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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Early schedule snapshot: Minnesota

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Scheduling has kept Minnesota busy during the offseason.

Here's what the Golden Gophers will face this fall. 

NONCONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 at Syracuse
Sept. 12 Air Force
Sept. 19 California
Nov. 14 South Dakota State

My take: Minnesota's scheduling philosophy has dramatically changed under head coach Tim Brewster, who helped add national powerhouse USC to the slate in 2010 and 2011. This year's slate ranks at or near the top of the Big Ten in difficulty, as Minnesota opens its new on-campus facility (TCF Bank Stadium) against back-to-back bowl participant Air Force before taking on Cal, a preseason top-20 squad. The Gophers also travel to Syracuse for new coach Doug Marrone's debut, which could provide the rebuilding Orange an emotional boost. A 2-0 or 3-0 start would set up the Gophers for another step forward after improving six wins last season. On the flip side, Minnesota brought in two new coordinators and a new offensive system and could struggle to adjust against strong competition. 

BIG TEN SCHEDULE

Sept. 26 at Northwestern
Oct. 3 Wisconsin
Oct. 10 Purdue
Oct. 17 at Penn State
Oct. 24 at Ohio State
Oct. 31 Michigan State
Nov. 7 Illinois
Nov. 21 at Iowa

Byes: Michigan, Indiana

My take: Minnesota has the toughest road schedule of any Big Ten team, with trips to league-title contenders Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa as well as a visit to Northwestern, which finished in the top half of the conference in 2008. The Gophers got a bit unlucky with their byes, but their home games all are winnable. A win at Northwestern in the opener would be huge, as Minnesota could begin league play at 3-0. Minnesota has a history of starting strong and fading fast, and this schedule certainly lends itself to the trend. After consecutive trips to Happy Valley and Columbus, the Gophers will need to bounce back against Michigan State and Illinois.