Gophers football 2022: 3 sneaky games on Minnesota’s schedule

The University of Minnesota football team opened the 2021 season with a 45-31 loss to Ohio State Thursday night at Huntington Bank Stadium. ((credit: University of Minnesota Athletics))

The University of Minnesota football team is about a month away from starting fall camp.

It’s a huge year for PJ Fleck, who enters his sixth season as Gophers’ head coach. He’s 35-23 in five seasons at Minnesota, including 21-22 in Big Ten play and 3-0 in bowl games. The Gophers are coming off a 9-4 season in 2021, which featured a win over rival Wisconsin to end the regular season and a victory over West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

Interestingly enough, Fleck said multiple times in interviews after the season he felt he failed as a head coach. The Gophers won nine games, but had inexplicable losses to Bowling Green and Illinois, and Fleck dropped to 0-5 against Iowa. Beat the Illini and Hawkeyes, and you’re facing Ohio State for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis. With USC and UCLA soon coming to the league, it might be the final year for East and West divisions.

It’s also the final year for Tanner Morgan, Mo Ibrahim, Chris Autman-Bell, John Michael Schmitz, Thomas Rush, Mariano Sori-Marin, Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden to run it back together. That said, here are three big games on Minnesota’s 2022 schedule that might otherwise go under the radar.


The Gophers host New Mexico State under the lights at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Huntington Bank Stadium. On the surface, it’s a game Minnesota should run away with. The Gophers are 30-plus point favorites, but remember, they were four-touchdown favorites last year at home against Bowling Green. We all know how that ended.

It’s Jerry Kills return to Minnesota, and there’s no love lost with Fleck. Kill vowed after Tracy Claeys was fired, and replaced by Fleck, that he would never step foot on the Minnesota campus again. The Aggies won just two games last year, and will be playing just four days removed from their season opener against Nevada. Do not make this more interesting than it needs to be, send Kill home with a loss and a nice check for the athletic department.


The Gophers should be heading to East Lansing 3-0 after hosting New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado in three straight non-conference games at Huntington Bank Stadium. They’ll be on the road for the first time on Sept. 24, against a Spartans’ program that won 11 games under Mel Tucker. They started 8-0, including an emotional 37-33 win over rival Michigan. Predictably, they laid an egg at Purdue the following week.

It’s Minnesota’s Big Ten opener, and it’s on the road in what will be a tough test four weeks into the season.


The Gophers shouldn’t need any extra motivation heading to Champaign to face Illinois on Oct. 15. The Illini went 5-7 in Bret Bielema’s first season. One of those five wins came at Huntington Bank Stadium, 14-6 over Minnesota. It was a day where the Gophers ran for just 89 yards, and their only score came from Tanner Morgan with less than five minutes to play.

The Gophers will be coming off hosting Purdue for Homecoming the week before, and head to Penn State the week after for their "White Out" game in Happy Valley. The Illini will be coming off games at Wisconsin and against Iowa, with a road trip to Nebraska after hosting the Gophers. Minnesota should have the edge and talent, and it’s a game they simply have to win.

The Gophers’ Big Ten West fate, like it usually does, probably hinges on the last two games against Iowa and at Wisconsin. But these are three games they can’t just simply show up and expect to win, and Fleck will be the first one to say that.