2016 football schedule analysis: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

2016 football schedule analysis: Minnesota Golden Gophers

B1G HIGHLIGHTS - Mitch Leidner, Minnesota take down Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl.

The 2015 season didn’t go as scripted for Minnesota. Jerry Kill abruptly retired and the Gophers finished with their first losing record since 2012.

[ MORE: Dienhart: Get Minnesota’s offseason to-do list ]

Now, Tracy Claeys is leading the Gophers. And he wasted little time putting his stamp on the program, letting go offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski. Jay Johnson was hired from Louisiana-Lafayette to run the offense and coach quarterbacks, while Bart Miller was tabbed to coach the line.

Work remains to be done if Minnesota wants to improve on a 6-7 mark in 2015.

Here is a breakdown of the Golden Gophers’ schedule.

Toughest non-conference game: vs. Colorado State, Sept. 24. The season opener vs. Oregon State and former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen could be interesting. But let’s go with the visit from Colorado State. The Rams are one of the nation’s top non-Power Five teams, going to nine bowls since 2000. The Gophers needed OT to dispatch CSU last year in Ft. Collins, taking a 23-20 win.

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Toughest conference game: at Wisconsin, Nov. 26. Minnesota hates playing Wisconsin. Just hates it. The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has been a lopsided affair of late, as the Gophers have gone 2-17 vs. the Badgers since 1995. In fact, Minnesota has lost 12 in a row to Wisconsin. And the Gophers haven’t won in Madison since 1994. Will the drought end when Minnesota travels south down I-94 for the Nov. 26 game?

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Who they don’t play: The Gophers get a HUGE break by missing Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Thank you, scheduling gods. Oh, yes, Minnesota also doesn’t play Indiana.

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Easiest game: vs. Indiana State, Sept. 10. It won’t get any easier than the visit from the FCS Sycamores, the second of three non-conference games at home to open the season for Minnesota.

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Toughest stretch: It comes early. The Gophers will be tested, beginning with a visit from Colorado State on Sept. 24 followed by a trip to Penn State and game vs. Iowa. The Golden Gophers need to find a way to go 2-1 over this key early three-game stretch to gain some momentum.

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Best chance to be upset: vs. Oregon State, Sept. 1. The Gophers need to be careful in the opener. Yes, the Beavers went 2-10 last year and didn’t win a Pac-12 game in Gary Andersen’s first season in Corvallis since taking over for Mike Riley. Still, Andersen knows the Gopher personnel. And he has had over a year to get his systems implemented. If Minnesota isn’t ready, it could get dumped.

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Best chance to pull an upset: at Penn State, Oct. 1. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Minnesota waltz into Beaver Stadium and shock Penn State. The Nittany Lions are still a work in progress in Year Three under James Franklin. There is a new offense and quarterback, as well as a new defensive coordinator. And a new o-line coach in former Gopher OC and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover. The Gophers could be riding high on a 3-0 start as they head to State College, Pennsylvania, for their first road game of the season coming off a home tilt vs. Colorado State. Penn State will be coming off a tough, physical game at Michigan.

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Must win: vs. Iowa, Oct. 8. If the Gophers want to contend in what looks like an open Big Ten West, they probably will need to win the battle for Floyd of Rosedale. The Hawkeyes have won three of the last four meetings, but the Gophers won the last time Iowa came to Dinkytown in 2014. The week before, Minnesota plays at Penn State, so the Gophers may be a bit worn down.

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Bye week: This comes too early, as Minnesota is off the third week of the season on Sept. 17 after opening vs. Oregon State and Indiana State. The good news: The off week will allow for extra prep time for a visit from Colorado State, which can be pesky.

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Day Date Opponent Time TV Result
Thu. 9/1TBA vs. Oregon State TBA  BTN/BTN2
Sat. 9/10TBA vs. Indiana State TBA
Sat. 9/24TBA vs. Colorado State TBA
Sat. 10/1TBA at Penn State TBA
Sat. 10/8TBA vs. 9 Iowa TBA
Sat. 10/15TBA at Maryland TBA
Sat. 10/2212:00 PM ET vs. Rutgers 12:00 PM ET
Sat. 10/2912:00 PM ET at Illinois 12:00 PM ET
Sat. 11/5TBA vs. Purdue TBA
Sat. 11/127:30 PM ET at Nebraska 7:30 PM ET  BTN/BTN2
Sat. 11/19TBA vs. 23 Northwestern TBA
Sat. 11/26TBA at 21 Wisconsin TBA

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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