Gophers football in 2021: How does the schedule look?

Mo Ibrahim had 26 carries for 151 yards in Minnesota's 20-17 overtime loss at Wisconsin on Saturday. ((credit: University of Minnesota Athletics))

Alabama dominated Ohio State 52-24 Monday night in the College Football Playoff national title game.

Tuesday morning, college football programs across the country turned the page to the 2021 season. The University of Minnesota football team finished its season 3-4, losing its finale at Wisconsin 20-17 in overtime. The Gophers’ three wins came at Illinois, against Purdue and at Nebraska.

The way-too-early top 25 polls for 2021 don’t have the Gophers ranked, but the Big Ten has five teams in the top 25. So what does 2021 look like for Minnesota? Here’s an early glance at the schedule.

Week 1: Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium

The hope is that TCF Bank Stadium will have a capacity crowd on Sept. 2. That’s when the Gophers open the 2021 regular season against Ohio State. Yeah, the same Buckeyes’ squad that just lost to Alabama in the national championship. It’s unlikely Ohio State will have Justin Fields and Chris Olave, in fact the Buckeyes will likely lose several players to the NFL Draft. But they’ll reload, that’s why they’re consistently one of the top programs in the country. With what the Gophers expect to have returning on both sides of the ball, it should be a heck of a match-up to start the season.

Non-conference games include Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Bowling Green

The Gophers’ non-conference games will include hosting Miami (Ohio) and Bowling Green, and traveling to Colorado. Miami (Ohio) finished 2-1 in 2020 and had three games canceled due to COVID-19. Bowling Green went 0-5 this past season, and had its final game canceled. They allowed an average of 45 points per game in their five losses, and their average margin of defeat was 33.6 points.

Minnesota’s toughest test will come Week 3 at Colorado. The Buffaloes finished 4-2 in 2020, with wins against UCLA, at Stanford, against San Diego State and at Arizona. They lost in the Alamo Bowl to Texas, 55-23.

Big Ten home games are Ohio State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Illinois and Nebraska

P.J. Fleck will face Ohio State for the second time in his Gophers’ career in September. He’s 0-1 with a 30-14 loss at Ohio State in 2018.

Fleck is 1-3 with the Gophers against Wisconsin. His only win came at Madison in 2018, which qualified Minnesota for a bowl game. With the Big Ten West title at stake in 2019, Wisconsin handed the Gophers a 38-17 defeat. This year, the Badgers escaped with a 20-17 overtime win. Graham Mertz will lead the Wisconsin offense after Jack Coan’s departure to Notre Dame.

The Gophers host Maryland this year, looking to avenge a 45-44 loss in overtime. Mo Ibrahim ran for 204 yards and four touchdowns in that game, but the defense gave up 675 total yards and six touchdowns.

Minnesota also hosts Illinois and Nebraska this season. The Gophers beat Illinois 41-14 in 2020, and Bret Bielema has replaced Lovie Smith as head coach. The Gophers won at Nebraska 24-17, and Scott Frost likely enters 2021 on the coaching hot seat.

Big Ten road games are at Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana

Minnesota has beaten Purdue three straight times, this year’s win coming after questionable officiating. Tanner Morgan had one of his best games at Purdue two years ago, and the Boilermakers will have plenty of questions heading into 2021.

The Gophers’ game against Northwestern this year was canceled due to COVID-19 issues, and the Wildcats won the Big Ten West two of the past three years. But they also finished last in 2019, and have had a several players leave the program after this season.

The Gophers head to Iowa City in 2021 to try to bring Floyd of Rosedale home, but Fleck is 0-4 against the Hawkeyes for his career. That includes a 23-19 loss at Iowa two seasons ago, with the path to the Big Ten West title clear at the time. Last season, Minnesota got manhandled in a 35-7 loss.

One of the Gophers’ toughest road games might be its crossover game at Indiana on Nov. 20. The Hoosiers finished 6-2, 6-1 in Big Ten play and were 3-0 at home in 2020 with wins over Penn State, Michigan and Maryland. Indiana also won at Wisconsin. Their season ended with a loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl.

Fleck enters his fifth season at Minnesota, and expectations are high with a majority of players back from 2020, and others returning from injury or after opting out. We'll get a better idea of how things are starting to shape up when spring football starts.