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Evenly matched Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers football teams meet to open season

Michigan wide receiver Eddie McDoom, front left, braces for tackles from Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman, bottom, and defensive back Adekunle Ayinde, right, in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. Michigan won 33-10. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

MINNEAPOLIS — Michigan hasn’t left Minnesota with a loss since 1977.

This time, the only fans in the seats will be family members of the players, drastically reducing the disadvantage for the visitors.

This is a much different Gophers team than most of those that wilted in the past against the Wolverines, though. This pivotal sixth season with coach Jim Harbaugh for the storied program will finally begin in difficult fashion at No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday night.

Long before the 18th-ranked Wolverines can worry about that next swing at rival Ohio State, they must contend with the Gophers, who won 11 games last season, a mark that Michigan hasn’t hit since 2011. The Wolverines will again boast a stout defensive line and a deep group of running backs, but there’s plenty to prove in order to end their 16-year drought without a Big Ten title.

“I’ve never seen any team I’ve been a part of here come together as much as we have,” senior linebacker Josh Ross said. “I’m ready to show everybody how good we actually are.”

The Gophers got a lot better when star wide receiver Rashod Bateman had his eligibility reinstated last month, after he initially opted out of the season due to health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The connection between him and quarterback Tanner Morgan ought to be one of the best in the conference, if not the country.

“Tanner has just grown as a leader throughout this whole quarantine,” running back Mohamed Ibrahim said. “He has really good control of this whole team.”

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HIS TURN

Michigan junior quarterback Joe Milton is expected to make his first start, hoping four new starting offensive linemen can give him enough time to throw to an inexperienced group of receivers.

“He’s made a lot of great strides,” Harbaugh said. “Really good command of the offense and savviness — and a lot of talent.”

Dylan McCaffrey, the brother of Carolina Panthers All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, decided not to return for a fourth year after falling behind Milton on the depth chart. The 6-foot-5, strong-armed Milton played sparingly as a backup the previous two seasons behind Shea Patterson.

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