Michigan and Ohio State are two schools that have always given the Gophers football team trouble.
The Wolverines are 75-25-3 all-time against the Gophers dating to 1892, while the Buckeyes are 45-7 going back to 1921. Those are the two best winning percentages against the University of Minnesota of any Big Ten schools.
And now the Gophers get to open the 2020 season against Michigan at home Oct. 24 and follow that up by opening against Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium for the 2021 season.
Hopefully Gophers fans enjoy it, because it’s the kind of scheduling quirk that will never happen again.
And the fact is that there is no better time for the Gophers to get these kind of marquee season-opening games than right now, with coach P.J. Fleck and quarterback Tanner Morgan leading a real collection of talent that has built up a lot of excitement about the football program.
When the Associated Press put out their preseason poll they had the Gophers at No. 18 and Michigan at No. 16, and the fact is that this game isn’t going to be a lopsided contest in terms of talent.
The Gophers proved last year with wins over Penn State and Auburn that they can play with any school in the country.
When Las Vegas posted over/under win totals for the Big Ten last week, they had the Gophers tied with Michigan in fourth at 6½ wins in a nine-game season. Ohio State was predicted for 8½, Penn State 7½ and Wisconsin 7.
And now they have five weeks to prepare for Jim Harbaugh’s squad, which finished 9-4 last season and lost 35-16 to Alabama in the Citrus Bowl.
“I mean we are [preparing],” Fleck said in his news conference this week. “We spent a lot of hours as coaches game-planning, and we’re going to spend certain days of the week game-planning for opponents.
‘‘We’ve done that twice, actually, from March all the way through August game-planning our opponents. When our coaches were home quarantining, doing it through Zoom and doing it through the computers and stuff. It has been exciting. We’ve had a lot more football time, because when you’re not on the road recruiting, and that’s your focus, we’re in the office or on Zoom from March on.
“We’ve done so much more football than we really have in the past just by being not able to have even the recruiting that we were doing on the road, which was taken away from that. So you know we have a long way to go. It’s exciting about where this team can go and where we’re headed but again it’s going to be a very challenging and difficult year, with a lot of obstacles ahead. And it’s definitely not if, it’s when, because they are all coming.
“That’s why it’s fun to be able to train the entire team, because the last guy on the depth chart could be a starter, like that. It’s really exciting. I’m proud of our coaches for how we’re handling it. We’re doing it our way. We have to find way to do it just right.”
Morgan, who finished last season as the No. 4-ranked quarterback in the country in passer efficiency at 178.7 — trailing only Joe Burrow of LSU, Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma and Justin Fields of Ohio State — has never faced Michigan.
Michigan finished fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed at 20.7 per game. The Wolverines ranked 11th nationally in total defense, allowing 307.2 yards per game. The Gophers finished last season ranked 10th in total defense, allowing 306.6 yards per game.
Morgan said he knows the Gophers will face a stiff challenge in their first game.
“We know their defensive coordinator, Don Brown, is very, very intelligent, he has been a lot of places and been really successful. We’re just excited to game-plan them and see what they’re about, see the different things they can do, the looks, the players. We know they’re going to be a really good defensive football team,” the Gophers quarterback said. “We know they’re going to have a lot of guys that can make plays on the defensive side of the ball. It’s going to be an exciting opportunity to watch film on them. Haven’t really turned it on too much, yet. So excited for that opportunity when we get there.
“It’s going to be really exciting, we’re really looking forward to the opportunity, but we really have to focus on tomorrow and getting better at practice tomorrow. That’s where it stats for us before we get to October 24th.”
Cavner and Nicklaus
One of the best relationships Twin Cities golf promoter Hollis Cavner built is with the great Jack Nicklaus, who really helped turn the 3M Open in Blaine into a gigantic event when it was on the Champions Tour.
That relationship is still going strong, and it showed at the PGA Champions Tour Sanford International tournament played in Sioux Falls earlier this month.
The event was put on by Cavner’s Pro Sports Links company and was the first professional golf tournament to allow fans since March.
Nicklaus and Andy North took on Hale Irwin and Tony Jacklin in a nine-hole charity exhibition during the tournament that drew thousands of fans.
The exhibition raised $20,000 for Sanford Children’s Hospital.
Cambria sponsored the tournament, which also had Minnesota native Tim Herron as an ambassador.
Four Minnesotans were in the field — Herron, Tom Lehman, John Harris and Cameron Beckman.
It might have been the final professional event for Harris, the former U.S. Amateur champion. Harris, 68, turned pro in 1976.
Beckman, a Minneapolis native who attended Burnsville High School and Texas Lutheran University, made his debut on the PGA Champions Tour in July.
Beckman finished in a tie for 10th at the Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach, Calif., last week.
• Tight end MyCole Pruitt got his start with the Vikings in 2015 and caught 10 passes for 89 yards that season. Now he’s in his third season with the Titans and will come to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Pruitt has one reception for a touchdown this season.
• The Madison Capitols of the United States Hockey League, owned by Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, isn’t playing this upcoming season because of public health restrictions during the pandemic. Dane County in Wisconsin restricted practices and games for sports at high risk for spreading COVID-19, including hockey.