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In Their Words: Minnesota Golden Gophers As Previewed By The Daily Gopher

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Are the Gophers getting good? Or just uppity?

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Each one of our Big Ten sites put together a preview of their 2020 football team. Everyone answered the same questions, as to create some uniformity across the league.

We’re going to do these by schedule order, then we’ll put the others at the end because I know you’re all interested in the Big Ten as a whole - even Rutgers.

Here we have the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Is Scott Frost going to sink Fleck’s rowboat to close out the final game in the “regular season” part of the schedule?

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Minnesota - The Daily Gopher (GoAUpher)

List your team’s key departures:

Tyler Johnson (WR), Antoine Winfield Jr. (DB), Carter Coughlin (DL), Rodney Smith (RB), Kamal Martin (LB), Winston DeLattiboudere (DL), Thomas Barber (LB), Sam Renner (DL), Demetrius Douglas (WR)

List your team’s key returnees:

Tanner Morgan (QB), Rashod Bateman (WR), Chris Autman-Bell (WR), Mohamed Ibrahim (RB), Seth Green (Wildcat QB/WR), the entire offensive line, Micah Dew-Treadway (DL), Mariano Sori-Marin (LB), Benjamin St.-Juste (DB), Coney Durr (DB)

List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact:

Douglas Emilien (WR)

Daniel Jackson (WR)

Brief overview of 2020 team:

The Gophers hope to build on last year’s historic 11-2 season. Whether they can do that is a completely open question, both because of COVID and because of the key players they lost. Thankfully, that list no longer includes wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Generally I think expectations for the Gophers are high, but not quite as high as you might think given last season.

An honest look at this team suggests that a slight step back was probable even before COVID. The team will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator, the best wide receiver in program history (Tyler Johnson) graduated, First Team All-American safety Antoine Winfield Jr is making a massive impact for Tampa Bay as an NFL rookie.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan is back after a record setting season. There’s nothing to indicate that he’ll do anything but continue to play at a high level. The running backs should be fine and the offensive line has experience (just not depth). Assuming the offense Minnesota runs doesn’t change *too* much, the pieces are still there to score a lot of points. Depth is a concern at WR, even with Bateman back. But the talent at that position (and P.J. Fleck’s staff history with developing young wide receivers) should even that out.

An even bigger concern for depth is the offensive line. The starting five has no major concerns, but an injury or regression from any of them leaves a lot of questions. That’s not to say there isn’t talent behind the starters, it’s just unproven and can’t be counted upon yet.

The bigger questions probably lie on the defensive side of the ball. As noted, the team’s all-everything defensive leader (Winfield) is gone. So is Carter Coughlin, who proved to be extremely disruptive as a pass rusher last season despite drawing double teams and holds all season long. The defensive line lost two other solid starters in Winston DeLattiboudere and Sam Renner. Linebacker depth is a concern following the loss of Kamal Martin to the NFL and Braelen Oliver to a spring practice injury that should keep him out most (I’d argue all) of 2020. The secondary has a strong pair of corners in Durr and St. Juste, but safety will remain a question mark until someone proves they can adequately replace Winfield.

As noted above, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca has moved on to Penn State but otherwise the coaching staff remains intact. P.J. Fleck is as high energy as ever and seems to have done a good job of handling COVID and the tumult it’s caused for the Big Ten (unlike two high profile peers I could name). He’ll continue to annoy opposing fan bases (which is pure entertainment to Gopher fans) and after 2019 he’s not as easy to dismiss on style alone.

The schedule is favorable enough. The Gophers miss Penn State and Ohio State during the 8 currently scheduled games. Michigan is the team’s opener, but they are at home. Maryland is the other crossover game which is a win for Minnesota. Until proven otherwise Wisconsin remains the team to beat in the West. That remains the Gophers’ hardest test and it’s on the road. None of the other road trips (Maryland, Illinois, or Nebraska) are overly worrisome on paper. That said, this is a COVID season. Every single team in the B1G could put up a loss in any game they play thanks to all the weirdness that could ensue.

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

The offense, particularly the passing connection of Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman.

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

Defensive depth.

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

Elite.

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

There’s no way I can put down anyone besides Rashod Bateman. The kid is too talented and too much of the offense will rely on him. Tanner Morgan is a close second.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss

6-2 or 7-1 feels right, with outside chances that the Gophers go either 5-3 or 8-0. The best win will be over Wisconsin, because I will always predict a win over Wisconsin on principle. If I had to peg a surprise loss I’d go with Purdue.

What else should we know about your team this year?

Insert your favorite P.J. Fleck-ism here.