EAST LANSING, Mich. — Good afternoon from Spartan Stadium, where the Gophers and Michigan State will battle in the Big Ten football opener for both teams. Finally, it's here: the first major test coach P.J. Fleck's team will face this season. The Gophers were barely tested in wins over New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado and rolled those teams by a combined 149-17. The Spartans (2-1) should offer a much stiffer test.
Although there was some light rain in East Lansing this morning, the weather shouldn't be a big factor today. The weather.com forecast calls for cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 60s with winds from 6-8 mph and a 15% chance of rain throughout the game. In other words, late September football weather.
Here's what I'm looking forward to seeing today:
The Gophers say their culture travels; now's the time to prove it again
Today's game is the first of five road contests over the next 10 weeks for Minnesota. The Gophers are 8-2 on the road in the past two non-COVID seasons, and their best path to the Big Ten West Division title is taking advantage of opportunities like this. The Spartans were ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press Top 25 before falling hard at Washington last week, 39-28. Getting off to a 1-0 start in their two challenging road trips against East Division opponents – the other is Oct. 22 at Penn State – would be a great way for the Gophers to show their dominant, 3-0 start was more about them than the level of opponent they were playing.
What will the offense look like without Chris Autman-Bell?
Losing your best wide receiver entering conference play is far from ideal, but that's what the Gophers face with Chris Autman-Bell lost for the season to a lower leg injury. Autman-Bell had 11 catches over three games and was averaging a team-high 19.5 yards per reception. It's up to wideouts like Dylan Wright, Mike Brown-Stephens, Daniel Jackson and Clay Geary to help fill the void. Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford also has emerged as a top target for quarterback Tanner Morgan, and his eight receptions rank second on the team.
How will the defensive line perform?
The nonconference season enabled the Gophers defensive line to gain its footing after offseason losses of stalwarts such as Boye Mafe, Esezi Otomewo, Micah Dew-Treadway and Nyles Pinckney. Shutting down Michigan State's rushing game and keeping contain on quarterback Payton Thorne is the assignment today for Thomas Rush, Trill Carter and Co., and how they handle that task will go a long way in determining if the Gophers leave East Lansing with a 4-0 record.
Check back later for pregame updates.