After an 11-2 season, including an Outback Bowl victory over Auburn, the Gophers figure to enter 2020 ranked in the top 15. They will need to prove this season wasn’t a fluke if they want to keep the national attention gained from 2019.
On offense, at least, that shouldn’t be a problem. The Gophers lost just two starters in All-Big Ten receiver Tyler Johnson and 1,000-yard rusher Rodney Smith. But Rashod Bateman, the Big Ten Receiver of the Year, and Mohamed Ibrahim, 2018’s No. 1 running back, will fill those gaps with the help of quarterback Tanner Morgan, the biggest surprise of this year.
Defense will take more work, as the Gophers could lose the majority of their starting lineup: three-fourths of the defensive line, the starting linebacker duo, and at least one defensive back, two if safety Antoine Winfield Jr. declares for the NFL draft.
With spring ball only two months away in March, here’s an early look at what to expect from next season’s roster:
Tanner Morgan • QB • jr.
After leading the Gophers to their best results to end 2018, he established himself as one of the nation’s most efficient passers, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors.
2020 outlook: The undisputed starter, even when Zack Annexstad returns from injury.
Mohamed Ibrahim • RB • jr.
He assumed the No. 1 role in 2018 after injuries to Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks but took a step back in 2019 when those seniors returned. But he still ran for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.
2020 outlook: Ibrahim already started 2020 with 140 yards and a score in the Outback Bowl.
Daniel Faalele • RT • jr.
The 6-9, 400-pound Australian missed a couple of games because of injury and is still showing improvement after still being relatively new to the game.
2020 outlook: Faalele cuts an imposing figure, and he could possibly be tempted to enter the 2021 NFL draft.
Curtis Dunlap Jr. • RG • so.
He might be the offensive lineman who showed the most growth this year, looking very strong in the Outback Bowl against Auburn’s massive defensive line.
2020 outlook: Expect his play to rise even more as the youngest player on the line.
Conner Olson • C • sr.
Was solid all year. When John Michael Schmitz, the Gophers’ sixth starting-caliber lineman who will be a junior next year, came in at center, Olson switched to either guard spot.
2020 outlook: The Gophers will finally have seniors on the line, and experience should make it tougher.
Blaise Andries • LG • jr.
Another versatile player, he was at right tackle when Faalele couldn’t play because of injury.
2020 outlook: He’ll continue to be incredibly steady and also one of the smartest guys on the team, an Academic All-America majoring in mathematics.
Sam Schlueter • LT • sr.
Schlueter went from benched at right tackle last season for the final eight games after poor performance to being a very consistent left tackle this year.
2020 outlook: As a senior, he will have weathered both personal and team success and failure, a needed perspective as he strives for even more stability.
Jake Paulson • TE • jr.
He endured injuries in 2019, including missing the Outback Bowl because of an ankle and shoulder injury. But he helped as an extra blocker and caught a couple of passes, nonetheless.
2020 outlook: Will need some recovery time in the offseason, but there are also several tight ends behind him, including senior Ko Kieft, sophomore Brevyn Spann-Ford and senior Bryce Witham, who had a great Outback Bowl.
Rashod Bateman • WR • jr.
The Big Ten Receiver of the Year amassed 1,219 yards on 60 catches with 11 touchdowns this year playing alongside Tyler Johnson, who broke his own single-season records with 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns.
2020 outlook: Enjoy it while it lasts because Bateman is almost surely gone to the NFL after next season as one of the top receivers in college football.
Chris Autman-Bell • WR • jr.
As the third guy behind Johnson and Bateman, Autman-Bell stepped in for some clutch big plays, such as the overtime-forcing touchdown at Fresno State.
2020 outlook: He will need to step up and divert attention from Bateman, whom every team will undoubtedly try to double cover. He’s eager and ready for more targets and responsibility.
Demetrius Douglas • WR • jr.
If the Gophers ever needed a long third-down or vital fourth-down conversion, Douglas was often the go-to receiver.
2020 outlook: The punt returner will ascend into a starting role on offense and will have a chance to show what he can do in all facets of the game.
Boye Mafe • DE • jr.
The Hopkins High School product made 14 tackles and three sacks this season, including one in the Outback Bowl.
2020 outlook: Used mostly in the four-DE pass-rush package, Mafe will look to become the team’s pre-eminent rush end in Carter Coughlin’s wake.
Keonte Schad • DT • sr.
The former four-star recruit and junior college transfer made 21 tackles and 2½ for loss in his first season with the Gophers.
2020 outlook: Sam Renner made an impact at this position this season, as the former walk-on posted 43 tackles and five sacks as well as four pass breakups. Schad will look to follow that productivity.
Micah Dew-Treadway • DT • sr.
Dew-Treadway was an immediate starter with 13 tackles and a half-sack in his first season with the Gophers.
2020 outlook: The graduate transfer from Notre Dame has become one of the defensive leaders, a job he will need to continue into 2020 as the oldest returning starter.
Esezi Otomewo • DE • jr.
Another player who made most of his appearances in the pass-rush package, he made 22 tackles, five for loss, and 2½ sacks.
2020 outlook: He has played in every game his first two seasons and will work to establish himself as a starter next year.
Mariano Sori-Marin • LB • jr.
Stepped in for injured Kamal Martin several times this season and played at all three linebacker positions.
2020 outlook: He should succeed Thomas Barber at middle linebacker, because of his ability to see everything and make checks.
Braelen Oliver • LB • so.
Played in every game his first season, accumulating 22 tackles, three sacks, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
2020 outlook: Should take Martin’s linebacker spot, which should showcase some of his big-play ability.
Justus Harris • CB • sr.
Made six tackles and forced a fumble playing behind graduating Chris Williamson at nickel.
2020 outlook: Went from playing three games as a freshman to playing on all four special teams units as a sophomore to playing in every game as a junior.
Coney Durr • CB • sr.
An ACL injury in his freshman season caused him to miss most of 2017. He came back in 2018 but looked really good in 2019, making 33 tackles, an interception returned 72 yards and 10 pass breakups.
2020 outlook: Some draft analysts have shared their excitement about Durr.
Benjamin St-Juste • CB • jr.
The grad transfer from Michigan arrived just in time for training camp and came into his own throughout the season, finishing with 45 tackles and 10 pass breakups.
2020 outlook: He still has two years of eligibility left but performs like a seasoned pro.
Jordan Howden • S • jr.
Made a game-saving interception against No. 5 Penn State.
2020 outlook: Should Antoine Winfield Jr. leave, Howden will need be the leader at safety.
Tyler Nubin • S • so.
The four-star recruit who can play corner or safety burned his redshirt this year, gaining experience on defense and special teams.
2020 outlook: Assuming Winfield declares for the NFL draft, Nubin should step into a starting role in the All-America selection’s absence.
Michael Lantz • K • so.: The true freshman played 11 games when not injured, making eight of 11 field goals, his longest at 40 yards. 2020 outlook: Endured high-pressure situations and should go into 2020 with more confidence because of it.
Mark Crawford • P • fr.: The Australian was an early signing period surprise and will be 26 next season. 2020 outlook: The Gophers need a replacement for graduating Jacob Herbers, and Crawford will be an oxymoronic veteran freshman.