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Minnesota Football: Learning more about South Dakota State

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A quick view from the opposing sideline.

South Dakota State v TCU Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

In the first game of the season, Minnesota will take on South Dakota State, our not-so-friendly neighborhood FCS foe. It’s a night game at TCF Bank Stadium, and as you all know only good things happen in night games at The Bank.

The Gophers, coming off a promising finish to the 2018 season, are actually 13.5 point favorites. If you’re a betting person, you should take the Jackrabbits against the spread though.

Why you ask? Well, South Dakota State is—at least on paper—a legitimate contender for this year’s Division I National Championship. (You can persist in believing that FBS teams compete for the Division I title, but the FCS title winner is indeed the only Division I national champion recognized by the NCAA).

In no particular order, here’s what we know about the Gophers’ first opponent:

This is a strong defensive squad. South Dakota State returns its entire front seven from a year ago. That line combined for a total of 20 sacks last year, anchored by Ryan Earith, a preseason all-Missouri Valley Conference selection.

— Also a feature on this defense is linebacker Christian Rozeboom, a two-time All American and three-year starter who has 300 tackles in his career. So far. Other teams scheme specifically for Rozeboom, but still have not really been able to stop him.

— For all the experience returning in the defensive backfield, SDSU may still have a new look on defense. The team has two new defensive coordinators in Jimmy Rogers and Brian Bergstrom, two position coaches elevated to their new posts following the departure of Clint Brown to Abilene Christian.

— The offense might be a bit of a question mark. Taking the call at quarterback is new starter J’Bore Gibbs, a redshirt freshman who inherited the job after the graduation of three-year starter Taryn Christion. It’s not clear what Gibbs can accomplish yet, and starting his first game ever against a Big Ten team is a rough hill to climb, but Gibbs—and everyone around him—don’t lack for confidence.

— Gibbs will be joined on offense by a star wide receiver in All-American Cade Johnson (67 receptions, 1332 yds, 17 TD) and a star running back in Pierre Strong, Jr. (1116 yds, 11 TD), who rushed for over 100 yards in five of the last six games.

So what do the Jackrabbits think of the Gophers?

— This isn’t the first time these two teams have met up, but the Gophers are 6-0 all-time against the Jackrabbits, who nearly pulled off the upset in 2009. Nevertheless, SDSU thinks of Minnesota as a special opponent.

— The Jackrabbits also relish the opportunity to make a statement on national television. As head coach John Stiegelmeir noted, Minnesota is “a local team that some of our guys dreamed about being a part of or watched from a distance.”

— South Dakota State isn’t intimidated by Minnesota, and the Jackrabbits are tough, but nobody is really calling for the upset here. Let’s hope they’re right.