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Minnesota Gophers

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After a mostly successful 9-4 campaign with a bowl win over Washington State, Minnesota brings in former Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck to take control. But even after last season’s success and the hope that Fleck brings, this team still has a lot of work to do in Fleck’s first season.

The first order of business will be finding a starting quarterback with the mediocre-at-best Mitch Leidner gone. Sophomore Demry Croft and redshirt senior Conor Rhoda battled it out in spring with neither taking the job outright. The competition will likely come down to the final weeks before the season, or even throughout the season. With four linemen returning to go with a stout backfield, the Golden Gophers will likely lean on their running game as much as possible again. Rodney Smith (1,158 yards, 16 TDs) and Shannon Brooks (650 yards, 5 TDs) led the way last season and there’s no reason that will change under Fleck. Receiver in a toss-up with Drew Wolitarsky gone, but that’s mainly because there wasn’t much of a passing game in 2016, or in the year’s prior. While this offense isn’t great, it has just enough to beat up on weaker teams in the conference, similar to last season.

Defense is what won games last year, but a lot of those pieces are gone from a group that allowed just 22.9 points per game. The secondary will be mostly new after some off-field issues gutted the unit with Antoine Winfield Jr. and Antonio Shenault two of the few players on scholarship. Linebacker is a bit more set with experienced Cody Poock and Jonathan Celestin leading the way. The line is lacking in depth, but Steven Richardson is one of the best in the conference at tackle to go with Andrew Stelter. Outside of those guys, it’s a bit unknown with a lot of fresh faces, especially on the outside.

Not much is expected from Fleck in his first season with a roster like this, as the Gophers are projected to finish fourth in the West division with +3000 odds to win the Big Ten (as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook). The schedule isn’t great for Minnesota, but it’s manageable with a trip to Oregon State and Middle Tennessee being somewhat difficult in non-conference. The goal will be to win their first four games in Big Ten play with Michigan State being the toughest of those. To close the season, the Gophers get a gauntlet with trips to Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern in addition to facing Wisconsin in the finale.

With a new quarterback, there’s no telling how this team will look, although it could be said that Leidner didn’t provide much as it was. If the defense can reach last year’s levels and the ground game is just as potent, the Gophers should stay competitive for most of the season, but winning the West division with a new quarterback may not be in the cards, especially with the defense expected to drop off.

2017 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Schedule

Aug. 31 vs. Buffalo
Sept. 9 at Oregon State
Sept. 16 vs. Middle Tennessee
Sept. 30 vs. Maryland

Oct. 7 at Purdue
Oct. 14 vs. Michigan State
Oct. 21 vs. Illinois

Oct. 28 at Iowa
Nov. 4 at Michigan
Nov. 11 vs. Nebraska
Nov. 18 at Northwestern
Nov. 25 vs. Wisconsin

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