Back on August 27th I previewed the Minnesota Golden Gophers non-conference football slate. I predicted an undefeated 4-0 start. Well, of course, the Gophers were dominated in Fort Worth by the TCU Horned Frogs, 30-7. My intention was to get a preview of their Big 10 schedule up before their conference opener at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor versus Michigan. However, life got in the way. So I’ll take that as a gimme. Here is my preview of the remaining Big 10 games for Minnesota as Jerry Kill & Co. look to improve the Gopher’s bowl game fortunes from 3rd tier to New Year’s Day.
- Just for fun let’s see how I did. I predicted the Gophers would score 132 points in non-conference games. They actually scored 108. Take away the TCU game and I was 7 pts off. Defensively they’ve given up 81 vs the 54 I predicted. Again, taking away my grandiose error in the TCU game and I was off by 14. Not bad for the my first ever predictions!
Sept 27 at Michigan – Going into the season I would have thought at win at TCU and loss at Michigan. The Gophers haven’t exactly had good luck in Ann Arbor through the years. I had Gophers 4-1 after the Michigan game and that’s where they stand. Who could have predicted as thorough a beat down as we saw last week. After losing 3 years ago 58-0, to now winning 30-14, Jerry Kill has shown progress, especially on defense.
Oct 11 vs Northwestern – Again, prior to last week, I would have said this is as close to a sure thing as is possible. But Northwestern took down undefeated Penn State in Happy Valley last weekend. That’s an impressive win for Pat Fitzgerald’s team, a team that was badly in need of a good win. However, Minnesota’s defense is 5th in the Big 10 in pts allowing just over 19 pts per game. Northwestern is 12th in Scoring Offense in the conference. If Minnesota can score 20 they win, and I think they will. Gophers win 27-17.
Oct 18th vs Purdue – The Boilermakers are terrible. No other way to say it. They rank in the bottom 5 of the Big 10 in almost every category. Specifically, their passing offense is abysmal. Against the improved and experienced Gophers secondary that doesn’t bode well. Minnesota will run over Purdue as well. The Boilermakers are giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground, and that came against two MAC teams, an FCS school and ND and Iowa. Those last two are understandable, but either way, an ugly season for Purdue only gets uglier. Gophers 38-14.
Oct 25th at Illinois – It will be strength against strength in this match-up. Illinois boasts the strongest passing attack in the Big 10. Again, Minnesota’s secondary will be tested. Road games in conference play are tricky, no matter the records. If Minnesota loses a game they “shouldn’t” I can see it being this one. However, the Gophers, even under Tim Brewster, found ways to win in Champaign, Ill. There’s a different feel around this Gophers team, and Illinois defense ranks last in the Big 10. Plus, in the only 2 real tests for the Illini, they lost by a combined score of 89-43. I see a higher scoring game, but Minnesota starts out conference play 4-0, maybe sneaking into the Top 25, 35-31.
Nov 8 vs Iowa – The bye week on Nov 1st will be extremely convenient and important to the Gophers. The final 4 conference games are brutal (as difficult as things can get in the awful Big 10). This starts a stretch vs Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. However, the bye week can help get the Gophers healthy in the 80th battle for Floyd of Rosedale against their neighbors to the south. Fans like myself were excited for last year’s match-up vs the Hawkeyes, only to be reminded of the their supremacy on the football field in recent years. These are two similar teams with similar strengths. The change of QB in Iowa City seemed to spark the team last week. This one is too close to call. I imagine Matt Limegrover will have the Gophers offense in better shape than they looked in 2013 at TCF Bank Stadium for this huge game. At the risk of being called a “homer”, I’ll take Minnesota to win 20-17 on a Ryan Santoso FG at the horn.
Nov 15 vs Ohio State – A lot can change between now and Nov 15th. If the Gophers remain at 1-loss they’ll have plenty of confidence coming in to this game. Ohio State’s JT Barrett, who replaced Braxton Miller, will have plenty of seasoning by this time and should be comfortable. Injuries aside, the Buckeyes are still a more talented team. However, they aren’t the most experienced or physical team seen in Columbus over the years. The Buckeyes’ defense has shown holes, specifically in its highly discussed loss to Virginia Tech (who the next week lost to Georgia Tech) and last week’s game vs Cincinatti. I don’t see how the Gophers can score with Ohio State though, even against a weaker than average rush defense. Gotta go with Ohio State here, Buckeyes win 34-24.
Nov 22 at Nebraska – Minnesota surprised their fans, and the nation, when they beat Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium last season. It had a similar feel to the Michigan game this year, taking down a national power experience a down year. But that Husker squad was much better than the 2014 Wolverines. Ameer Abdullah looks unstoppable on the ground. If you haven’t seen his game-winning catch and run vs McNeese St, check it out here. They have looked impressive recently, but face their toughest test Oct 4th at Michigan State. Nebraska is the lone undefeated team left in the Big 10 as of today, though I don’t expect that when they play Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. Huskers have revenge on their mind and win convincingly, 42-20.
Nov 29 at Wisconsin – This is the game every Gopher fan wants more than any other. It’s the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. It’s jealousy, envy, and all that goes with it. Wisconsin has what Minnesota wants, an established power in the nation’s most popular sport. Hockey is not that sport. The Badgers have obviously tilted this rivalry in their favor. This is the closest the two teams have been in talent and potential since 2005 when the Badgers blocked a punt with 38 seconds remaining and trailing 34-31. watch it here. OUCH I don’t see Minnesota going into Camp Randall and pulling off a win vs the Badgers. Their running game is too much. And just like the Iowa/Minnesota match-up, close games usually go the way of the home team. Wisconsin wins 28-24.
Gophers finish 8-4, a huge program builder to get back-to-back 8-win seasons, but the 2014 version has the tougher schedule with TCU on the non-conference slate. But wins versus Michigan and Iowa, trophy games, helps ease another loss to Wisconsin. A 6-game winning streak followed by a 3-game losing streak to end the year sounds right. Minnesota has to make hay against NW, PUR and ILL or it could be a tough Big 10 season.