Well, there’s always next season. How many times have Minnesota fans heard that one?

The Golden Gophers’ quest to reach the B1G title game was cut short once more. Despite finishing 8-4 with wins over Nebraska, Michigan State and rival Wisconsin, the Gophers didn’t make it to Indy. Losses to Iowa, Illinois and Purdue sealed that fate.

Injuries potentially cost the program a game late. Having a young quarterback thrust into the heart of B1G season did little to boost morale as well. The good news? PJ Fleck might have a head start on next season’s outlook thanks to the play of Athan Kaliakmanis late in the season.

Here are 10 takeaways from Minnesota’s 2022 regular season.

1. Mohamed Ibrahim will be hard to replace

He was the face of the program. He was the heart of the locker room. Most of all, he was the one constant of Minnesota’s offense.

Ibrahim was a bit of everything for the Golden Gophers during his time in Minneapolis. He tallied 3 1,000-yard campaigns — the first 1 way back in 2018 — and totaled 19 consecutive games with over 100 yards. If not for an Achilles injury, 4 1K seasons likely would be on his resume.

The leadership provided on offense might be more challenging to replace. A player beloved by coaches and fans, he’ll be deeply missed. Of course, losing a player who totaled over 55% of the team’s carries is also daunting.

2. Tanner Morgan did not get his storybook ending

With the offense looking like a juggernaut in the offseason, Morgan elected to use his COVID-19 eligibility waiver and return for another season. It was expected to be the year when things finally clicked.

In a sense, 8-4 should be considered a win. The problem? A loss likely came because Morgan was out due to an upper-body injury suffered against Northwestern. And that injury lasted the final 2 games, meaning his time in Minneapolis ended on the sidelines.

There’s no telling if Morgan would have been able to defeat Iowa at home. If so, he’d be playing on Saturday in Indianapolis for a shot at the B1G title. Instead, he’ll finish short of 10,000 career passing yards.

3. Athan Kaliakmanis should get a shot as QB1

Kaliakmanis should have a case to at least be in the running to take over for Morgan. After going 2-2 as a starter, there’s potential, but Fleck shouldn’t be afraid to explore all options.

When Kaliakmanis is on point, he can be dangerous. Take for instance the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe when he threw for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns against Wisconsin. On the flip side, when it’s ugly, it’s ugly. Does anyone else remember the Iowa game? How about the ending of Northwestern?

Kaliakmanis will have experience working in offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s system, so making the transition from backup to full-time starter should come naturally for the 2021 4-star recruit. Bit it’s such a limited sample that nothing should be off the table.

4. Hiring Kirk Ciarrocca was the right move

Moving off Mike Sanford seemed appropriate after last season’s inconsistencies. Bringing back Ciarrocca, who left to become Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2020, might have seemed risky at the time, but man, did it pay off.

Here were the national numbers for Minnesota’s offense with Sanford calling the shots last season:

  • 23rd 3rd-down conversion rate (44.7%)
  • 27th rushing  (198 yards per game)
  • 83rd scoring (25.5 points per game)
  • 98th total (360 yards per game)
  • 118th passing (162 yards per game)

Now here are the numbers in Ciarrocca’s first season back in Minneapolis:

  • 3rd 3rd-down conversion rating (52.6%)
  • 11th rushing  (218.4 yards per game)
  • 68th scoring (28.3 points per game)
  • 57th total (404.3 yards per game)
  • 114th passing (185.9 yards per game)

Outside of passing (an issue going into the season exacerbated by the early-season injury to Chris Autman-Bell), the Gophers drastically improved.

5. Wanted: A new No. 1 WR

Minnesota needs a legit No. 1 weapon. The Gophers aren’t going to land a Marvin Harrison Jr. or Jordan Addison via the transfer portal, but they need a bona fide top weapon.

Daniel Jackson led the team with 484 yards off 33 catches. Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford finished with a team-high 44 catches and finished 2nd in yards with 481. Three other receivers totaled over 10 catches for 200+ yards and combined for 2 touchdowns.

That won’t cut it in B1G play. Especially with the dissolvent of divisions in the coming years, the Gophers’ offense will need to be more dynamic in the coming years if they want to be legitimate players.

6. John Michael Schmitz might be the next great NFL star

Schmitz’s last season with the program was a good one. Pro Football Focus graded him as the nation’s top offensive linemen entering Week 12. The 6th-year senior center did not allow a sack the entire season, and helped produce one of the nation’s better run offenses.

Schmitz likely will make a household name for himself at the next level. For now, he firmly has planted himself as a front-runner for the Rimington Trophy.

7. Tyler Nubin will be missed in the secondary

Nubin likely is headed pro after Saturday’s win. Could he return due to the COVID-19 eligibility waiver? Sure. Will he? His numbers would suggest that perhaps he’s ready to move on.

Should Week 13’s win over Wisconsin mark the last time Nubin wears a Gophers uniform, at least it was a quality final season. He totaled 55 tackles and finished with a career-best 4 interceptions. He also forced a fumble against Purdue that led to a recovery.

The Gophers will certainly miss his veteran presence in coverage if he leaves. Few safeties have been as impactful as him.

8. Matthew Trickett was a special teams bright spot

It’s not about how you start, but rather how you finish. Trickett likely could have been benched last season after making just 68% of his kicks.

Instead, he used last season as a building block for 2022. The numbers improved because of it. Trickett ended up making 83.3% of his kicks, including a career-long 50-yard bomb in the Golden Gophers’ win over Wisconsin.

Speical teams needa s tune-up this offseason. Trickett’s departure likely factors into the need to add competition in the kicking game.

9. Paul Bunyan remains in Minneapolis

Winners of 14 straight in 1 stretch, Wisconsin has dominated the Paul Bunyan rivalry over the century. Since 2000, the Badgers have kept Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison 17 times.

As of late, the Axe has made more trips to Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers picked up the trophy in 2018 thanks to a 37-15 win. For the 1st time since 1994, the Axe will remain in the Land of 10,000 Lakes for back-to-back seasons.

With the arrival of Luke Fickell, the Badgers could be trending upward. Then again, so could Minnesota with the morale boost and the record trending its way.

10. Is this the best it’ll get?

Maybe there’s another reality for Minnesota moving into 2023. Perhaps this truly is the best it’ll get for the program.

Every blue moon, a school will explode onto the scene. The program will record 10-plus wins, fight for a conference title and play in a big bowl game, only to turn back into the middle-tier school it likely always has been. Last season, Michigan State went 11-2 and picked up a Peach Bowl victory under Mel Tucker. This season, the Spartans finished 5-7.

Minnesota’s best season under Fleck came in 2019 when the Gophers finished 11-2 and No. 10 in the country. Since then? Three consecutive 4-loss seasons. Now, Ibrahim, Morgan, Schmitz and other mainstays are on the way out.

The Gophers are a good program. Every once and a while, Minnesota will be in the running for a B1G title game appearance. It’ll fight for a spot in a New Year’s 6 bowl and potentially finish with double-digit wins. In reality, 8-4 for the program might be serviceable.

And at this point, it might be the best Minnesota will get with the changes coming internally and to the conference.