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Things will look a little different for the Gophers this year under head coach P.J. Fleck, who enters his seventh year as head coach for Minnesota. He is now the Big Ten West’s second-longest tenured coach. While the Gophers will need to replace some personnel on both sides of the ball, there are plenty of reasons for Gophers fans to be excited entering 2023.
Below are my nine bold predictions for the 2023 season. Let me say for the record that with a few of them, I would not be angry if I was proven wrong.
1. The Gophers will have three tailbacks rush for over 500 yards this season.
It’s going to be really weird not seeing Mo Ibrahim in the backfield this year. Who graduated as one of the best running backs in Minnesota history. Gopher fans were used to Mo getting the ball over 25 times a game; those days are gone. It appears now that the carries will be split by a committee. Sean Tyler comes in as a Western Michigan graduate transfer; he ran for over 1,000 yards the last two seasons. Behind him are studs Zach Evans and Darius Taylor. Bryce Williams returns as well. Former coach Glen Mason always talked about having “a pair and a spare” (good podcast too, by the way) when it comes to running backs. Fleck has it this year. I predict the Gophers will have three running backs with over 500 yards this season. The last time they had that was in 2021 with Ky Thomas, Bucky Irving, and Trey Potts.
2. The Gophers will finish in the Top 8 of the Big Ten in team sacks.
The Minnesota defense was great at many things last year, but getting to the quarterback was not one of them. Minnesota finished second-to-last in the conference with a total of 19 team sacks. Only one ahead of Northwestern. Talent was not the problem; it’s consistency. Jah Joyner started slow last season but finished the year on a strong note. Minnesota also returns its sack leader, Danny Striggow. Another name to remember is Anthony Smith, who has been having a great fall camp. Under new defensive line coach and Gophers alum Winston DeLattiboudere, Minnesota will finish in the Top 8 of team sacks this season.
3. One streak will be broken while two streaks continue.
Illinois head coach Bret Bielema has never lost to Minnesota as a head coach. He has an 8-0 career record against the Gophers going back to his time as the coach of Wisconsin. The Illini’ travel to Minneapolis the first week of November, and I predict Bret Bielema will get his first loss against Minnesota.
The all-time series between Minnesota and Wisconsin is tied at 62-62-8. Minnesota currently has a two-game winning streak over the Badgers. Minnesota will make it three in a row when Luke Fickell comes to town.
Nobody has to tell P.J. Fleck that he has yet to beat Iowa in his Minnesota tenure. The Gophers will travel to Iowa City after a tough game at home against Michigan. The Big Ten West favorites will continue their streak over Fleck with a victory over Minnesota.
4. The Gophers will have two first-team All-Big Ten players for the second year in a row.
Last year, Mo Ibrahim and John Michael Schmitz were voted to the first team by coaches and the media.. Tyler Nubin was voted second team last year by the media and coaches, and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford was an honorable mention (which is mind-boggling). Both are returning this year as top players in their positions in the conference, and both will be named to the first team by the end of the season.
5. Athan Kaliakmanis will enter two Top 10 program records lists.
With all sorts of weapons around him, Kaliakmanis will have plenty of playmakers to throw it to this season. If the offense looks anything like the last two games of the season last year, Athan could enter himself into some Top 10 program record lists. Against Wisconsin, he passed for 319 yards and two touchdowns. He had 80 yards against Syracuse before he was injured in the second quarter. Bryan Cupito threw for 2,530 yards in 2005 for Minnesota, good enough to be 10th all-time in a single season for Minnesota. Three Gopher players are tied for 10th all-time with 15 touchdowns thrown in a single season. I predict Athan will throw more than 2,530 yards and 15 touchdowns this year.
6. This will be the last season with Joe Rossi.
Arguably one of the best defensive coordinators in the Big Ten, it’s almost surprising Rossi is still with Minnesota. P.J. Fleck mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he has had numerous opportunities to leave but has decided to stay with the program. This will be his sixth year at Minnesota and his fourth full season as defensive coordinator and linebackers’ coach. The Gophers have had a Top 10 defense the last two years under his leadership. He was a 2021 nominee for the Broyles Award (presented annually to the best assistant coach in college football). Eight defensive players have been drafted since 2019. While I sure hope I am proven wrong here, I predict Joe Rossi will be a head coach somewhere else next year. He deserves it.
7. Minnesota will have three receivers with 400 yards this season.
The last time the Gophers had three receivers with over 400 yards in a season was in 2018, with Johnson (1169), Bateman (704), and Autman-Bell (449). Minnesota has never had four receivers finish with over 400 yards in a season, but they did come close in 2010 and 2006. No doubt, Minnesota has to throw the ball more this year to be successful. P.J. Fleck addressed this issue in the transfer portal to compliment the top two receivers returning, Daniel Jackson and Brevyn Spann-Ford. Graduate transfer Corey Crooms comes from Western Michigan as a slot receiver. He comes in with 115 catches and plenty of experience from his time in Kalamazoo. I’m really excited for 2021 Conference USA freshman of the year Elijah Spencer, who I see being an impact player right away. Let us not forget fan favorite Chris Autman-Bell, who is returning from a serious knee injury. While he may not be 100% ready at the start of the season, Gopher fans know what he can do. I predict that at least three receivers will finish with over 400 yards this season.
8. Tyler Nubin becomes an All-American and enters programs Top Ten lists.
The Illinois native enters his final season for Minnesota already with well-deserved preseason hype, with many predicting him to be a first-team All-Big Ten selection and The Athletic naming him a preseason All-American. The 2022 All-Big Ten second-team safety returns to lead the Gopher defense. Nubin needs one more interception to enter the program’s Top 10 interceptions in a career. He will be tied for first all time if he repeats last year’s four interceptions. I predict Tyler Nubin will follow in Antoine Winfield Jr.’s footsteps and become an All-American.
9. Minnesota will win nine games in a season for the third year in a row.
It has literally been over 100 years since the Gophers have won nine games in three consecutive seasons. In just six years, Fleck has already established himself as one of the most successful coaches in program history. Only he and Henry L. Williams are the only two Gopher coaches to record nine or more wins in a season three times. After this season, Williams and Fleck will be the only coaches to do it three seasons in a row. For the record, I’m going to predict the Gophers get their ninth win in the bowl game.