Big Ten: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska.
The college football world is having a love affair with a team that went 4-8 last season and has massive question marks on defense coming into the season, but the offense is fun, Scott Frost is a proven head coach, and it seems like it’s just a question of time before the pivot to greatness is made.
The Huskers went 4-8 last season, but one of those wins was a 53-28 destruction of a Minnesota team that was going absolutely nowhere. It’s a new year, and while Nebraska is considered the Big Ten West’s hot thing, it might just be the Gophers who steal the show.
It’s amazing what three wins can do.
Minnesota was floundering at 4-5 – and was on a 6-12 run following a 3-0 start to the PJ Fleck era – after getting destroyed 55-31 by a miserable Illinois team. And then it all started to work.
The Gophers bounced back from the embarrassment in Champaign to hand Purdue its lunch in a 41-10 blowout. The close loss to Northwestern the following week was at least a fight, and then came the big tree to climb.
Minnesota hadn’t beaten Wisconsin since 2003 – and hadn’t won in Madison since 1994 – but it needed a victory to become bowl eligible. The team found a whole other gear as it ground out the Badgers in a dominant 37-15 win to finally take back the Paul Bunyan Axe.
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It followed that up with a fantastic performance in a Quick Lane Bowl win over a Georgia Tech team trying to send its head coach Paul Johnson out in style, and now there’s reason to think Minnesota might be on to something.
This year’s team has the running game. The offensive line will be fine, the backfield is crazy-deep with talented backs, and when the passing game is going, Tyler Johnson might just be the Big Ten’s top NFL wide receiver prospect.
The defense was the biggest change over the finishing kick, allowing 15 points or fewer in three of the last four games. The 2019 linebacking corps will be a killer, the secondary has all-star talent, and as long as there’s more of a pass rush, this will be a D to look out for.
The schedule will be a big help.
The Gophers don’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, and they get Nebraska and Wisconsin at home. The toughest non-conference game is at Fresno State, and there aren’t any games outside of the Big Ten against Power Five teams.