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Minnesota replaces DL coach lost to Rutgers

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After Rutgers poached one of his assistants a month ago, P.J. Fleck has filled that lone hole on his Minnesota Gophers football coaching staff.

Thursday, Minnesota confirmed that Chad Wilt has been hired by Fleck to serve as the Golden Gophers’ defensive line coach. Wilt replaces Jim Panagos, who left in mid-December to take the job on Greg Schiano‘s Scarlet Knights’ staff.

This is a Big Ten homecoming of sorts for Wilt as he was the defensive line coach at Maryland for two seasons (2014-15). Last season, Wilt held the same job at Cincinnati.

Wilt’s other FBS coaching stops as line coach include:

  • Army (2016-18)
  • Ball State (2011-13)
  • Virginia (2009)

After 12 wins combined his first two seasons at the school, Fleck went 11-2 in his third. It was the best season for Minnesota Gophers football since 1904.

Trevor Lawrence enters 2020 offseason as Heisman favorite

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Even as Trevor Lawrence attempts to get the taste of his first-ever college loss out of his month, there’s no time like the present for a little Heisman talk.

On the biggest stage Monday night, Lawrence came up short as Clemson took it on the chin in a 17-point loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff championship game.  While the quarterback didn’t throw an interception, he did complete a career-worst 48.6 percent of his pass attempts.  The true sophomore was also held without a touchdown pass for the first time since a four-point win over Syracuse in September of 2018.

Despite the struggles, Trevor Lawrence hasn’t lost all of the Heisman shine as one offshore sportsbook has him listed as a 7/2 favorite to claim the 2020 stiff-armed trophy.  That’s actually down a bit from the 3/1 Lawrence was at following Joe Burrow winning the 2019 Heisman Trophy in record-smashing fashion.

The quarterback of the team Lawrence and Clemson took down in the semifinals, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, is right behind his under-center counterpart at 4/1.  Another quarterback, true freshman Kedon Slovis of USC, is at 9/1.

Five other returning players will start the offseason at 10/1, including Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard, who surprised many (most?) observers by announcing Monday he’s coming back for his senior season.  The others at that 10/1 number are all quarterbacks — Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Alabama’s Mac Jones, Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler.

The only non-offensive player on the early Heisman wagering agenda?  Standout LSU true freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who is listed at 16/1.

Some perspective, though, on these way-too-early odds: Last year at this time, Lawrence (3/1) and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (4/1) were the heavy favorites to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy.  Lawrence finished seventh in the voting this past December, Tagovailoa 10th.

Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. declares for 2020 NFL Draft

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One of the key figures in Minnesota’s recent turnaround on the field is leaving for the next level.

In an Instagram post released on Wednesday afternoon, Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. announced he was leaving the program to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.

Winfield is of course following in his father’s footsteps to the NFL as Winfield Sr. spent 14 years in the pros with the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings after being a first round pick in 1999 out of Ohio State. His son has turned into quite the player with the Gophers this past season, earning All-America honors while leading the team with 88 tackles. He was named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year after hauling in seven interceptions and also added three sacks and two forced fumbles.

Winfield Jr. capped things off with a five tackle performance in an Outback Bowl win over Auburn to give the program 11 wins for the first time in well over a century.

Minnesota hires Mike Sanford Jr. to fill OC opening

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Thanks to intraconference poaching, Minnesota has turned the keys to its offense over to Mike Sanford Jr.

Early Friday afternoon, Minnesota announced that P.J. Fleck has hired Mike Sanford Jr. as his next offensive coordinator.  Sanford replaces Kirk Ciarrocca, who was hired for the same job at Penn State late last month.

“I am thrilled to welcome Mike, his wife Anne-Marie and kids Peyton, Gunnar and Griffin to Minnesota,” said Fleck in a statement. “I have known Mike for many years, and he will be an elite addition to our staff. Mike is one of the brightest young minds in the game and brings a wealth of experience to our offensive staff room and our offensive system.”

Sanford was the head coach at Western Kentucky from 2017-18.  He was fired after going 9-16 in those two seasons.

This past season, Sanford coordinated Utah State’s offense.  The 37-year-old son of former UNLV head coach Mike Sanford comes to Minnesota having also served as the coordinator at Notre Dame (2015-16) and Boise State (2014).

From 2011-13, Sanford was an assistant at Stanford.  He was the running backs coach the first two seasons on The Farm, wide receivers coach the last one.  The last two seasons, he also held the title of run-game coordinator.

In addition to Sanford’s hiring, the football program also announced that Matt Simon has been promoted to co-offensive coordinator. Simon will continue to coach wide receivers as well.

Despite Simon’s promotion, Sanford will serve as the Golden Gophers’ primary in-game playcaller.

New Year’s Day, Minnesota capped off a historic season with an Outback Bowl upset of Auburn.  The 11 wins were the program’s most since they won 13 in 1904.  Minnesota’s only other seasons with 10 or more wins came in 1900, 1903, 1905 and 2003.

No. 18 Minnesota upsets No. 12 Auburn in Outback Bowl for most wins since 1904

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Minnesota sophomore Bryce Witham was far from a household name, even in the state of Minnesota. But bowl season can make a hero and a program legend out of anyone at any given moment. Williams entered the Outback Bowl with just one reception in two games this season. He ended the season with three catches, and his two receptions in the Outback Bowl could not have been more significant as No. 18 Minnesota (11-2) scored a 31-24 victory over No. 12 Auburn (9-4) in the Outback Bowl.

Witham caught his only touchdown of the season, and his fourth-down reception late in the fourth quarter helped to allow Minnesota to run out the clock on the Tigers. For Minnesota, the underdog mentality was well suited and perhaps there was no player better to thrive in the moment the way Witham did. Minnesota dominated Aubrun in the stat sheet with close to 500 yards of offense against a solid defensive team from the SEC. Auburn managed just 232 yards of offense, and just 56 of those yards came on the ground.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Both of Morgan’s touchdowns were thrown to Tyler Johnson, who caught 12 passes for 204 yards. Young rising running back Mohamed Ibrahim led all players with 140 rushing yards, including some hard runs at the end of the game to pick up a first down and contribute to milking the clock in its entirety. Auburn’s Bo Nix was limited to 17-of-26 for 176 yards and a touchdown.

The win was Minnesota’s second striaght postseason bowl victory under PJ Fleck. It was also Minnesota’s first bowl victory over an SEC team since beating Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl. The Gophers have won each of their last three bowl games played, dating back to 2016. Minnesota’s 11 wins this season are the most for a single season since the Gophers won 13 games in 1904. Minnesota’s only other seasons with 10 or more wins came in 1900, 1903, 1905 and 2003.

Although this season may have fallen shy of playing for a Big Ten title in what has been a dream season for the Gophers, Minnesota continues to look to have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the program, beginning in 2020 as a rising contender in the Big Ten picture.

Minnesota will begin the 2020 season with high expectations. The season will begin at home against FAU in non-conference play on Thursday, Sept. 3. Auburn will begin its 2020 season two days later on Sept. 5 with a home game against Alcorn State.