Most college football coaches who take over programs are wise to manage expectations in the early years, and Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is no exception.

The Gophers are still inexperienced at several key positions going into Fleck’s second year — quarterback being chief among them — and any coaching change brings about a new way of doing things. Fleck’s culture change, one would imagine, is more dramatic than most. Hence, the urging of fans to be patient.

But if you’re looking for one area where the Gophers should have an edge over their Big Ten peers this season, it’s in the slate of foes who will line up across from them. The Gophers’ schedule looks objectively favorable, and CBS Sports has taken it a step further.

Using a methodology that includes the five-year history of teams, whether games are at home or on the road and whether teams are coming off bye weeks, the site says the Gophers’ 2018 schedule is the easiest of all 14 Big Ten teams.

The site points to a favorable home slate: non-conference games against New Mexico State, Fresno State and Miami (Ohio) as well as conference games against Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers do have five Big Ten road games — including at Ohio State and Wisconsin — but CBS Sports concludes that “it won’t be easy, but compared to their Big Ten brethren, it might be easier than others.”

We’ll see if that — plus another year of growth within Fleck’s system — is enough to help the Gophers improve substantially on their 5-7 finish in Fleck’s first year. Given the schedule, at least gaining bowl eligibility (a low bar to clear, but still) is a place to start.

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