Records: This is the first game for both teams in a season condensed by the coronavirus pandemic. Minnesota is ranked 21st in the Associated Press poll, and it marks the first time the Gophers have been ranked to start a season since 2004. Michigan is No. 18, making this the first time since 1968 in which both teams are ranked.

History: Minnesota has lost 16 straight home games to Michigan since knocking off the top-ranked Wolverines in 1977. The Gophers have won three road games against Michigan since then (1986, 2005 and 2014). Michigan holds a 75-25-3 overall record in the series and 70-23-3 record with Little Brown Jug rivalry trophy on the line. Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck is 0-1 against Michigan, a 33-10 loss at the Big House in 2017.

Key matchup: Rashod Bateman vs. Michigan’s defensive backs. The Wolverines are without three of last year’s top defensive backs, with top cornerback Ambry Thomas, who opted out this year. Reports out of Ann Arbor are cornerback Vincent Gray likely will man up on Bateman, but others could draw the assignment if Bateman moves around the formation. The Big Ten receiver of the year is expected to draw double-teams this year with Tyler Johnson now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Who has the edge?

Gophers offense vs. Michigan defense: New co-offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. replaces Kirk Ciarrocca as the U’s play-caller this season. Sanford will go against Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown, a well-regarded veteran known for disguising his schemes and blitzing more than most. Sanford has an established leader in second-team all-Big Ten QB Tanner Morgan. The redshirt junior set Minnesota single-season records for passing efficiency, yards, touchdown and completion percentage a year ago and will face a Michigan defense that lost most of its returning starters from a 9-4 team in 2019. The U lost only two starters but they were big contributors: Johnson, the program’s all-time leading WR, and RB Rodney Smith, the all-time, all-purpose yardage leader. But the U’s best playmaker is back in Bateman, and Chris Autman-Bell is the new No. 2 receiving option. The Gophers’ offensive line has all five starters back but its unclear if they will all take the field Saturday. Head coach P.J. Fleck has not shared any potential opt-outs this season, and RT Daniel Faalele and RG Curtis Dunlap are two potential absent players. Meanwhile, the Wolverines boast the two top DE’s in the Big Ten in Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson. “High draft picks,” Fleck said. EDGE: Gophers

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Gophers defense vs. Michigan offense: Both teams have had a lot of turnover here. Michigan has a new quarterback in Joe Milton, four new offensive linemen, and lost three of its top four receivers: Nico Collins (opt out), Donovan Peoples-Jones (NFL) and Tarik Blake (transfer to Texas). On the other side, Minnesota has to replace seven starters, four of its leading tacklers and four NFL draft picks. There is no bigger hole than one left by unanimous All-America free safety Antoine Winfield Jr.; sophomore Tyler Nubin, a four-star recruit in the 2019 class, is expected to step in. Up front, the U has three new defensive lineman and two new starting linebackers; they will try to stop RB Zach Charbonnet, while had 726 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. LB Mariano Sori-Marin will be in the middle of the Gophers defense and will be across Milton, who beat out Dylan McCaffrey, Christian’s younger brother, for the starting job. EDGE: Gophers

Special teams: The Gophers’ special teams unit lagged behind its offense and defense a year ago. The Gophers have new returner(s) with Demetrius Douglas retiring before the season and a new punter in Australian Mark Crawford. Kicker Michael Lantz was 8 for 11 on field goals with a long of 40 yards as a true freshman. Michigan’s Miles Jackson had a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown against Maryland last year. Kicker Quinn Nordin was 10 for 13 last year, with a long of 57. EDGE: Michigan

Prediction: The affects of COVID-19 on the Gophers’ roster have been kept secret, while Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday no players were unavailable because of positive tests; it might be why the betting line moved to Michigan being a 3.5-point favorite. But the Gophers’ QB will be the slight difference. Gophers, 28-25