10th: Big Ten (5th West Division)
62nd: Division I
2017 In A Sentence: In Coach Fleck’s first season with Minnesota, the Gophers lacked depth and talent to finish at 5-7 ovarall and just 2-7 in Big Ten play–the first time Minnesota missed a bowl since 2011.
Biggest Shoes to Fill: QBs Demry Croft and Conner Rhoda started all the games under center for the Gophers last year. Croft transferred to FCS Tennessee State and Rhoda has used up his eligibility. While neither had great numbers, this means that this year’s starter will be freshman and to begin the season, Fleck has named Zack Annexstad the starter, who came to the Gophers as a true freshman after enrolling to school in January.
Key Player: RB Rodney Smith will need to be a focal point of the Minnesota offense in his senior season especially early while the new quarterback gets established. He has rushed 626 times (sixth all-time in school history) for 2,805 yards (eighth all-time in school history) in 37 games. He has scored 21 career rushing touchdowns, which ranks tied for ninth in school history.
Fearless Prediction: At his last job with Western Michigan, Fleck won just three of his first 17 games at Western Michigan, then went 27-8. With such a young team, there are a lot of unknowns coming into this season but the talent level is getting better. If this can transition into play on the field, Minnesota may be able to muster up six wins and get back to a bowl game again.