Minnesota has plenty of momentum entering 2022 with a returning quarterback, PJ Fleck with a new contract extension in hand, and a potential 1,000-yard rusher in the fold with a talented tandem in the backfield.

The Golden Gophers also are trying to build off the solid defense that helped them beat West Virginia 18-6 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

The Gophers (9-4) smothered the Mountaineers, and held them to 206 total yards to win their fifth straight bowl game, third under Fleck.

Here’s a look at 5 candidates to become the face of the Golden Gophers in 2022:

RB Mohamed Ibrahim

There may not be a more significant player returning in the B1G in 2022 than Ibrahim. The 2020 B1G Running Back of the Year was limited to just one game last season, suffering an Achilles injury against Ohio State that kept him sidelined the next 12 games. Ibrahim is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and is capable of using his strength to run over opponents or his speed to beat them in a footrace. He’s the complete package and has a chance to not only reclaim his status as the best ball carrier in the B1G, but could be an outside candidate to claim next year’s Heisman Trophy.

QB Tanner Morgan

The Gophers veteran QB is back, but perhaps as important is the presence of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. Morgan has a chance to elevate himself from the middle of the pack of B1G quarterbacks to the upper tier. Morgan also has the motivation of improving on a somewhat pedestrian 2021 season. The senior finished with 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and passed for 1,935 yards with a completion rate under 60 percent. With the running back tandem, Morgan should take advantage of the pressure being off him, and build on those strong wins down the stretch over Indiana and Wisconsin.

WR Chris Autman-Bell

Despite being one of the most talented receivers in the conference, Autman-Bell hasn’t produced the type of numbers you’d expect to see for someone of his skill level. A good majority of the blame falls on the passing attack, which has been less-than-stellar the past two seasons. Ciarrocca’s return should help Morgan locate Autman-Bell with more frequency in 2022. The senior receiver has made a number of ridiculous catches over his career but has never caught as much attention as some of the others in the league. He led Minnesota with 506 yards and 6 touchdowns on 36 receptions last season. Those numbers could be a lot higher next fall.

LB Mariano Sori-Marin

Sori-Marin was the second-leading tackler (85 tackles) in 2021 for the Gophers, which had a strong defense. Minnesota’s defense allowed more than 30 points in only 1 game, against Ohio State. The Gophers held 9 opponents under the 20-point mark. He was All-Big Ten honorable mention, as he started all 13 games and was in the middle of that defense that overall allowed only 17.31 points. He made 5 tackles for loss, broke up 3 passes, forced 2 fumbles and had 1 interception.

DB Tyler Nubin

Nubin has a chance to be among the top safeties in the Big Ten this season after he had 52 tackles, 1 sack and 3 interceptions, which led the team, in 13 games, and Fleck has said he was the most improved player on the defense in 2021. He was the Defensive MVP of the bowl game, and after he started all 13 games and finished third on the team in tackles. He led Minnesota in interceptions and also broke up 2 passes.