MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team is about four months away from hosting Ohio State to open the 2021 regular season. This week, CBS Sports released a poll of the top college football coaches among Power 5 conferences.
P.J. Fleck is considered among the top 25 coaches in the country, and one of eight from the Big Ten. Fleck comes in at No. 25, joined by Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (23), Indiana’s Tom Allen (20), Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst (18), Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (17), Penn State’s James Franklin (13), Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (8) and Ohio State’s Ryan Day (4).
Fleck will be entering his fifth season with the Gophers, and interest in the program was at an all-time high before the 2020 season. Minnesota finished 11-2 and in the top 10 of the final Associated Press Top 25 poll after beating Auburn in the Outback Bowl, capping off the program’s best season in 115 years.
Just a few months later, the sports world stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gophers struggled in a modified 2020 season, finishing 3-4 after having two games canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program. They managed to get a 24-17 win at Nebraska with 33 players out between injuries and COVID-19 issues.
Fleck is 23-15 through four seasons at Minnesota, and 15-19 in Big Ten play. His nemesis so far? Trophy games. In Fleck’s four seasons, the Gophers haven’t beaten Michigan for the Little Brown Jug. They’re also 1-7 combined against Iowa and Wisconsin.
The future looks bright for the Gophers under Fleck. Minnesota loses just two starters from last season, Rashod Bateman and Benjamin St.-Juste. The entire offensive line is back, as are reigning Big Ten Running Back of the Year Mo Ibrahim and quarterback Tanner Morgan, who will be in his third season as a starter.
The defense will be anchored by Esezi Otomewo, Boye Mafe and Nyles Pinckney at the line, Mariano Sori-Marin, Braelin Oliver and Jack Gibbens at linebacker and Coney Durr and Tyler Nubin in the secondary.