MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team is winding down fall camp, with its season-opener against No. 4-ranked Ohio State at Huntington Bank Stadium less than two weeks away.
It’s fair to say that if the Gophers have a chance at pulling the upset on Sept. 2, running back Mo Ibrahim will have a lot to do with it. The senior is coming back as the reigning Big Ten Running Back of the Year. In seven games last season, he led the league with 1,076 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
With top receiver Chris Autman-Bell battling a leg injury, Minnesota’s offense will center even more around Ibrahim. At Big Ten Media Day, P.J. Fleck called his running back "the identity of our football team and said he’s, "kind of like a bowling ball going downhill with razor blades on it."
He’ll get the attention from opposing defenses this season, but Ibrahim is the last guy to make a game about him. Ibrahim is one of 10 offensive starters back from 2020.
"I think it’s important to understand that it’s a whole offense, it’s not just me. If I go down, you’ve got other running backs who can do the same exact things as me. You’ve got wide receivers, you’ve got a great quarterback, you’ve got eight offensive linemen. We’ve got a lot of playmakers on this offense that can get the job done," Ibrahim said. "It might not be me running for 100 yards, it might be Chris Autman-Bell getting 200 yards a game, it might be Tanner throwing for 400 yards. Whatever it takes. At the end of the day we’re all trying to just win the game, be 1-0 in every week of the season."
Like other seniors, Ibrahim was left with a decision after last season. Athletes could play in 2020 without using NCAA eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So would he come back for one more run, or explore the NFL?
The answer for him was simple. After discussion with those closest to him, he was coming back for one more year. He made it official on social media not long after the Gophers’ season ended in an overtime loss at Wisconsin.
"It wasn’t really a decision, I knew what I was doing by the time the Wisconsin game ended. I just talked it through with a lot of people just to see what they thought about it, run it through people that I trust, and they all was on the same page as me. It wasn’t really that big of a decision," Ibrahim said.
There might not be a more hyped offensive player for the Gophers entering the 2021 season than Ibrahim. He’s a preseason All-Big Ten pick, was named to the Walter Camp preseason All-American team and is on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the top running back in college football. He was a semifinalist for it last year.
If he gets off to a fast start this year, his name could even be put in Heisman Trophy consideration. So how does he stay focused amid the hype?
"Delete social media and worry about it when the season is over with. As of right now, I don’t really pay too much attention on it. I don’t really notice it unless I’m on Twitter, but I’m barely on Twitter," Ibrahmi said before fall camp. "I’m putting my head down every day working, getting better and better each day, building chemistry with this team."
His teammates know how much he means to Minnesota’s offense, and the team’s success. Ibrahim had two games with four touchdowns last season, a pair of 200-yard games and set a school record, averaging 153.7 yards per game.
"Mo is everything and I think he’s going to show that this year," Autman-Bell said.