#75 Minnesota 2018 Football Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Overall Rank: #75
#11 Big Ten
 Minnesota Logo
Minnesota made a splash hire with P.J. Fleck as its head coach prior to the 2017 season. The “Row the Boat” mantra of Fleck increased enthusiasm around the program but once the 2017 season kicked off reality settled in for this program. This Golden Gopher football program is going through a bit of a transition roster wise as Fleck doesn’t quite have the pieces, especially on the offensive side of the football, to run his system. Patience is going to have to be a virtue for Minnesota fans as the 2018 season could be a roller coaster ride.
2017 Record: 5-7, 2-7
2017 Bowl: None
Coach: P.J. Fleck (5-7 at Minnesota, 35-29 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kirk Ciarrocca
Defensive Coordinator: Robb Smith
Returning Leaders:
Rushing:  Rodney Smith, RB, 977
Passing: None
Receiving: Tyler Johnson, WR, 677
Tackles: Thomas Barber, MLB, 115
Sacks: Carter Coughlin, DE, 4
Interceptions: Jacob Huff, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Phillip Howard, LT Donnell Greene, LG Conner Olson, RT Sam Scheuster, OLB Kamal Martin, CB Antonio Shenault, CB Kiondre Thomas
Key Losses: QB Conor Rhoda, DT Steven Richardson, LB Jon Celestin, TE Nate Wozniak, OL Garrison Wright, P Ryan Santoso
This was a rough team to watch offensively in 2017 as Minnesota could never get any type of consistent productivity across the board on offense. The quarterback battle should be interesting as Tanner Morgan and junior college transfer Vic Viramontes should battle it out for the starting quarterback job. A quality running game will help this offense move forward. They were solid a year ago, but will need to be even better in 2018. Rodney Smith was a highly productive back in 2017 and should only get better in year two of the Fleck regime. It will be important to develop depth behind Smith in the event of injuries. Wide receiver should be a better position group with improved quarterback play. Tyler Johnson caught 35 passes last season and will be the focus of the opposing defenses so he will need some help as the season goes along.
The pass defense was the strength of this defense in 2017 as the Golden Gophers limited teams to 174.5 yards per game through the air. Jacob Huff and Antoine Winfield Jr. are back at safety and if Winfield Jr. stays healthy all year long, that would be a plus. Thomas Barber made 115 tackles last season at linebacker and he should have ample opportunity to make plays. The defensive line needs to continue to improve regarding pressuring the quarterback so Carter Coughlin and O.J. Smith, an Alabama transfer, will need to combine for at least ten sacks in 2018. In the kicking game, Emmit Carpenter will need to be more consistent since Minnesota will be in their fair share of close games. Jacob Herbers replaces Ryan Santoso at punter and his ability to flip field position will be an underrated key to success in 2018 for the Golden Gophers.
The Bottom Line:
If the Golden Gophers are going to get back to a bowl game they will need to get off to a fast start in September. New Mexico State, Fresno State, and Miami (OH) come to TCF Bank Stadium in the first three weeks of the season. It will be important for Minnesota to pull off a minor upset against Fresno State to get to three wins in the bank for traveling to Maryland on September 22nd. The month of October is a tough one as the Golden Gophers will travel to Ohio State and Nebraska after hosting Iowa on October 6th. The goal for the month of October should be to stay healthy and try to get at least one win before the November gauntlet. Look for a five or six-win season for Minnesota with enough incremental improvement on offense to give fans of the Golden Gophers hope for 2019 and beyond.
Projected Bowl: None
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 182.4 (46th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 126.1 (121, 13)
Total Offense: 308.5(122, 10)
Scoring Offense: 22.1 (109, 12)
Rushing Defense: 172.2 (73, 10)
Pass Defense: 174.5 (11, 3)
Total Defense: 346.7 (30, 7)
Scoring Defense: 22.8 (36, 9)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (64, 9)
Sacks: 1.92 (74, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 1.83 (47, 5)

Madness 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#194 Daniel Faalele
#210 Curtis Dunlap Jr
#235 Alex Reigelsperger