Despite appearing to take a step backward from its stellar 2019 season, there are reasons for optimism at Minnesota.
Possibly the biggest reason for optimism at Minnesota is that, with any luck, this year’s off-season should be much closer to normal. Players can have access to training facilities and staff; nobody will be learning the playbook via Zoom. (Having to bring in a new offensive coordinator in 2020 was terrible luck). In addition, a more normal schedule should mean some non-conference games as a warm-up before jumping into Big Ten play.
Several younger players contributed down the stretch. Running backs Cam Wiley and Treyson Potts gained some valuable experience while preparing to fill the (huge) shoes of Mohamed Ibrahim. Wide receiver Daniel Jackson didn’t find the end zone, but he caught 12 passes for 167 yards. I feel like every broadcast team mentioned how highly the Minnesota coaching staff thinks of Jackson- he’ll be ready for a bigger role next year. Mike Brown-Stephens, who caught his first touchdown against Wisconsin, should see more targets in 2021 as well.
On defense, sophomore Tyler Nubin made some big plays in the secondary, and finished second on the team in tackles. Redshirt freshman DeAngelo Carter is turning into an absolute beast in the front four, and freshman Cody Lindenberg played well in limited time at linebacker.
On special teams, keep an eye on Preston Jelen. The redshirt sophomore running back made a couple of huge plays this season- he was the one with the punt block against Michigan, and made a crucial tackle against the Badgers.
Bringing Back Experience
Senior Coney Durr announced via Twitter this week that’s he’s foregoing the NFL for one more year with the Gophers. With Benjamin St-Juste leaving for the draft, Durr will lead what would have been a very young secondary without him. As for the linebacking corps, if Mariano Sori-Marin can start last season the way he finished this one, the Gophers’ defense should be formidable.
The offensive line will be getting some big pieces back, too- literally. Curtis Dunlap has been injured; Daniel Fa’alele opted out due to COVID concerns. The line played better than I had expected in their absence, but having them back can only help.
In short, there are plenty of reasons for optimism at Minnesota. I fully expect their 3-4 record this season to prove to be an anomaly in a season full of them.