While I might prefer a different order, the nonconference portion of the Gopher season is set up perfectly with one gimme and two winnable, yet challenging contests on the schedule. The fact that all three are home games is a great way for Tracy Claeys to begin his first full season as Minnesota’s head man.
The biggest challenge for Minnesota is that they face to solid programs who both find themselves in “Year 2” with a new coaching staff. Gopher fans should be well aware of how much progress teams make in “Year 2” of a new staff.
September 1, 2016
2-10 in 2015
TCF Bank Stadium
Oregon State started the Gary Andersen era of Beaver football with a 2-1 start in 2015, with home wins over Weber State and San Jose State sandwiched around a road loss to Michigan. They never won again and were often blown out in the process, losing 10 straight games to finish out the season.
The Beavers will be young in 2016 but Andersen is a solid coach who always seems to figure out a way to field a solid team. I would expect Oregon State to progress significantly in 2016 and if Minnesota isn’t ready to play on opening night they could be in for a battle.
Minnesota will be ready to play and I look for an impressive performance by the Gopher offense. After the contest Gopher fans will be lighting up the message boards talking about how impressed they were with a balanced offensive attack orchestrated by new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. Senior quarterback Mitch Leidner leads Minnesota to a 34-13 victory by throwing two touchdowns (Wolitarsky and Lingen) and running for another. Shannon Brooks (167) and Rodney Smith (119) both go over the 100-yard mark, with Smith getting a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
September 10, 2016
Indiana State Sycamores
5-6 in 2015
TCF Bank Stadium
This is how I would have preferred Minnesota open the 2016. A complete cupcake at home with a chance for everybody to gain confidence and for all the newcomers (players and coaches) to understand the feeling of playing and coaching in Maroon and Gold.
The Sycamores are a FCS team playing out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and they do so with little to limited success. In 2015 they played Purdue in the nonconference, losing to the Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium during Week 2 38-15, in route to finishing 5-6 and a tie for sixth place finish in the 10-team conference.
My goal going into Week 2 is to have Mitch Leidner off the field following the first offensive drive of the second half. Put up solid numbers in the first half, come out and lead one final scoring drive in the third quarter and then Leidner can sit the rest of the game while his back-up or back-ups gain experience.
Look for it to happen. Minnesota will blow out the Sycamores and they will lead 31-3 at intermission due to two more touchdown throws (Lingen and Gentry) in the first half, a long touchdown run by Brooks, and a Pick 6 by Jalen Myrick.
Demry Croft will get a majority of the snaps in the second half and things will get rather vanilla. Brooks (195) and Smith (164) will once again both go over the century mark in the dominating performance. Gopher’s will be able to name the final score and they will select 48-13.
September 24, 2016
7-6 in 2015
TCF Bank Stadium
Colorado State is a dangerous team and consistently one of the best non-Power 5 teams in the country. The Rams employe former Georgia Bulldog offensive coordinator and quarterback Mike Bobo as their head coach and many expect Bobo to eventually move up the ranks and find himself back in the SEC as a head coach.
The Gophers and Rams battled in Fort Collins last year in a contest that eventually was settled in overtime. This year Minnesota not only gets Colorado State at home, but they do so with a week to prepare as Minnesota will be idle during Week 3.
The key to Minnesota’s efforts against Colorado State will be to get on top early and not allow the Rams to “hang around”. As I stated before CSU is consistently a solid program and they love to play with a chip on their shoulder when competing against Power 5 teams such as Minnesota.
Colorado State will keep things close this year, until midway through the third quarter. Look for the Gophers to take a 20-10 lead into halftime with touchdowns coming from Leidner to Nate Wozniak and a 17-yard run by Brooks. With just under five minutes in the third quarter with the Gophers leading 23-10 they will put the Rams away with a Leidner to Eric Carter 22-yard scoring strike.
Gophers improve to 3-0 in 2016 with a 37-17 victory over Colorado State, knowing that one of their biggest games of the week is just seven days away in Happy Valley.