Say what you want about PJ Fleck, but he’s got something brewing up there in Minneapolis.
Coming off a 7-6 season in which the Golden Gophers took home the Quick Lane Bowl, Minnesota returns almost all of its production on offense with a few key returners on the defensive side as well.
Quarterbacks Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan split time under center last year and both are back with three years of eligibility still remaining for each. Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams — the team’s two leading rushers from last season — are both back with, you guessed it, three years of eligibility. Oh, and Minny also returns the team’s top three leading receivers in Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman, and Chris Autman-Bell.
The Golden Gophers ranked No. 65 in the country with 28.9 points per game while posting exactly 380 yards of offense per contest. Something tells me that these numbers are only going to improve with another year of experience for these guys.
On the other side of the football, Minnesota loses its top three leading tacklers: Blake Cashman, Jacob Huff, and Thomas Barker. Look for senior linebackers Kamal Martin and Carter Coughlin — the team leader in sacks last year with 9.5 — to have big years.
The secondary returns Coney Durr (tied for the team lead in interceptions last season), Terell Smith (the team leader in pass deflections), Chris Williamson, and Kiondre Thomas, all pieces that will play a key role this year.
With over 80 freshmen, sophomores, and redshirt freshmen and sophomores, don’t expect the Gophers to go away anytime soon. They also added a top-45 recruiting class with a couple interesting transfers to complement. Fleck is just scraping the surface with those oars up north.
Illinois got the better of Minnesota last season in what was the Illini’s best game of the year by far, but it’ll be a much tougher task on the road against a team with so many key players returning. Steal this one in Week 5, though, and Lovie Smith & Co. will have a legitimate chance to go bowling for the first time since 2014.