2019 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Predictions and Odds to Win National Championship
P.J. Fleck made a big name for himself in his head coaching debut at Western Michigan, taking a hapless program from 1-11 to 13-1 in four seasons. But he has found since moving to Minnesota that it is much tougher being a small fish in a very big pond like the Big Ten than it is rising up in a relatively flat and even conference like the MAC. He's hardly the first guy to figure this out, and he has actually done better than most. After starting off at 5-7 in 2017, he climbed to 7-6 last year, including a bowl win.
Expectations climb with success, though, and this is that magical third season where cliché suggests we should see a big step forward from a coach. Can Fleck deliver? Or will he join the very long list of top coaches from small schools who flame out in a major conference? I'm cautiously optimistic - at least to the extent that success is even possible for Minnesota in this conference. But maybe I'm just a little nostalgic because I liked watching the Broncos in that 13-win season, and because when I was in Kalamazoo this summer, I had some truly killer pizza under a big picture of Fleck.
2018 in a Nutshell
Minnesota got out of the gate very well, sweeping a nonconference slate of New Mexico State, Fresno State and Miami of Ohio. No upsets there, but three nice wins. Then conference play started, and for more than a month things were really ugly. They got blown out at Maryland, lost to Iowa, and got smashed by Ohio State, predictably, and Nebraska, less acceptably. They rallied to beat Indiana at home, but that is only what's expected. Then they got blown out at a lousy Illinois team. Things were really bleak - 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the conference. Fleck wasn't calling his realtor yet, but he probably he made sure he knew where the business cards were. But then something clicked. They absolutely destroyed Purdue. Then they lost to Northwestern but played them tight. Then, in the finale at Wisconsin with bowl eligibility on the line, they dazzled, winning 37-15. That got them to 6-6 and into the Quick Lane Bowl, in which they pulled off another big effort, beating Georgia Tech 34-10. When your three best games come in your last four outings, it is understandable that expectations are up a bit for the next season.
Key Additions and Departures
The team returns nine starters on offense, including, notably, the first experienced QB Fleck has had. Two, actually. Zack Annexstad won the job to start the year and held it until he was hurt, when Tanner Morgan took over. Their stats were eerily similar, and both have strengths, so the job is likely open. Running back gets an internal boost, as top backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are both back after tearing ACLs last year - both after amassing exactly 154 yards, oddly. The running could be really dangerous. The only real concern on offense comes at left tackle, where Donnell Greene, who was quite good, is gone, and his replacement isn't obvious.
Defensive coordinator Robb Smith was fired in-season last year after the horrific loss to Illinois. Defensive line coach Joe Rossi got the interim role and earned the position full time after his defense seriously frustrated Wisconsin to earn the first Minnesota win in Madison in 25 years. Now Rossi has had a full offseason in the job. If some of that magic he obviously had with the team in his short time can extend over a full season, the defense could be much improved. Like at running back, the defense gets a big in-house boost as Antoine Winfield Jr. returns after missing Big Ten play due to injury. He's a stud. The only player drafted from the team last year was LB Blake Cashman in the fifth round. They have experience there, though, and should be fine. The other big loss on defense is safety Jacob Huff, second in tackles behind Cashman. The defensive line has some holes, but Carter Coughlin, a senior, will lead the way. Micah Dew-Treadway is a grad transfer at DT from Notre Dame who should start, and juco transfer DT Keonte Schad will have a chance to contribute, too.
The recruiting class ranked 45th nationally, and 10th in the Big Ten - down a little from the year prior in both categories. There are no four-star players in the class. The top recruit, corner Tyler Nubin, was ranked 391st nationally, so there isn't likely to be a lot of explosive immediate impact from the class.
Biggest Area of Concern
The defense. The unit we saw under Rossi at the end of the year is more than adequate. But the one that came before really, really wasn't. The offense will be fine if a QB grabs the job, but they can't be asked to do too much. It's the defense that will define this season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers Schedule Analysis
It could certainly be worse. They play in the Big Ten but avoid Michigan and Ohio State, in favor of Big Ten East crossover games against Maryland and Rutgers. It doesn't get any better than that. They have to play Penn State from the East as well, but it's at home. And though road games to Iowa and Northwestern won't be easy, Purdue will be easier, and Rutgers is a gift. They also get an easy game at home against Illinois and tougher ones against Nebraska and a Wisconsin team that will be out for revenge. The nonconference slate is as soft as it could be, with South Dakota State and Georgia Southern sandwiching a trip to Fresno State. All in all, it could certainly be a worse schedule.
2019-20 Minnesota Golden Gophers Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Minnesota at +50000 to win the national title, alongside such heavyweights as North Texas and UAB. So, Gophers fans can probably make other plans on the nights of the playoff games. They are the 10th choice to win the Big Ten at +4000, just behind Purdue and miles ahead of Indiana at +10000. Maryland, Illinois and Rutgers trail Indiana.
2019-20 Minnesota Golden Gophers Predictions and College Football Picks
I like Fleck, I liked the progress they made late last year, and I like this schedule. Surely, they can't be as unlucky with injuries this year as they were last year, either. Six regular-season wins feels like an absolute floor barring disaster, and they don't have a game I don't give them at least a decent chance in. Somewhere between seven and nine regular-season wins seems like a realistic range. Give me a season win total of 7.5, and I'd take the "over".
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