Plenty of questions remain for Gophers even with ‘finalized’ schedule
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Golden Gophers, and the rest of the Big Ten, have a schedule.
But now the question is, will it be played? And if so, how much of it? And what will it look like?
OK, so there’s a lot more than just one question even after Wednesday’s news.
“Trust comes down to this whole situation we’re going through,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said during an interview with Big Ten Network. “The No. 1 thing at the forefront of everybody’s mind is player safety.
“The season of 2020’s going to have a completely different meaning … than it used to. When people talk about this ‘new norm,’ it’s really not that. It’s kind of like the ‘new next.’”
That “new next” includes a front-loaded slate that features 3 consecutive trophy games following a season-opener Sept. 5 at Michigan State. Then comes battles for the Little Brown Jug, Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan’s Axe before the calendar even turns to October.
Here’s the full slate, with opponents’ final CFP ranking (if applicable) and projected SP+ for 2020 according to ESPN.
- Sept. 5 at Michigan State (45 projected SP+)
- Sept. 12 vs. Michigan (14 CFP, 16 projected SP+)
- Sept. 19 vs. Iowa (16 CFP, 29 projected SP+)
- Sept. 26 at Wisconsin (8 CFP, 9 projected SP+)
- Oct. 3 at Nebraska (25 projected SP+)
- Oct. 10 vs. Indiana (27 projected SP+)
- Oct. 24 vs. Purdue (46 projected SP+)
- Oct. 31 at Illinois (61 projected SP+)
- Nov. 14 vs. Northwestern (50 projected SP+)
- Nov. 21 at Maryland (66 projected SP+)
“This might be one of the more vigorous Septembers Minnesota’s seen in a long time,” said Fleck, whose team can begin full-fledged training camp Friday.
The Gophers’ designated additional crossover game comes Oct. 10 against Indiana. Fleck told BTN his staff has been game-planning for every B1G team since the conference announced July 9 it would cancel all nonconference competition this fall.
What about the possibility of fans at TCF Bank Stadium for home games against Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern?
“We’re continuing to work closely with the MN Department of Health & local authorities where possible fan attendance at home games is concerned,” the Minnesota football team’s official account tweeted in response to a fan Wednesday. “Want to make sure we have a safe and healthy environment!”
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Minnesota’s COVID-19 testing rate has risen from 3% positive in mid-June to more than 5%. World Health Organization guidelines stipulate restrictions shouldn’t be lifted until the rate goes below 5% for 14 days.
Concerns about impacted games are why Minnesota and every other B1G team’s schedule includes 2 bye weeks and ends Nov. 21 to align with abbreviated academic calendars. It also allows potentially infected teams to move games around in an attempt to play as many as possible.
The way things are tracking, there’s a good chance that happens.
“It would be purely speculation for me to sit here today and say this is what percent I think we’ll have a season, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren told BTN. “There’s no guarantee we will have fall sports and a football season, but we’re doing everything we possibly can.”
Between the new schedule and All-American receiver Rashod Bateman’s decision to sit out this season and declare for the NFL Draft, the complexion has changed mightily for a team coming off an 11-2 season and expecting to contend for a B1G West division championship.
Fleck addressed his conversations with Bateman, a projected 1st-round pick, too.
“To be able to have the ability to change your family’s life, your life, and then having COVID with a lot of the risks that are involved right now, I supported him 100 percent,” Fleck said. “He went through it, got all the information. I give him a lot of credit because he did it the right way. He did it the educational way.
“But when you sit there and talk about a young man who’s going to be a first-rounder, you want to support him. Our job as coaches is to … take people from where they are when you meet them and then take them to where they’ve always dreamed of being.”