We are back with my favorite series of previews to write. Looking at each position group, do we expect that this year is going to be an upgrade or a downgrade from last year?
Before we dive in to this year’s prediction...
How did I do last year?
I predicted a downgrade, and this turned out to be accurate.
“I’m going to be a little controversial here and say that overall we should be thrilled if this is neutral for the year.”
“To be clear, this group is still going to be very good and one of the strengths of the team. But strictly comparing to 2019, I think this will be a slight downgrade.”
To be fair, 2019 was the best season by a quarterback we have probably ever seen in a Gopher uniform. Expecting even neutral seemed like wishful thinking. But it was pretty clearly a downgrade. Losing Tyler Johnson and not having a couple starters from the OL certainly had an impact.
Tanner Morgan finished 5th among Big Ten quarterbacks in passing efficiency and the Gopher offense finished 8th in the league (while also having the conference’s best running back). But lets be clear here, last season was not a bad season. It was just not as good as 2019.
Starter: Tanner Morgan
Depth: Zack Annexstad, Cole Kramer, Jacob Clark
Morgan threw all but 1 of the team’s 184 pass attempts in 2020. His overall efficiency and his completion percentage both would rank right around 12th in terms of program season records. So again, it wasn’t a bad season of quarterback play.
In terms of raw numbers we saw Morgan’s completion percentage go down and his interception ratio go up. In the ultimate team game, it is hard to determine who much of that was due to the defense being really not very good, losing Tyler Johnson and not having a couple offensive linemen from the year before. Also having a new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach is also a contributing factor.
Backing him up was a trio of guys who didn’t see the field but gained another year of experience of practice time.
Starter: Tanner Morgan
Depth: Zack Annexstad, Cole Kramer, Jacob Clark, Athan Kaliakmanis
And once again we bring back every name that was on the roster last year at this position. Morgan is back for what will be his 4th season as the team’s starter. Morgan is the clear starter and unquestionably is the leader of this team.
Backing up Morgan is Annexstad. Formerly the guy who won the starting job as a true freshman back in 2018 before a couple injuries have forced him to watch Morgan lock down the position. Annexstad has experience against Big Ten competition, a very strong arm and is capable of stepping in should he be needed. Honestly, the offense would continue to be rather strong with Annexstad at the helm.
Next on the list will be two guys who both game into the program in 2019, both redshirted and both will still have 4 years to play (including 2021). Jacob Clark was the higher rated recruit and Cole Kramer was the Eden Prairie kid who also came in as a scholarship quarterback. Indications are that should Morgan and Annexstad be unavailable, Cramer would get the next opportunity. But both of these guys inexperienced and the offense would likely take a significant hit if we get to this scenario.
More than likely you will see incoming freshman, Kaliakmanis getting the opportunity to redshirt. As the highest ranked quarterback recruit since Marquise Gray, there is excitement from the staff about him. He was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year this past year, he has great size, arm strength and mobility. But I would be shocked to see Kaliakmanis playing any meaningful minutes or blowing his redshirt year.
I think all of the factors that caused Morgan to take a step back in 2020 are going to now work back in his favor again, with one exception. The defense will be better, not putting the offense in such holes consistently. The offensive line is going to be absolutely elite. The running game is going to be the identity of this offense and used to set up the pass. Morgan is not just experienced, but he makes great decisions under center. And having the full season and offseason to work out the kinks with Mike Sanford is only going to help Morgan this fall.
Losing Rahod Bateman is something that needs to be addressed, but I do think this receiving corp has enough talent and balance that Morgan will still put up very good passing numbers. Rather than having a guy to focus on, he will have to spread the ball around a bit more and get back to finding the guy who is open.
I’m calling this a slight upgrade.
Morgan won’t put up the numbers he did in 2019. But he’ll be slightly better than he was in 2020.
Will Quarterback be an upgrade over the 2020 season?
This poll is closed
UPGRADE - no doubt about it
NEUTRAL - Morgan will be just fine...again
DOWNGRADE - don’t kid yourself, we’ve been luck the last couple years