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2022 football season preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

2021 was up and down for Minnesota, how will they rebound in 2022?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Guaranteed Rate Bowl - West Virginia v Minnesota Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is time for the 2022 Wisconsin Badgers football season preview extravaganza to begin! Over the next (almost) two months we will be preparing you for the upcoming football season. We’ve got previews of every team on Wisconsin’s schedule, we’ve got positional breakdowns of each group at UW, we’ll have predictions for the full conference, rankings of the top units in the Big Ten as well as a couple of larger features that we think are interesting.

For the finale, Minnesota!

Team: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head coach: Philip John Fleck Jr. (Sixth Year)

2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten), Won Guaranteed Rate Bowl against West Virginia

Game info: November 26th, Time TBD, Camp Randall (Madison, WI)

Top returning players

Senior (Year 6) QB Tanner Morgan, 59.6% completion percentage in 2021 for 2,044 yards and 10 TDs.

Senior (Year 6) RB Mo Ibrahim, 30 carries for 163 yards and two TDs before leaving the first game of the year against Ohio State with a season-ending injury.

Senior (Year 6) WR Chris Autumn-Bell, lead the team with 36 receptions, 506 yards, and 6 receiving touchdowns.

Senior DB Tyler Nubin, started every game in 2021 with 52 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions (team-high).

Senior DL Thomas Rush, started every game in 2021 and recorded 31 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks.

Senior John Michael Schmitz (Year 6) Started all 13 games at center in 2021 and has played in 44 career games with Minnesota.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Ohio State at Minnesota

Top newcomers

Chuck Filiaga OL transfer from Michigan

Quinn Carroll OL transfer from Notre Dame

Ryan Stapp DB transfer from Abilene Christian

Beanie Bishop DB transfer from Western Kentucky

Lorenza Surgers DE transfer from Vanderbilt

Darnell Jefferies DL transfer from Clemson

Newcomers from Wisconsin!

Ashton Beers, IOL Slinger, WI, Wisconsin’s 12th-ranked recruit in the 2022 cycle. National position rank was 60th

Max Grand, walk-on RB Ellsworth, WI, Wisconsin’s 22nd-ranked recruit in the class of 2022. 187th running back in the nation.

Evan Redding, walk-on WR Menomonee Falls, WI, unranked nationally and in the state of Wisconsin in the 2022 cycle

Cole Berghorn, walk-on ATH Lake Geneva, WI, Wisconsin’s 32nd ranked recruit in the class of 2022. Ranked 339th nationally as an athlete

2021 season review:

The 2021 season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, just like many of the teams in the Big Ten west, was a roller coaster. Their first game of the year was at home against 4th rank Ohio State in prime time. Despite leading at half 14-10, the Gophers lost 45-31. They also had their star running back Mohamed Ibrahim leave the game early with a season-ending injury. He had 163 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns before he was injured.

The following week Minnesota started their cupcake schedule with a home win against Miami (OH). They then went on the road to face Colorado where the Gophers won decisively 30-0. However, the following week against arguably their weakest opponent of the season in Bowling Green, Minnesota lost 14-10 at home.

The Gophers then went 4-0 against Purdue, Nebraska, Maryland, and Northwestern. That winning streak was an impressive stretch that actually gave way to a potential push for a Big Ten West title and the #20 ranking in the country. But just like every other Minnesota sports team, the Gophers found a way to choke down the stretch, losing back-to-back contests to Illinois and Iowa.

To finish out the season, Minnesota went 2-0 against Indiana and knocked off Wisconsin in the Battle for the Axe. The Gophers went on to win their bowl game against West Virginia.

Key stat:

This is the first year that Philip John Fleck Jr. has created a clone. We now have two PJ Fleck’s roaming the Land of fewer Lakes. Rumor has it they trade off rowing boats so the boat is truly rowing 24/7. Seriously, though, these look like two different humans, right? Fleck did mention that he suffered an injury from a bungee cord back in 2019 and that he had surgery to repair it in January, which could explain the difference.

Brian Windhorst Voice “What are they up to in Minnesota?

2022 season preview

Now, if I was PJ, I’d preview myself in this portion of the article. Fortunately for all of us, I am not. Despite whatever comes out of his own mouth regarding himself, the Gophers do still field a football team.

The Gophers return a lot of their skill position production on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Tanner Morgan has started 39 games for the Gophers and has the most wins in program history with 27. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim was the Big Ten running back of the year in 2020 and there is depth behind him with Trey Potts and Bryce Williams who each are coming off injuries themselves.

Minnesota also brought back wideouts Chris Autman-Bell and Dylan Wright. Both found success last year despite a lackluster passing attack. Speaking of passing attacks, Minnesota is also bringing back their former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to try and replicate their success from 2019. Ciarrocca left after 2019 for the same role with Penn State in 2020, where he was subsequently fired after just one year.

Minnesota is going to need to replace a lot along the offensive line if it wants to compete for their first trip to Indianapolis. They return just one starting offensive lineman from last year in center John Michael Schmitz. He is on the preseason watch list for the Lombardi Award, Rimington Trophy, and Outland Trophy. They did find some replacements in the transfer portal in Chuck Filiaga from Michigan and Quinn Carroll from Notre Dame. Depending on how much they are able to replicate last year’s offensive line will dictate how successful the Gophers can be on offense in 2022.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Gophers will need to replace four starters with most of their defensive line production from last year departing. Redshirt junior Trill Carter and redshirt senior Thomas Rush are the only returners from the two deep last year. In the back half of the defense, expect to see a lot of linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin and corner Justin Walley.

The gophers really attacked the transfer portal to provide depth to their defense heading into 2022. Specifically, graduate transfer defensive end Lorenza Surgers from Vanderbilt and defensive tackle Darnell Jefferies from Clemson, along with defensive back transfers Beanie Bishop from Western Kentucky and Ryan Stapp from Abilene Christian.

Last year Minnesota’s defense finished in the top 10 for scoring defense and total defense nationally. If they are able to fill some of the holes left from last year, their defense could keep them in a lot of games in 2022. The team as a whole has a lot of veteran players and usually, that means a chance for success.

Depending on how well their transfer portal guys play out, Minnesota could be a contender in the West. Their schedule avoids the big big names from the East, but they still draw Michigan State and Penn State on the road and Rutgers at home. In the West, they travel to Madison as well as to Nebraska and Illinois while hosting Purdue, Northwestern, and Iowa. The non-conference is pretty light with New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and Colorado all coming to Minneapolis.