Year Five of the P.J. Fleck era of Gophers football opens with a huge challenge: No. 4 Ohio State, a 14-point favorite and the highest-ranked team Minnesota has faced in its opener since No. 2 TCU in 2015. A veteran Gophers team will try to put last year's 3-4 record in the past.
Three big story lines
The fans are back
An expected crowd of more than 50,000 is expected at Huntington Bank Stadium with fans allowed after the fallout from COVID-19 kept the stadium mainly empty in 2020. The Gophers hope to draw energy from a boisterous crowd on a festive night.
Will Chris Autman-Bell play?
Wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who has 78 career catches for 1,250 yards and six TDs, suffered a lower leg injury on Aug. 12, and Fleck said on his weekly radio show that the redshirt senior is progressing toward being a game-time decision.
The starting debut of C.J. Stroud
Justin Fields is off to the Chicago Bears, and Stroud, a redshirt freshman, takes over the reins of Ohio State's offense. He's yet to throw a collegiate pass, so all eyes will be on him on the national stage.
Two key matchups
Gophers CBs vs. Ohio State WRs
Minnesota's Coney Durr and Terell Smith draw the unenviable task of facing a Buckeyes receiving corps led by Chris Olave (111 career catches, 1,775 yards, 22 TDs) and Garrett Wilson (73-1,155-11). Fleck calls Ohio State's wideout group the best he has faced.
Gophers offensive line vs. Ohio State's defensive line
This will be big vs. big with the Gophers returning Daniel Faalele and Curtis Dunlap Jr. to a deep group of veteran starters. They'll be challenged by All-America tackle Haskell Garrett, plus ends Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith.
One stat that matters
15-0 Ohio State's Big Ten record under coach Ryan Day, who is 23-2 overall.
The Gophers will win if …
They control the ball and the clock with their running game, protect the football and show vast improvement on special teams.
The Buckeyes will win if …
Their offensive line keeps pressure off Stroud, the run game opens things up for the wideouts and they don't give the Gophers hope by coughing up the ball.
Ohio State 30, Gophers 23