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Minnesota Gopher Football Preview, answering 5 big questions for the 2019 season

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Who are the most important players for the Gophers, key games and predictions?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Days Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

The season is just days away and TDG is going to answer these same 5 questions that the rest of your favorite SBN blogs are also going to answer.

1) Who is your most important player on offense this season?

For the Gopher offense the most important player is the quarterback. Cliche and true for most teams but especially critical for Minnesota. The Gophers, for the first time in a while, have several very talented players throughout their offense. Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman are extremely gifted wide receivers, both of whom will be drafted (Johnson this coming spring and Bateman in a couple years). There are 3 running backs who have all surpassed 1,000 yards at some point over their careers. And the offensive line has a couple guys likely to be drafted when their collegiate careers are finished as well.

There is talent on this offense and the quarterback needs to be good. Not great, not elite, but good.

Fall camp began with two sophomores who split starts a year ago battling for QB1 this year. Zack Annexstad injured his foot and the position battle ended before it really began. Tanner Morgan is the week 1 starter and the expected depth is gone. Morgan finished the year with a 4-2 record beating Wisconsin and then Georgia Tech in the bowl game. He can certainly manage the position, but he absolutely has to stay healthy and be good.

2) Who is your most important player on defense this season?

On this side of the ball our most important player is also our most talented. Carter Coughlin is a game-changing player in the front-seven. He will often be lined up at outside linebacker as well as playing rush-end. His versatility and overall talent is going to earn himself an early round NFL draft call next spring. But for the Gophers his is the defense’s most impactful player, without question.

3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

From a Gopher fan’s perspective, the biggest change is that there really aren’t any significant changes. There is no coaching change at the top or coordinator level. The starting quarterback and all of the skill positions return. The defense returns all of the major contributors. This is not typical for the Gopher program.

The entire offense returns so the playbook should really be similar with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca having the luxury of being able to expand it little by little. The defense will be slightly different with more changes to formations/alignment now that Joe Rossi has had a full offseason to implement what he wants to show as the defensive coordinator.

All in all, not much to see in terms of changes. This team returns a lot and stands to just improve in a number of areas.

4) What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?

There are a few games that are really going to be key to the team’s overall success and eventual finish. I think they have to win one of the road games between Purdue & Northwestern. I think they are likely to lose to Penn State at home and Iowa on the road, though those games are not out of reach. But let’s assume they lose those two and one of the road games mentioned above. To be in the Big Ten West driver’s seat I think the most important game is Nebraska at home.

I’m not on the national Nebraska hype train, but this team is going to be better. This will be the 6th game of the year and unless things go very wrong, Minnesota should be 4-1 or 5-0 heading into this game. A win over one of the other Big Ten West contenders, a win that very well could push them to 6-0, would really set the tone for the rest of the season. This game is key, in my opinion, between making a run at the Big Ten West title and spending the last month of the season just fighting for a better bowl.

5) What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?

I am very bullish this year on my favorite team. Even in years when I have some confidence, typically it is reserved or quiet confidence. Not this year, I’m going all in. This team is going to go 9-3 in the regular season. I believe that they will go into the final game of the season (Wisconsin at home) tied for first place in the Big Ten West but they will control their own destiny with a win.

I’m predicting a win over the Badgers, the Gophers go to the Big Ten Championship game and then they will end up playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1962.