Jim Harbaugh returns to the sideline against Minnesota this Saturday in the Big Ten opener. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
- The No. 21 Minnesota Golden Gophers host the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday at 7:30 PM EST on ABC
- The Little Brown Jug matchup is the Big Ten lid-lifter for both programs
- See odds, spread, and best bets for the game within the preview below
The Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Michigan Wolverines in a Week 8 matchup in the highly-anticipated season opener for both Big Ten programs The Battle for the Little Brown Jug is set for a 7:30 PM EST kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Th No. 18 Wolverines are coming off a 9-5 season that ended with a Citrus Bowl loss to Alabama. Meanwhile, the No. 21 Golden Gophers are trying to carry the momentum from an 11-2 campaign into 2020 that included an Outback Bowl win vs Auburn.
Jim Harbaugh’s squad has beaten PJ Fleck’s group eight of the last nine times the rivals have met and are 3.5-point favorites Saturday.
#18 Michigan vs #21 Minnesota Week 8 Odds
|Michigan Wolverines||-3.5 (+104)||-162||O 54.5 (-115)|
|Minnesota Golden Gophers||+3.5 (-128)||+132||U 54.5 (-105)|
Odds taken Oct. 20 on FanDuel
Can the Wolverines overcome a question mark at quarterback – and questionable performances in games that matter – to beat a Golden Gopher team with something to prove? Let’s break down the matchup and make a pick.
Maized and Confused
Joe Milton or Cade McNamara? Who will start at quarterback for the Maize and Blue Saturday? So far, Harbaugh has avoided making it official ahead of the opener.
It appears Milton will get the nod over the redshirt freshman, at least if you believe the oh-so-coy sixth-year head coach in Ann Arbor.
“As I said, Joe’s been running with the 1s,” Harbaugh told reporters Monday. “As I said before, I mean, naming any starter at this point – it’s a daily thing right up until the game time.”
Milton was reportedly in a battle with since-transferred Dylan McCaffrey for the starting job in the offseason.
Jim Harbaugh on Joe Milton: I think you might be surprised in a very pleasant way. He’s ready to play. He’s ready to play a game.
— Orion Sang (@orion_sang) October 19, 2020
Whichever Michigan quarterback gets the starting nod Saturday in prime time, there will be a plenty of rough recent history to put behind him.
Getting Over the Hump
Bringing Harbaugh back to his alma mater was a major coup for Michigan in 2015. But since arriving in Ann Arbor, the once-elite head coach at the college (Stanford) and pro (49ers) level has been humbled in his old stomping grounds.
Jim Harbaugh at Michigan is en route to being:
1-10 vs Top 10 teams.
1-7 on road vs a ranked team.
0-8 as an underdog.
and still 0-4 vs tOhio State
— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) October 20, 2019
Oh by the way, Minnesota is ranked No. 21 and was ranked as high as No. 7 last year. So, if the Wolverines are to put their choking reputation behind them, it needs to start in this abbreviated eight-game, no-bye-week slate.
There are some factors helping UM: the program returns nine starters from 2019: four on offense and five on defense. They also have four returning specialists.
Michigan has started out well under their idiosyncratic head coach. The Wolverines are 4-1 in Big Ten openers under Harbaugh and 3-1 all-time when beginning conference play against the Gophers. Those trends bode well for the winningest program in college football history.
What about Minnesota? The Golden Gophers feature one of the top quarterback-receiver duos in the country with Tanner Morgan and All-American Rashod Bateman, who finished second in the Big Ten with 1,219 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019.
How the redshirt sophomore handles Bateman will likely play a huge factor in the game’s outcome.
Gray finished with 20 tackles and five pass breakups last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a 32-percent completion percentage when thrown at — the fifth-lowest mark from a Big Ten defensive back since 2014.
Bateman is projected a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. If Gray can simply slow down the proven threat, Michigan has a chance.
While series history favors the road team, I’m fading Michigan in this spot. When Minnesota beat then-No. 5 Penn State at TCF last year in early November, I became a believer in Fleck. I’m taking the home dogs here based on the intangibles and Morgan’s ability to find a way to win at home.
The pick: Minnesota +3.5 (-128)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.