Football is back, and we’re less than a month away from the University of Minnesota starting its 2022 season.
The Gophers reported for fall camp in Monday, and workouts are already underway coming off a 9-4 season in 2021 that ended with wins over rival Wisconsin and West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. PJ Fleck is entering his sixth season with the Gophers. He’s 35-23 overall, 21-22 in Big Ten games and 3-0 in bowl games.
This year might be as good a time as any to win the Big Ten West, with veterans and talent back on both sides of the ball. With the team's first practice open to the public and media on Saturday, here are five questions facing the Gophers with fall camp less than a week in.
CAN TANNER MORGAN REBOUND?
Tanner Morgan set every passing record there is to set during the program’s historic 11-2 season in 2019. That team had two 1,000-yard receivers in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, and a 1,000-yard rusher in Mo Ibrahim. The last two seasons, Morgan took a step back with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. This year, Morgan has Kirk Ciarrocca back running the offense, Ibrahim back in the backfield and his top five receivers back from last season.
The question now is if one of the leaders of the "Encore 4" can lead Minnesota to the Big Ten title game.
WHAT DOES THE OFFENSIVE LINE LOOK LIKE?
If the Gophers do contend for a division title in 2022, it will be with a lot of new names along the offensive line. Sixth-year senior John Michael Schmitz, one of the top centers in the country, is the lone returning starter. Fleck has brought in former Edina star Quinn Carroll and Michigan’s Chuck Filiaga as transfers. Other names to watch for playing time are Aireontae Ersery, J.J. Guedet, Karter Shaw, Axel Ruschmeyer, Nathan Boe and Martes Lewis.
HOW ABOUT THE DEFENSIVE LINE?
Minnesota’s defensive line faces a similar issue, with Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo off to the NFL. Trill Carter and Thomas Rush are the returning starters, and they added Lorenza Surgers and Darnell Jefferies via transfer. The other names to watch battling for playing time are Gage Keys, Austin Booker, Jah Joyner, Jacob Schuster, Deven Eastern, Danny Striggow, Logan Richter and Jalen Logan-Redding.
HOW EFFECTIVE WILL MO IBRAHIM, TREY POTTS BE?
We know the stories by now. Mo Ibrahim was carving up Ohio State nearly a year ago with 163 yards and two touchdowns before suffering a season-ending torn Achilles. Trey Potts went down near the end of a win at Purdue with an undisclosed injury that required nearly a week of hospitalization. PJ Fleck said at Big Ten Media Days both have been medically cleared to play again, and both did individual work in the spring with limited contact.
They’re both going to have to prove in fall camp they can take hits and trust their bodies. If both can stay healthy, the Gophers should have a formidable run game this fall.
CAN JUSTIN WALLEY BUILD OFF STANDOUT FRESHMAN SEASON?
Justin Walley couldn’t have asked for a much better freshman season. He played in all 13 games, started six and made a game-changing interception in Minnesota’s win over Wisconsin. He finished with 29 tackles, seven pass break-ups, forced a fumble and recovered two in his first season.
The Gophers will want Walley to build off that first season and sustain it, but he won’t be by himself. Minnesota features one of the top secondary units in the Big Ten, led by Walley, Terrell Smith, Flip Dixon, Beanie Bishop, Ryan Stapp, Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin.
Minnesota has the talent on the depth chart, but figuring out the trenches is the most direct path to winning the Big Ten West and playing in Indianapolis. The Gophers open the 2022 regular season at 8 p.m. on Sept. 1 against former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and New Mexico State.