2022 Gophers Football Schedule Preview
We are now a mere 43 days from the start of the Gophers football season. Hooray! While the schedule features some tough opponents, including a pair of difficult crossover matchups from the Big Ten East, it does begin with an easy stretch in Minneapolis. There will be ample opportunity to get the offense rolling and sort out the defensive chinks in time for the Big Ten opener.
SEP 1: VS New Mexico State
Last meeting – 2018 (W) 48-10
2021 Record: 2-10
Aggies players to watch: O’Maury Samuels – RB
This should be one of the easiest games on the schedule for the Gophers, as the Aggies went a meager 2-10 last year. However, do not expect head coach PJ Fleck to open the season conservatively. Former Gopher head coach Jerry Kill returns to Huntington Bank Stadium for his first career game as the head coach of New Mexico State, and he and Fleck enter this game with bad blood coursing through their veins. Kill Criticized Fleck’s leadership in the past, claiming that Fleck only cares about himself and his own ego. Expect Fleck to keep his foot on the gas in this one.
Stylistically, the Aggies present a familiar challenge. Kill’s offenses traditionally rely on heavy run packages, and the load in 2022 will fall on Michigan transfer O’Maurey Samuels. The Aggies lost a ridiculous amount of offensive production from last year’s squad, so this will be a young and inexperienced team travelling to Minneapolis. Perhaps losing so much production from one of the nation’s worst squads is not such a bad thing, however. Nonetheless, the Gophers’ familiarity with the system, coupled with what should still be a stout run defense, should provide for a blowout win in the season opener.
SEP 10: VS Western Illinois
Last Meeting – 2013 (W) 29-12
2021 Record: 2-9
Leathernecks players to watch: Connor Sampson – QB, Mason Laramie – K
The Western Illinois Leathernecks struggled mightily in the Missouri Valley Conference last year. They will be heavily outmatched against the Gophers, simply put. The rushing attack was virtually nonexistent in 2021, mustering just 2.5 yards per attempt. Naturally, the passing game was more productive, but quarterback Connor Sampson threw 14 interceptions on the year. The defense was woeful. Very little resistance was provided by the Leathernecks D in allowing 38.8 points per game and 427 total yards.
This will be a big step up both in competition and in environment for the Leathernecks. Minnesota’s defensive line can pin its collective ears back in this one, as Western Illinois will be forced to be completely one dimensional. Expect a blood bath and the Gophers’ highest scoring output of the season.
SEP 17 : VS Colorado
Last Meeting – 2021 (W) 30-0
2021 Record: 4-8
Buffaloes players to watch: Ramon Jefferson – RB, RJ Sneed – WR, Isaiah Lewis, S
Minnesota waltzed into Boulder last year and trounced the hapless Buffaloes. Colorado possessed the nation’s second worst offense last year, gaining a measly 257 yards per game. They do add Baylor transfer receiver RJ Sneed, a speedster who can stretch the field, but the passing game needs to improve immensely to take advantage of his talent. The defense was not much better a season ago. The Buffaloes simply could not stop the run, and they ranked last in the PAC 12 in sacks.
Minnesota should be able to bully Colorado in Minneapolis. The weaknesses of this Colorado team, unless marked and rapid improvements are shown early, fall perfectly into Minnesota’s strengths. Mo Ibrahim should have a field day in this one.
SEP 24: AT Michigan State
Last Meeting – 2017 (L) 27-30
2021 Record: 11-2
Spartans players to watch: Payton Thorne – QB, Jayden Reed – WR, Jacob Slade – DT
Michigan State provides Minnesota’s first real test of the season, along with an intriguing matchup, in East Lansing. The Spartans will look quite different post Kenneth Walker, though they have a gamer at quarterback in Payton Thorne, and an established receiving threat in receiver Jayden Reed. If Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger can be a threat on the ground, this should once again be an explosive offense. The defense, on the other hand, is something of a concern. The Spartans secondary was routinely exposed in 2021, as the defense ranked dead last in the nation in passing yards allowed.
It will be interesting to see how this game plays out, as we could see an explosion from quarterback Tanner Morgan reminiscent of a few games from his 2019 campaign. Expect MSU to be the favorite here, though it feels like a game Minnesota has a good chance of winning. If Morgan and receiver Chris Autman-Bell have a big day, this game could get fun, and fast.
OCT 1: VS Purdue
Last Meeting – 2021 (W) 20-13
2021 Record: 9-4
Boilermakers players to watch: Aidan O’Connell – QB, Payne Durham – TE, Kydran Jenkins – DE
Purdue is coming off a magical season in 2021 in which the Boilermakers won 9 games (their most since 2003). Two of those wins came against top 5 opponents, though one of their losses came at the hands of the Gophers in West Lafayette. On Offense, Purdue will be among the best in the Big Ten. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell is among the conference’s best at the position, and heads into his third season as a starter. O’Connell loses top target David Bell to the NFL, but returns an intriguing cast at receiver and a strong tight end room to throw to. The defense has seen a revolving door of coordinators over the last several years, but solidified into an average group in the conference in 2021. Star defensive end George Karlaftis is off to the NFL, but his shoes will be filled by promising sophomore Kydran Jenkins, who had 5 sacks a season ago.
Purdue always provides an unusual challenge for Big Ten West foes with their pass heavy offense, but the Gophers have played well against the Boilermakers in recent years. This looks like another good matchup on paper, and expect the Gophers to muddy up the game and slow down the Boilermakers’ passing attack.
OCT 15: AT Illinois
Last Meeting – 2021 (L) 6-14
2021 Record: 5-7
Illini players to watch: Chase Brown – RB, Devon Witherspoon – CB, Sydney Brown, S
Illinois took some major strides in Bret Bielema’s first year at the helm. Though it did not translate to a sexy record, the progress on the field was apparent. The cupboard was bare for Bielema and co., but the players fought hard and pulled off ugly and unlikely wins against Penn State and Minnesota. As the team adds talent, and, in particular, offensive line depth, the Illini figure to assert themselves as a respectable and competitive presence in the West.
The offense was putrid a season ago, ranking 10th in the conference in yards and 11th in scoring. Incoming Syracuse transfer Tommy Devito may have the tools to upgrade the passing game to merely below average, which would do wonders for this team given how competitive it can be with negligible threat through the air. Running back Chase Brown is underrated, and could be poised for a huge season. There is also a new face in charge of the offense, as Illinois brings in Barrey Lunney Jr. from UTSA. Lunney Jr. will look to run a more balanced offense than what we’ve seen out of the Illini recently. The defense is clearly the strength of this team, ranking 29th nationally in scoring defense a year ago. The linebackers will be solid, but defensive backs Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown will lead the way on defense on the back end.
Minnesota lost a stunner to Illinois in Minneapolis the last time the two teams met. The game felt like an anomaly, akin to Minnesota’s baffling loss to Bowling Green, but such is the Illini formula. The Gophers are talented enough to be able to put Illinois away, but the Illini defense will be strong again. If the offense can maintain any semblance of balance, the Gophers may have trouble in Champaign. However, unless the Gophers fall asleep at the wheel again, this feels like a win.
OCT 22: AT Penn State
Last Meeting – 2019 (W) 31-26
2021 Record: 7-6
Nittany Lions players to watch: Sean Clifford – QB, Parker Washington – WR, Ji’Ayir Brown – S
The Nittany Lions underperformed the last two years in amassing an 11-11 record, and are looking to turn things around in 2022. The team certainly possesses the talent to do so, but there are major issues that must be addressed for this team to rebound to the former levels of success it’s had under James Franklin.
This starts with the offense, and, in particular, the run game. The Nittany Lions’ ground attack was bafflingly inefficient a season ago; none of Penn State’s highly-touted backs ran for 100 yards in a game in 2021. This was largely due to underwhelming line play, a position that will be under the magnifying lens this year. Super senior Sean Clifford will lead the way once again on offense. Though experienced, Clifford has been inconsistent, and will be without star receiver Jahan Dotson. Parker Washington is good enough to fill some of the void left by Dotson, but Clifford will have to elevate the offense for this team to have a shot at winning the East. The defense brings in former Miami head coach Manny Diaz to run things, and he will have plenty of talent to work with. The secondary should be among the nation’s best, highlighted by safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who led the nation with his 6 interceptions a year ago.
I would feel a lot better about this game if it weren’t for the fact that it will be played in the most intense environment in all of college football. This game is Penn State’s white out game.
OCT 29: VS Rutgers
Last Meeting – 2019 (W) 42-7
2021 Record: 5-8
Scarlet Knights players to watch: Kyle Monengai – RB, Avery Young – S, Aaron Lewis – DE
Rutgers has made steady progress under coach Greg Schiano. A few years removed from being the laughingstock of the conference, the Scarlet Knights project to be a pesky thorn in the sides of the juggernauts of the Big Ten East. The offense was simply bad last year, ranking 120th in both scoring and total offense. Quarterback Noah Vedral is back, though he’ll have to fend off former 4-star Gavin Wimsatt for the starting role. The offensive line should improve, giving one of the two signal callers more time to operate and lifting the floor of the entire offense. Defense is where the Scarlet Knights will hope to hang their hats. It was not statistically efficient a year ago, but was dominant in its 5 wins, and held reigning Big Ten Champion Michigan to 20 points in the Big House. They do bring in a new defensive coordinator in Joe Harasymiak, and he will hope to lead a more consistent unit in 2022.
There is nothing on paper to suggest Rutgers has a chance in this game. The Gophers are more talented across the board, and possess the playmakers to turn this one into a blowout. It will be rough sledding for the Scarlet Knights in Minneapolis.
NOV 5: AT Nebraska
Last Meeting – 2021 (W) 30-23
2021 Record: 3-9
Cornhuskers players to watch: Casey Thompson – QB, Luke Reimer – LB, Nick Henrich – LB
Scott Frost has yet to reach a bowl game at Nebraska. In an attempt to save his job, he blew up the offensive coaching staff. He also brought in talented Texas transfer Casey Thompson at quarterback. The offense, which was relatively successful a season ago, will look completely different this year – hopefully for the better, for Frost’s sake. Objective number 1 must be eliminating the countless untimely mistakes that sank the season last year. The defense was nothing special, but it did its best to mitigate the terrible positions it found itself in over and over thanks to the offense. The linebacker room is loaded, led by top tacklers Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich, and the secondary should also be a strength.
There are so many fascinating elements to this Nebraska team, from the staff changes, to the arrival of Casey Thompson, and to the camera locked on Scott Frost’s face. There truly is nothing better than watching his expression after yet another close game is fumbled away. Mix these all together, toss in a sprinkle of desperation, blend, and enjoy watching the 2022 Nebraska Football team. Unless you’re a Huskers fan. Anyway, the Gophers will win by 7.
NOV 12: VS Northwestern
Last Meeting – 2021 (W) 41-14
2021 Record: 3-9
Wildcats players to watch: Peter Skoronski – T, Evan Hull – RB, Bryce Gallagher – LB
Last season was the worst of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. After 2 division titles in the last 4 years, it felt bizarre, but the refusal to play offense finally caught up to the Wildcats. Quarterback is a severe weakness, though that is nothing new. There is also little explosiveness across the board, but, again, nothing new. The ground game has the potential to carry the offense if the play in the trenches improves. Cam Porter and Evan Hull provide a competent combination out of the backfield. The defense, while typically stout under Fitzgerald, took a dive in 2021. If it doesn’t rebound to a top 5 level nationally in 2022, this will be another lost year for the Wildcats.
As I just mentioned, unless Northwestern fields a lethal defense, they should not be much of a threat to the Gophers. Project an easy win here.
NOV 19: VS Iowa
Last Meeting – 2021 (L) 22-27
2021 Record: 10-4
Hawkeyes players to watch: Sam LaPorta, Jack Campbell – LB, Riley Moss – CB
Iowa won the West last year with terrible quarterback play. Expect much of the same for the latter this year, as Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla again will share snaps. Neither could do much through the air, but do not place the blame on either, as Kirk Ferentz probably scolds them for every attempted pass downfield. The rest of the offense will not provide much help, though the lone bright spot is tight end Sam LaPorta, who is sure to start on an NFL team soon. The defense represents the opposite end of the spectrum. After giving up a measly 19 points per game, to go with a nation-leading 25 interceptions a season ago, the Hawkeye defense will again set its sights on the Big Ten Championship Game. Linebacker Jack Campbell led the nation in tackles in 2021, and Riley Moss was the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year.
Iowa has dominated the series of late. The Hawkeyes boast a 7-game winning streak, but the downright refusal to play offense will eventually catch up with them. This game will be ugly, one way or the other.
NOV 26: AT Wisconsin
Last Meeting – 2021 (W) 23-13
2021 Record: 9-4
Badgers players to watch – Braelon Allen-RB, Nick Herbig – LB, Keeanu Benton – DT
While the offense struggled early in 2021, it eventually found the stud tailback it was desperately missing. His name is Braelon Allen, and he’s pretty darn good. The offense built the entire ship out of the 17-year-old freshman, and good things began to happen. This upcoming year will feature much of the same, as the Badgers aim to limit the mistakes of quarterback Graham Mertz and play traditional, downhill Wisconsin football. The 2021 Badgers defense led the nation in total yardage allowed, but will have to replace 8 starters in 2022. There are a few standouts returning. Linebacker Nick Herbig had 9 sacks last year, and nose tackle Keeanu Benton will be a beast in the middle.
The Badgers and Gophers have split the last 4 contests, with some memorable games involved during the stretch. This game could have heavy consequences, as both teams project to contend for the division title. If the Gophers can slow down Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, expect a win. This will be no small task, especially as Allen adds a year of strength training. Nonetheless, this game has been magical lately, so anticipate another stunning end to the year.
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