This edition of TMP is going to be completely out of character but I’m deviating from the typical script. There has been a lot written in this space about how this year really doesn’t matter. It really is about the process more than the results. “Should” we have beat Purdue and Maryland? Yeah, probably. But they didn’t, they played poorly, they were beat and I have long held that adjusting to a new coaching staff is not an easy thing to do.
It isn’t a universal truth, but in general teams struggle in year one. We as Gopher fans have seen mighty struggles in year one for previous coaching staffs. Adjusting to a new routine, figuring out what the new staff is expecting of you on and off the field, attrition, a brand new playbook with new terminology, etc. All of these things matter. In subsequent years 3/4 of your football team knows what to expect and can spend more mental energy focusing on the more technical aspects of the game.
Year one, or year zero as Fleck likes to call it, is really a grand adjustment period for both the players and the coaching staff. Between year one and year two, you’ll see more attrition. Upper classmen who realized through lack of playing time that they aren’t going to play much will decide to move on. The new staff brings in a large recruiting class with “their guys” into the program and we move on to year two with a “young team.” (see Illinois)
Year two will be better, but typically that is when you see a number of young guys playing while the coaching staff still has some equity in place that they can afford a mediocre season. The goal in year 2 is really just to be better. Even Tim Brewster’s team was markedly better in year 2.
Then comes year three. And while I was watching the Gophers and Illini play on Saturday, I couldn’t help by daydream about year 3. Is it a little bit silly to be dreaming about a roster that is 2 years into the future? Of course it is, we have not idea what kind of an impact incoming recruits will have and we have no idea who will end up transferring out of the program between now and then. But let’s daydream anyway.
Here are a few reasons why I think the 2019 Gophers are potentially going to be special.
1 - The Defense is going to be Elite
Some of our best players on defense are pretty young. In 2019 you will have a senior linebacking core of Carter Coughlin, Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin. Two more years of development and you’ll have Winston DeLattiboudere, Zo Craighton and Coney Durr. Your juniors will be led by Antoine Winfield Jr (assuming he gets a medical redshirt), Kiondre Thomas, Nate Umlor and Ken Handy-Holly. In addition you’ll see Chris Williamson, the Florida transfer, likely starting as a senior corner.
Really the core of Coughlin, Barber, Winfield and Handy-Holly is enough to be excited. Development of those other names plus incoming talent like Elijah Teague and Alex Reigelsperger along the defensive line and I really think that defense is going to be special.
2 - I feel good about quarterback
Some may disagree with me on this or they may disagree with what I project at quarterback, but one of two scenarios will play out.
A - Demry Croft is your senior quarterback. That, in my opinion, would be a good thing and the most likely scenario.
B - An incoming recruit is so good that he is starting as a freshman.
I know that the combination of Croft coming off a truly terrible game and the notion that incoming freshman are going to be the next Peyton Manning means that many will be clamoring for 2019 and someone else under center. The reality is that the growing pains you are seeing with Croft are the same growing pains you’ll be seeing with whomever that 2019 starter may be. Brennan Armstrong or Tanner Morgan or whoever they bring into the 2019 class...they’ll all be inexperienced and whatever their warts may be, we just haven’t witnessed them yet.
Croft, potentially will be entering his 3rd year as a starter. This year, he is learning and adjusting just like everyone else. His bad game on Saturday likely isn’t going to be indicative of his future performance. Personally I think you will have a senior quarterback leading that 2019 club. And if not, it’ll be because someone else was just too good to keep off the field.
3 - Offensive Line should finally be coming into focus
Connor Olson and Sam Schleuter are playing as redshirt freshmen. Blaise Andreis is listed as the backup to both tackles as a true freshman. These three will likely be the core of your starting OL and could all be pretty good.
Not to mention that Bronson Dovich will be a senior having seen plenty of action this year. And then, once again, you just don’t know what kind of boost you’ll get from incoming recruits like Austin Beier, Jack York, Grant Norton or current freshmen John Michael Schmitz and Kyle Sassack.
Overall I think you will see an experienced offensive line that should be far more dominant than the current unit you are seeing (which is improving week by week).
4 - Wide Receivers could be our best unit on the team
I know that it’ll likely be linebacker but Tyler Johnson as a senior, Demetrius Douglas & Chris Autman-Bell as sophomores, Phillip Howard and the incoming receivers of Rashod Bateman, Jornell Manns and Erik Gibson.
This current unit is pretty young and receiver recruiting is a priority for this staff. I really believe that in 2 years this unit will be extremely talented and deep. We will be more dangerous through the air than we will be on the ground.
5 - The Schedule is in our favor
This is really about as good of a schedule as you are going to get. There are always tough games in the Big Ten and you can’t project where other programs are going to be in 2 years. BUT...
- Overall this is a year where you have 5 B1G home games and 4 on the road.
- When you avoid Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State; that is a good thing.
- When your toughest Big Ten East opponent (Penn State) is coming to your place, that is a very good thing.
- When your only B1G East road game is Rutgers, that’s a good thing.
- In the West you get to host Nebraska and Wisconsin. I’ll take that over traveling to Lincoln and Madison.
Again, I’m not saying that we’ll have a cake schedule with nobody talented enough to challenge what is sure to be an elite Gopher team. But if you have to play 9 Big Ten games, this is the kind of schedule that favors you more than most. It is a schedule we can hopefully take advantage of.
So coming back to reality and trying once again to regain perspective...I know that this exercise was one of futility. There is SO MUCH that can (and will) happen over the next two years that much of what I typed may be completely irrelevant. But assuming PJ Fleck is still the Gopher’s coach, assuming there are not any surprise transfers of key players, assuming some incremental improvement by most of the current roster and assuming the staff hits on at least a few incoming recruits...this team could be quite special.
The ultimate perspective? This year isn’t a big deal. Wins are great, but it is about the process not the results. This program is being built to be elite down the road. Today, I allowed myself to indulge in some day dreaming about where the road will take us.
Thanks for listening. Below is a wild-ass-guess about your 2019 starters. I’ll hang up and listen.
(one should bookmark this to adequately make fun of me in 2 years)
2019 Wild-Ass-Guess at Starting Lineup
QB - Demry Croft (SR) / Brennan Armstrong (rFR)
RB - Nolan Edmunds (rFR) / Mohamed Ibrahim (rSO)
TE - Ko Keift (JR)
TE - Jake Paulson (rSO)
WR - Tyler Johnson (SR) / Erik Gibson (rFR)
WR - Demetrius Douglas (rSO) / Jornell Manns (rFR)
WR - Chris Autman-Bell (rSO) / Rashod Bateman (rFR)
OT - Sam Schueter (JR)
OG - Connor Olson (rJR)
OC - John Michael Schmitz (rSO)
OG - Bronson Dovich (SR)
OT - Blaise Andries (rSO)
DE - Nate Umlor (rJR) / Alex Reigelsperger (SO)
DT - Elijah Teague (SO) /
DT - Noah Hickcox (rSO) / Malcolm Robinson (rSO)
DE - Winston DeLattibouder (SR) /
OLB - Carter Coughlin (SR) / Josh Aune (rFR)
MLB - Thomas Barber (SR) /
OLB - Kamal Martin (SR) / Mariano Sori-Marin (rFR)
CB - Chris Williamson (SR) / (Durr/Thomas/Henderson)
S - Antoine Winfield Jr (rJR) /
S - Ken Handy-Holly (JR) /
CB - Zo Craighton (SR) / Terrell Smith (SO)