Minnesota has plenty of turnover to deal with this offseason on both the coaching staff and roster. PJ Fleck enters as the new Head Coach after getting Western Michigan to a New Years Six Bowl game. Fleck brought over his Offensive Coordinator at Western Michigan, Kirk Ciarrocca, to take the same position for the Gophers. Fleck also hired ex-Razorback DC Robb Smith as the Gophers new Defensive Coordinator. Minnesota will also need to replenish the cupboard as they are ranked 91st in S&P Returning Production.
Fleck and Smith will only get 5 returning starters to work with from a defense that was Top 20 in Explosiveness, Rushing, and Efficiency in 2016. This unit will be highlighted by their interior defensive line as Steven Richardson is one of the best DTs in the B1G, but the key to the season will be finding an adequate pass rush.
As of mid-August, Fleck and Ciarrocca have yet to determine if Conor Rhoda or Demry Croft will start at QB. The winner of this competition will fortunately not be asked to carry the offense as this will be a run heavy team. Minnesota brings back their top 3 backs from last year. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, who amassed over 1800 yards in 2016, may be one of the better backfields in the nation. At wide receiver, the Gophers hope Tyler Johnson will fill the shoes of departed Drew Wolitarasky, the team’s leading receiver a season ago. While Rashad Still had more catches in 2016, Johnson has more upside and continues to turn heads in camp… look for a big day during the opener against Buffalo. Minnesota has the benefit of an easy early schedule which will afford them time to break in a lot of their inexperienced skill players.
They should at least have some experience on the offensive line to rely on as 3 starters return from a unit that struggled with run blocking in 2016, but finished Top 30 in Adjusted Sack Rate. This group will need to replace Pirsig, but I have full confidence the offensive line will take a massive step forward this season for no other reason than the hiring of Ed Warinner, who comes over from Ohio State as one of the most respected OL coaches in all of football.
Expected Win Totals
CW Projected Total Wins: 8.2
CW Projected B1G Wins: 5.5
Posted Total Wins: O 7.5 +135
Home Field Advantage: 2.6
Opening Power Rating: 54.5
|Aug 31||Buffalo||Minnesota||MINN -23.5|
|Sep 9||Minnesota||Oregon St.||ORST +3.5|
|Sep 16||Middle Tenn.||Minnesota||MINN -14.5|
|Sep 30||Maryland||Minnesota||MINN -11.5|
|Oct 7||Minnesota||Purdue||PUR +9|
|Oct 14||Michigan St.||Minnesota||MINN -5.5|
|Oct 21||Illinois||Minnesota||MINN -16.5|
|Oct 28||Minnesota||Iowa||IUPA -1|
|Nov 4||Minnesota||Michigan||MICH -10.5|
|Nov 11||Nebraska||Minnesota||MINN -8|
|Nov 18||Minnesota||Northwestern||NW -4|
|Nov 25||Wisconsin||Minnesota||MINN +4.5|
|Legend: Coming off bye / Overlook watch / Back to Back road travel / Neutral site|
Looking at the Minnesota Season Win Total, I recommend betting Over 7.5 at +130. This is about as good of a schedule as you will ever find in the B1G. The Gophers completely avoid Ohio State and Penn State, visit Michigan in a down year, and host Wisconsin and Nebraska within the West Division. There is a real chance that Minnesota is sitting 7-0 to start the season. Fleck would then have 5 opportunities to get you to the window with that 8th win.
Take a look at Minnesota -25.5 (SouthPoint) Week 1 against Buffalo, a team PJ Fleck had no issues covering against during his years with Western Michigan. My Power Ratings make this a 24 point game, but Fleck is familiar with the Buffalo scheme. Buffalo’s Defensive Efficiency and Explosiveness indicate the Gophers passing game could have a huge day on August 31st. I also get the feeling this new staff will want to make a statement in week 1 and may keep their foot on the gas a little longer than usual.
Carter Coughlin (OLB) – Coughlin, who played in 11 games last season as a true freshman, showed a lot of potential in 2016 collecting 25 tackles and 2 sacks. He is expected to be the critical Strong Side Edge rusher in this Gophers Defense.
Duke McGhee (S) – McGhee, who has 3 years of experience in this defense, will need to replace the Gophers leading tackler from 2016, Damarius Travis. The knock on McGhee in the past has been his inability to avoid costly targeting penalties as he has been ejected 3 times over his career at Minnesota.
Minnesota is 12-3 ATS after a straight up loss since 2014.
Gophers are 8-1 straight up against non-conference opponents over the past 2 years.
It all goes right if…
Fleck should get this team to off to a 7-0 start if the Minnesota players and fans drink the "Row the Boat" kool-aid. With how favorable the Gophers schedule looks, don’t be surprised if a November 4th trip to Ann Arbor features two undefeated teams.
It all goes wrong if…
A loss comes in the soft part of the B1G schedule. From September 30th to October 21st, the Gophers face Maryland, Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois (Homecoming). If Minnesota wants to be a legit contender in the B1G West, all 4 of these games are must wins.
Season Win Total Over 7.5 +130
Minnesota -25.5 vs Buffalo
For more, check out the full B1G Conference Preview.