Golden Gophers at Big Ten Media Day
Youth and inexperience were major topics as coach P.J. Fleck discussed his Golden Gophers at Big Ten Media Day. The team has just 23 juniors and seniors on scholarship, and will clearly be depending on some talented but raw youngsters as they try to improve on last year’s 5-7 record. Fleck referred to this season as a “race to maturity” for the crop of underclassmen, and notes that the relative lack of experience “doesn’t mean we can’t win ahead of schedule”. He has four core areas of development- athletic, academic, spiritual, and social- and says his goal is for his players to be better in each area than they were the day before.
How young are we talking? For starters, two freshmen continue to battle it out for the starting quarterback position. Junior wideout Tyler Johnson will be surrounded by underclassmen. There are a lot of underclassmen on the two-deep at every position on defense. All three second-string linebackers are either true or redshirt freshmen. Fleck insists that while there’s very little depth in terms of experience, the team is deep in terms of talent. He points out that his 2014 Western Michigan team, which finished 8-4 a year after losing 11 of 12 games, was also rife with young players. (However, he also admits that playing freshmen in the MAC is a little different than playing freshmen in the Big Ten.)
As far as where the Gophers need to improve from last year, viewers heard a string of coaching cliches. The offense needs to be more consistent, the team needs to do a better job winning the turnover battle, and the players need to take care of what they can control. All trite, but also all true.
Year one under Fleck was a tumultuous one for the Gophers. In addition to the usual growing pains under a new staff, the sexual assault case against several players from the previous season was still unresolved, and the futures of multiple players remained murky. With those issues behind them, Fleck expects a team with a better on-field foundation and a team where the leadership role is increasingly in the hands of the older players.