TCU and Minnesota have very different expectations for the 2015 college football season, giving the Golden Gophers little to lose in their opener on Thursday night. Anything short of an easy victory for the Horned Frogs would come as a bit of a surprise, giving Minnesota a chance to take plenty of positives from the contest, even in defeat.
After barely missing out on making last year’s College Football Playoff, TCU is considered to be a top contender to win this year’s national championship. They rank No.2 in the nation, and the Horned Frogs are one of just three teams to receive a first-place vote in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll.
Ohio State is the unanimous choice atop the AP Top 25 Poll, but TCU has the personnel to become the sport’s top team. Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin, TCU is returning 10 starters from last year that gave the Horned Frogs the No.2 scoring offense in college football. With Baylor’s Bryce Petty now in the NFL, TCU could take the top spot in 2015.
Boykin threw for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns last year, adding 707 yards and eight scores on the ground. His top weapons are all returning this season, which will make it difficult for Minnesota to keep TCU out of the end zone. Running back Aaron Green is back after leading the Horned Frogs with 922 rushing yards on just 129 carries. Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee are returning for their senior seasons, having combined to catch 106 passes for 1,771 yards last year.
But Minnesota isn’t intimidated by TCU’s high-powered offense. The Golden Gophers have two starting defensive backs that were named to the watch list for the 2015 Chuck Bednarik Award, which is given to college football’s best player. Few teams were able to slow down TCU last season. But Minnesota believes it has a chance to do so on Thursday night.
“I think when they had to drop the ball in the long field [last season], I don’t think they scored one time,” Minnesota cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, referring to TCU’s win over Minnesota in 2014. “I think if we eliminate some of those mistakes, continue to play hard on defense, continue to get a rush on the quarterback and play good on the outside, I think we have a great chance of winning this week.”
TCU didn’t have much trouble against Minnesota in their second game of last season, winning 30-7. Despite losing by three scores, Minnesota was able to hold TCU to their lowest scoring output of the year. Boykin was limited to his third-lowest passer rating of the season.
Minnesota couldn’t beat TCU on the road, but they’ll be at home in Thursday's contest. TCU was undefeated at home last year, going 7-0 with all but one victory coming by at least 21 points. As good as TCU was on the road, they did manage to lose one game and win two more by a total of just five points.
“I heard Coach Kill talk about them being a fast-paced offense,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “It kind of slows down the communication the louder [the fans] are. When you’re away, the crowd is usually quiet on third down because they want their quarterback to succeed. That’s the biggest difference between being home and away.”
Even if Minnesota’s defense does step up, they might not be good enough offensively to have a chance at pulling off the upset. The Golden Gophers committed five turnovers in their loss to TCU, and they have a lot of questions surrounding their offense this season. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is looking to play better than his three-interception performance against the Horned Frogs last season.
Point Spread: TCU by 14.5 points (vegasinsider.com)
Over/Under: 57.5 points
Prediction: TCU over Minnesota, 34-14