Have you looked at the 2017 Gophers football schedule? If you thought 2016 was front-loaded with winnable games, you’re going to love next year.
Here’s the non-conference slate: Buffalo, at Oregon State, Middle Tennessee State. The first two were a combined 6-18 last season. MTSU went to the Hawaii Bowl this year during a solid 8-5 season, but any home game against a team outside the Power 5 creates the expectation of victory.
Here are the first four Big Ten games: Maryland, at Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois — the last of which was just announced as the Homecoming contest for Oct. 21. Those four teams had a combined Big Ten record of 7-29 last season.
Obviously there are dangers in projecting the future based on last year. Michigan State has traditionally been a very good to elite program. A year before sinking to 1-8 in the Big Ten last season, the Spartans were in the College Football Playoff. A rebound is quite possible. The other three games look more forgiving, but no conference game is a freebie.
That said, an early schedule loaded with home games against teams that largely struggled in 2016 sets up the new Gophers coach for a nice start to his tenure.
And just imagine if Fleck does indeed run the table in those first seven games and leads a 7-0 Gophers team into Iowa for a showdown on Oct. 28.
The Rose Bowl talk will be hard to contain.
But also remember this: the closing five games are at Iowa, at Michigan, Nebraska, at Northwestern, Wisconsin. Those teams were a combined 31-14 in Big Ten play last season.