GopherIllustrated's Ryan Burns previews the Gophers vs. Oregon State Beavers game to open the season on Thursday night

GopherIllustrated's Ryan Burns previews the Gophers vs. Oregon State Beavers game to open the season on Thursday night

Oregon State (0-0) vs. Minnesota (0-0)

Time: 8:00 P.M CT, Thursday, September 1st

TV: BTN - Eric Collins (Play by Play), Glen Mason (Analyst) and Michelle McMahon (Sideline)

Last week: First game of the season for both teams

All-time series: Gophers lead the series 2-1- (42-12 Minnesota at home in 1981)

Vegas betting line: Minnesota (-13)

Depth Chart

Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Oregon State beat writer Kevin Hampton

Five things you need to know

1. Minnesota welcomes the Oregon State Beavers to TCF?Bank Stadium on Sept. 1, as both schools begin the college football season. The Gophers are 2-1 all-time against Oregon State and all three of the previous games have been contested in Minnesota. The Gophers beat Oregon State 44-6 on Nov. 6, 1954 and then fell to the Beavers 17-14 on Oct. 7, 1978. The most recent meeting between the schools was in 1981 when Minnesota posted a 42-12 home win in 1981. Minnesota will finally visit Corvallis, Ore., in 2017 when the two team meet one another again on Sept. 9 next season. 

2. Minnesota is led by head coach Tracy Claeys, who enters his first full season as the man in charge of the Gophers. Although, this is the first time that Claeys starts the season with the head coach moniker, he is certainly not new to the position. The Clay Center, Kan., native initially joined the Minnesota staff on Dec. 10, 2010, when former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill hired him as defensive coordinator. Claeys, who served on Kill's staff for 21 years, was Minnesota's acting head coach in 2013 for seven games and led the Gophers to a 4-3 mark, which included consecutive wins against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State. It was the first time since 1973 that Minnesota won four straight conference games in the same season. Claeys started last season as Minnesota's associate head coach and defensive coordinator. He was named interim head coach on Oct. 28, 2015, when Kill resigned due to health reasons. In that capacity, Claeys led the Gophers against No. 15 Michigan and No. 1 Ohio State. Claeys coached his first game without the Interim title at No. 8 Iowa on Nov. 14, 2015, and won his first game by a score of 32-23 against Illinois on Nov. 21, 2015. He ended the season by leading Minnesota to a 21-14 win in the Quick Lane Bowl, snapping a seven-game bowl losing streak. 

3. The Gophers have strong senior leaders in Mitch Leidner, Damarius Travis and Jack Lynn, but also only have 13 seniors/graduate students on its roster. Those 13 represent the third smallest group of seniors/graduate students in major college football (Kentucky has 11, Penn State and Baylor have 12). Of those 13, only three play on the offensive side of the ball in quarterback Leidner, receiver Drew Wolitarsky and offensive lineman Jonah Pirsig. Those three seniors represent the fewest number in major college football (Troy, Old Dominion, Florida and South Carolina have four seniors or graduate students on offense). 

4. Minnesota will play five Big Ten road games (Penn State, Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin) this season. This will be the first time in 33 years and just the fourth time in program history that the Gophers play five conference road games. They also did so in 1980, 1982 and 1983. 

5. For the first time since 2012, Minnesota will begin a season coming off a win. The Gophers beat Central Michigan 21-14 in the Quick Lane Bowl to end last season. Minnesota had previously lost the final game of the season in 2014, 2013 and 2012. The Gophers won their final game in 2011 and the started the 2012 season 4-0.

Oregon State players to watch

1) Darrel Garretson, quarterback: Garretson completed 63 percent of his passes at Utah State in 2014 before having to sit out last season via transfer rules. That’s far and away better than any of the three quarterbacks Oregon State had last year (a combined 46.9 percent). Garretson isn't an extremely mobile quarterback, so if Minnesota can force pressure, things will be bright for the Gophers defense

2) Jordan Villamin, wide receiver: Villamin is a big bodied wide receiver on the edge for the Beavers that could give these smaller Minnesota corners some trouble in the red-zone. The junior wide receiver averaged more than 15 yards a catch last season with five receiving scores.

3) Caleb Saulo, linebacker : Saulo returns as the leading tackler from last year's Oregon State defense. If things are going to turn around for one of the worst defense's on paper from last season, Saulo is going to have to be one of the reasons why. 

Keys to the game

1. Quick start: Far too often last year Minnesota would get behind early and have to play from behind time after time. The Gophers in the first quarter last season were outscored by a total of 75-37, but in the last three quarters of games last year, the Gophers actually outscored their opponents 255-252. You see why a quick start is necessary from this offense to turn the page from last season. Getting the crowd engaged and behind the team early at home in the first game of the season will be key, and with this Oregon State offense not the toughest on paper, it'd be great to see an early lead at the end of the first quarter for Minnesota. 

2. Converting in the red-zone: The Gophers last year were top 50 in the country in converting red zone opportunities into points, but the issue was of their 36 red zone opportunities last season, only 53% of them (19 of 36) were turned into touchdowns. That number has to increase this season, and it should be a high percentage against Oregon State if Minnesota's going to win the game. 

3. Win the special teams battle: This may be the thing I'm watching closest tonight, as Minnesota has a new punter, kicker and potentially returners at both return positions. Ryan Santoso appears to be potentially an upgrade at the punter position from last season as he's going to add hangtime and distance on his punts, but with Santoso moving to full-time punter, the kicker position is going to be directly between the cross hairs. Emmit Carpenter is listed as the starter and while he went 4-4 in Minnesota's spring game, the pressure will be turned up to different level tonight. The Gophers also ranked in the bottom three in kick and punt return average last season, so all four facets here of Minnesota's special teams need to be monitored. 

Prediction

I think this Minnesota offense comes out in their first few drives with something to prove and the Gophers get a score early. The question is going to be about how Minnesota under Jay Sawvel will adjust to Oregon State's offense that involves a lot of shifts and motions. Minnesota's going to be playing some less experienced players, especially in the secondary. I believe this game will be close at half, and maybe into the fourth quarterback, but Minnesota scores a touchdown late to make things a two possession game and the Golden Gophers emerge with their first victory of the season. 

Minnesota 31, Oregon State 17


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