Good evening from TCF Bank Stadium, where at long last the 21st-ranked Gophers will face No. 18 Michigan at 6:30 p.m. (ABC) in the opener of a Big Ten football season delayed seven weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on Monday hinted that there might be players who wouldn’t be available because of COVID-19 or opting out this season but didn’t identify them.
During pregame warmups, two starting offensive linemen from last season – tackle Daniel Faalele and guard Curtis Dunlap – weren’t among the players on the field. Dunlap was on the sideline with a cast on his left foot and using a scooter, but there was no sign of Faalele.
Their absence will test the team’s depth up front. The 6-9, 400-pound Faalele started 11 games at right tackle and eight the year before. Dunlap, 6-5 and 345 pounds, briefly entered the NCAA transfer portal in the offseason but returned to the Gophers. He started 12 games last year and one in 2018.
The Gophers’ presumed starter at punter, Australian freshman Mark Crawford, was on the field but did not dress to play. Matthew Stephenson, a graduate transfer from Middle Tennessee, is expected to replace him.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kramer did not dress and had a brace on his left foot.
ESPN’s “College GameDay’’ preview show visited Minnesota for its second consecutive home game, following last November’s regular-season finale against Wisconsin.
The event took on a social-distanced feel, with the set inside TCF Bank Stadium with no fans in attendance, a stark contrast to last year’s event on the Northrop Mall.
Included in the three-hour broadcast were an appearance by former Gophers running back Laurence Maroney, along with a feature on wide receiver Rashod Bateman’s social justice efforts and a long interview with Fleck by Maria Taylor.
Former Michigan Heisman Trophy-winner Desmond Howard led off the prediction for tonight’s game by taking the Wolverines, pointing to freshman running back Blake Corum.
David Pollack followed by picking the Gophers, saying, “I have no clue who’s going to win the game, so I’m going with Tanner Morgan and the experienced offense. … It’s going to be a phenomenal game.’’
The guest picker Saturday was actor Vince Vaughn, who praised both Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Fleck before selecting the Gophers. “I’ll go with the sentiment and Minnesota,’’ he said.
Kirk Herbstreit didn’t make a pick because he is covering the game for ABC, which left the finale for Lee Corso, poolside at his Orlando home.
“Not so fast!’’ Corso exclaimed, pointing to the Gophers’ last home win against Michigan being 43 years ago and the fact the Wolverines have won 20 of the past 21 in Minnesota. “Guess who I’m picking?’’ he said, putting on an oversized Michigan helmet. “Yep, I’m going with the Blue.’’
It should be noted that Corso picked the Gophers last year against Wisconsin, and the Badgers prevailed 38-17.