- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Matchup: No. 17 Michigan (9-4, 6-3 Big Ten in 2019) at No. 21 Minnesota (11-2, 7-2 in 2019).
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.
TV/radio: ABC; WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).
Line: Wolverines by 2½.
Know the foe
The Golden Gophers finished 11-2, second in the Big Ten West, in P.J. Fleck's third season and ranked No. 10 in the final AP poll. A combination of an explosive offense and veteran defense carried Minnesota to a 9-0 start. The Golden Gophers return quarterback Tanner Morgan, who had the Big Ten's second-best pass efficiency rating and averaged over 10 yards per attempt, and star receiver Rashod Bateman, who caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns; they also lost plenty of key pieces, including No. 1 receiver Tyler Johnson, running back Rodney Smith, star safety Antoine Winfield Jr., edge rusher Carter Coughlin, defensive end Sam Renner and linebackers Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca left for Penn State. It's fair to wonder how the new-look defense will perform, and while arguably the two most important players on offense return, could there be some transition costs as Mike Sanford takes over as play-caller?
3 things to watch
Michigan's cornerback situation: Thanks to Morgan and Bateman, Minnesota had one of the nation's most explosive passing attacks, with two receivers who eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards. This seemed like an easier matchup when Bateman initially opted out of the 2020 season — but then he opted back in, which creates a headache for Michigan's secondary. The Wolverines are replacing both starting cornerbacks and a three-year starting safety; two of those positions appear to be settled, while the search for a No. 2 cornerback continues. There won't be any opportunity to ease into the schedule with non-conference opponents — Michigan's secondary will have to be ready immediately.
All eyes on Milton: Michigan hasn't officially named the starting quarterback yet, but the assumption is redshirt sophomore Joe Milton will take over under center. Milton is seemingly more myth than man: He has played sparingly as a backup quarterback and actually rushed more times than he has passed, yet those within the program swear by his physical talent and have praised his progression this offseason. Milton does have a big arm, and has shown he can run the ball effectivelyt; if he can fine tune the other areas of his game, who knows what's in store for Michigan's offense? The Wolverines haven't had a star quarterback during coach Jim Harbaugh's tenure, and they're surely hoping Milton can emerge as that type of transcendent player.
Staying healthy: Michigan has not released the testing results of the football program, but the Wolverines' overall testing numbers — culled from the athletic department as a whole — have revealed few positive results. Michigan was one of the few Big Ten programs that didn't have to shut down offseason workouts due to an outbreak. It'll need to carry that over to the season — already, we've seen a number of teams from other Power 5 conferences adversely affected due to COVID-19. Football is already somewhat of a game of attrition due to the physical nature of the sport; teams that avoid outbreaks (and the absences that occur along with them) will find themselves with on-field advantages over teams that don't.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: It's game week for Michigan football: Here's what we're watching