Neither Minnesota nor Nebraska will enjoy a cupcake opponent to kick off the 2023 season as the Big Ten West foes face off Thursday night in Minneapolis. These teams have met in 12 consecutive seasons since the Cornhuskers’ arrival in the conference. However, that familiarity will have its limits after both programs underwent significant offseason changes.
Nebraska hired Matt Rhule to replace Scott Frost and is hoping the former Carolina Panthers coach can execute another major turnaround like he did with Temple and Baylor before leaving the college game to try his hand in the NFL. While seventh-year coach P.J. Fleck is back for Minnesota, the Gophers are breaking in a new offensive coordinator and replacing key players on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota has won four straight in the series, including a 20-13 defensive struggle last season that featured 15 punts and just 567 combined yards. But with new offensive systems in place for both teams, and an excellent weather forecast for the game, fans of offense should be optimistic for the chances of more action.
The matchup is one of three in Week 1 pitting Big Ten teams against each other, and it brings plenty of stakes. A Minnesota win would allow the Gophers to exhale as they begin navigating one of the nation’s most difficult schedules. A Nebraska victory would give Rhule’s tenure an early jolt and put the Cornhuskers on track for their first bowl appearance since 2016.
How to watch Nebraska vs. Minnesota live
Date: Thursday, Aug. 31 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Huntington Bank Stadium — Minneapolis
TV: Fox | Live stream: fubo (Try for free)
Nebraska vs. Minnesota: Need to know
Kaliakmanis time: After six seasons at Minnesota, including five as the full-time or part-time starter, quarterback Tanner Morgan is out of eligibility. That means it’s time for Athan Kaliakmanis to shine. The redshirt sophomore, nicknamed the “Greek Rifle,” completed 60 of 111 passes for 946 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions last season while thrust into action against some of the stingier defenses on Minnesota’s schedule. A former four-star prospect, Kaliakmanis has drawn great reviews from Fleck and is expected to raise the ceiling at quarterback for Minnesota as he gets acclimated to the full-time starting role.
Sims gets the spotlight: Nebraska quarterback Jeff Sims will have another chance to shine after three up-and-down seasons with Georgia Tech. Sims burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2020, showing promise for a downtrodden program. But injuries and competition at the position kept Sims from maximizing his potential the past two seasons. Entering 2023, however, he’s healthy, experienced and the unquestioned starter after incumbent Casey Thompson transferred to FAU following spring practice. With two seasons of eligibility remaining, Sims has the chance to become the quarterback who leads Nebraska back to respectability as Rhule’s tenure begins.
New offensive systems: Minnesota co-offensive coordinators Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh aren’t new hires, but they will have increased responsibilities following the departure of Kirk Ciarrocca for Rutgers. Simon has been on staff since 2017 and Harbaugh is in his third stint on staff under Fleck. They both saw the offense peak in 2019 under Ciarrocca during an 11-2 season and will be tasked with charting a path forward following the departure of workhorse running back Mo Ibrahim, who holds numerous school records. First-year Nebraska offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield is a longtime associate of Rhule’s, dating back to a stint on staff at Western Carolina together in 2005. But he must prove he’s the right man for the job after presiding over a South Carolina offense that struggled to run the football the past two seasons.
Nebraska vs. Minnesota prediction, pick
Odds via SportsLine consensus
There wasn’t much relevant tape available for the defensive staffs to study ahead of this game since both schools have new coordinators and new starting quarterbacks along with some new skill talent. Thus, the advantage of surprise lies with the offensive coordinators for a game that is expected to be played in great weather. Minnesota, in particular, should be less run-heavy this season after the departure of Ibrahim. The Gophers have quietly assembled one of the Big Ten’s best pass-catching units and should be willing to air it out enough to facilitate a game with some offensive action. Prediction: Over 43
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