The biggest question mark for Gophers opponents heading into spring.

The Minnesota Gophers are set to start spring football practice on Thursday, March 21.  The Gophers will have two open practices: one for members of DinkyTown Athletes and one for the general public. Minnesota will head into spring ball with some new faces in important roles in the program. Last year’s starter, Athan Kaliakmanis, is now at Rutgers and now enters New Hampshire grad transfer Max Brosmer to take his spot. The defense is under new leadership on and off the field heading into this spring. They lose defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and All-American safety Tyler Nubin.

While the Gophers have their own question marks heading into the spring, I wonder what question marks their 2024 opponents have heading into the spring practice. I reached out to people who cover their opponents to give me a glimpse into that question. Here are the answers below in order of the Gophers Schedule.

 North Carolina: The big storyline in Chapel Hill will be at the quarterback position, as Texas A&M transfer Max Johnson will compete with Conner Harrell for the starting job. It doesn’t help that four of the Tar Heels key wide receivers and tight ends won’t be available for spring practices, as this battle has the makings of being a last minute decision for North Carolina. The luxury of Drake Maye is gone. Now it’s time to figure out who is next in line to start. –  Nick Delahanty from Keeping It Heel.


Rhode Island: Who takes over at quarterback? Talk about a veteran presence. Kasim Hill spent seven years in college football, receiving extra eligibility due to a medical redshirt, a transfer year, and the COVID-19 pandemic. His four years at Rhode Island coincided with four straight winning seasons, a dramatic change for the program, which had just one winning season in the previous 18 years. Hill left as the school’s all-time leader in total offense. Competing to fill his shoes are four players who were in the quarterback room last year: Virginia Tech transfer Devin Farrell, Clemson transfer Hunter Helms, Southern Connecticut transfer Jackson Ostrowsky and redshirt freshman Conner Kenyon. Farrell is the only one who saw any time last season. – William Geoghegn, freelancer who covers Rhode Island sports.


Nevada: The Wolf Pack has a new coaching staff and head coach, Jeff Choate, who came from being an assistant. So that’s the biggest question: how do the players adapt to him and his staff. He also brought in several new players. Only 4–5 left the program, so there should be some continuity there. Quarterback is a question. Last year’s starter is back, Brendon Lewis. But Choate brought in a few new guys at QB, including Chubba Purdy, brother of 49ers QB Brock Purdy.   Chubba was at Nebraska last season and is likely the favorite to start for Nevada this year, but he has been limited this spring as he recovers from a leg injury. Nevada’s offensive line struggled last year and was the weakest part of the team. Most of the line is back along with some newcomers, so that experience should help them  improve this season. – James Krajewski from the Reno Gazette Journal


Iowa:  What exactly will the offense look like? The offense should feature an improved line, with former Iowa commit/Alabama player/Alabama transfer Kadyn Proctor anchoring the line at left tackle. That should get everyone into a better spot, or at least a more palatable spot. Mason Richman to either right tackle or guard. Gennings Dunker either stays at tackle or shifts to guard. It’s just a more natural set-up, and when Iowa’s good, it starts up front. But they also haven’t been good up front for a few years, so Iowa’s firmly in wait-and-see mode there. But the major questions will be the actual philosophy, if Kirk Ferentz allows new offensive coordinator Tim Lester to cook, and who the hell will play quarterback. Cade McNamara is a perfectly fine quarterback when healthy, but he’s also missed most of the last two years due to injury. Deacon Hill brings a ton of Big Deac Energy, but that’s about it. He’s not a Division I-caliber quarterback. If he sees the field next year, Iowa will struggle again. That leaves Marco Lainez as the third option. We saw that he can extend plays with his feet in what was Iowa’s calamity of a bowl game, and that was a welcome sign given Iowa hasn’t had anyone under center that could do that with any reliability since 2016, but we didn’t see much of his ability through the air.

And then there is the coordinator. The feeling around the Lester hire was initially, “Wait…who? And why did it take this long to hire him??” But the more people have dug into Lester’s background, the more people have bought in. Iowa has a real coordinator again. That all assumes Kirk Ferentz will release the hand brake – he wouldn’t do it for his own son, so why would he do it here?—but if he releases it even a little, Iowa could have a decent offense. And that’s all we’re asking for – get this unit into the top 80ish offenses in the country. Do that, and Iowa will contend in the Big Ten, West Division crutch or not. – Nick Richards from


Michigan: The biggest question facing Michigan this offseason is not if the Wolverines regress, but what exactly that regression looks like, and how severe it is. After going all in last year, Michigan finally summited the mountain, but after losing  Jim Harbaugh, J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum, the vast majority of its offensive line, and key defensive components, Michigan will be a very different team. For that reason, first time head coach Sherrone Moore has his work cut out for him. As the Wolverines head into spring ball, look for them to try and cement a QB1 and strengthen a depleted, but still impressive frame in the portal. –  Charlie Pappalardo for The Michigan Daily


USC: Some will likely say replacing Caleb Williams is the biggest question for USC heading into Spring Ball on Monday, but Miller Moss and Jayden Maiava are both really good.  Miller led USC to a 42-28 victory over Louisville in the 2023 Holiday Bowl. Maiava was the Mountain West freshman of the year while at UNLV. Quarterback will never be the biggest question for Coach Lake. Lincoln Riley. Although the offense of wine struggled last season, USC has signed some very talented high school offensive linemen in the last few years. So that spot will be vastly improved in 2024. The biggest question for USC heading into spring 2024 is the defensive line . A significant part of the problem last season was defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, but USC was far too small physically.  Lincoln Riley assembled one of the best defensive staff in college football this off-season, and they’ve added some big bodies, including Isaiah Raikes from Texas A&M, Nate Clifton from Vanderbilt, and high school signees Carlon Jones from Bay City, Texas, Jide Abasiri from Minnesota, and Kamryn Fountain from Atlanta, Georgia.

By the April 20, USC spring game, we should have a decent idea of how improved USC should be this season. But they will also be adding one or two more defensive lines from the transfer portal in April.  – WeAreSC


UCLA: How quickly will the UCLA Bruins learn a new offense? With Chip Kelly moving on to Ohio State, UCLA hired Eric Bieniemy to lead the Bruins offense.Bieniemy previously served as an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Commanders but will work at the college level for the first time since 2012, when he was a coordinator for his alma mater, Colorado. The veteran coach inherits an offense that will see the return of quarterback Ethan Garbers, starting running back TJ Harden, and a promising group of receivers. Despite having several offensive players who have played together in the past, the Bruins could face a bit of a learning curve as they install the West Coast offense. The spring showcase at the Rose Bowl could serve as the first test for how far along the Bruins are. The players will also have to get acquainted quickly with other new members of the coaching staff, including quarterbacks coach Ted White and offensive line coach Juan Castillo. Aside from Foster, Jerry Neuheisel is the only remaining holdover from last year’s offensive staff, but even he has been reassigned, moving from wide receivers coach to tight ends coach in March. – James H. Williams for the

Maryland: For Maryland, the number one question is at the quarterback position. With Taulia Tagovailoa gone, there’s a huge question mark there. There are three candidates. Billy Edwards Jr., the backup last year, saw a fair amount of snaps. He is most familiar with the playbook, and was the Terps’ most efficient runner, recording the most rushing touchdowns in the back half of the season. Then there’s Cam Edge, he’s going to be a redshirt sophomore, probably has the best arm on the team, and is a pure pocket passer. And finally, Locksley brought in NC State transfer MJ Morris from the portal. My favorite to win the job, highly-skilled guy who started the year for NC State.  – Andrew Chodes from the Testudo Times. 


Illinois: The biggest question for the Fighting Illini heading into sprig ball is if second-year defensive coordinator Aaron Henry can find enough playmakers to turn around an Illini D that struggled mightily last season. He’ll have to do it with a rebuilt front after the departure of All-American tackle Jer’Zhan Newton, who is expected to land in the first round of the NFL Draft. Henry also has a new crop of assistant coaches to work with: recently hired outside linebacker coach Clint Sintim, inside linebacker coach Archie McDaniel, and defensive backs coach David Gibbs. Henry, who was a first-time coordinator last year after the departure of Ryan Walters to Purdue, must prove that he’s up to the job. Spring football is the first step.-  Doug Bucshon from Orange and Blue News. 


Rutgers:  The biggest question facing Rutgers this spring is who emerges – if anyone – in the quarterback competition.Gavin Wimsatt returns as the incumbent, but Rutgers brought in Minnesota transfer Athan Kaliakmanis to join the competition and battle for the starting job. Kaliakmanis obviously has a history with Scarlet Knights offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, whom he played for when Ciarrocca was in the same position with the Golden Gophers. Wimsatt is impressed with his running ability, but has been plagued by accuracy issues. Can Kaliakmanis supplant him as the starter? The battle will be on display throughout the spring. – Chris Iseman from USA Today Network – New Jersey


Penn State:  Penn State starts the 2024 season with a talented team but three new coordinators. Head coach James Franklin removed Mike Yurcich after the loss to Michigan last year and brought in Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to replace him. On defense, Manny Diaz parlayed his record-setting two-year run at Penn State into a head coaching job at Duke. Penn State’s defense is now led by former Indiana head coach Tom Allen, who crafted a creative defensive scheme with the Hoosiers. Finally, special teams coordinator Stacy Collins left late in the year to return out west and fulfill the same role at Boise State.  The turnover on offense is primarily seen as a positive after the team’s frustrating and inconsistent performance last year. However, change is tricky no matter what, so Franklin stresses that each coordinator should focus on making their systems as easy to translate as possible. Getting talented players like Nick Singleton, Drew Allar, Abdul Carter, KJ Winston, and others to play at their peak by September will determine much of the team’s success this upcoming year.  – Thomas Frank Carr, from Blue White Illustrated


Wisconsin: The quarterback position. The Badgers hit the transfer portal to address the most important position in football again, landing Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who should start in 2024. Van Dyke brings several years of starting experience to the Badgers, but it’s come with some ups and downs over the past three years at Miami, where he’s seen three different coordinators in that span. Phil Longo will be his fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but Van Dyke will return to the Air Raid system, where he saw his best numbers back in 2021 under Rhett Lashlee. The biggest question relates to how quickly and well Van Dyke will acclimate to the Wisconsin system as they face a tough schedule in 2024. If he can provide more than Tanner Mordecai did in 2023, the Badgers will be in good hands. – Rohan Chakravarthi from Bucky’s 5th Quarter


Huge thanks to everyone for contributing!

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