Playing rooks can be rough, but standouts abound in Big Ten

Published 8:21 am Friday, November 16, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With 58 freshmen, Minnesota leads the FBS with 51.7 percent of players on the roster in their first year of eligibility.

Nine of them are starters, including seven on offense, to make this season for the Gophers all about growth. While losing five of their first six Big Ten games, outscored by an average of 43-26 during those contests, the Gophers felt their share of pain.

With true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad injured and struggling, coach P.J. Fleck made a slight upgrade in experience last month by replacing him with redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan. The Gophers started the final quarter of their season in stride with a 41-10 victory over Purdue that served as a potential sign this teenager-driven offense has matured. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, running back Mohamed Ibrahim and right tackle Daniel Faalele are all true freshmen who have stood out.

Email newsletter signup

“You’re almost like, ‘I’m not sure what’s going to come out of that tunnel at times just because everything is so new,” Fleck said recently. “Everything is for the first time with a lot of these young men.”

Such widespread youth movements typically don’t produce immediate success, of course, and one of the teams Minnesota is tied for last place with in the Big Ten West Division is Illinois. Not coincidentally, the Illini have the fewest seniors in the FBS with only eight on the roster and have played 18 true freshmen.