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Oregon State Beavers at Minnesota Golden Gophers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Thurs. Sept. 1, 2016; 9:00 pm ET
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,805)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 2-1
Last Meeting: Minnesota won 42-12 (in 1981)
Line: Penn State -13

What no TCU to begin the season and an actual chance against a fellow Power 5 opponent? What a novel concept for the Minnesota Gophers. It also couldn’t come at a better time, as new (sorta old) head coach Tracy Claeys leads his experienced Gophers against a very young and inexperienced

Gary Andersen may have yet to have a loss to the Gophers on his record, but he’s not wearing the ‘Motion W’ anymore and he may find out that heading for the academically easier Oregon State isn’t exactly equipped to beat the Gophers.

 

1 Burning Question: What Kind of Tone Will the Golden Gophers Set in Game One Under Tracy Claeys?

Yeah, yeah, the Golden Gophers already have a few games under their belt with Claeys calling the shots, but this season means more. He’s been parked alongside Jerry Kill for as long as anyone can remember, and for all intents and purposes, the scheme and philosophies won’t change much — if any. As we all know though, a coach will ultimately be judged by wins and losses, and for Claeys that means he’ll be judged by what he does from this point forward, rather than his ability to fill in for Kill over the years.

So it begins. Claeys came close to putting his stamp on 2016 by almost upsetting the Wolverines and Hawkeyes, all while being very competitive in the remainder of games, but the cruel reality is that the Gophers finished just 2-5 under his watch after he inherited a team that was 4-3. With the schedule Minnesota has this year, a winning season is more than plausible, but a win in week one is a must for not only the program, but for the Claeys era to hit the ground running.

2 Key Stats:

— 18.4. That’s the average points scored for Oregon State in 2015 — good for 114th in the country. Ouch. They say defense wins championships, but you also need to put some points up on the board to have a chance. The Beavers had serious trouble moving the chains last year, and it goes without saying that things need to change this year. Meanwhile, Minnesota finished 20th in the nation in total yards allowed on defense in 2015. It’s a different year, but there are seven returning starters on that side of the ball for the Gophers. Advantage Minnesota at home.

— 2,701. That’s the passing yards for Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner in 2015. He’s always had the measurables and tools, and although he had a bit of a slow start last year, as the season progressed Leidner began to heat up and add a passing option not many believed the Gophers had. He is getting a lot of preseason hype as a potential NFL high round draft pick, but he’s got to focus on this season first. He should get a chance to air it out a bit in week one, and the Golden Gophers will need him to be even better in 2016 to take further steps forward for the program, and to win this one.

3 Key Players:

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota QB: Keeping with the theme, Leidner is not only a key for this game, but for the grandiose bowl hopes for the Golden Gophers in 2016. He lost his best receiver in K.J. Maye, but he should be able to take that next step in his progression via pure inertia in the program and his understanding. The Gophers will never abandon the running game, but Leidner should be able to put up some big numbers in this one to get him going in 2016.

Rashad Still, Minnesota WR: In order for Leidner to continue his progression, he’ll need to find a replacement for the departure of leading receiver K.J. Maye. Perhaps the next man up is Rashad Still. At 6-5, 205 lbs., he has the size to go up in coverage and make the sensational play, but is speedy enough to get separation from opposing defenders. His stats weren’t that eye-popping last year as a freshman, but he was just getting his feet wet as a freshman as a red zone threat. The Gophers will need to be balanced, and as Leidner stretches the defense, Still could be the No. 1 target.

Victor Bolden, Oregon State WR: To say that the Beavers struggled to score points last year would be an understatement of epic proportions. If there is one lone bright spot coming into this year, it’s Bolden. He runs smooth routes, has great hands, and is always a threat to make a big play — IF … he has someone to throw to him. Darrell Garretson is now eligible to play under center for OSU, and it will be a significant upgrade over who was calling the signals last year. For the Beavers to pull off the upset, Bolden will have to be an electrifying part of this contest against what should be a rather stout Gopher defense.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Mitch Leidner will throw for three touchdowns. The Gophers would love to balance out the rushing and passing games on offense, but in the red zone they’ll utilize Leidner’s arm to take advantage of some size matchups on fade and out patterns. It’ll pay off to the tune of three TDs through the air.

— There will be at least four turnovers in the game. It’s game one and there are new faces at quarterback, wide-receiver, offensive-line positions and more. That’s a recipe for sloppiness and it’ll come to fruition on both sidelines. The team that makes the least mistakes will walk away with a victory in game one.

— There will be a kick return for a TD. It could come from either sideline, but of all the phases of the game that take time to get together, perhaps special teams is the most fragile. There is a mesh of new faces, and with all the limitations on practice time nowadays and needs elsewhere, someone somewhere will miss an assignment or get out of their designated lane and open up the opportunity for a big return.

— There will be a Jerry Kill sighting. He’s gone but not forgotten, and while Kill will mostly stay out of the limelight to let his good friend start his own era in the Twin Cities, the team, fans and Claeys himself will welcome Kill into the locker room or on the sidelines to still be connected to the team he brought back to respectability in week one. Look for some camera shots of Kill mingling with the coaches and administration that love him so.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Minnesota 27-24
Dave: Minnesota 27-14
Phil: Minnesota 24-16
Philip: Minnesota 28-10
Zach: Minnesota 24-10

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