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Dream non-conference matchups for Gopher Football

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What program would you like to see Minnesota challenge in the non-conference?

Outback Bowl - Minnesota v Auburn Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I love marquee non-conference matchups. I can still remember the buzz leading up the Gophers’ season opener against No. 2-ranked TCU in 2015. Obviously that game — and the season as a whole — did not go as planned, but I’ll take a ranked Power 5 team over an FCS opponent if given the choice. I know that is antithetical to the Glen Mason philosophy of scheduling, but as a fan, I don’t think at least one marquee non-conference opponent per season is asking too much. I mean, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, right?

Here is what the Gophers have on the slate for 2021 and beyond:

  • 2021: Miami (Ohio), Colorado, Bowling Green
  • 2022: New Mexico State, Western Illinois, Colorado
  • 2023: Eastern Michigan, North Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • 2024: North Carolina, Rhode Island, Nevada
  • 2025: Buffalo, Bowling Green, BYU

I suppose Colorado and North Carolina are both interesting matchups, but if I was in charge of scheduling, my wish list would look something like this...

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Gophers and the Fighting Irish have not met on the football field since 1938. The two programs first met in 1925, when the legendary Knute Rockne was at the helm of Notre Dame and Minnesota was coached by Clarence Spears. The Fighting Irish emerged victorious in their first two bouts, before a 7-7 tie in 1927 precipitated a decade-long stalemate between the two programs. They faced each other again in 1937 and 1938, but even with Bernie Bierman on the sidelines, the Gophers lost. They are 0-4-1- all-time against Notre Dame.

This is a personal choice, because my dad is a lifelong Notre Dame fan and I’ve love to be in the stands with him to watch our teams square off for the first time in nearly a century. I recognize that a lot of fans loathe the Fighting Irish for a number of different reasons, but I think that’s all the more reason to bring these two programs together again.

Washington Huskies

The Gophers’ 1961 trip to the Rose Bowl was a 17-7 loss to Washington at the end of their last national championship season. I’d like to avenge that loss. Admittedly, this Power 5 matchup held more appeal for me when Chris Petersen was the head coach of the Huskies, but he stepped down in December. I’m interested to see how Washington fares under his successor, Jimmy Lake, and I’d still like to see his mettle tested against a Fleck-coached Minnesota squad.

Tennessee Volunteers

Gopher fans were less thrilled when bowl projections late last season had Minnesota squaring off with the Volunteers, and after beating a ranked Auburn team in the Outback Bowl, I guess I can understand why. But I still find Tennessee to be an intriguing program.

Jeremy Pruitt was hired amid the turmoil from a bungled coaching search that saw the school’s athletic director fired and replaced by Phillip Fulmer before a new head coach was even named. The second-year head coach came under fire following an embarrassing season-opening loss to Georgia State that precipitated a 1-4 start to the 2019 season. But the Volunteers won seven of their last eight games to finish 3rd in the SEC East and beat Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, quieting some of Pruitt’s critics for the time being.

Minnesota and Tennessee have only ever met once before, and that was in the 1986 Liberty Bowl. The Johnny Majors-coached Vols opened up a 14-0 lead in the first half before John Gutekunst’s Gophers stormed back to tie it at 14-14 in the fourth quarter. Tennessee re-claimed the lead with a touchdown on the very next drive, holding on for the 21-14 victory.

Texas Longhorns

I would like to mess with Texas. If Maryland can do it, Minnesota can do it.

Who is your dream non-conference opponent for the Gophers?