PJ Fleck brought overwhelming hype into Minneapolis last year as he took over the head coaching position. In year 1 the Gophers were a mediocre football team that didn’t win a road game in the conference. PJ Fleck’s offense that worked so well at Western Michigan was good for 12th in scoring in the Big Ten. Fleck will be able to use some players that he actually recruited this year so it will be telling what he can do.
Minnesota didn’t have much of an offense at all last year. In 2016, they had a promising core of running backs. The same core was used last year but with the lack of passing threat, there wasn’t much the running backs could do. Only Rutgers was worse at throwing the ball last year in the Big Ten which means PJ Fleck should be excited to try out a new quarterback. Transfer Vic Viramontes and freshman Tanner Morgan are the likely frontrunners for the job. In terms of other skill position talent, RB Rodney Smith will be the feature back and is one of the best in the conference. WR Tyler Johnson led the team in all receiving categories and should be even better but he needs help from the other wideouts.
The defense was pretty average last year but they return many impact players which could lead to them being one of the top defenses in the Big Ten. The Gophers were 3rd in Big Ten pass defense last year thanks to returning safeties Antoine Winfield and Jacob Huff. The pass rush also contributed thanks to DE Carter Coughlin and his 6.5 sacks. The two junior linebackers, Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber will bring experience and plenty of tackles. A key this year could be Alabama transfer DT O.J. Smith who can rush the passer from the inside.
This Minnesota football team has good talent and now a coaching staff that has had a year to settle in. The expectations this year should be a bowl game and possibly an 8 win season. This is doable for the Gophers due to their weak out of conference schedule and the fact that they don’t have to play Penn State or either school from Michigan this year.