Thursday night’s matchup between No. 4 Ohio State and Minnesota will be a clash of two teams starting 2021 coming off entirely different seasons in 2020. However, the Buckeyes and Gophers both have extremely high hopes entering the 2021 college football season, especially considering they will be the second Big Ten game of the year and a featured attraction on national TV.
Ohio State entered 2020 with high expectations and lived up to them. The Buckeyes went 5-0 against a truncated Big Ten schedule and won the conference. They then disposed of Clemson in the College Football Playoff before falling to Alabama in the national championship game. Minnesota had significant expectations of its own. The Golden Gophers had finished the 2019 season as one of the bigger surprises in the country. They finished 11-2 and capped off the season with a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Unfortunately for the Gophers, COVID-19 and injuries wrought havoc on the team in 2020, and they limped to the finish line at 3-4.
This season, despite the loss of key players, Ohio State is once again expected to win the Big Ten and compete for a playoff berth. On the other hand, nobody’s quite sure what to expect from Minnesota this season. Perhaps Thursday night’s opener will give us a clearer picture.
Ohio State vs. Minnesota: Need to know
C.J. Stroud steps in: Ohio State’s quarterback battle was one of the most closely-watched in the country this offseason as the Buckeyes looked for the replacement for Justin Fields. They hope to have found him in Stroud, who will make his first career start Thursday night. Stroud was the No. 2 pro-style QB in the 2020 recruiting class, per the 247Sports Composite, and the California native comes with high expectations. Stroud had to beat out other highly-rated recruits for the job. His competition included Kyle McCord (five-star, 2021), Jack Miller (four-star, 2020) and Quinn Ewers (five-star, 2021), the latter of whom reclassified to join the Buckeyes this season.
The Buckeyes have the nation’s best receiving corps: Stroud will be helped by having an amazing array of weapons at his disposal. Considering Ohio State’s talent at the wide receiver position, you can question whether former QB Justin Fields has less talent around him in the NFL with the Chicago Bears than he had in college. Chris Olave finished last season with 729 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in seven games, while Garrett Wilson had 723 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Behind those two, there are other talented players like Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. To get a better idea of the level of talent, Jameson Williams — who caught nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns last season — transferred to Alabama (!) this offseason because he felt there was a clearer path to more consistent playing time there.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a workhorse: Ibrahim is the focal point of Minnesota’s offense. He finished last season ranked 11th in the country with 1,076 yards rushing. However, that number is slightly misleading since Ibrahim played in at least three fewer games than any back ranked ahead of him. On a per-game basis, Ibrahim’s 153.7 yards per game ranked second behind only Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson. Furthermore, nobody in the country carried the ball more often as Ibrahim averaged 28.7 carries per game.
Big boys up front: The Gophers have two big returnees on the offensive line. A major problem Minnesota dealt with last season was the loss of two mainstays in the trenches. Daniel Faalele and Curtis Dunlap missed the season due to COVID-19, but both are back and ready for the 2021 season. That’s a significant boost for a team that relies so heavily on its run game.
How to watch Ohio State vs. Minnesota live
Date: Thursday, Sept. 2 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: TCF Bank Stadium — Minneapolis
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Ohio State vs. Minnesota prediction, picks
Featured Game | Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
It’s tough to go against the Buckeyes in a Big Ten game. Ohio State won its six Big Ten games by an average of 21.5 points last season. Sure, there’s the possibility that with a new quarterback under center and plenty of new faces in other spots, the Buckeyes won’t be nearly as efficient in the first game of the season. Not to mention, this is a road game where Ohio State will be playing in front of fans for the first time since 2019. Still, I just don’t trust that Minnesota’s offense will be able to keep pace over a full 60 minutes, so I’m laying the points with Ohio State. Prediction: Ohio State (-14.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1, and which national title contender will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons — and find out.