The Big Ten returns in Week 8 of the college football season this weekend, and the most intriguing conference matchup is getting the prime-time treatment.
No. 18 Michigan travels to No. 21 Minnesota at 7:30 p.m. for the ABC “Game of the Week.” It’s a matchup between two of college football’s most polarizing coaches. The Gophers are coming off an 11-win season under P.J. Fleck. The return of quarterback Tanner Morgan and receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted back in to the 2020 season, has Minnesota thinking Big Ten West championship.
Michigan enters Jim Harbaugh’s sixth season as coach with the same old questions. The Wolverines are coming off a nine-win season and have improved the overall trajectory of the program. Michigan’s track record in big games, however, is subject to widespread criticism.
Those storylines converge in a battle for the Little Brown Jug — one of the most prestigious rivalry trophies in college football. With that in mind, here’s a full look at the top-five showdown.
Michigan vs. Minnesota odds
Spread: Michigan -3
Point spread odds: Michigan -110, Minnesota –110
Michigan vs. Minnesota all-time series
Michigan leads the all-time series 75-25-3. The Wolverines are 2-0 against the Gophers under Harbaugh, and the last trip to Minneapolis was a 29-26 thriller in 2015. Michigan is 7-3 in the 10 matchups in which both teams were ranked.
The Wolverines won the last meeting 33-10 on Nov. 4, 2017.
Three trends to know
— Harbaugh is 10-11 S/U against top 25 teams since coming to Michigan in 2015, but he’s 8-3 S/U against teams ranked outside the top 10. Fleck is 2-5 S/U against ranked teams with Minnesota.
— Michigan is 15-3 S/U as a road favorite under Harbaugh since 2015. The Wolverines are 8-9-1 ATS in that situation.
— The Gophers are 3-4 S/U as a home underdog under Fleck. Minnesota is 4-3 ATS in that situation.
Three things to watch
— Rashod Bateman. The star receiver opted back in to the season, and that’s huge for a Minnesota offense that features a solid quarterback in Tanner Morgan, who averaged 10.2 yards per attempt last season. In the Penn State and Wisconsin games last season, Bateman totaled 13 catches for 350 yards and a pair of TDs. That’s a tough assignment for Michigan cornerback Vincent Gray, who inherits top cornerback duties now that Ambry Thomas opted out.
— Joe Milton’s debut. Milton will be making his first start for the Wolverines after sitting behind Shea Patterson the past two seasons. Milton has received a fair amount of hype in the offseason, but he must mesh with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis in a tough first assignment. Michigan has a young group of receivers and will be without Nico Collins, who opted out. The running back trio of Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins and Chris Evans can help take the pressure off Milton.
— First-game jitters. Minnesota is breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Mike Sanford, a former Western Kentucky coach and Notre Dame offensive coordinator. That poses an interesting chess match with Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. Early turnovers could be something to watch on both sides.
Stat that matters
Michigan rushed for 371 yards in the team’s last meeting in 2017, and that was the difference in a one-sided blowout. Most of Harbaugh’s losses with the Wolverines — including the games against ranked teams — are a product of not being able to run the football consistently. With a new quarterback in place, the pressure to produce that running game on the road is the ultimate key to victory.
Minnesota upset Penn State at home last season, and did it with the help of the big-play passing game. Bateman scored early, and he’ll do the same in this game. Michigan will stay patient with the running game despite trailing at halftime, and Milton will match some wow plays with some inconsistency. The Wolverines, however, will tighten up enough on defense in the second half. Michigan emerges with a good start to 2020.
Michigan 31, Minnesota 24