The Gophers were scheduled to play South Dakota State in 2015. Norwood Teague, then the Gophers athletic director, followed the admonition of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany for better nonconference opponents and subbed out the Jackrabbits for a home-and-home series with TCU: at Fort Worth in 2014, and at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015.
Coach Jerry Kill was not enamored with this, but the 2015 season opener on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend produced a record stadium crowd of 54,147. The fans were rabid in trying to help the Gophers to an upset victory over No. 2 TCU.
The Horned Frogs escaped with a 23-17 victory; Kill retired at midseason due to renewed problems with epilepsy; and the Gophers have rarely regained the enthusiasm of Sept. 3, 2015.
South Dakota State gets its chance to play what’s now the traditional Thursday night opener for the Gophers on Aug. 29. Local alums, traveling South Dakotans and ticket distribution to students should allow the Gophers to fill many more seats than was the case for the closing home games vs. Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern in 2018.
This is the third season for the exuberant P.J. Fleck, and sizable optimism is permitted following the late-season thumpings administered to Purdue, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech.
The Gophers caught a bad injury early, when Zack Annexstad — the quarterback with the greater physical gifts — received a foot injury. That leaves Tanner Morgan, the winner of those big games down the stretch, and he has terrific weapons, starting with three No. 1 running backs:
Mohamed Ibrahim (third-year sophomore), Rodney Smith (sixth-year senior) and Shannon Brooks (fifth-year senior).
There are also a pair of Ohio State-level wide receivers in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Plus, the line is now an attribute, featuring mammoth right tackle Daniel Faafele, a probable NFL first-rounder when he leaves early.
I don’t see how this offense avoids averaging 30 points in the nine Big Ten games.
When the No. 1 issue is deciding which terrific running back should get the most carries, it’s an offensive show that should be enough to get 40,000 actual bodies back in the stands, rather than half that.
From the ballpark:
• Jim Kaat said Cleveland standout pitcher Mike Clevinger reminds him of Mark (the Bird) Fidrych. Distinctive hair, pre-pitch fidgeting, but I don’t think Clevinger talks to the baseball.
• Checked list of players honored as top Twins rookies and I’m ready to declare Luis Arraez the No. 1 out-of-nowhere rookie success in team’s 59 years.
• Twins should add another catcher in Nelson Cruz’s absence, so Mitch Garver can serve as DH when Jason Castro is catching.