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Minnesota Golden Gophers 2023 Football Preview

Boat-rowin’ has had the edge over talent the last several years...does that change under Matt Rhule?

Minnesota v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

If there is an opponent that encapsulates Nebraska football’s futility over the last seven years, I think Minnesota would be my choice. In 2017, Minnesota hung 54 points on the Huskers, then failed to score a single point the rest of the season, losing by a combined 70-0 margin to Northwestern and Wisconsin. In 2018, Husker fans got a sense of hope as the Huskers hung 53 points and 659 yards of offense...but it was false hope. 2019 was a complete throttling, while in 2020, a Gopher team that was short-handed coming off of a COVID quarantine did the same. 2021 is best remember for making CornNation’s Jon Johnston an internet viral meme with his “there’s no hope, (eff) everything, Go Big Red” rant.

And then there was last season. Nebraska burst out to a 10-0 halftime lead, only to have Minnesota dominate the second half with their backup quarterback. Yep, they did it again. Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck takes pride in saying that his team’s “culture” is far greater than Nebraska’s “skill.” Make fun of Fleck’s “sloganeering” all you want; Fleck wins. You don’t have to like it, but you have to recognize it.

So as we turn to 2023, it’s important to first note that even though Minnesota looks like they’ll have some huge holes to fill in their lineup, Fleck’s culture is the foundation of Gopher football and until proven otherwise, is something you cannot dismiss.

Now that Tanner Morgan is FINALLY out of eligibility, sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis (6’4” 210 lbs.) is the presumed starter. A four-star recruit, Kaliakmanis probably is the most touted Gopher quarterback in quite some time. Last season, he only completed 54% of his passes with four interceptions and three touchdowns. But in Minnesota’s final regular season game, he did torch Wisconsin for 319 yards and two of those touchdowns. Could Kaliakmanis end up being Minnesota’s best quarterback since Tony Dungy in the 1970’s? While Kaliakmanis isn’t a dual-threat quarterback, he was mobile enough to rush for 140 yards on 34 carries last season, which should keep defenses honest. Senior Cole Kramer (6’1” 210 lbs.) has historically been more of a wildcat option, rushing for 193 yards and throwing for 103 in his career. True freshman Drew Viotto (6’4” 235 lbs.) joins the Gophers this fall; a three-star recruit, Viotto was also offered by Maryland, Buffalo, Kent State, Marshall and Eastern Washington.

Finally, Mohamed Ibrahim is out of eligibility as well. Initially, Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler (5’8” 185 lbs.) should be the leading candidate to take the majority of the snaps. Last season, Tyler earned second-team All-MAC honor, rushing for 1,097 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a smaller back who’s probably more explosive than anybody else we’ve seen in a Gopher uniform recently. Senior Bryce Williams (6’1” 205 lbs.) rushed for 249 yards and three touchdowns last season; in 2018, prior to the emergence of Ibrahim, Williams rushed for 502 yards and four touchdowns. Freshmen Zach Evans and Darius Taylor may also contribute as the season goes on.

Transfers are being counted on to remake a rather moribund wide receiver room. Kansas transfer Daniel Jackson (6’1” 200 lbs.) emerged at the end of last season to finish as the Gophers’ leading receiver with 37 catches for 557 yards and five touchdowns. Western Michigan transfer Corey Crooms, Jr. (6’0” 180 lbs.) caught 57 passes for 814 yards and five touchdowns, earning second team All-MAC honors. Charlotte transfer Elijah Spencer (6’2” 190 lbs.) caught 57 passes for 943 yards and nine touchdowns last season, earning honorable mention all-Conference USA honors last season. Chris Autman-Bell (6’1” 210 lbs.) is recovering from an ACL injury suffered last September; he has 125 catches in his Gopher career, but it’s unsure how ready he’ll be at the start of the season. Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford (6’7” 270 lbs.) is a devastating blocker who’s also developed into a good receiver, catching 42 passes for 497 yards and two touchdowns last season. He’s probably off to the NFL next season.

Only two starters returns on the Gophers offensive line: sophomore left tackle Aireontae Ersery (6’6” 325 lbs.), who earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors last year, and junior right guard Quinn Carroll (6’7” 325 lbs.) Senior center Nathan Boe (6’5” 300 lbs.) has started three games in his career with some extensive playing time, but has some big holes to fill replacing All-American John Michael Schmitz, who’s off to the New York Giants. Minnesota always has a solid offensive line, but you have to expect them to take a step back at the start of the season.

The Gophers defensive line returns two starters from a group that disappointed in 2022. Senior nose guard Kyler Baugh (6’3” 300 lbs.) earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors last year with 36 tackles. Sophomore defensive end Jalen Logan-Redding (6’4” 275 lbs.) added 18 tackles last season.

Another hole is at linebacker where just one starter returns in sophomore middle linebacker Cody Lindenberg (6’3” 235 lbs.), who totaled 71 tackles last season to earn honorable mention all-Big Ten honors. Senior transfer Ryan Selig (6’2” 240 lbs.) had 136 tackles the last two season at Western Michigan.

In the secondary, the Gophers have to replace two NFL draft picks this season. Senior safety Tyler Nubin (6’2” 210 lbs.) also could have chosen to play on Sundays this season, but is back after earning second team all-Big Ten honors last season. Nubin led the Gophers with four interceptions last season and was fourth on the Gophers with 55 tackles. Junior cornerback Justin Walley (5’11’ 195 lbs.) had 39 tackles last season. Junior transfer cornerback Tyler Bride (5’10” 185 lbs.) has 82 career tackles and 18 passes defended during his time at Georgia Southern; he had six tackles against Nebraska last season in what proved to be the last straw for Scott Frost.

This matchup in the season opener provides a big opportunity for Matt Rhule to show that he’s fixing Nebraska’s culture issues. Minnesota hasn’t won four straight against the Big Red by out-talenting the Huskers. They’ve just outplayed, outworked and outexecuted Nebraska. But with a few key holes in Minnesota’s program to start the season, this would be an excellent opportunity for Nebraska’s talent edge to finally shine.

Poll

What happens when the Big Red opens the season at Minnesota?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    There’s still no hope. Goofers win yet again.
    (95 votes)
  • 37%
    Maybe a little hope, as the Huskers find a way to win a close game!
    (124 votes)
  • 34%
    Hope is alive and well, as the Huskers send the Goofers boat to the bottom of Lake Minnetonka in a glorious statement game. #GBR
    (114 votes)
333 votes total Vote Now