A prime-time national TV audience will be watching Sept. 3, when the Gophers open the college football season at home against No. 2 TCU. But with so much attention focused on that game, it’s easy to forget all the intrigue the rest of their schedule could bring.

Three coaches new to their teams will visit TCF Bank Stadium — Nebraska’s Mike Riley, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst. The Gophers face No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus, and none of their other road games is a gimme — at Colorado State, at Northwestern, at Purdue and at Iowa.

Purdue? Anyone who thinks that’s no contest should recall that the Gophers needed a 52-yard field goal from Ryan Santoso last year to beat the Boilermakers at home 39-38.

“With our schedule, we’re going to have to win some close games,” coach Jerry Kill said. “That’s why the kicker and the punter and all that stuff is important. We’ve got to stay healthy. Maybe the toughest game we have is at Colorado State.”

Kill knows it’ll be a difficult first road test, nine days after facing TCU, playing a Rams team that was 6-0 at home last season in the 5,000-feet altitude of Fort Collins. With all this in mind, we take a closer look at the Gophers’ full slate.

Game 1: Sept. 3 vs. TCU

 

Projected line: TCU by 14

 

Chance for Gophers upset: Low

 

About the Horned Frogs: Gary Patterson transformed TCU from 4-8 two years ago to 12-1 last year, but now the expectations in Fort Worth are sky high. That could work against the No. 2-ranked Frogs in the opener, especially on the road. Ten offensive starters return, including Heisman Trophy candidate QB Trevone Boykin, but TCU must replace six of its top seven tacklers on defense. That includes LB Paul Dawson, who had four tackles for a loss in last year’s 30-7 victory over the Gophers.

 

Game 2: Sept. 12 at Colorado State

 

Projected line: Colorado State by 1

 

Chance for Gophers upset: High

 

About the Rams: They went 10-3 last year, but coach Jim McElwain left for Florida and QB Garrett Grayson went to the NFL. New coach Mike Bobo, Georgia’s former offensive coordinator, inherits one of the top receivers in the country, in Rashard Higgins. Colorado State opens against FCS Savannah State, so the Gophers won’t glean much on film. The Rams ranked 102nd nationally against the run last year, which should play to Minnesota’s strength.

 

Game 3: Sept. 19 vs. Kent State

 

Projected line: Gophers by 13

 

Chance for Kent State upset: Low

 

About the Golden Flashes: When Darrell Hazell left to become Purdue’s coach, Kent State hired Paul Haynes, the former Arkansas defensive coordinator. Now, Haynes could be on the hot seat after going 2-9 last year. The team returns 17 starters, including junior quarterback Colin Reardon, who has been inconsistent the past two years. Kent State opens with Illinois, which should help the Gophers gauge what they’re up against.

 

Game 4: Sept. 26 vs. Ohio U.

 

Projected line: Gophers by 10

 

Chance for Ohio upset: Low

 

About the Bobcats: A second-consecutive Mid-American Conference opponent, and this one should be slightly tougher for the Gophers homecoming game. Former Nebraska coach Frank Solich is in his 11th season at Ohio, and the Bobcats have nine offensive starters back from a team that went 4-4 in conference play last year. Ohio ranked 40th in the nation in scoring defense last year (24.8 points per game), and seven starters return, including standout middle linebacker Quentin Poling.

 

Game 5: Oct. 3 at Northwestern

 

Projected line: Gophers by 3

 

Chance for Northwestern upset: High

 

About the Wildcats: After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, 10th-year coach Pat Fitzgerald knows this program needs a spark. Sophomore Justin Jackson is one of the top running backs in the Big Ten, but the starting QB job still is up for grabs. This Big Ten opener will be a key tone-setter for both teams. The Gophers upset Northwestern on the road two years ago and needed Jalen Myrick’s 100-yard kickoff return to win last year at home.

 

Game 6: Oct. 10 at Purdue

 

Projected line: Gophers by 4

 

Chance for Purdue upset: High

 

About the Boilermakers: Purdue has 16 returning starters and will try taking another step after going 1-11 and 3-9 in Hazell’s first two seasons. The Boilermakers return their entire offensive line, which was surprisingly tough already last season. The offense should be solid, even without Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. But defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who had that same job for the Gophers under Glen Mason, will need big improvement on his side of the ball.

Game 7: Oct. 17 vs. Nebraska

 

Projected line: Gophers by 1

 

Chance for Nebraska upset: High

 

About the Cornhuskers: Bo Pelini lost to Minnesota the past two years, and that helped lead to his firing. Now, it’s Riley’s turn to face the expectations in Lincoln. Nebraska must replace running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory but hopes QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. fares better under offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who came with Riley from Oregon State. The Gophers get the benefit of drawing Nebraska one week after the Huskers slug things out with Wisconsin.

 

Game 8: Oct. 31 vs. Michigan

 

Projected line: Gophers by 3

 

Chance for Michigan upset: High

 

About the Wolverines: Most story lines focus on Harbaugh’s pending clashes with Michigan State (Oct. 17) and Ohio State (Nov. 28). But a big measure of his first-year success will come Halloween night in Minnesota, with both teams coming off their only bye. Michigan lost the Little Brown Jug last year convincingly, 30-14. The Wolverines should have a good defense, but Harbaugh needs a quick fix for an offense that ranked 13th in the Big Ten in scoring.

 

Game 9: Nov. 7 at Ohio State

 

Projected line: Ohio State by 16

 

Chance for Gophers upset: Low

 

About the Buckeyes: No. 1 Ohio State has Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Taylor Decker, Darron Lee and most other key pieces back from last year’s national title team. Urban Meyer hasn’t said whether he’ll start Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett at quarterback, but either way, Braxton Miller is now an H-back. The Buckeyes should be 8-0 heading into this game. They’ll be coming off a bye and shouldn’t take Minnesota lightly after last year’s seven-point escape in Minneapolis.

 

Game 10: Nov. 14 at Iowa

 

Projected line: Iowa by 3

 

Chance for Gophers upset: High

 

About the Hawkeyes: Sure, 17th-year Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz might look stuck. His squad got clobbered 51-14 last year at Minnesota. But the Hawkeyes finished 7-6, and that included a two-point loss to Wisconsin and a three-point loss to Nebraska. Now there is clarity at QB, as Jake Rudock transferred to Michigan, making it C.J. Beathard’s team. This will be the Gophers’ fourth prime-time game and third in a row, with Big Ten Network showcasing the battle for Floyd of Rosedale.

 

Game 11: Nov. 21 vs. Illinois

 

Projected line: Gophers by 6

 

Chance for Illinois upset: High

 

About the Fighting Illini: If Illinois stumbles in October (vs. Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State), fourth-year coach Tim Beckman could be fired before this game. The Illini upset the Gophers 28-24 last year in Champaign, and QB Wes Lunt is back healthy again. But WR Mike Dudek and DE Jihad Ward are recovering from knee surgeries. Unless the defense takes a big step, Illinois will have a hard time improving, which is why this is a must-win for the Gophers.

 

Game 12: Nov. 28 vs. Wisconsin

 

Projected line: Wisconsin by 6

 

Chance for Gophers upset: High

 

About the Badgers: No. 20 Wisconsin will be a 10-point underdog heading into its Week 1 clash with No. 3 Alabama in Arlington, Texas. The Badgers schedule is otherwise manageable, but Chryst gets two stiff tests to start Big Ten play (vs. Iowa and at Nebraska). Corey Clement and the Badgers should roll through the next five games (vs. Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers, Maryland and Northwestern) before traveling to Minnesota. The Gophers haven’t won Paul Bunyan’s Axe since 2003, so they will be waiting for this one all year.