If previous predictions are accurate the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be going into Quarter 3 of the 2016 season with a 5-1 record and a 2-1 start in the Big Ten. If previous predictions are accurate the Gophers will be licking their lips and looking to clean their plate during Quarter 3 with Rutgers (Homecoming), at Illinois, and home against Purdue.
The Gophers would be staring an 8-1 (5-1) start dead in the face and only hoping to avoid a letdown during any of the Quarter 3 games. Gopher fans and local media will begin to project the big picture and start to project how Minnesota will fare during Quarter 4 when the Gophers finish with Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
However, the Gopher coaches and players will stay focused. A team that finished 6-7 (2-6) the previous season knows they cannot take any Big Ten opponent lightly and must remained focused each and every week. I look for Minnesota to take care of business in Quarter 3.
4-8 (1-7) in 2015
TCF Bank Stadium
After playing Maryland a week earlier for the first time ever as a conference opponent, Minnesota returns home to host Rutgers for Homecoming. This will be the first time ever that Minnesota and Rutgers will meet on a football field.
The Scarlet Knights are in their third season as a Big Ten member and they have yet to experience much success. Rutgers only managed one Big Ten victory in 2015, a road victory at Indiana.
Under head coach Kurt Flood the Knights have proven they have potential to put up a lot of points, however they consistently prove they are more capable of allowing a lot of points. Sure they scored 55 points in their road trip to Bloomington last October, but the Knights also surrendered over 30 points seven times and over 40 points five times in their eight Big Ten games in 2015.
I look for Minnesota to take a no nonsense, yet aggressive approach against Rutgers. The Gophers will punish the Knights with their ground game and use that to allow Mitch Leidner to mix in big plays in the passing game.
Once again I expect both sophomore running backs, Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, to have big games. However, I see Smith starting to shine more and more being used on screen passes and in the passing game.
Leidner will use his running game to be efficient in the air. I expect Leidner to have easy throws to wide open tight ends and wide receivers.
Expect Gopher fans to enjoy their Homecoming experience in 2016 as the home team wins easy 41- 17.
5-7 (2-6) in 2015
The last time Minnesota entered Memorial Stadium in Champaign they entered as clear cut favorites. The Gophers were 6-1 (3-0) in 2014 and thought Illinois didn’t belong on the same field. Illinois entered the game 3-4 (0-3) and the only thing on Illini fans minds was when head coach Tim Beckman would be fired.
Minnesota walked off the field losers and bitter. Illinois used the upset victory to jump start their season and eventually win just enough games to become bowl eligible and save Beckman’s job, at least for the time being.
There is a lot of excitement in Illinois for the future of the Illini football program. Lovie Smith is now in charge of the football program and fans are expecting big things. Sure, Smith could prove to be an excellent college football coach, but he will need a few seasons and recruiting classes to bring in the talent he will need to compete in the Big Ten West.
There is also excitement in Minnesota, but the excitement (if predictions are accurate) is not only for the future of Gopher football but also for the current state of Gopher football. Minnesota could potentially enter Memorial Stadium in 2016 with the same 6-1 record, but this time there will be no letdown.
During game week, the local media will do the Gopher staff a favor by reminding their readers and listeners that the Gophers were also 6-1 in 2014 heading into their road game against Illinois.
I fully expect Smith to make Minnesota beat him through the air. I see Illinois putting at least eight in the box to try to slow down Brooks and Smith. It may work early on, but Leidner will step up and show Illinois that he is indeed a fifth-year senior and has become a viable threat in the passing game. Leidner will pick apart the Illini secondary and connect on several big plays with Drew Wolitarsky and Rashad Still.
Minnesota wins 27-13 and erases a bad taste in their mouth. The Gophers now sit 7-1 (4-1) as they get ready to host Purdue.
2-10 (1-7) in 2015
TCF Bank Stadium
Sorry guys, but this one is going to be quick. I expect absolutely nothing out of Purdue in 2016 beside playing brutal football. The Boilermakers were bad in 2015, only able to beat Indiana State and then an upset of Nebraska midway through the Big Ten season.
I know Hazell has only been Purdue’s head coach for three seasons, but I was shocked he was given a fourth year. Hazell is currently 6-30 at Purdue and just 2-22 in Big Ten games.
That will continue in 2016. Look for Minnesota to beat Purdue in every way possible. Minnesota destroys Purdue to improve to 8-1 (5-1) with a 42-17 victory.