Gophers football has 9 named to Athlon Sports preseason All-Big Ten team

Matthew Trickett kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime as Maroon beat Gold in the annual Gophers Spring Game on Saturday. ((credit: University of Minnesota Athletics))

The University of Minnesota football team’s first game of the 2022 season isn’t for nearly three months, but the Gophers are earning accolades ahead of their Sept. 1 opener.

Athlon Sports has released its preseason All-Big Ten team, and nine Gophers are on it. Minnesota has four offensive players, and five defensive players named to the team, coming off a 9-4 season in 2021 that ended with a win over Wisconsin and a victory over West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

The Gophers are led offensively on the list by center John Michael Schmitz, a first-team pick who is also an early favorite for the Rimington Award. He was a Second Team All-Big Ten pick last season and has 23 career starts in 44 games.

Other offensive selections include Mohamed Ibrahim, Chris Autman-Bell and Brevyn Spann-Ford. Ibrahim was the 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year and ran for 163 yards and two scores against Ohio State before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Autman-Bell, despite missing time with an ankle injury, led Minnesota with 36 catches for 506 yards and six touchdowns. Spann-Ford finished the season with 23 catches for 296 yards and one touchdown.

Despite losing Ibrahim, Trey Potts and Bryce Williams to injuries, the Gophers were still No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing. All three are back in 2022 and should all get snaps, with Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving leaving the program.

The defensive players to make the Athlon Sports team are led by Thomas Rush, Mariano Sori-Marin and Tyler Nubin. Rush had 5.5 sacks last season, Sori-Marin finished second on the defense with 85 tackles and Nubin had 52 tackles, and led the defense with three interceptions.

Jordan Howden and Justin Walley were also named to the team. Howden had 43 tackles and five pass break-ups last season, and Walley had 29 tackles, one interception and recovered three fumbles.

Minnesota’s defense, coached by Joe Rossi, finished No. 3 in the country in total defense and was top-10 in the country in scoring defense. They finished eighth nationally in rushing and passing defense, and sixth in scoring defense.

The Gophers open their sixth season under PJ Fleck on Thursday, Sept. 1 against former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and New Mexico State at Huntington Bank Stadium.