The "dark horse" Gophers kick off their season
The Gophers kick off their season Thursday night at Huntington Bank Stadium with some of the highest expectations of the P.J. Fleck era.
State of play: The Gophers are hoping to build off their 2021 9-4 season.
- They get star running back Mo Ibrahim back from injury as well as former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who called plays during the Gophers' 11-2 season in 2019.
- They also boast ESPN's preseason All-American center John Michael Schmitz.
What they're saying: The Gophers have 20-1 odds in Vegas to win the Big 10, but are predicted by many to be in the mix for the Big 10 West title.
- Six out of 11 writers at The Athletic voted for the Gophers as a dark horse candidate to win the entire Big 10.
- "[Ciarrocca's] return is the primary reason I see the Gophers contending and possibly winning the Big Ten West for the first time," wrote Stewart Mandel of the Athletic.
The intrigue: Thursday's opponent, New Mexico State, is coached by Jerry Kill, head coach of the Gophers from 2011 to 2015.
- Kill remains bitter — and vocal — about how the U fired his defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who took over for Kill while he dealt with health problems.
What to watch: Three big games loom large on the schedule: Oct. 22 at Penn State; Nov. 19 against Iowa at Huntington Bank Stadium and Nov. 26 at Wisconsin.
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