MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers redshirt sophomore Tanner Morgan is considered the 10th-best starting quarterback in the Big Ten and the 86th-rated QB in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.
The analysis website put the Gophers quarterback ahead of only Purdue’s Elijah Sindelar, Wisconsin pair Graham Mertz and Jake Coan, Illinois’ Isaiah Williams/Brandon Peters and Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski in the 14-team conference. Minnesota will face all four of those programs in 2019.
On Morgan, Pro Football Focus wrote: “The injury to Zack Annexstad actually jumps the Gophers in these quarterback rankings as Morgan graded out higher than Annexstad did a season ago. Morgan finished the season with two solid performances against Wisconsin and Georgia Tech, leading us to believe the best football is yet to come for him in 2019.”
The Gophers will not face the Big Ten’s two top-rated quarterbacks this season: Michigan’s Shea Patterson (No. 13) and Ohio State’s Justin Fields (16). (The nation’s best are as expected: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa at No. 2.)
But Minnesota will go up against the next five highest-rated QBs in the conference: Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez (24), Penn State’s Sean Clifford (31), Maryland’s Josh Jackson (39), Northwestern’s Hunter Johnson (48) and Iowa’s Nate Stanley (51). The ranking included all 130 FBS programs.
Martinez and Stanley had big games against the Gophers last season.
Martinez completed a sterling 25 of 29 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, and also carving up the U with 125 yards rushing and another score om 15 carries in the Cornhuskers’ 53-28 romp at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Oct. 20.
Stanley, who is from Menomonie, Wis., completed 23 of 39 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns in the Hawkeyes’ 48-31 win at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 6.
The Gophers have not faced Clifford, Jackson or Johnson.
Clifford assumes the Nittany Lions’ top spot after Trace McSorley graduated and Tommy Stevens transferred to Mississippi State. Clifford completed five of seven passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2018.
Jackson transferred to Maryland from Virginia Tech, where he had a big 2017 with 26 total touchdowns but played only three games in 2018 because of a leg injury.
Johnson transferred to Northwestern from Clemson, where the five-star recruit played sparingly behind Kelly Bryant in seven games in 2017. He sat out last season to meet NCAA transfer rules.
In nonconference play, the Gophers will face PFF’s No. 41 quarterback Shai Werts and Georgia Southern’s pistol option offense on Sept. 14. Werts, who had drug charges dropped in a bizarre case last week, had 908 yards rushing, 978 yards passing and 25 total touchdowns in the Eagles’ 10-3 season in 2018.
Fresno State’s quarterback Jorge Reyna comes in at No. 113 in the ranking. He was rarely used in the Bulldogs’ 12-2 season a year ago and now replaces Marcus McMaryion, who nearly beat Minnesota before Antoine Winfield Jr.’s late interception in the Gophers’ 21-14 victory last September. Minnesota plays in Fresno, Calif., on Sept. 7.
South Dakota State, the Gophers’ season-opening foe on Aug. 29, appears to be going with redshirt freshmen J’Bore Gibbs over junior Kanin Nelson and freshman Matt Connors. Their competition isn’t ranked by PFF because SDSU is a lower-level FCS program.
Tayrn Christian led the Jackrabbits to a 10-3 record in 2018, and he has been receiving shots in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and now the Dallas Cowboys.