Nobody is talking about the Gophers as one of the top teams in the Big Ten this season, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of reason to be excited to watch year two of the P.J. Fleck experience.
Fleck draws eyeballs wherever he goes, and he's got some talent on the 2018 roster that fans should be aware of. Below are five guys that we're excited to see play. Do note, however, that we're not mentioning senior running back Rodney Smith among the five players, simply because everyone knows he's the rock of the offense and is undoubtedly going to be really good again.
Zack Annexstad, freshman quarterback
Annexstad won the starting job as a true freshman, getting the nod from Fleck over redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan. Annexstad is just the second true freshman walk-on to win the starting quarterback job at a D1 program since Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the most recent NFL Draft, did it in 2013.
Annexstad was featured on SportsCenter Tuesday morning, and you can see his appearance right here.
Tyler Johnson, junior wide receiver
Johnson is one of the most natural athletes in the Big Ten, and if the offensive line can provide Annexstad time to throw, Johnson could finally break out as one of the premiere wide receivers in the conference. Johnson finished with 35 receptions for 677 yards and seven touchdowns last season, doing so despite the quarterback duo of Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft combining for an ugly 47.4 completion percentage.
Donnell Green, senior left tackle
Could it be that the program that used to put offensive linemen in the NFL routinely will finally do it again with Green? According to 247 Sports' Ryan Burns, Greene will likely be the guy who ends the 12-year NFL drought for Gophers o-linemen. We're also very excited to see what redshirt freshman Blaise Andries (Marshall, MN) does at right guard.
Thomas Barber, junior middle linebacker
Ok, we're cheating on this one because all three starting linebackers have skills that should make the second level of Minnesota's defense very strong. But Barber is the man in the middle who led the Gophers with 115 tackles last season.
Playing alongside Barber will be senior Blake Cashman and junior Kamal Martin.
Even more fun about the trio is that they starred at Twin Cities high schools: Cashman (Eden Prairie), Barber (Robbinsdale Armstrong), and Martin (Burnsville).
Antoine Winfield Jr., junior safety
Yes, the son of former Vikings All-Pro cornerback Antoine Winfield has the same name and a very similar skillset, although the younger Winfield is built with a more muscular frame. Winfield proved himself as a playmaker during his sophomore season and he should be even better as a junior. Expect the Gophers to use him all over the field.
Game 1 is Thursday at 6 p.m. against New Mexico State and will be televised on Big Ten Network.