Gopher football: 3 players who could break out in 2020

After a banner year for the program, who could step up this fall?
Mohamed Ibrahim

In 2019, Gopher football had its best season in nearly 60 years. Minnesota compiled an 11-2 record including 7-2 in the Big Ten and finished 10th in the final AP Top 25 rankings, raising expectations for this year's team.

But just like last year's team, which saw the breakouts of Rashod Bateman, Tanner Morgan and others, the Gophers will need some players to step up to soften the blow of losing some key players due to graduation and the NFL Draft.

Chris Autman-Bell

One of the biggest losses from last year's team is the departure of Tyler Johnson. The Minneapolis product re-wrote Gopher record books last season and leaves a big hole in the lineup opposite Bateman in the passing game.

That creates an opportunity for Autman-Bell to step up. The junior put together a pair of solid, but not spectacular seasons to start his college career and actually saw his yardage dip from 449 yards to 371 last season, though he also visited the end zone five times.

Autman-Bell should have an expanded role this season and could put up bigger stats because of it. With his quarterback projected to leap into the discussion as a potential first-round pick, Autman-Bell should have little trouble making an impact.

Mohamed Ibrahim

While the passing game was a nice wrinkle for the Gophers to have, the true identity of the offense is the running game. Last season, Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combined for 1,571 yards and 10 touchdowns, leaving a pair of big shoes to fill.

Enter Ibrahim, who shined when he took the load during his freshman season while Brooks and Smith were recovering from injuries. In that 2018 campaign, Ibrahim ran for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns while ripping off 5.7 yards per carry.

Ibrahim's initial impression carried over into the Quick Lane Bowl against Georgia Tech where he ran for 224 yards – a school record for a bowl game.

Although the junior had to take a backseat with Brooks and Smith's return last fall, he still ran for 604 yards and seven touchdowns while mixing in. 

The Gophers should have a similar rotation this year with Cam Wiley, Bryce Williams, and Owatonna native Jason Williamson, but Ibrahim will be the lead horse and could have a monster year.

Jordan Howden

Statistically, Howden's first two seasons in Minnesota weren't something that jumped off the page, but he made his mark on the program last November. With the Gophers hanging onto a late lead against No. 4 Penn State, Howden intercepted Sean Clifford to propel Minnesota to a 9-0 record.

Much like the other players on this list, Howden will have the opportunity for a bigger role with the departure of Antoine Winfield Jr. The second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the nation with seven interceptions last season, leaving a big hole in the Gophers' defense.

With a young defensive unit in general, Howden will be leaned upon to make some of the big plays Winfield made last season. While he only has two career interceptions, he showed last season he has the ability to make a play when it matters most.

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