Preview: Minnesota’s Second Half

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Minnesota's Second Half
10 SEP 2016: Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Kobe McCrary (22) is congratulated after scoring a 6 yard rushing touchdown in the 2nd quarter during the non conference match up between the Indiana State Sycamores and the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Minnesota’s second half schedule is, not surprisingly, considerably more difficult than the first. The good news is that the Gophers do avoid both Ohio State and Penn State in cross-divisional play.

Oct. 21 vs. Illinois

It gets off to an easy enough start with a home game against Illinois. The Illini struggled mightily last season and will have a young team. Unless they improve drastically in season two under coach Lovie Smith, this should be another conference win for Minnesota.

Oct. 28 @ Iowa

Next up is a trip to Kinnick Stadium. Minnesota battled hard in a 14-7 loss to Iowa a year ago. The Hawkeyes have a lot of experienced upperclassmen on the roster, albeit not at quarterback. They’re absolutely stacked on the offensive line and at linebacker. This is the first opponent with a good chance to stop the Gophers’ run game. Unless Minnesota can air it out more consistently and accurately than I expect, this will be their first loss of the season.

Nov. 1 @ Michigan

The Gophers escaped both Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule a year ago. No such luck this season. They avoid the Buckeyes, but have to make a trip to the Big House to face Jim Harbaugh’s squad. On the bright side, the Wolverines lost quite a few players to graduation and the NFL, including 10 starters on defense. The offensive line is thin as well. This could very well be a down year for Michigan, and while I’m predicting a Wolverine win, I wouldn’t be surprised if this game is a close one.

Nov. 11 vs. Nebraska

This is another game that, a year ago, was much closer than many expected as Minnesota fell 24-17. Nebraska has a lot of returning starters, and should be a good if not elite team in year three under coach Mike Riley. I hate to start the season by predicting a three-game losing streak for the Gophers, but…

Nov. 18 @ Northwestern

Barring injury, Northwestern should be pretty good this season. The Wildcats got off to a rocky start in 2016 by losing to Western Michigan, and finished a disappointing 6-6. Fifteen of last year’s starters are back, and a slightly easier schedule has me expecting to see Northwestern back in the neighborhood of seven or eight wins. However, I don’t think this will be one of them. Minnesota will rally after a tough stretch and get to eight wins.

Nov. 25 vs. Wisconsin

You know the saying- in a rivalry game, throw the records out the window. Minnesota actually led much of this game last season, until a 21-point fourth quarter gave the Badgers a 31-17 win. Like Northwestern, Wisconsin has a lot of starters back from a squad that played in the Big Ten Championship a year ago. The game is in Minneapolis, but I regret to say that Paul Bunyan’s Axe will remain in Madison for at least one more year.

 

Bottom Line:

Minnesota’s second half schedule will tell us a lot more about the team than the first. I’ll be interested to see how they respond to adversity under new coach P.J. Fleck, and with a passing game that may struggle. With a new coaching staff, two untested quarterbacks, and a host of new players on defense, this is arguably a true rebuild.

In Fleck’s first year at the helm at Western Michigan, the Broncos were 1-11. Last year, they were undefeated until facing Wisconsin in their bowl game. If he can rebuild that team, I don’t know why he can’t rebuild the Gophers. At the same time, rebuilds don’t happen overnight. I’m predicting eight wins for Minnesota this year, but I’m an optimist; I freely admit that seven is probably more realistic.

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