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Minnesota Football: Thoughts on the Gophers’ new 2020 Big Ten schedule

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Pretend for a day that a fall season is going to happen

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten released their new 10-game conference-only fall football schedules this morning, and I have some thoughts now that I’ve had a chance to give them a closer look.

A word of caution

The release of a schedule is not confirmation of a fall football season, and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren made that clear in an interview The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach: “Even though we have a schedule and we have student-athletes working out on our campuses, it is not a guarantee that we will have a football season or that we’ll have fall sports.” What is being presented to us is a plan, one that includes conference-wide medical protocols and a scheduling model that offers flexibility. Here at The Daily Gopher, we’re going to continue to produce content that reflects the possibility of a 2020 season, but we’re all prepared for the axe (not Paul Bunyan’s) to drop.

I am hopeful, but not optimistic.

Rivalry Week is out. Rivalry Month is in.

Week 2 (Sept. 12): Michigan
Week 3 (Sept. 19): Iowa
Week 4 (Sept. 26): @ Wisconsin
Week 5 (Oct. 3): @ Nebraska

Four weeks. Four rivalry trophies on the line. And all four games follow a season opener on the road against a Michigan State squad that will be taking the field with a new head coach. The first half of the new schedule presents quite a challenge for a Minnesota team replacing its leading rusher, top two receivers, and seven starters on defense. Gone are the non-conference games where the Gophers might have been able to work out the kinks. Instead it’s going to be trial by fire for the likes of Mariano Sori-Marin, Boye Mafe, Tyler Nubin, Justus Harris, and co.

Indiana presents a new challenge

With the implementation of a 10-game conference schedule, each team picked up an additional division crossover matchup. The Gophers’ gained an October home game against the Hoosiers, who finished 5th in the Big Ten East last season with a 5-4 conference record. It was Indiana’s first eight-win season in 26 years. The two programs have only played twice over the last decade, but both games have been entertaining, to say the least.

The Hoosiers’ offense will present a formidable challenge for the Minnesota defense, with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., running back Stevie Scott III, and wide receiver Whop Philyor all being named to the preseason Maxwell Award watch list. While the skill positions are loaded, offensive line is where Indiana needs to see improvement in a unit that also lacks depth. The Hoosier defense returns nine starters from a season ago and ranks 13th nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten in returning production, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly.

Again, that first half of the schedule will be a gauntlet for the Gophers.

Looking around the Big Ten West

Here are the crossover matchups for each of the West division teams:

  • Illinois: Ohio State, @ Indiana, @ Rutgers, Penn State
  • Iowa: Maryland, @ Penn State, Michigan State, @ Ohio State
  • Minnesota: @ Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, @ Maryland
  • Nebraska: @ Rutgers, @ Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State
  • Northwestern: @ Penn State, @ Michigan State, Maryland, Michigan
  • Purdue: @ Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers, @ Indiana
  • Wisconsin: Indiana, @ Maryland, @ Michigan, Rutgers

I think Iowa is a contender in the West, but that is a brutal draw. The bulk of their marquee matchups are in the back half of the schedule, which should benefit their new starting quarterback.

Wisconsin has a road trip to Ann Arbor and added a home game against Rutgers. But swap a home game against Rutgers for a road game against Michigan State and you have the Gophers’ crossover schedule. So I don’t think Minnesota has anything to complain about.

Purdue returns a lot of starters and will be a popular dark horse pick in the West, but they open the season at Michigan and then host Iowa and Ohio State. Good luck with that.

A Nebraska fan complained about the Cornhuskers having to face Ohio State on a regular basis, and The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel proceeded to bury them in less than 280 characters:

Poll

If there is a 2020 season, how many games do you expect Minnesota to win?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    0
    (8 votes)
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    1
    (1 vote)
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    2
    (2 votes)
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    3
    (1 vote)
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    4
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    5
    (23 votes)
  • 15%
    6
    (47 votes)
  • 27%
    7
    (83 votes)
  • 26%
    8
    (80 votes)
  • 6%
    9
    (20 votes)
  • 9%
    10
    (30 votes)
303 votes total Vote Now