In the weeks leading up to the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ season opener on Thursday, Aug. 29, we’ll be previewing each of the Gophers’ Big Ten West opponents by subjecting contributors from their respective SB Nation sites to an intense Q&A session.
Every team in the Big Ten West has question marks. But what are the areas of your team that have periods for punctuation or even exclamation points?
Travis Miller: Well, we have that Rondale Moore guy coming back, who had a decent season last year as a true freshman. I am mostly excited to see what true freshman George Karlaftis can do to help a defense that struggled to find a pass rush for most of the last few years. He is a local kid from West Lafayette who enrolled early and as a five-star defensive end according to 247. He could have some freshman buzz like Moore last year.
I am also excited to see what Elijah Sindelar can do with a wealth of young receivers. David Bell was a huge pickup as an outside guy from Indianapolis. Along with Mershawn Rice, [head] coach [Jeff] Brohm has two big, strong, fast outside guys to pair with Moore, making the passing game potentially lethal. There will be growing pains, but the potential is there to put up points in bunches.
Okay, now I have to ask about the question marks. What are they?
TM: The offensive line returns only two starters, both on the outside. That means the interior of the line is a total question mark. At running back, both Tario Fuller and Richie Worship have had moments, but struggled with injuries last year. There is also youth. Brohm has brought in the best recruiting class we have had possibly ever, but the freshmen that play are still freshmen. I honestly really like this team for 2020 and 2021 if all that youth clicks, but there could be struggles with inexperience this year.
Is there a non-conference or early season game that will serve as a barometer for the rest of your season?
TM: All three of our non-conference games present unique challenges. At Nevada to open the season is interesting because it is a long road trip to play a Group of 5 team at [high] altitude on a Friday night. Our other two non-conference games are against Vanderbilt and TCU at home. Neither one of those will be easy. If Purdue comes out 2-1 or 3-0, the stage is set for a really good year.
What game do you have circled on your calendar? It can be your most anticipated matchup or perhaps Purdue’s toughest test (or both).
TM: The September 14th game against TCU will say a lot. The Horned Frogs are always strong defensively and this is a fun little night game before a bye week. Last year we lost a shootout with Missouri in a similar position. This year it will show how much of a step forward Purdue takes if it can beat a stout defense. Also, TCU’s bowl performance as the latest view of their offense was not exactly encouraging.
If you had to pinpoint a trap game on the schedule, what would it be?
TM: The opener at Nevada. I praise teams for going on the road to Group of 5 opponents. They are unique challenges because you’re going to be your opponent’s biggest home game of the year. We started 2015 at Marshall in similar fashion and dick-tripped to [a] 2-10 [record] after a late loss there. Going to Reno and winning would be a solid first step, especially when Brohm is 0-2 in openers.
Make the case for why the Boilermakers will win the West.
TM: Offensive firepower. If Sindelar is fully healthy, he brings experience at quarterback and he has weapons around him. We just need a line that can keep him clean.
Okay, now make the case for why the Boilermakers won’t win the West.
TM: The lines. I have no idea who three of the offensive line starters are. Viktor Beach is probably at center, but as for the two guards, who knows. On the defensive line we’re going to be relying a lot on youth, but Lorenzo Neal is getting some big NFL buzz and will be the centerpiece.
I can’t let you go without an actual prediction on the record. Who wins the West?
TM: Until proven otherwise I go with Wisconsin. The formula of having a great running back behind five extremely large men that are very good at pushing others out of the way has always worked for them.