Thursday Six-Pack: Previewing College Football’s Opening Night



Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT


Las Vegas Line: Minnesota +16.5; O/U 57.5

TCU’s anticipated contention for the College Football Playoff faces a stiff test straight out of the gate. The Horned Frogs visit Big Ten Country in the return matchup of last year’s nonconference date with Minnesota, which had Playoff implications late into the season.

The Golden Gophers’ surprise ascent into the Top 25 bolstered the value of the Horned Frogs’ early-season win, further strengthening TCU’s schedule argument for inclusion in the final four over Big 12 rival Baylor.

Minnesota is again a marquee name on the nonconference schedule, thanks to head coach Jerry Kill’s tremendous efforts since becoming head coach there in 2011. The Golden Gophers are flying under the radar as Big Ten West division contenders, with 13 returning starters on offense and defense combined.

Among the veteran corps is an experienced offensive line, which last year paved the way for the nation’s No. 30-ranked rushing offense. Conversely, TCU boasted the ninth-ranked run defense, and three Horned Frogs return from that stout defensive front.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner is the top returning ball-carrier for the Golden Gophers. Kill and Co. must replace running back David Cobb, who was criminally overlooked in rushing for nearly 1,700 yards a season ago — though understandably so, given he shared a conference with 2,000-plus-yard rushers Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman.

Heisman-contending TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin had one of his statistically inferior outings of the year against Minnesota in 2014 — and still finished with 258 yards passing and 92 rushing.

One element of this matchup that gives me pause is Minnesota was much better at home last season. The Golden Gophers held Ohio State to 31 points and nearly pulled off that upset in Minneapolis late last season, for example. While I anticipate TCF Bank Stadium accounting somewhat, TCU is still the better team.

Boykin remains at the forefront of the Heisman race, and the Horned Frogs score a road, nonconference win that will matter come Playoff selection time.

MY PICK: TCU 35, Minnesota 21