With the Gophers’ opening game against New Mexico State approaching two months out, preseason publicity for Minnesota football is coming from national sources. The trend is to laud center John Michael Schmitz and label the team a dark horse to win the Big Ten West Division.
Athlon Sports has Schmitz as its first team preseason All-American center. Lindy’s Sports lists the Gopher senior as the second best center in the nation behind Notre Dame’s Jarrett Patterson. Perhaps no source commands more respect annually than Phil Steele Publications. That outlet also named Schmitz a second team preseason All-American.
Schmitz and eight other Gophers have earned recognition from Phil Steele. Schmitz was named first team All-Big Ten, while defensive tackle Trill Carter and running back Mo Ibrahim are second teamers. Offensive lineman Chuck Filiaga, rush end Thomas Rush, linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin, long snapper Brady Weeks and wide receiver Dylan Wright are third team All-Big Ten. Running back Trey Potts was named to the fourth team offense.
Gophers drawing recognition from Lindy’s include wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell and tight end Brevyn-Spann Ford, both named third team All-Big Ten. Safety Tyler Nubin and punter Mark Crawford earned third team defense recognition along with Sori-Marin. Ibrahim is included on the second team offense.
Lindy’s predicts the Gophers will finish fifth in the West Division behind Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska. The magazine frets about the quality of the offensive and defensive lines, and points out quarterback performance must improve.
Athlon forecasts Minnesota placing fourth behind Wisconsin, Purdue and Iowa. Minnesota’s record will be 7-5 overall, 4-5 in the Big Ten, per Athlon. Ibrahim is a member of the magazine’s All-Big Ten second team while Sori-Marin and Nubin are third teamers on defense.
Ouch. If there’s one place Gophers fans don’t want to return for a bowl game, it’s Detroit. But that’s where Athlon says Minnesota will have a date in the Quick Lane Bowl against Central Michigan. If that rendezvous works out, there could be Christmas parties that attract larger crowds.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck’s teams have been known to exceed expectations. His 2019 and 2021 teams both surprised prognosticators with respective records of 11-2 and 9-4. The 2019 team finished a stunning No. 10 in the country in two polls and last year’s Gophers won a third consecutive bowl game under Fleck. In his last 39 games he has a 27-12 record with the Gophers.
A prickly subject is Minnesota’s streak of seven consecutive losses to Iowa dating back to 2014 (Fleck’s first Gopher team was 2017). You can bet defeating Iowa November 19 in Minneapolis is a Row the Boat obsession.
Minnesota has won two of its last four games in its other border rivalry. Wisconsin could be the school to beat in a West Division that in preseason national rankings will be without a top 10 team. The division isn’t daunting and the Gophers, despite having to play five conference road games versus four at home, will be thinking “why not us?”
The first four games of the 12-game schedule should tell a lot about the season. The Gophers need to start 3-0 against nonconference opponents New Mexico State, Western Michigan and Colorado (all at home). They need to play at a high level, win or lose, in their Big Ten opener September 24 at Michigan State. The Spartans are one of the better teams in the East Division and possible top 20 program in 2022.
Cornerback Justin Walley, named to the 247Sports True Freshman All-American team last year, is being slighted in early recognition of Big Ten players. But his team is, too, and you can be sure Walley and the Gophers will value accolades at season’s end a lot more than in June.
Gophers Football Notes
If the Gophers win the West Division they will face an intimidating history in the Big Ten championship game against the East Division representative. The West champion is 0-8 in Big Ten title games.
Fleck makes his annual appearance before the Twin Cities Dunkers Thursday at Interlachen Country Club.
Grumbling Penn State fans don’t think the Gophers are worthy of being designated their annual White Out game opponent. Minnesota plays in Happy Valley October 22.
Former Gophers two-time All-American tackle and Outland Trophy winner Bobby Bell turned 82 Friday.
Ex-Minnesota head coach Glen Mason took a bad fall earlier this year, fracturing seven ribs. However, he told Sports Headliners he is “going strong now.”
The Goal Line Club will again raise money for the football program by staging its annual golf tournament. The Gopher Football Golf Classic at StoneRidge Golf Club in Stillwater is open to Goal Line Club members and their guests. More at the Goal Line Club website.
Kudos to Bobby Bell. None greater.