If you missed Part One of this game-by-game breakdown, you can find it here. Now let’s look at the Golden Gophers’ 2019 Schedule, Part Two.
October 19 @ Rutgers
A game midway through the season where the backups can see some action is never a bad thing. I don’t know what else to say about this game except that it will probably get ugly for the Scarlet Knights.
October 26 vs. Maryland
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Terps, who had a chaotic 2018 season. Offensive lineman Jordan McNair died after suffering heat stroke during a summer practice, and questions abounded about the culture coach D.J. Durkin was fomenting. Durkin was suspended and eventually fired, with Mike Locksley becoming his replacement.
Aside from the coaching change, just three offensive starters return to College Park, along with four on defense. Sitting at my computer in mid-August, I feel like this should be a relatively easy win for the Gophers, who will certainly want revenge for last year’s 48-13 loss. Ask me again in six weeks.
November 9 vs. Penn State
Like Maryland, the Nittany Lions have had a fair amount of turnover this season. They’ll be replacing a three-year starter at quarterback and have very little experience at running back and wide receiver. The defense is in slightly better shape, with two returning starters up front, two more at linebacker, and two in the secondary. I’d feel better about this game if they played it early in the season, but by November 9 I think the young Lions will be hitting something of a groove. I don’t think the Gophers win this one.
November 16 @ Iowa
Minnesota’s best chance in this game may be a heavy dose of Rodney Smith and/or Mohamed Ibrahim. While Iowa’s defense is full of upperclassmen, there are no returning starters in the front four, and only one at linebacker. Hawkeyes’ quarterback Nate Stanley returns for his senior season, but he’ll be without two major weapons in tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, both of whom are now in the NFL. This is another game that I think will be close and could see going either way. I’m going to give the edge to Iowa as the home team.
November 23 @ Northwestern
The quarterback battle has yet to be settled for the Wildcats, with senior T.J. Green battling Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, a sophomore. While there are questions about the offensive line, the rest of the team is a mix of experience and raw talent. Stop me if you’ve heard this before- I think this will be a competitive game that’s decided late. Even though it will be in Evanston, I’m going with the Gophers for the win.
November 30 vs. Wisconsin
It’s the piece de resistance, the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The good news for Wisconsin’s opponents is that only three starters return on offense for the Badgers. The bad news is that one of them is running back Jonathan Taylor, who can easily compensate for any weaknesses in the passing game. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook left for Florida State as a grad transfer, so junior Jack Coan is the likely starter under center. However, coach Paul Chryst hasn’t named a starter yet; talented freshman Graham Mertz and sophomore Danny Vanden Boom could still be in the mix.
There’s been a fair amount of turnover on the Badger D as well. Three of the four starting linebackers are gone, as well as several of the front four.
I think the Gophers can make it two in a row against their rival. A young offensive line, and an inexperienced offense in general, should let Minnesota stack the box against Taylor and let the Badgers throw the ball.
While there are a few games I could change my mind on, I expect the Golden Gophers’ 2019 schedule to yield an 8-4 finish. They’ll lose to Purdue, Penn State, and Iowa, and because they’re young I expect them to lose one game (Nebraska? Northwestern?) that they really should win. Either way, I think the dominating bowl victory last season gave the team a confidence boost, and that Year Three of the P.J. Fleck Experience will be a successful one.
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