Week 1. We’re less than a week away from the return of Big Ten Football. College Gameday has announced they will be heading to Minnesota for the weekend, and I couldn’t be more excited. When I heard about the Big Ten returning, I was skeptical, I didn’t know if we would reach this point where it looks achievable to have college football in the age of COVID without an NBA bubble type situation. With that, we’ve almost reached Michigan’s big week 1 matchup under the lights, and I thought it would be fitting to give 4 predictions for the game this Saturday, as well as my outcome prediction. Let’s do it
- Michigan Leans on the Run Early, Gives Milton a Chance to Settle in
Joe Milton will undoubtedly have some troubles in his first game starting as QB. I expect the first few drives to be primarily leaning on the run game, hoping to establish some success to give Milton some space over the middle and downfield to hit his guys. Minnesota comes in with 3 out of 4 new defensive line starters, and I expect Michigan to capitalize. Michigan is also replacing 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line, but 2 of the new starters in Ryan Hayes and Andrew Steuber have made starts before. I think Michigan will be able to run the ball effectively to start out, give Milton some easy throws to gain some confidence, and then have opportunities to take shots and move the ball downfield. Minnesota’s secondary wasn’t necessarily stellar last season, and by losing their 1st team Big Ten corner to the NFL, I have doubts they’ll be able to effectively hold Ronnie and co. in check. All of this is contingent on Michigan’s ability to establish the run. If Minnesota comes out and dominates the line of scrimmage early, and Milton is forced to make tougher throws early on, we could see a lot of three and outs to start this game.
2. Minnesota Has Big Success Passing the Ball Downfield
So apparently Minnesota is now producing big time wideouts? Rashod Bateman announced he will be opting-back IN to the 2020 season. This is huge news for Minnesota as he was their second-best receiver last year, hauling in over 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tyler Johnson, drafted to help out Tom Brady this past spring, is a big loss. Johnson had over 1300 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, which will be hard to replace. Additionally, Michigan lost their two best cornerbacks from last season in Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas, who got drafted and decided to opt out of the 2020 season. That leaves Vincent Gray and someone else to handle duties in man schemes, and I just don’t have a ton of confidence truthfully. A few weeks ago, Don Brown stated there were multiple guys competing for it, so it would seem the position may be deeper than anticipated, but there’s no way to tell. I think Minnesota may struggle running the ball against Michigan’s more experienced line, and may resort to Tanner Morgan’s ability to get it to his receivers to carry the offense. I would not be shocked in the slightest if Minnesota posts big pass numbers.
3. High Scoring Affair
Both defenses are facing inexperience and youth in certain position groups, and I’ve already outlined how I think both offenses will be successful. I would not be surprised if this contest saw a loser in the high 20’s or low 30’s. I think both defenses may look sloppy in this game, and it may turn into a shootout. There may be a huge TOP discretion as well, as I could see Minnesota moving very swiftly down the field while Michigan drives away 4 yards at a time. Either way, with the line currently at 56.5 according to VegasInsider, I’m leaning over big time.
4. This Game Could Go Either Way
It goes without saying that the game of the week could go either way. I’ve honestly changed my vote on who comes out victorious so many times! This could be a trap game for Michigan, MSU next week, they’ve lost a lot of production, Harbaugh is bad on the road. Minnesota lost a lot of production too, are they for real or was last year a fluke, does home field advantage mean that much in the age of COVID? There’s so much to consider here, and after researching Minnesota more while writing this article, I definitely think the game is a toss-up. Ultimately, I think this game is decided by Joe Milton’s ability to run the offense. If he does a good job and puts up points, I think Michigan will win. If he fails to do so and can’t keep up, I think Minnesota will start the season 1-0. Regardless of the outcome, I’m so hyped to watch this game Saturday night!
Prediction: 34-27 Minnesota
I’ve wrestled with this for almost a week now, and I can’t truthfully come to a consensus. I go back and forth. I think the combination of a road opener against an experienced team with a great head coach is too much for Michigan to overcome with a new QB, and they can’t finish the job. I see them falling behind early, mounting a comeback that comes up short (PSU 2019 vibes). Let’s hope I’m wrong!