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2021 Minnesota college football preview: Gophers look to return to 2019 success

Minnesota broke through with 11 wins in 2019, but dropped off last year in a pandemic-impacted season.

Minnesota v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers went through one of their best seasons in program history in 2019 when they finished 11-2, but they took a big step back in 2020 with a 3-4 record. It’s certainly unfair to judge a team based on how they played during a pandemic, especially the way the Big Ten handled it with the start-and-stop nature of August and September.

Minnesota increased their win total in each of PJ Fleck’s first three seasons until 2020, so there is reason to expect big improvement especially with a much more normal offseason. The Gophers were extremely bad defensively last year as they tried to replace a ton of starters. The passing game looked fantastic in 2019, but the whole operation regressed in just about every area statistically.

2020 Season Review

  • 3-4 Big Ten (4th in West)
  • Lost three of the first four games, closed out by winning two of their final three

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 38
ESPN Returning Production: 80% overall (25th): 75% offense (53rd), 84% defense (18th)
Returning Talent Index: Positive, 7th in Big Ten
Returning starters: 10/11 offense, 10/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Tanner Morgan (Senior)

Tanner Morgan saw his numbers drop quite a bit in 2020. He completed 66% of his passes for 3,253 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions the previous year. Last year, his completion percentage dropped to 57.9 for 1,374 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. This is a big year for him as he will have less explosive options to work with in 2021 without elite talent at the wide receiver position he has had the past few years.

Offense (non-QB): RB Mohamed Ibrahim (Senior)

Mohamed Ibrahim has developed into one of the best running backs in the conference. In seven games last season, he rushed for 1,076 yards and reached the end zone 15 times. Combining Ibrahim’s talent with what Minnesota is bringing back on the offensive line, the rushing attack should be a major strength in 2021.

Defense: DL Nyles Pinckney (Senior)

Minnesota’s defense became slightly better as the season went along, but it was certainly a mess in the 2020 season. They allowed 94 points in their first two games of the season, and not a whole lot went right for this group. The Gophers brought in plenty of talent through the transfer portal, highlighted by Nyles Pinckney, who has been a major player for the Clemson Tigers as a defensive tackle. The front of this Gophers defense should be much improved.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 34th overall: 18th offense, 64th defense, 119th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 31st overall: 20th offense, 48th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +20000
To win Big Ten: +2200
Win total: 6.5 (Over -125, Under +105)

2020 Against The Spread: 4-3-0
2020 Point Total: Over 3-4-0

2021 Minnesota Schedule

2021 Minnesota Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Thursday, Sep. 2 Ohio State 8:00 pm/Fox Minn +13.5
Saturday, Sep. 11 Miami (Ohio) 12:00 pm/ESPNU N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 at Colorado 1:00 pm/Pac-12 Net N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 Bowling Green 12:00 pm/ESPN N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 at Purdue 12:00 pm/TBA Minn -2
Saturday, Oct. 9 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 Nebraska TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 Maryland TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Northwestern TBA Minn -2.5
Saturday, Nov. 6 Illinois TBA Minn -12.5
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Iowa TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 at Indiana TBA Minn +7.5
Saturday, Nov. 27 Wisconsin TBA N/A