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Minnesota was hard hit by the Covid-19 virus last year and struggled to a 3-4 record. They are returning a lot of experience in 2021 and are anxious to show everyone that 2020 was just a year that needs to be thrown out the window. There are 10 returning starters back on offense that took a step backwards last year. They need better play from the QB position. The 2020 team lost seven starters and four NFL draft picks and struggled early in the season before making improvements in later games. There are returning players that should help that unit continue to progress. Coach C.J. Fleck continues to recruit better players to Minneapolis and the talent level is rising.
Offense: One of the keys to the offense making improvements will be QB Tanner Morgan. He was very good in 2019 while setting program records, but tailed off in 2020. He needs to get back to his former production and if he does the other pieces will fall into place. There is no problem at running back as Mohamed Ibrahim, the returning Big Ten Running Back of the Year, returns after topping 100 yards in every game, while averaging 153.7 yards per game, and scoring 15 touchdowns. And he will be running behind a very big and experienced offensive line. The receiving group needs some retooling and Chris Autman-Bell needs to expand on the 22 catches and 430 yards from last year.
Defense: As mentioned above, the defense got off to a poor start in 2020 but made improvements as the season progressed. The defensive front has good depth and Boye Mafe is back as a pass rusher. The linebackers will welcome back Braelen Oliver, who sat out the season with a torn ACL. Four of the five D-backs return so that doesn’t seem to be an issue. There is no reason not to think that this defense will be better.
9/11 Miami (OH)
9/18 at Colorado
9/25 Bowling Green
Obviously, the game at Colorado is a big game for the Gophers and will go a long way towards a good record. The other two games at home must be added to the win column.
9/2 Ohio State
10/2 at Purdue
10/30 at Northwestern
11/13 at Iowa
11/20 at Indiana
The season opener at home against Ohio State is one to watch. The Buckeyes are unknown at QB and they might be ripe to beat in Minneapolis. I give the Gophers a decent chance to win this one. Games against Maryland and Illinois are must wins. The Nebraska and Wisconsin battles will go a long way determining where Minnesota finishes in the division. The road games include a must win at Purdue and trips to Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana. If they can get a win in one of those games and preferably 2 of them, they might just win the division.
Summary: The Gophers have a chance to be very good or just average in 2021. If the QB comes through they might get to the top. In order to do so they are going to have to win a couple of games Minnesota teams don’t normally win. I think they will be good but finish a notch below the top.
Predicted Finish: 3rd Place in the West Division
Overall Record: 7-5
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