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2018 Closing Arguments: Sunshine, Lollipops, Unicorns, and P.J. Fleck

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“It’s not really that tough to dress like an adult, Jim.”
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

So here we are. Year Two. Errr...one. Whatever. 2018 Gopher Football. (If we can take one moment to silently reflect on our own how ridiculous it is to claim a “year zero” for resetting the culture of a program no matter how much it needed to happen, that’d be great. Thank you.) Much like when a member of my family sees a Jamison truck, when I look at the calendar and see that it’s late August, it’s time to get stupid and overly optimistic. And sure enough, when my season tickets finally arrived I was bouncing up and down in excitement. My poor 83-year old neighbor had to have been mortified at the sight. But I’m not the one on trial here today, my beloved Gophers are.

I. Case History & Opening Statement

A. Case History

Last season the Gophers went 5-7. It wasn’t great. The program most definitely needed to be reset (and fuck right off if you’ve got some “BUT 9 WINS!” comments. Send them to whitespeedreceiver@gmail.com, and I’ll politely tell you a new and creative way to procreate yourself), and you’d be blind if you didn’t see it happen. There were ups (We just scored on Nebraska again) and lows (losing to fellow mediocre programs Maryland, Purdue, and Iowa as well as getting shut out by Northwestern and wisconsin). It was frustrating and disappointing due to injuries, blah football, and inconsistency. We gave away 3 games (Last minute TD followed by a pick-6 vs. Purdue, blatant incompetence vs. Maryland, and just not finishing vs. Iowa) due to just poor execution last year, and that’s needs to change for Fleck here in year...whatever.

B. Opening Statement

2018 Gopher Football will look nothing like the 2017 version. The QB, while once again being a newcomer, will be someone that Fleck and Cirracca picked out for the system instead of being gifted. More likely than not it’ll be true freshman walk-on Zack Annexstad of Mankato via IMG Academy. You may remember him as the guy who started ahead of Rutgers’ 4-star savior Artur Sitkowski, or the guy who brought gigantic OL Curtis Dunlap and Daniel Faalele up to the Land of 10,000 lakes. Annexstad and RS FR Tanner Morgan will be counted on to improve on running the offense and bringing something that resembles average QB play to the Gopher for the first time since Adam Weber left nearly a decade ago. Or maybe Bryan Cupito. Either way, way too long. There will be some growing pains, but this has to be an upgrade because a downgrade simply can’t be possible.

RB will be Rodney Smith and whomever fills in behind him. That’s just fine, because Smith has been one of the more reliable and underrated backs in the B1G the last 3 seasons and he’s currently 1,849 yards behind Darrell Thompson for the Gopher’s all-time record. While that seems unlikely, he’s only 430 behind Chris Darkins for 5th place and 1,128 behind Laurence Maroney for 2nd. Barring injury, he’ll finish somewhere between 2nd and 5th all-time. Mohammed Ibrahim, Nolan Edmonds, and Bryce Williams will fight for carries behind him, and all should be capable backups.

WR and TE will see a lot of change, with Tyler Johnson and Phillip Howard being joined by a cornucopia of talented youngsters (Douglas, Autman-Bell, Bateman) as well as the addition at TE of former QB Seth Green (who appears to be adapting quite well to his new position). I fully expect to see the biggest change here, as the position will need to be much more dynamic than it was last year for the rest of the offense to perform.

The progress of the OL will be 2nd only to the progress of the QB for how well we do this year. Some of the keys to watch for will be how SR Donnell Greene plays, if Sam Schluter and Connor Olsen make big strides as SO, and where RS-FR Blaise Andries and John Michael Schmitz fit in. It’ll also be interesting to see where and how Fleck uses the aforementioned Dunlap and Faalele with the new redshirting rules and the other options he has available. With the increased depth and talent I’d expect a step towards being decent this year, with a leap coming next year.

There are options aplenty up front for the defense. The middle will be manned by O.J. Smith, Gary Moore, Royal Silver, and possibly Elijah Teague. There’s plenty of beef there, and they should be able to do a good job of keeping the LBs clean. DEs were OK but not great last season, and Winston DeLattiboudere, Taiyon Devers, and Jerry Gibson will be joined by Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomeywu. Being able to hold the point of attack and provide some pressure on passing downs will be a big key this fall, as there may be questions in the secondary.

Once again LB will be a position of strength. Carter Coughlin has been moved back, and I expect big things from the leader of the team. Thankfully he won’t be counted on to do it all by himself, as he’ll have plenty of help from Thomas Barber,m Kamal Martin, Blake Cashman, and Julian Huff. There will be good options available for pretty much everything we’ll see from opponents this fall.

If there’s one area of the team I’m concerned about on defense, it’s the secondary. While Antoine Winfield Jr. returns from injury, he’s going to be counted on as the key of the defense once again. He’s going to need help around him at safety, and I have no idea who that’s going to be. Maybe Benny Sapp III could be the guy, but he’s coming off an injury last fall as well in addition to being a true freshman. At CB we’re going to need some combination of yet another true freshman in Terell Smith and returners Antonio Shenault, Kiondre Thomas, Coney Durr, Florida transfer Chris Williamson, and RS-FR Rey Estes to stop other teams from picking us apart. It’ll be an adventure, but there’s potential for some big plays for the Gophers in addition to other teams.

Per the rules of football, there will also be a kicker and a punter.

C. Timeline of Events

8/30 New Mexico State (Thursday Night)

9/8 Fresno State

9/15 Miami Oxide

9/22 at Maryland

10/6 Iowa

10/13 at Ohio State

10/20 at Nebraska

10/26 Indiana (Friday Night)

11/3 at Illinois

11/10 Purdue

11/17 Northwestern

11/24 at Wisconsin

Late December Bowl Game

Honestly, that’s not bad at all. While two of the four toughest games are on the road (at tOSU and wisconsin, home vs. Fresno State and Northwestern), it looks like the tougher winnable games are at home and other road games don’t look that intimidating at all. Getting a bye before Iowa and at Ohio State is nice, and having a long week and then Illinois before the home stretch is nice.

II. Discovery

A. What We’ve Written About Minnesota This Offseason

Preview, Predictions, and Outlook

Potluck 1

A bunch of questions rattling around in my head

Potluck II

Traditions

Potluck III

MNWildcat’s Appreciation Of Gopher Football

Minnesota Mailbag Responses (dropped during wisconsin week)

B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture

This again? Nothing. Minnesota has no time for pop culture. Please stop making me do this, because my answer isn’t going to change.

III. Emotional Plea

For the love of all that is holy, please do not be boring. Show flashes of life on offense, do something on defense, and make going to Gopher Football games fun. Throw double-digit touchdowns for the first time since 2015. Continue to be good citizens and don’t do anything stupid off the field. Beat the teams you should, play hard against the teams you shouldn’t and put yourselves in position to take advantage of coinflip games.

IV. The Verdict

As you can see, many of my peers are fools. Sure, I might be a little optimistic and think that every coinflip will come up heads. But can you blame me? New Mexico State is bad and will be coming off a game this weekend against Wyoming, Fleck is undefeated against Miami, Maryland is turmoil right now and I don’t expect that to change any time soon, Iowa isn’t anything special and looks like they might be a bad matchup against what Fleck and his staff want to do, Nebraska has a new QB and coaching staff (and lost to us 54-21 last year), Indiana is B1G East us but they have to come here and everyone will be distracted because that Friday night game is the day Red Dead Redemption II gets released, Illinois is still Illinois, and Purdue just barely got by us last year in West Lafayette and they lost a ton on defense. So that coin will keep coming up heads no matter what the odds of it actually are and we’ll go 8-4.

Poll

What say you, reader: Predict the Gophers’ finish in 2018.

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    9-3 or better
    (7 votes)
  • 8%
    8-4
    (26 votes)
  • 19%
    7-5
    (62 votes)
  • 28%
    6-6
    (88 votes)
  • 17%
    5-7
    (56 votes)
  • 13%
    4-8
    (42 votes)
  • 9%
    3-9, as I am from wisconsin or Iowa
    (31 votes)
312 votes total Vote Now