The Gophers have taken heat this season for a non-conference football schedule that included New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado, teams that are combined 1-15 and lost to the Minnesota by a combined score of 149-17. Obviously, critics say, the Gophers should schedule tougher non-conference opponents.
Is Alabama tough enough?
The Gophers announced a two-game home-and-away series Tuesday with the Crimson Tide, the current gold standard for college football success. Alabama, which has won six national championships since 2009, will visit Huntington Bank Stadium on September 29. September 18, 2032, and the Gophers travel to Tuscaloosa on September 1. December 17, 2033, to face the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The series will mark the second and third meetings between Minnesota and Alabama. The Gophers defeated the Crimson Tide, then coached by Mike Shula, 20-16 at the 2004 Music City Bowl in Nashville.
Since 2007, Nick Saban has coached Alabama and led the Crimson Tide to those six national titles – in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020. Presumably, 70-year-old Saban won’t be coaching the next decade when the Gophers- The Crimson Tide series is played, but nonetheless, Minnesota will play one of college football’s blue bloods.
Gophers coach PJ Fleck said in September that he would be open to sizing up marquee non-conference opponents. These names don’t get much bigger than ‘Bama.
“Some of the best brands in college football, we wish we could have them here and come to Huntington Bank [Stadium] and also go to those places,” he said. “But those are decisions as we continue to move forward and see what slots are open and what years are open.”
The Gophers’ non-conference schedule this year included an opponent Power Five (Colorado), an independent FBS (New Mexico State) and an opponent FCS (Western Illinois). When Minnesota in 2016 scheduled the future series with Colorado, Tracy Claeys was the Gophers coach and the Buffaloes were on the verge of winning the Pac-12 North Division. By the time the two-game series was played in 2021 and 2022, Fleck had taken over Minnesota and the Buffaloes program was in decline.
The Big Ten has yet to announce its conference schedules beyond this season. Southern California and UCLA begin play in the Big Ten in fall 2024.
Future non-conference schedules for the Gophers have a mix of Power Five, Group of Five and the occasional FCS opponent. Highlights include three home series against Power Five opponents: North Carolina (there in 2023, here in 2024), California (there in 2025, here in 2028) and Mississippi State (here in 2026 , there in 2027).
“We’re already looking at 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Fleck said in September. Our administration takes care of all that. Previous administrations are dealing with it, just like we plan in 10, 15, 20 years.”
The Gophers have faced the current members of the Southeastern Conference 18 times in their history, with a 9-8-1 record, and five have appeared in bowl games: Alabama in the 2004 Music City, Arkansas in the Music City 2002, Auburn in the 2019 Outback, Missouri in the 2014 Citrus, and Tennessee in the 1986 Liberty. The Gophers are 3-5-1 against Missouri, although all matchups except Citrus were played when the Tigers were members of the Big Eight or Big 12. Minnesota played Vanderbilt four times from 1924 to 1959 and Ole Miss in 1932.