MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team ended the 2021 season 9-4 after beating West Virginia 18-6 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
We’ve already seen some changes on both sides of the ball with coaching changes and the transfer portal as the Gophers are in offseason mode, and soon getting ready for spring football. The Gophers had some major highs in 2021, running for more than 300 yards in consecutive wins over Nebraska and Maryland.
They also struggled in bad losses to Illinois, and most notably, Bowling Green. PJ Fleck parted ways with Mike Sanford Jr. after the season, and brought back Kirk Ciarrocca for the 2022 season. So what will the offense look like? Here’s an early glimpse of the personnel.
Quarterback - Tanner Morgan
Tanner Morgan had a historic 2019 season under Ciarrocca, throwing for more than 3,200 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Those were all single-season records. This year? A modest 2,044 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Gophers were a run-first offense.
If Morgan gets hurt or has to miss games in 2022? Zack Annexstad and Jacob Clark left the program after Morgan announced his return for a sixth year, so the options are wildcat quarterback Cole Kramer, Athan Kaliakmanis and Jacob Knuth.
Running backs – Mo Ibrahim, Bryce Williams, Trey Potts, Mar’Keise Irving
The Minnesota running back room is as full as any, and that’s after leading rusher Ky Thomas entered the transfer portal. Mo Ibrahim is returning after the 2019 Big Ten Running Back of the Year ran for 164 yards before hurting his Achilles against Ohio State. Bucky Irving ran for 715 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman, Trey Potts had 575 yards and six touchdowns before leaving the Purdue game and Williams had 190 yards and three touchdowns before a season-ending injury at Northwestern.
Offensive line – Aireontae Ersery, John Michael Schmitz, Chuck Filiaga, Quinn Carroll, JJ Guedet (Axel Ruschmeyer, Nathan Boe, Karter Shaw)
The offensive line is the biggest question facing Minnesota’s offense heading into the 2022 season, and Fleck addressed it in the transfer portal. Daniel Faalele, Conner Olson, Blaise Andries and Sam Schlueter are gone. John Michael Schmitz is returning at center, and returners with experience include Aireontae Ersery, JJ Guedet, Alex Ruschmeyer, Nathan Boe and Karter Shaw. Fleck added Edina native and Notre Dame transfer Quinn Carroll, the top Minnesota recruit in the 2019 class, and Michigan transfer Chuck Filiaga.
Wide receivers – Chris Autman-Bell, Dylan Wright, Daniel Jackson, Michael Brown-Stephens
Tanner Morgan should have no problem spreading the football around to different receivers in 2022. The Gophers bring back their top four receivers, and all had their moments throughout the season. Despite missing two of the first three games due to injury, and most of the Bowling Green loss, Chris Autman-Bell led the Gophers with 36 catches for 506 yards and six touchdowns. Daniel Jackson had 25 catches for 206 yards and one score, Michael Brown-Stephens had 23 catches for 392 yards and one score and Dylan Wright had 18 catches for 365 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite a run-heavy offense, three of Minnesota’s top four receivers made at least 20 catches last season, and the ceiling for Wright is as high as he wants it to be.
Tight ends – Brevyn Spann-Ford
Fleck asks a lot of his tight ends in the run game, but he’s got a big weapon in Brevyn Spann-Ford. He tied with Brown-Stephens for 23 catches, finishing with 296 receiving yards and one touchdown. Spann-Ford figures to have a big role in the offense in 2022.