If there is one constant in college football, it is that you should expect the unexpected at all times. After all, who would’ve thought a Twitter joke would turn in to an actual rivalry trophy or that the Minnesota Gophers would own the Jug, Floyd of Rosedale and the $5-bits-of-broken-chair trophies at the same time.
Predicting that would’ve been very bold indeed. Even bolder? Putting all the chips in the middle for new head coach P.J. Fleck bringing you championships and New Year’s Day bowl games.
What would a preview week be without going out on a limb and giving you some predictions? While we look at the Gophers this season, what could we see happening? It’s time to go with some bold predictions.
Here are a few I can see happening in 2017…
Minnesota Will Take Home the Axe
This may be the boldest of bold predictions, if for no other reason than there is a long…long way to go from today to the end of November. A lot can happen in that time frame, but Minnesota and Wisconsin will clash to end the regular season and I can see all the stars aligning to allow the Gophers to win the axe.
First off, at some point in time the Gophers are going to stop the streak the Badgers are on. It currently stands at 12 games and could move to a baker’s dozen this season if my prediction doesn’t come true.
Add in a mix of I know the Badgers are good to screw up something really good and a dash of P.J. Fleck knows what Wisconsin is all about and you have the ingredients to make an upset possible.
I fully believe Wisconsin will come in to this game with a place in the College Football Playoff clearly on the line. They could also be sitting at 11-0 or 10-1 at this point, and in all my years covering this sport the one constant is that the Badgers will find a way to screw up what should happen. In this case, finishing off a CFB Playoff berth with a rivalry win against a team that has no chance of reaching the B1G championship game.
It would be the classic Wisconsin thing to do and it would be a huge motivator for the coming season for Fleck and his coaching staff.
Will it actually happen? Of course that remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised to see Fleck’s focus on getting the Axe back pay off in a major way.
Rodney Smith Will Lead the League in Rushing
Health plays a large factor in who wins a rushing title in the Big Ten, there’s no doubt about that. So do circumstances and schedules and that is where Smith has an advantage heading in to the 2017 season.
Most people are thinking stars like Justin Jackson of Northwestern or Penn State’s Saquon Barkley are the easy choices and they would be right. But, Smith is the third leading returning rusher in the Big Ten after racking up 1,158 yards in his sophomore season.
He’s an upperclassman now and I fully expect him to be the focal point of the offense as the passing game continues to evolve under Fleck and his coaching staff. While the offensive line may be a bit suspect after spring, I expect health to improve and the depth to be there in the fall.
Look for Smith to be more than a workhorse back, as he is second amongst returning rushers in touchdowns with 16 this past season.
It all equals someone who could easily take the league by storm and get the rushing title. It doesn’t mean he’s the best talent, but simply that he will be the most productive back in the conference, even with Shannon Brooks in the mix and also more healthy this season.
Minnesota Will Have a Top 25 Recruiting Class
I know, I know…the Gophers already have that.
But, this is May and not December and in to February with the new signing dates for the class of 2018 in order. Getting from the No. 16 class in the country with 13 commits today is far different from holding on to that class and that ranking when signing days happen.
The devil is in the details of how they are the No. 16 class today. First off, the 13 verbal commits are a large number and that certainly boosts their ranking score. But, it is also a class that has an average player rating of 85.00, and that is the part that tells you this team could get passed up in the rankings.
Schools like Michigan, UCLA, USC and even Wisconsin behind them all have far fewer players in the fold and a better player ranking average. So, expecting the Gophers to end up with a Top 25 class may indeed be a bold prediction.
There’s no doubt the Gophers recruiting has hit a different gear than at any point in time under Jerry Kill or Tracy Claeys. We’ll see what ends up happening, but look for Fleck to pull off a few surprises thanks to his relentless effort and energy.
He’ll get kids you weren’t expecting to buy in once they get on campus this fall. Will it be enough to put a Top 25 class together though? I say it will, and Minnesota will have a class it can build a solid foundation off of for Fleck’s future in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota gets Big Ten off to bright start in bowl season
It’s the one time of the year where almost every fan of a team in the Big Ten can come together — bowl season. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats and no tide is higher than taking a strong narrative in to an offseason.
The Minnesota Gophers got things started on Wednesday and the “Row the Boat” crew started things off well with a 34-10 demolition of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Bowl season also seems to provide a glimpse forward from time to time, and in the case of the Gophers they continued to see progression in the run game.
Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim set a career high with 224 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns in the win.
That led to no need to test the arm of freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan, who threw just 13 passes on the day. He connected on seven of them for 132 yards and a pair of scores as well.
Star receiver Tyler Johnson caught both of those touchdown passes, including the final score of the game with 6:19 to play in the final quarter.
Overall, this game hit all the marks for the plan to be “elite” at Minnesota.
The Gophers defense had been a sore spot for most of the 2018 season and just like they did in the regular season finale against Wisconsin, they showed up big time.
Minnesota allowed just 283 yards of total offense to Georgia Tech, including just 206 yards on 44 carries for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets went just 4 of 14 on third down in the game as well.
It all added up to a very positive performance for the Gophers and a nice start to what could be a very difficult bowl season for the Big Ten.
The cautionary tale may be reading too much in to a big win on the scoreboard. After all, Georgia Tech is in the process of a major transition away from the triple-option offense as Paul Johnson was removed as head coach following the regular season.
Still, the details suggest this is a Gophers program heading in the right direction at the very least. Dare we say it was an “elite” win for a program needing momentum going in to this offseason?
It certainly was a nice way to start things off if you want the Big Ten to do well this bowl season.
Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut
Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod.
But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State.
Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long.
Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.
Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well.
Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.
Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team.
Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward.
Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder.
While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago.
As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start.
Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires
Mother Nature could wreak havoc on college football this upcoming weekend, but the majority of the news has been focused on an impending hurricane barring down on Florida.
A look out West and things are just as dangerous and deadly, as wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington. That could present a big problem for the Minnesota Gophers game on Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers and Nebraska’s visit to the Oregon Ducks.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites sources within the Pac-12 saying that the game time may be moved or the game moved all together.
While the fire isn’t the problem, it is the air quality in the Eugene area that is. Oregon has already had to move practice closer to the Pacific Coast and the air in Eugene appears to be a major issue.
The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast.
The good news is that the smoke cleared enough a day later for the Ducks to return to practice in Eugene. But, there is reason to believe the game could still be an issue as smoke is expected to return.
The smoke is supposed to return at some point. But we just don’t know when. … There are too many variables for us to look that far ahead of time.”
Yes, that means we won’t know about the status of Nebraska-Oregon until Saturday itself.
Meanwhile, things don’t look as precarious for the Gophers matchup, but that doesn’t mean change would be out of the question.
“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.
Once again, it appears things are going to be in a wait-and-see mode in Corvallis as well.
It hasn’t affected Minnesota all that much, as they are more worried about playing at game that would kick at 9pm in Minneapolis if it were being played at home.
Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked this week about making sure players are staying up later as the week goes on to adjust their bodies. That’s especially important as practices are taking place first thing in the morning this season.
Either way, both of these programs are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and that may be the biggest hurdle to get over when prepping for Week 2.
talking10 Power Poll: Surprises galore in Week 1 poll
We’re back…after a long offseason, the staff is finally back to watching football, crunching numbers and giving you our opinions on all things Big Ten football.
It also means our weekly staff Power Poll is back as well.
This season we’ve got five staff members voting every week. That includes the following names:
Andy Coppens – @AndyOnFootball
Phil Harrison – @PhilHarrisonCFB
Philip Rossmann-Reich – @RiseNU
Dave Fitzgerald – @BuckeyeFitzy
Zach Worthington – @Worthyton
Normally the opening week of the season provides little in the way of knowledge, but that certainly wasn’t the case in 2017. Dare we say the first week of action for the Big Ten was highly entertaining?
You can say that, and we did over at the #B1GRewind Show.
But, how did all of that excitement shake out when it came time to vote? Let’s take a look at the official poll for Week 1:
Let’s just say things were a bit wackier than usual, huh?
- Only three teams lost this week, yet it was a winner, Illinois, coming up dead last and it wasn’t even close. The Illini’s unimpressive three-point win was also our winner for “Disappointment of the Week” on the #B1GRewind show…so perhaps their last place finish in the power poll this week was really warranted. It also appears that hanging tough with ranked teams meant a lot to our voters.
- While the rest of the college football world is in love with Ohio State…our staff is much more in love with the Nittany Lions…well not “much more” but they won out with three first place votes and OSU falling outside the top two in one voters mind.
- It appears there is going to be an interesting battle for the middle of the pack over the next few weeks. Michigan State was No. 7 in this poll, but had just a three-point lead on No. 10 Nebraska. Let’s just say the next few weeks should shake out the middle a bit more.
- Speaking of close fights…the battle between Michigan and Wisconsin for the third spot should be an interesting one indeed. Can Wisconsin’s offense keep up the high-scoring and keep UW ahead or will Michigan’s exciting youth movement grow up fast enough to challenge for the top of the East division and thus our poll as well?