Notre Dame and the ACC will have more competition for a College Football Playoff berth when the Big Ten kicks off this weekend. The biggest game of the opening weekend in the conference is the matchup between the #18 Michigan Wolverines and the #21 Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Michigan is ranked higher despite the Gophers having a better record in 2019 (11-2 to 9-4). Minnesota also returns more from last season's squad, which makes the Wolverines being a three-point road favorite a bit of a head scratcher.
It's a big game, and the Irish Breakdown staff provides its analysis and predictions for the game.
BRYAN DRISKELL, PUBLISHER
Prediction: Minnesota 26, Michigan 20
I have been back and forth on this one all week, and the main reason is Minnesota's uncertainty regarding who will be available this weekend due to COVID-19 issues. Head coach PJ Fleck would not name who is out, but he did say he expects players to miss because of the virus.
That makes it difficult to know how much of Minnesota's arsenal will be available. My other issue is the presence of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who had a rough stink at Notre Dame, which was followed by a disastrous two seasons at Western Kentucky (as head coach) and a poor season running the Utah State offense.
With all that being said, Michigan is going to have a first-year player at quarterback (Joe Milton) playing behind a line that has four new starters. Michigan will also be without top wideout Nico Collins, who opted out for the season.
Michigan should still be stout on defense, but the matchup of Minnesota wideout Rashod Batemen against the UM corners is one that favors the Gophers. I'm going with veteran Tanner Morgan out-playing Milton, who will have better days down the road.
VINCE DEDARIO, FOOTBALL ANALYST
Prediction: Minnesota 21, Michigan 17
This is one of the tougher games to call that we have had so far this season. We know nothing about the Big Ten, and the normal tuneup games they get are not there for us to lean on going into conference play.
Michigan is having to replace a TON on offense. Four offensive linemen are new, the quarterback is new, and the top five out of seven pass catchers are gone.
The good news if you are a Michigan fan is the defense should be excellent again. Minnesota's offense has some weapons as well with wideout Rashod Batemen opting back in and quarterback Tanner Morgan who is crazy efficient in this offense.
Minnesota's OC is Mike Sanford by the way, for you Irish fans out there, so I am sure he is hoping to pick off the Wolverines in this one. Michigan's defense will keep this one close while waiting for the offense to come around, but I think Minnesota clips them in the end.
RYAN PALMERI, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Michigan 24, Minnesota 21
Michigan has a new quarterback that some have called the next Cam Newton. If there is one lesson I've been taught over the years, Jim Harbaugh and a QB with hype is destined to fail.
Minnesota has quarterback Tanner Morgan back and PJ Fleck is building a talented team. For all the hype around Minnesota, Michigan is a more talented team. It should be close but the Golden Gophers in prime time against a blue blood makes me think twice about an upset.
JP SCOTT, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Minnesota 27, Michigan 20
This is a tale of two cultures. I don't know if either team has a real advantage from a personnel standpoint. Michigan wins the recruiting battle, while Minnesota wins the development battle.
On the sidelines, however, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is on the verge of doing what he promised in the press conference when he was introduced: make the Gophers elite.
Jim Harbaugh, on the other hand, has largely been a disappointment. Michigan is not close to being nationally relevant, and I think the Gophers are going to remind them of that on Saturday night.
BRIAN SMITH, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Minnesota 24, Michigan 23
Classic game with Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman consistently defeating man coverage, leading to a big day of 110-yards and one touchdown.
Wolverines will lead for much of the afternoon, but falter late with inexperienced quarterback Joe Milton.
Bateman’s late fourth quarter grab places Minnesota in position for game winning field goal and the Gopher win.
Become a premium Irish Breakdown member, which grants you access to all of our premium content, our premium message board and gets you a FREE subscription to Sports Illustrated! Click on the link below for more
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!
Join the Irish Breakdown community!
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes.
Follow me on Twitter: @CoachD178
Follow me on Parler: @BryanDriskell
Like and follow Irish Breakdown on Facebook