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Game Week: Minnesota

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NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Days Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls are a week away from kicking off the 2017 football season. They head to the North Star state to take on the Minnesota Gophers.

It’s been fifteen years since the first and only meeting between these teams, and the last time didn’t go well for the boys in blue.

Minnesota jumped all over UB, going up 31-0 midway through the second quarter. Aaron Leeper and Andre Forde scored to bring UB to within 17 but that’s as close as Buffalo got in what would end up a 41-14 drubbing.

If UB wants to even the score this year they will have to go into TCF bank stadium, look across the field at PJ Fleck, and sink his boat.

Fleck’s first big decision was who will take over at quarterback. In a decision that’s looks a lot like what UB did last summer, Fleck has decided to play both sophomore quarterback Demry Croft and senior Conor Rhoda.

Neither has a ton of experience, Rhoda has two career incomplete passes and Crof was 7 of 17 passes for 34 yards in three 2015 games. Throw in the fact that the Gophers lost the bulk of their receiving power and the passing game as a whole is ‘up in the air’.

Where the Gophers do have some certainty is in the running game. Last year Rodney Smith started all 12 games and ran for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns. He will once again be the Minnesota’s workhorse back.

Containing him and getting some pressure on an inexperieced quarterback may be the Bulls only hope of staying in this game.

Then there is the question of how good Tyree Jackson has gotten in the offseason. He is clearly a talented player but his decision making last year was, at times, pretty bad.

Losing Jordan Johnson in the backfield will put more pressure on Jackson to produce with his arm and his legs. If the Gophers are weak anywhere on defense it’s upfront but they do have quite a few very good situational pass rushers, so it’s best for the Bulls to not dig a hole early in a series.

The need for quick passes might mean that Jacob Martinez, J-Mart, can make a big impact after missing almost half of last season with an injury. If Jackson can develop some good underneath options it may soften the defense for something bigger. I don’t know that the Bulls have the receiving corps to challenge the Gophers secondary deep unless they are worried about underneath passes to Martinez or players coming off the tight end or out of the backfield.