MINNEAPOLIS - If the University of Minnesota football team contends for the Big Ten West title in 2020, it’s a safe bet that P.J. Fleck and Tanner Morgan will have a lot of say in it.
Some national experts have taken notice after the Gophers, led by Fleck and Morgan, had their best season in 115 years in 2019, going 11-2 after beating Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Minnesota finished with its first season-ending top-10 ranking in the Associated Press poll in decades.
ESPN on Tuesday released rankings of the top head coach and quarterback combo in the country. It has Fleck and Morgan at No. 4, the second-best in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Justin Fields. The top combo in the country? Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Trevor Lawrence.
Morgan made the most of his opportunity as a starter last year after Zack Annexstad went down with a season-ending foot injury in fall camp. He made all 13 starts and passed for more than 3,200 yards with 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Morgan completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for more than 250 yards per game on average as the Gophers were ranked 42nd in total offense, 47th in passing offense, sixth in passing efficiency and 21st in scoring offense, averaging 34.1 points per game last season.
Morgan set an NCAA record for completion percentage last year at Purdue, going 21-of-22 for 396 yards and four touchdowns. His lone incompletion was a throw-away under pressure. He set school records last year in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, passing yards per game and pass efficiency rating. For the first time in program history, Morgan had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Morgan was a Second Team All-Big Ten pick.
In just his third season at Minnesota, Fleck had the Gophers as high as No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings after a historic win over Penn State at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers got off to their first 9-0 start in decades, and won seven Big Ten games for the first time in program history. Their 11 wins last season is the most since 1905.
Taking the next step for the Gophers in 2020 means getting past Wisconsin for the Big Ten West title, and earning a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.