the contract. Thats a pretty small buyout Fleck negotiated. I will start with the offensive preview then defensive.

Minnesota is projected to be the 20th best team overall by SP+ but its really two different stories on offense and defense. They were better on offense last year and return almost everybody on that side of the ball. They had a good defense but lose almost everybody. They are projected to have the 6th best offense which is pretty crazy for Minnesota. 

  • QB-Second team All-B1G Tanner Morgan returns as a RS-Junior after completing a ridiculous 66% of his passes with 10.2 yards per attempt. With 30 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions he had an incredible year. He is one of the best QBs in the country despite not being flashy. He has basically no running ability but was very good at always keeping his eyes downfield despite the rush. Backup Zack Annexstad is also very promising as he initially beat out Morgan but poor play and injuries led to Morgan taking over the job. 
  • RB-Minnesota used 3 running backs and 2 of them will be moving on including leading rusher Rodney Smith. Minnesota loses over 300 touches from the RB position but they are well situated with Mo Ibrahim who averaged 5.3 ypc on 114 attempts. Ibrahim may have been the most talented of the group and there is a lot of optimism in him, he had 20 carries for 140 yards against Auburn. The biggest question is which younger back will step up to take some of the load. 
  • Receiver-A very interesting group as Minnesota really only threw to two guys last year, Tyler Johnson and Rashad Bateman. Tyler Johnson and his 86/1318 are gone but Bateman is back with a simply silly 60/1219, that is over 20 ypc for a high volume receiver. Everybody else is back and will hopefully improve enough to allow them to spread the ball around more. It is concerning at the least though that such a productive player is gone. 
  • TE-this group was not thrown to in the offense(something interesting for PSU who OC from last year) but the top two guys are back and are great run blockers. This group may end up with more targets but they seem like run blocking types. 
  • OL-This is where Minnesota is going to be scary. They had 6 players who started during the season and all 6 are back. LT Sam Schleuter(6'6" 325) was the best lineman a year ago for the Gophers and in his 5th season may be the best lineman in the B1G. LG Blaise Andres(6'6" 325) is pretty athletic and started games at both G/T but should start the season at guard, he was third team all B1G last year. C Connor Olson(6'5" 305) has started 38 games in his career and will be rock solid in the center. Those 3 are all massive and experienced but the right side is where the high level talent is. RG Curtis Dunlap(6'5" 345) is one of the highest rated recruits Minnesota has on the roster and started as a RS-Freshman last year, he played very well by the end of the year and should be a very good starter this year. And of course the monster at RT, Daniel Faalele. 6'9" 400 pounds and started as a sophomore despite only playing a few years of football. Expect exponential leaps in his development due to his inexperience and he could turn into something truly special as he progresses. This will be one of the biggest and most experienced lines in the country. What Minnesota loses in Tyler Johnson and in the running backs will be mitigated by how fantastic the line will be.   

Defense was top 25 level but they lose almost everybody. They are projected to be the 58th best defense in the country and will depend on a lot of guys who have never played. They lose guys like Carter Coughling, Thomas Barber, Antoine Winfield and Benjamin St.Juste who were high level players at each level of the defense. 

  • DL-Minnesota loses all 4 starters but will have all 4 backups to take over. Esezi otomewo(6'6" 275) will take over at DE after playing as a backup in every game last year. He is pretty massive for the position and may have the athleticism to be a fine pass rusher. Boye Mafe(6'4" 260) also played in every game as a backup at the other spot. Had a sack against Auburn. Both ends will be in their 4th years and certainly have the size to hold up. NT Jamaal Teague(6'3" 310) and DT Keonte Schad(6'3" 295) will be the DTs and played quite a bit. The line as a whole is a question mark due to none of the players starting. They have had the chance to play and develop though. 
  • LB-Minnesota plays somewhat of a 4-2-5 with two backers. Both are bigger guys who are more run first.  Mariano Sori-Marin(6'3" 245) started 7 games as a true sophomore and will be back and is an above-average player. Thomas Rush(6'3" 235) will be the middle backer after playing in every game and starting one. Big question mark here but two guys who have the attributes to be run first linebackers. Neither may be special athletes but could be solid backers. 
  • Secondary-CB Coney Durr is the first returning starter and he is pretty good starting over 20 games in his career. His weakness is he is just 5'10" but is athletic(especially to cover B1G west players) and will be extremely experienced. The other corner is expected to be Justus Harris who will be a senior. Something to watch is he is also 5'10" but he hasnt started a game. Size will be a problem for the corners. Jordon Howden and Calvin Swenson step into the safety spots and neither have started a game. 

Would love to be able to believe in Fleck's recruiting but player development is a huge question this offseason. The defensive line and linebackers will very likely be good with the size and age they will have but the secondary is a big question to me. Older guys who have never started who lack height is a huge concern in the secondary. Not many teams in the west will be able to exploit it but I dont see this defense being able to do what it did to an Auburn level team in a bowl game. 

OOC-FAU, Tennessee Tech, BYU. All 3 are at home and shouldnt be a problem. BYU could be decent next year but are projected outside of the top 50 by SP+ and shouldnt have the talent to exploit Minnesota's weakness or to be able to slow down the offense much. 
Cross overs- @Maryland, @MSU, Michigan-That is somewhat of a tricky group of 3. Maryland and MSU should be improved next year and are on the road but Minnesota will likely be single digit favorites. Michigan@Minnesota is one of the most intriguing games of the season to me. PSU lost @Minny last year. Will Michigan be good enough to slow them down? Will Michigan be good enough to take advantage of the weaknesses on defense? All of that on road where Harbaugh has done terribly. Biggest home game of the year for Minnesota
B1G West-Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern at home, @Wisconsin, @Illinois, @Nebraska. Purdue and Northwestern should be wins and @Illinois should be a win. Iowa, @Wisconsin, and @Nebraska are far from guaranteed wins though. 

I see 8-4 as the floor and 10-2 as the ceiling. Minnesota has scheduled well ooc. Losing to Michigan and @Wisconsin are the most likely loses and Iowa and another slip up in the conference could get them to 8-4. It will be harder with the defense taking a step back. It is hard to project a line in the B1G west because its hard to predict what vegas thinks of teams like Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Purdue. If I had to guess it would be between 8.5-9.5. This isn't a team I would want to bet on though, Tyler Johnson was dominant and the defense could be pretty porous against offenses competent at passing. The way they are built I can see Minnesota beating good teams but being upset to random teams. 9-3 seems reasonable. a line at 8 would be an over for me and a line at 10 would be an under. 


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