2019 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Season Preview, Predictions

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Expect year three of the P.J. Fleck regime to keep the Minnesota Golden Gophers football program projecting upward. When he was at Western Michigan, he led the Broncos to a 5th place finish in their division the first year, third place in his second, and to the top of the division in his third.

Last season, his second campaign in charge at Minnesota, saw an improvement in both conference and total wins. Now comes his first season in the Twin Cities with actual expectations. Anyone who hires Fleck knows that he cleans house before rebuilding a program, so year three is when you should expect the payoff. A favorable schedule and friendly roster composition points to that happening.

Golden Gophers Overview

With the exception of Illinois, obviously, one would not be all that shocked by the winner of the Big Ten West division. Most pundits are picking Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska, but Minnesota has one advantage on all of the rest of their division rivals.

Their extremely young team has grown up as the fighting Flecks entered fall camp with 90% of their offensive production returning and 66% of their tackles on defense. Combined, it makes the Gophers a top ten team nationally in returning production.

Last year’s team rebounded by from a disastrous 1-5 league start to become the first Minnesota team to beat Wisconsin since 2003, win at Madison since 1994 and the only Golden Gophers team in history to win a season finale and a bowl game in the same term. Now we’ll see if momentum carries over to the next season.

Should Fleck replicate what he did at WMU, accomplishing the historically good season in year four, then 2020 would see Minnesota back to the ultimate Golden Gophers glory days from long long ago.

Golden Gophers Names to Know

Sophomore quarterback Zack Annexstad is now out indefinitely with a foot injury that he suffered two weeks ago. That means another sophomore, Tanner Morgan, should get the QB1 gig. When Annexstad went down last year, Morgan came in and threw for 1,401 yards and nine touchdowns.

He also had a better record as a starter (versus tougher competition) and a much higher passing efficiency rating.

Of course, anyone with a base knowledge of zoology knows that gophers make their living in the ground, and this football team should live up to their namesake.

 

In terms of overall depth, running back is the team’s biggest strength, as the U. returns a trio of rushers that have run up 5,000 yards and 50 TDs over the course of their careers.

Also, when a team’s best overall player plays the same position as the head coach in college football, it’s a great thing and we cover that in the next section.

Stuff to Get Excited About:

Fleck is still quite the campus legend at NIU, due to the days that he roasted opposing secondaries as a star WR for the Huskies. Tyler Johnson has already made a strong impact on the Minnesota Golden Gophers receiving record book, and it’s very likely he’ll rewrite that book this season.

That’s because the the Minnesota receiving corps has depth, as more options beyond Johnson developed last season and further progress is expected in 2019. The pass-catching game should be further accelerated by the fact that the Gophers’ tight ends should produce this season, something that hasn’t happened in awhile.

Carter Coughlin, the Golden Gophers leader in sacks and tackles for losses the past two seasons, returns bigger and badder than ever. If a Prince song epitomized his career (after all this is a Minnesota preview article, so there must be at least one Prince reference) it would be “Baby, I’m a Star.”

Notre Dame transfer defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway will hopefully provide a veteran presence at a position that is really young this season.

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Stuff to Be Concerned About:

About those DTs, there are new names taking over this season, and it remains to be seen whether that will be an upgrade or a downgrade. The left tackle position is also a major question mark, and Gophers fans have every right to be concerned about it.

After Coughlin, who will step up and produce at the DE position? The secondary is thin, and the unit’s best player is notoriously injury prone.

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Golden Gophers Notable Quotable

With P.J. Fleck, there is just so much to choose from, I recommend listening to the whole file below. In terms of a specific soundbite, we’ll just go with this:

“We’re one of the most traditional powerhouses in college football.” Fleck said to the media at his podium during the breakout session at the Hilton Chicago.

“You guys are all looking at me, like what? Seven national championships, 18 Big Ten championships- that puts us in the top five in the country. Now it hasn’t happened since the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, but we want to be the bridge.”

“We want to the be that restoration bridge, restore with an “oar,” for oar, for the row the boat. We want to be able to connect that from the past to where we are now to into the future and we feel we can.”

Prediction (to be used at your own risk at the sports book, we will not be held liable for your financial losses):

9-3, 6-3, 3rd place B1G West

This team should definitely be 4-1 at worst, with 5-0 a realistic possibility heading into the mid-October home date with Nebraska. Fleck’s coaching role model is Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, and there is a possibility that he could have the kind of season this year that NU had last year.

Both men are Chicagoland area natives who aim to recruit their home region well. A major reason for optimism this season is the Gophers hitting the absolute jackpot in regards to Big Ten East crossover games.

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They don’t have to play the Michigans or Ohio State. Instead they have always pathetic Rutgers and a rebuilding, transitioning Maryland. The pieces are in place for Fleck to row the boat to a much better bowl game this season.

In the words of the state’s most iconic musician, “let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts” in our hopes and expectations for this season.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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