2018 Minnesota Gophers College Football Preview
Head Coach: PJ Fleck
2017 Record: 5-7; 2-7 Big Ten
2017 Bowl: N/A
Odds to win Big 10: +9500
Odds to win Big 10 West: +1600
Odds to win National Title: +90000
The Minnesota Gopher’s offense was one of the worst last season. It averaged just 22.1 points per game, ranking No. 109 in the nation while ranking No. 121 in pass offense with just 126.1 yards per game via the air. It was No. 12 in the Big Ten in yardage and total offense, and it managed just nine receiving TDs the entire season. The only programs worse than that in the Big Ten were Rutgers and Illinois.
While vast improvement is unlikely, it should get somewhat better, as at least the Gophers have some decent choices in a raging quarterback battle. Vic Viramontes comes from JUCO but is immensely talented, and he has a repertoire that should be well-utilized by head coach PJ Fleck. Redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan was the top option in spring, while Zack Annestead was quite strong as a walk-on.
There are three decent options that all bring different skill sets to the table, and whoever takes over the role will have some nice targets to throw to: Tyler Johnson and Phillip Howard both are gifted WRs, while Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas are both back from injuries to round out the cast. Four-star recruit Rashod Bateman will also factor in, most likely.
The OL is deep and pretty solid, too, with tackle Donnell Greene leading the unit. The rush attack looks to be the feature part of this offense, and it has carried it in recent years. Rodney Smith is one of the best backfield options in the Big Ten, and Shannon Brooks is good too, but he is out with a leg injury and will miss this season. Look for Mohamed Ibrahim and true freshman Bryce Williams to usurp most of his snaps, though who gets the bulk of them is mostly guesswork at this point.
The defense ranked No. 9 in Big Ten defense scoring and No. 7 overall. Carter Coughlin is a big playmaker on the edge though, the problem may be that he lacks a good complement on the other side. The interior should be better with Alabama transfer OJ Smith being the star. Elijah Teague is a true freshman who should have a prominent role, as well.
The run defense has to be better so that Minnesota’s playmaking linebackers can fully shine, with Thomas Barber, Kamal Martin and Blake Cashman all capable of making big plays and having good seasons. The secondary is the brightest spot, perhaps, with Antoine Wingfield Jr. returning from an injury and having been granted a redshirt season last year. Jacob Huf will be his counterpart at safety, while Kiondre Thomas and Antonio Shenault are going to man the corner spots for the Gophers.
Kicker Emmitt Carpenter struggled last year in hitting just 14 of his 20 field goal attempts, but he was once a Bakken-Anderson Kicker of the Year in the Big Ten. Punter Ryan Santoso is gone, and he will be replaced by Jacob Herbera for punts. Herbera can punt both traditionally and rugby style.
Rodney Smith will handle returns, and he has the speed to make some big ones. Keep an eye on him.
Minnesota is building still, like most of the bottom feeders in the Big Ten. There is plenty of talent on the roster, but it is mostly inexperienced talents, and the quarterback competition is as concerning as it is exciting.
The Gophers probably are just going to repeat last year’s results in terms of wins and losses, but making crucial improvements to its offense and shoring up a weak rush defense are the top priorities as this program tries to gain steam towards something more substantial down the road. Fleck is 35-29 over his five seasons at Minnesota, and this year is likely something around a .500 season, no matter how it is diced. At least, that is a best-case scenario.
Prediction: 6 wins