Previewing the Gophers’ 2021 opponents Pt. 1

June 13, 2021: We’re only 81 days away from Gophers’ football kicking off their 2021 campaign at TCF Bank against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Let’s look through all the first five of their 12 opponents.

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WEEK 1: (Thurs., Sept. 2) vs. Ohio State

  • 2020 record: (7-1)/Big 10 Champ. & National runner-up

P.J. Fleck and the Gophers have quite the test to open the season against the big bad Buckeyes of Ohio State. They were one of the most talented teams in the country last season, sporting a very balanced attack on both sides of the ball all throughout the season. Although they were unbeaten up until the College Football Playoff, they avoided two serious hiccups with toughly contested contests against Indiana in the regular season and Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game.

Ohio State enters 2021 losing 12 total starters from last year’s team, most notably All-Conference QB Justin Fields is now a member of the Chicago Bears. As OSU always does, they’re set to reload with four-star 2019 Elite 11 MVP and redshirt-freshman C.J. Stroud presumably to take over behind center. The 11 other departures are headlined by RB Trey Sermon, DB Shaun Wade and LB Tuf Borland. Shockingly top WR prospect Chris Olave opted to return for his final collegiate season creating one of the best college WR-duos in quite some time with true junior Garrett Wilson. The duo combined for 1,519 receiving yards in 2020, which would be almost a 3,000-yard pace in a normal 12-game season.

The Buckeyes’ offense will likely be known for a prolific passing attack in 2021 led by Wilson and Olave, with true-junior Master Teague coming out of the backfield. Their defense will be led by a talented pass headlined by true junior and presumptive first-round pick Zach Harrison and a plethora of talent up and down the rest of the roster.

If Minnesota would like any chance of pulling off the upset, it will start with great play from their defensive backfield. The Gophers ranked 35 out of 128 in passing yards allowed per game last season. Coney Durr and Philip Howard will need to continue to play well for the Gophers in week one. Knocking off Ohio State might seem like a daunting task, but Minnesota has a lot going for it in this case. It obviously has a home-field advantage, and Sept. 2 will be the first time fans have been allowed back in TCF Bank Stadium since College Gameday was in Minneapolis for the Battle of Paul Bunyan’s Axe in 2019. And although it might seem like Ohio State has reloaded, they might have its most question marks in quite some time. This game will set the tone for the rest of the season. A blowout defeat could lead to a bumpy 2021, but an upset win or even a closely contested loss could give this team all of the confidence it needs for a bounce-back 2021.

WEEK 2: (Sat., Sept. 11) vs. Miami (OH)

  • 2020 record (2-1)

Week two looks like a much-needed step back for the Gophers after they try to pull off the impossible on Sept. 2, but they should not look past the Redhawks of Miami (OH). The MAC conference started the latest last season out of any conference in the FBS. On top of that Miami (OH) had three COVID cancelations. They would finish their campaign 2-1, before entering last season with the tied for second shortest odds to win the conference.

The Redhawks will have 17 total returning starters, led by redshirt-sophomore QB Brett Gabbert (brother of former first-round pick Blaine). After starting 14 games Gabbert was named MAC Freshman of the year in 2019 after leading his team to a MAC Championship. He will look to get back on track after battling injuries throughout the shortened 2020 season. One notable departure is Edina, Minn. native guard Tommy Doyle who was selected in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Overall Miami (OH) will have a veteran-led roster with a serious chance to compete for the MAC crown in 2021.

Chuck Martin has been the head coach of Miami (OH) for seven seasons and has developed it into a consistent contender in the MAC. Gabbert brings experience and talent to the quarterback position, while the roster as a whole, is one of the most complete in the MAC The Gophers will be Miami’s second opponent following a week one matchup with Cincinnati, and I would not be shocked if the Redhawks gave the Gophers a tightly contested game, it has all of the makings for a major trap game for the Maroon & Gold.

WEEK 3: (Sat., Sept. 8) @ Colorado

  • 2020 record (4-2)/lost Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas

The Gophers’ lone non-conference opponent from a power five conference comes in week three, as they travel to Boulder, Colo. to take on the Buffaloes. Colorado has struggled to reach where they were as a program in the 90s when they were winning National Titles and Heisman Trophies, but they have still become a consistent contender in the Pac 12. 2020 was new head coach Karl Dorell‘s first year as head coach as Mel Tucker resigned and left for Michigan State before the season and Dorrell rallied the troops in a tumultuous season, reeling off wins in their first four contests. They would then drop the final two games capped by a loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Soon-to-be redshirt-junior running back Jarek Broussard led the team averaging 160 yards from scrimmage in each of the team’s six contests until being named co-Pac 12 offensive player of the year. The team now returns 12 total starters, six on defense and six on offense. There are plenty of questions across their roster with a likely open QB competition at the position between Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout. There are very few sure-fire starters amongst the roster, while many sites predict Colorado as the fifth (out of six) place team in the Pac 12’s north division.

Colorado will be coming into its week three matchup with the Gophers on the heels of a tilt with SEC-powerhouse Texas A&M, so there could certainly be some game fatigue. The Buffaloes are an opponent that Minnesota should certainly not be overlooking, but when it comes to a road power five conference opponent this situation is quite favorable for the Gophers.

WEEK 4: (Sat., Sept. 25) vs. Bowling Green

  • 2020 record: (0-5)

Bowling Green is the worst opponent on the Gophers’ schedule and it’s not relatively close. The Falcons have been 10-33 since 2016, simply being one of the least effective teams in the entire country. Coming off a 0-5 season where it was outscored 57-225 the expectations couldn’t be much lower for Bowling Green this season.

Head coach Scot Loeffler is entering his third season at the helm. He will look to forget a 2020 campaign where the Falcons finished 126th out of 127 FBS teams in scoring, averaging just 11.4 points per game. Bowling Green also gave up 476 yards (117th in the FBS) and 45 points per game (only Kansas allowed more ppg). I could keep going, but anything less than a shellacking in week four would be disappointing for the Gophers.

WEEK 5: (Sat., Oct. 2) @ Purdue

  •  2020 record: (2-4)

Minnesota narrowly escaped with a win in last year’s contest with Purdue in late November. After arguably their worst COVID issues of the season, the Gophers got torched by standout wide receiver Rondale Moore who finished with 136 yards from scrimmage on only 18 touches along with now junior WR David Bell catching eight balls for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Luckily for the Gophers and the rest of the Big Ten, Moore is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, but Bell does return for his junior campaign

Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm will sport a very similar offense in 2020 even with the departure of Moore. Both Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer started three games behind center last season, so the duo will likely have a very tight competition to determine the starter as the season inches closer. A Brohm offense often sees a very open play style much like a modern air raid. No matter who is under center its air attack will likely be tough to stop in 2021.

14 total starters return, and outside of Bell, George Karlaftis might be the most notable. Karlaftis is one of the most effective pass rushers in the Big Ten, after earning second-team All Big Ten honors as a freshman. Overall the Boilermakers are not the same rollover team that the Big Ten has grown to know. Jeff Brohm has proven to be an effective head coach, and he has transformed Purdue into a respectable program. It will be important for the Gophers to not take the Boilermakers lightly. A game currently slated for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff in West Lafayette, Ind. has all of the makings of a trap game.

WEEK 6: Bye Week

*Be on a lookout for a preview of the second half of the Gophers’ 2021 schedule very shortly as we countdown to Ohio State.

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