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Minnesota was always going to be a rebuild for P.J. Fleck and that was the case in his first year, going 5-7 overall and 2-7 in the Big Ten. In his second season, more is expected, especially a bowl game. A lot of improvement will be needed on both sides of the ball for this team to surpass six wins and it doesn’t help that quarterback may not be decided until the first week of the season. Minnesota’s overall odds to win the National Championship are much lower than fellow Big Ten West teams at +70000 (at 5Dimes Sportsbook), but their over/under is still floating around six wins due to a favorable non-conference schedule.

To reach a bowl, Minnesota will need something from its starting quarterback, at least more than Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft supplied last year when the offense scored 22.1 points per game. Redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan had the leg up after the spring, but there’s no telling if that will hold with true freshman Zack Annexstad behind him and Cal transfer Vic Viramontes being an early disappointment. To help, wide receiver Tyler Johnson could be in for a huge campaign after going for 677 yards and 7 TDs, although he needs more help around him. Finding the second receiver in the offense will be important in getting Johnson better looks down the field. To help move the offense forward, the line is a bit healthier and has a bit more depth after numerous guys went down to injury last season. Running back Rodney Smith had a solid year with 977 yards, and if all goes well, he should average better than 4.3 yards per carry. A lot of the offense’s success will depend on quarterback and for now that’s an unknown.

The Gophers could be in for a nice season if the defense improves on last year’s semi-decent 2017 in which it allowed 22.8 points per game. They lost a lot of guys up front, but the back seven should be set with Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin at linebacker to go with the return of Antoine Winfield at safety. Florida transfer Chris Williamson adds some needed depth at corner, but the line could be a problem. Fleck needs to find new guys up front to not only stop the run but also get to the quarterback and it won’t be easy. Carter Coughlin can be a force on the ends, but that’s about it on the line until someone else steps up. This group was torched on the ground last season and that can’t carry over if they want to improve.

Once again, Minnesota should come away with three wins from non-conference play, but getting started on a good note in Big Ten play will be important with the trip to Maryland. If the Gophers can win that opener, they’ll be in a good spot, already with four wins. If not, a home game against Iowa followed by two difficult road trips could turn into a 0-4 conference record. Of course, the schedule gets easier to close the season, but the max for this team will likely be seven wins and with a freshman slated to start at quarterback, there’s no reason to expect more than six. The Gophers could improve on both sides of the ball and it still wouldn’t be enough to reach seven wins, unless something big happens, like one of their quarterbacks breaking out.


2018 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Schedule

Aug. 30 vs. New Mexico State

Sept. 8 vs. Fresno State

Sept. 15 vs. Miami (OH) 

Sept. 22 at Maryland

Oct. 6 vs. Iowa

Oct. 13 at Ohio State

Oct. 20 at Nebraska

Oct. 26 vs. Indiana

Nov. 3 at Illinois

Nov. 10 vs. Purdue

Nov. 17 vs. Northwestern

Nov. 24 at Wisconsin

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