Football is back, and the Gophers will take the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday, hoping to prove this team deserves more hype. South Dakota State, with a roster featuring 20 Minnesota natives, already has FCS cred but wants to make a name on a bigger stage. Prediction: Gophers 34, South Dakota State 20
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Morgan’s the man
Tanner Morgan lost the quarterback battle a year ago but ended up finishing the year as the starter for the injured Zack Annexstad. With Annexstad again out, Morgan will have to manage a deep offense as the undisputed QB1 and repeat 2018’s strong results.
The Gophers switched defensive coordinators last year, and the change was almost immediate. The team slashed its points per game and yards allowed totals in the final four games of the season. The question now is if that feat was a fluke or a foreshadowing.
A new QB
First-time starting quarterback J’Bore Gibbs takes the reins from the Jackrabbits’ all-time leading passer, Taryn Christion. A Chicago native, Gibbs passed for 2,000 yards and ran for more than 600 as a senior in high school.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Gophers cornerbacks vs. Jackrabbits receivers
Fleck termed South Dakota State’s Cade Johnson and Adam Anderson as a Batman and Robin-like duo. Johnson alone had a school record 17 TDs last season. Meanwhile, the Gophers secondary has been a wide-open competition all training camp, and it’s likely five players will rotate through to keep the receivers in check.
Rodney Smith vs. Christian Rozeboom
After sitting out most of last year because of a knee injury, running back Smith has returned along with sophomore Mohamed Ibrahim in the backfield. Smith’s nearly 3,000 career rushing yards will encounter linebacker Rozeboom’s 364 career tackles. Rozeboom has posted 100 or more tackles in each of his three previous seasons.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
15 The streak of consecutive nonconference games the Gophers have won, which is the longest in the nation. The Gophers haven’t lost since Sept. 3, 2015 against TCU. They’re also 19-1 in the past 20 nonconference home games.
THE GOPHERS WILL WIN IF …
Their offense is all it’s expected to be. Pundits have made a lot about the depth at running back, the star receiving corps, the monster offensive line. Even the tight ends are drawing attention. This game is a chance to show off and build confidence.
SDSU WILL WIN IF …
The Gophers underestimate them. This is South Dakota State’s only FBS opponent on the schedule, and weather canceled last year’s FBS matchup. So the Jackrabbits will be eager to prove a perennial FCS contender can hang with a Power Five squad.