The Big Ten Conference announced its full conference schedule for the upcoming season, Saturday morning. This year’s unique season will consist of seven traditional conference games for each school, while the last week of the season will be much different than a traditional Championship weekend. The top team from the Big Ten West will still play the top team from the Big Ten East for the Big Ten Championship, but now the second-best team from each division will play each other, while the third-best will play each other, all the way to seventh best teams from each division playing each other on the final week of the season.
P.J. Fleck and the Gophers will begin their 2020 campaign welcoming the Michigan Wolverines to TCF Bank Stadium. This will be the No. 104 total meeting for the Little Brown Jug. With the University of Michigan leading the series 75-25-3. Michigan has been able to get back to its winning ways since Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh has been running the show in Ann Arbor. In his five season’s the Wolverines have had three 10 win seasons, one nine-win, and one eight-win season.
After a nine-win season last year, Michigan’s roster will almost be unrecognizable heading into their matchup with the Gophers. In the Spring, the Wolverines ranked No. 125 in returning production, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly. Since then it has gotten even grimmer for Harbaugh’s roster. His lone returning starter on the offensive line, Jaylen Mayfield has opted out of the season, along with his top returning receiver Nico Collins and his top returning cornerback Ambry Thomas doing the same. Since then Mayfield has announced his hopes of rejoining the team with no official word on Collins or Thomas.
At one point, with three of its best players opting out, it seemed like the Wolverines’ main problem focus was now replacing their longtime starting quarterback Shea Patterson. That task just got a lot harder, as longtime backup, and most experienced option Dylan McCaffery announced he will be opting out of the season and he now plans to seek a transfer. This opens the door for heralded redshirt-sophomore, Joe Milton to become the likely new starting QB for the Wolverines, a job that he likely would’ve had a great chance of winning if McCaffery decided to stay put.
The Wolverines will likely be the most inexperienced team in the Big Ten. Having to replace two of their top three receivers. They have to rebuild an offensive line that loses four NFL draft picks. They have to develop two new starting cornerbacks. And they have to find a new starter at the most important position, Quarterback.
Michigan still does have quite a talented roster ranking in the top three of each of the past three seasons for Big Ten recruiting class rankings. The Wolverines inexperienced roster will likely lean heavily on the running game in 2020 with a very inexperienced QB. Michigan does return its one-two punch in Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins from last season who combined for 1,300+ rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns.
The key to this game will be in the trenches. The Gophers inexperienced d-line for the Wolverines inexperienced o-line. Minnesota, Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi will look for Micah Dew-Treadway, Boye Mafe, and Esezi Otomewo to take on expanded roles after losing three of his four starters from last season. If the young Gophers d-line is able to take advantage of the inexperienced Michigan offensive line the game will open up for the rest of the team. Slowing down the Wolverine rushing attack and getting pressure on young QB, Joe Milton will be vital in the Gophers’ hopes of finishing week one with a win.
On the offensive side of the ball, it will be very important for Tanner Morgan and the Minnesota passing attack to find success, as Michigan returns only one starting defensive back from a season ago. This will be an area that I would imagine that the Gophers would like to attack and take advantage of.
With all of this information, it certainly seems like the Gophers would have the advantage at most levels of the field, but it will be very important for Fleck’s team to not take a very talented Wolverine squad lightly. The Gophers schedule is headlined with matchups against Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska while avoiding Ohio State and Penn State, so a win against Michigan can go a long way for the hopes of winning the Big Ten East.