ESPN: Must-win and trap games of 2017: Gophers (Must Win: Maryland, Trap: Mdl TN St)
Must-win game: Maryland, Sept. 30
For the second straight year, Minnesota has an advantageous early-season schedule, and it needs to take advantage of it. It's likely going to be a transition year under new head coach P.J. Fleck, who will inherit a young roster without any proven quarterbacks. But Fleck and the Golden Gophers can build some momentum with a nonconference slate that features two highly winnable games at home (Buffalo and Middle Tennessee) and a road trip to Oregon State, which went 4-8 last year. The Big Ten opener sees Maryland come to TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota beat the Terrapins by three touchdowns on the road last year, and while Maryland should be better in 2017, this will be an early litmus test for Fleck's program. If the Gophers are going to be any kind of factor in the West Division this fall, they need to get off on the right foot. That makes this a must win.
Trap game: Middle Tennessee, Sept. 16
At first glance, this doesn't look like all that dangerous of a game for Minnesota. But consider that it comes the Saturday after that trip to Oregon State, meaning the players will likely get home late from the West Coast and have to adjust their body clocks for the following week. Also consider that the Blue Raiders won eight games last year, including a road victory at Missouri. They also bring back quarterback Brent Stockstill, who threw for 3,233 yards and 31 touchdowns last year in just 10 games. He leads an offense that averaged 39.7 ppg in 2016, 12th-most in the FBS. This Conference USA team will have a puncher's chance, and the Gophers had better be ready.
I'd argue our biggest "trap" game is Oregon State. A lot of folks expect us to win, but traveling to Corvallis will be no cake walk. Andersen's team started to pull it together last year as the season went on, and gave us a game at TCF. Starting off the Fleck era 1-1 would feel like a disaster to a lot of people and probably cause a monumental meltdown among the fanbase.
I would say that the Gophers need to win two of the first three B1G game among Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan St. I wouldn't be surprised for a opening game loss at Oregon St or vs MTSU, but it would be disappointing.
If they come out of the first six game 5-1, there is still a rough road ahead.
It will be very interesting to see what PJF can do in his first season.
Middle Tennessee is the trap game, but not Oregon State?
MSU must win, Oregon State trap game.
Agree with ESPN. Oregon State might be a tough win or loss, but I wouldn't call it a trap unless the players are expecting the same team as last year. I have a feeling they will go to Corvallis ready to play a power five opponent. MTSU can sneak up on a team and get a victory with Richie James hanging a 12-200-2 type of stat line at WR. That guy is extremely slippery.
Something tells me that Fleck isn't going to let these guys go soft. They will push it to the metal to make sure we are competitive as possible in our games. As we all know the key is going to be the OL and that will be a test right off the bat.
We will know right away if we have a QB and receivers or if those two positions are projects. If our coaches can maintain our running game and bring the passing game along we could surprise early.