The Big Ten is joining the rest of college football by kicking off its 2020 season this weekend, and the primetime matchup of No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota will be the top game Saturday night. It's the only Big Ten game featuring a matchup of two teams ranked in the AP Top 25, both of which are looking to make runs in the conference championship race.
The Wolverines are entering Year Six with coach Jim Harbaugh. While no one would objectively say Harbaugh has been bad -- he's averaged 9.4 wins per year -- he's winless against Ohio State and has yet to claim a Big Ten championship or even appear in the conference title game. There's a growing sense of urgency in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Wolverines don't get a cupcake game right out of the gate. Traveling to face the Gophers is a tough assignment.
Minnesota, on the other hand, wants to keep rowing the boat with P.J. Fleck. The Gophers are coming off an 11-2 campaign in 2019 -- their best record in 16 years. They fell just short of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game, but it was their most successful season of the modern era. They have plenty of weapons returning in 2020 as they look to get even better.
Michigan has dominated this rivalry series at 75-25-3 all time. The Wolverines have also won the last two matchups since 2015 and have only lost twice to the Gophers in the last 26 meetings. However, as noted above, Fleck and the Gophers are in the middle of a boon in Minneapolis and could prove a difficult out at home.
So how will this cross-division showdown look? Let's take a closer glance at the matchups and storylines to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread. Odds via William Hill Sportsbook.
Michigan: Much of the disgruntlement surrounding Harbaugh's time at Michigan has been the offensive development. It's one of the reasons the Wolverines haven't been able to punch up into elite status. There are a lot of question marks heading into 2020 on that side of the ball. With Dylan McCaffrey's transfer in the offseason, all signs point to Joe Milton being the starting quarterback. The Michigan coaching staff has been high on Milton, believing he's the type of talent that can get Michigan over the hump. Another question, though: who's he throwing to? Ronnie Bell figures to be WR1, but new faces need to step up. Nico Collins opted out, Tarik Black transferred to Texas and Donovan Peoples-Jones moved on to the NFL. How Michigan's offense meshes to start the year will be a point of emphasis.
Minnesota: Can the Gophers capitalize on the hype? The quarterback-wide receiver duo of Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman was one of the best in the country a year ago. But now there's a target on their back. Overall, there's a lot to like on this side of the ball. The offensive line is massive and there are capable playmakers at just about every position. The question will be the defense. Carter Coughlin and Sam Renner, the two leaders in sacks a year ago, are gone. So, too, are safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Chris Williamson. If Michigan wants to push the ball down the field with Milton's arm, the pass rush/defensive back combo is going to be important for the Gophers.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 24 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: TCF Bank Stadium -- Minneapolis
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
Both teams have questions, and in an off year for just about every team, it may take a while before we know exactly what to make of them. The line is small and the home dogs certainly have a chance to pull the outright win. If Michigan's new-look offense can going early, that would be a great sign. If they have to play from behind, it could be a frustrating day for Harbaugh's team. Pick: Minnesota (+3)
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