Takeaways from the Gophers football 2020 schedule

Bryce Witham #85 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrates a touchdown during the 2020 Outback Bowl against the Auburn Tigers at Raymond James Stadium on January 01, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. ((Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images))

There is nothing that will be normal about the 2020 college football season, and that’s if teams even take the field in September.

The Big Ten Conference announced 10-game regular season schedules for all member schools on Wednesday, as uncertainty looms about fall athletics due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Minnesota is coming off an 11-2 season, its best in 115 years, and winning seven Big Ten games for the first time in school history.

Here are takeaways from the Gophers’ 2020 schedule.

First of all, will a season even happen?

It’s fair to ask if college football will even happen in 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns. The NCAA announced hours after the Big Ten schedule release that all fall championships for Division II and Division III are canceled. Back in July, the MIAC announced its suspending all fall sports. Division I fall athletics, in theory, is the next domino to fall.

Training Camp for the Gophers starts Friday, but if there is a season, there likely won’t be fans watching the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium this fall.

Ten game, Big Ten only schedule

The Big Ten announced earlier this summer if there is football this fall, there won’t be non-conference games. That means the Gophers’ previously scheduled games against Florida Atlantic, Tennessee Tech and BYU are all canceled. It makes fall camp in preparation that much more important for the Gophers, coming off a historic 2019 season. There are no tune-ups to get ready for Big Ten play.

If the Gophers are intent on contending for a Big Ten West title, it’s imperative to be ready to play from the opening kickoff.

Brutal September with 3 trophy games

To say Minnesota’s schedule is front-loaded is an understatement. The Gophers travel to Michigan State Sept. 5, a program with a new head coach after Mark Dantonio retired following a 7-6 season, including a 4-5 mark in conference play. Michigan State has higher standards, but starting the season with a Big Ten road game is a tall task.

Then, the Gophers host Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, which went 9-4 last season. Minnesota hosts Iowa in Week 3, then goes to Wisconsin in Week 4. That’s three straight weeks of rivalry games with the Little Brown Jug, Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan’s Axe all at stake in the month of September. The Wolverines, Hawkeyes and Badgers went a combined 29-11 last season, including 19-8 in Big Ten play.

Indiana added as crossover game

With a 10-game, Big Ten-only regular season schedule, each team had a crossover game added to its season. The Gophers will host Indiana on Oct. 10. It’s likely the Hoosiers , who finished 8-5 last year, will come to TCF Bank Stadium 1-3. They travel to Wisconsin to start the season, host Penn State in Week two, host Illinois and travel to Ohio State. They’ll also be coming off a bye week, and will be fresh.

The Gophers will be coming off a road game at Nebraska, and have a bye week after facing Indiana. It will be critical for Minnesota to not overlook the Hoosiers, with a week off looming.

October, November byes for flexibility

The Gophers have byes on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7. That’s as much for flexibility with the Covid-19 pandemic as it is to give the players necessary rest. The reality is the entire schedule is dependent on the global health pandemic, the Gophers staying healthy themselves and their opponents avoiding getting the virus before facing Minnesota.

While the front half is loaded, there are opportunities to stack wins in the final five games. Of their final five opponents, only Indiana at 8-5 had an above .500 record last season. Purdue finished 4-8, including a loss to the Gophers. Illinois finished 6-7. Northwestern and Maryland each finished 3-9.

Minnesota’s road to a Big Ten West title, if we have football this fall, goes through the three-game stretch of Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. Fall camp starts Friday, and for now, we're a month away from college football.