Minnesota football fans are still in the midst of territory the program hasn’t charted in more than 50 years. The euphoria of the team’s resurgence into the national stage in 2019 promulgated even higher expectations in 2020 with the development of many key players.
Even though the upcoming season is still up in the air with the Big Ten announcing a schedule reduction to conference-only play, the Gophers have reason to realize these high expectations.
Also released last week was an ESPN ranking of the top head coach and quarterback duos in all of college football. In kind with the newfound national recognition of what has historically been ‘flyover country,’ head coach P.J. Fleck and quarterback Tanner Morgan were ranked the fourth best duo in all of college football.
Currently and historically, that is some rarefied air to be in that tier of consideration, and it’s not a stretch in reality to believe it as such. In 2020, Minnesota’s recruiting class was 38th nationally and had two four-star recruits. For 2021, Minnesota ranks 19th nationally with four four-star recruits. Fleck has undoubtedly put the Gophers program in a better recruiting spot in a recruiting sense than it had been both recently and historically.
For that 2020 recruiting class to further affirm Fleck’s effectiveness in his role, a few of the top players will need to step into some holes for another season of sustained success.
As for the other end of the coach/quarterback duo, Morgan surprised many as he usurped time that might have been taken by fellow quarterback Zack Annexstad, who suffered an injury just before the competition was supposed to be started last season.
Morgan used that full-time starter role to set the program’s all-time, single-season passing yards record with 3,253, eclipsing the next best total by nearly 400 yards. He took advantage of the final season of one of the top receivers in program history in Tyler Johnson and one of the first in the budding career of Rashod Bateman.
If Morgan didn’t have those two to throw to in 2019, this ranking might not include Minnesota. Although Morgan had a 66% completion percentage, Johnson, Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell made catches on many passes that weren’t perfectly placed, where with lesser-quality receivers could have diminished the team’s success.
Bateman deserves a lot of credit for this ranking; banking on Morgan’s 2020 success fully depends on Bateman and his ability to bring down the ball all over the field.
If Minnesota replicates its 2019 success many predict in 2020, it largely rests on the shoulders of Fleck, Morgan and Bateman.