The countdown to the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ much-anticipated season opener against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday, Sept. 2, continues, but the release of the preseason Coaches Poll draws attention to what could be a brutal three-game stretch to close out the regular season.
As expected, the Buckeyes will open the season as a Top 5 team, checking in at No. 4 in the Coaches Poll. But four other Big Ten teams also made the Top 25: Wisconsin (No. 15), Indiana (No. 17), Iowa (No. 18), and Penn State (No. 20).
The Gophers have their work cut out for them against the Buckeyes. Ohio State is looking to reload after losing five starters on each side of the ball. On offense, quarterback Justin Fields leaves the biggest shoes to fill. Redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud is expected to step in under center, though he has yet to throw the football in a collegiate game. Fortunately for him, he’ll have a pair of game-changing wide receivers — Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — to help him get acclimated. Defensively, Ohio State will need to replace their five leading tacklers from last season, including their top four linebackers from last year’s team.
Fans have certainly had the Ohio State game circled on their calendars for some time now, but looking ahead to November reveals a three-game stretch to end the regular season that will could very well determine the Gophers’ fate in the Big Ten West: at No. 18-ranked Iowa (Nov. 13), at No. 17-ranked Indiana (Nov. 20), and No. 15-ranked Wisconsin (Nov. 27).
Iowa is hoping for better from second-year signal caller Spencer Petras, though he’ll have to do so without top wideouts Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith. Running back Tyler Goodson figures to be the focal point of their offense, but he’ll be operating behind an offensive line replacing two starters. The Hawkeyes will need to weather a fair number of casualties on the defensive side of the ball, replacing top tackler Nick Niemann at linebacker and three-fourths of their defensive line. Their secondary figures to be one of the best in the Big Ten, bringing back both starting cornerbacks and hard-hitting safety Jack Koerner.
Indiana is fresh off a Top 10 finish a season ago and hoping that dynamic quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will be at full strength after tearing his ACL in November of last year. But the offense will need to replace running back Stevie Scott and wide receiver Whop Philyor, both of whom will be playing on Sundays this fall. The Hoosiers return nine starters on defense, including a pair of All-Americans in linebacker Micah McFadden and cornerback Tiawan Mullen. The question will be how much changes sunder new defensive coordinator Charlton Warren.
After finishing 4-3 last season, Wisconsin is back to being the favorite in the Big Ten West, as least in the eyes of Big Ten beat writers. The offenses loses left tackle Cole Van Lanen and left guard Jon Dietzen, but returns quarterback Graham Mertz and all of their skill position players from last year. The Badgers’ defense will need to replace a pair of defensive ends and free safety Eric Burrell, but reloading on that side of the ball has never seemed to be an issue for them.
How will Minnesota fare against Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin?
This poll is closed