The first Thursday of the college football season brings us an intriguing battle in the Big Ten as the no. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes visit the Minnesota Golden Gophers. On the road, the Buckeyes are listed as 14-point favorites. The game also has an over/under of 62.5 points.
After enjoying a breakout season in 2019, going 11-2 and finishing ranked in the top-10, the Golden Gophers failed to build on that success during a rather strange 2020 season. Minnesota finished the season just 3-4, only managing to beat the likes of Illinois, Purdue, and Nebraska. However, P.J. Fleck has a lot coming back this season and will still has a chance to build off of the success in 2020.
As for the Buckeyes, it’s a national championship or bust. Ryan Day has compiled a record of 23-2 during his tenure as head coach of the Buckeyes, losing only in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes have won each of the last four Big Ten titles, although they will have a sour taste in their mouth after losing to Alabama in the CFP National Championship Game last season.
New Faces Everywhere
There’s no doubt that Ohio State will have a lot of new faces this season, particularly at quarterback and running back. Redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud won the quarterback competition, but while he has plenty of talent, he’s still lacking experience in big games. The good news is that the wide receiver duo of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson could be one of the best in the country and should make it a little easier for an inexperienced quarterback.
It’s a similar situation on the defense, although it’ll be the defensive line that will anchor things. The likes of Haskell Garrett and Zach Harrison will give the Buckeyes one of the best defensive lines in the country and help to hide deficiencies on the rest of the defense. The linebackers are young, and there could be some holes in the secondary, although a strong defensive line can help prevent Minnesota from taking advantage of any potential weaknesses.
Back to Burrowing
Minnesota’s offense should be in good shape with Tanner Morgan returning at quarterback. Morgan had a breakout season in 2019, although the Gophers never got going with a new offensive coordinator during the unusual 2020 campaign. With more time to get acclimated this offseason, Morgan could hit the ground running, especially with a strong offensive line and a capable running back in Mohamed Ibrahim supporting him.
Of course, there are a few more problems on the defensive side of the ball after the Gophers allowed 30 points per game last year. Stopping the run was a huge issue in 2020, although Minnesota used the transfer market to help strengthen the defensive line and solve that problem. Generating a consistent pass rush was also a problem, one that can’t continue if the Gophers hope to beat Ohio State.
On Gopher Turf
With a young quarterback, this figures to be a tricky season opener on the road for the Buckeyes. Minnesota’s offensive line should help neutralize Ohio State’s biggest defensive strength, leveling the playing field for Morgan and company. The Buckeyes are too talented to lose, but bet on the Golden Gophers to beat the 14-point spread.
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