Tampa, Fla. -- Hello and Happy New Year from Raymond James Stadium on a beautiful day with blue skies and temperatures in the high 60s. Perfect football weather.
Gophers fans traveled in huge numbers for the Outback Bowl. I overheard an Auburn fan asking as Gophers fan outside my hotel this morning if "there's anyone left up there" because there are so many fans who made the trip here.
The Gophers had a large turnout for the 2015 Citrus Bowl and their return trip to Florida for this Jan. 1 bowl game is no different. The atmosphere for the game should be lively.
For pregame reading, here is colleague Megan Ryan's advance on the opportunity for the Gophers to make a final statement in a historic season.
And here is my column on the need for P.J. Fleck and his staff to coach aggressively and empty the playbook against a respected SEC team.
The matchup to watch is the Gophers offensive line vs. Auburn's heralded defensive line. This is a similar challenge to the Penn State game. The Gophers line won that matchup. Can they do the same today?
Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown is one of the best players in college football and a projected Top 10 pick in the NFL draft. He was named the SEC Player of the Year and finalist for several major national awards, including the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award.
Brown registered 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles this season. He is a force in the interior, but he's not a one-man show. There's also defensive end Marlon Davidson, a second-team All-American after posting 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He was named SEC defensive lineman of the week four times.
This is a tall order for the Gophers offensive line (including tight ends) in terms of creating lanes for the running backs and giving Tanner Morgan time in the pocket. Star receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman pose problems for any defense, but Morgan needs time in order to take advantage of those matchups.
We will have full coverage of the game online and in print. Thanks for reading the Star Tribune.