Plenty of playmakers on Gophers' schedule, starting with Oregon State

MINNEAPOLIS--Some teams, and players, have no trouble getting an opponent's attention. That certainly was the case last season when Minnesota opened against then-No. 2 Texas Christian and their Heisman-hyped quarterback Trevone Boykin.

MINNEAPOLIS-Some teams, and players, have no trouble getting an opponent's attention. That certainly was the case last season when Minnesota opened against then-No. 2 Texas Christian and their Heisman-hyped quarterback Trevone Boykin.

Boykin passed for 246 yards, a touchdown and an interception while rushing for 92 yards and another score as the Horned Frogs beat Minnesota 23-17.

Minnesota's first opponent this season doesn't have similar credentials, so coach Tracy Claeys took steps to make sure his team takes Oregon State - and everyone else - seriously, among them outfitting players' helmets with stickers reading "RESPECT" during fall camp.

"It first comes," explained defensive end Hendrick Ekpe, "from preparing for your opponent."

Oregon State won only two games last season, but they'll bring real talent to TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday for an 8 p.m. kickoff.


The Beavers' main threats are a pair of wide receivers. Jordan Villamin is the 6-foot-5 target who has been in the Gophers' spotlight after posting a 15.3 yard-per-catch average and scoring five touchdowns last season.

Victor Bolden, a 5-9 receiver, also is in the Gophers' sights, as is Seth Collins, last year's quarterback now converted to receiver/running back. But Claeys said it'll all come down to whether Utah State transfer quarterback Darell Garretson can get them the ball.

"We just have to come ready to play like they are TCU and know that they do have threats, and we can be beaten," safety Damarius Travis said.

With an easier schedule this season, the Gophers will avoid some of the Big Ten East Division's best players, such as Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers. But they'll have their hands full, regardless.

Here is a look at some other 2016 opponents earning the Gophers' respect:

SAQUON BARKLEY-Penn State running back: With 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns last season, Barkley burst onto the scene as a true freshman. Will former Gophers offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Limegrover be able to get the Nittany Lions' line to create more running lanes?

C.J. BEATHARD-Iowa quarterback: The senior signal caller was clutch during the Hawkeyes' undefeated run to the Big Ten title game, completing 62 percent of his passes with 17 TDs and five interceptions. He also rushed for six touchdowns despite, like Gophers QB Mitch Leidner, playing much of the season at less than full strength.

DESMOND KING-Iowa cornerback/kick returner: The Jim Thorpe Award winner returned for his senior season after posting eight interceptions and 72 tackles in 2015. The All-American also averaged 14.2 yards per punt return.


WILLIAM LIKELY-- Maryland cornerback/kick returner: This All-American was third in the nation in punt returns, averaging 17.7 yards. Two were returned for touchdowns, and he took a kickoff to the house, as well, in 2015.

WES LUNT-- Illinois quarterback: The combination of this respected senior quarterback and former NFL coach Lovie Smith could be a potent one for the Illini, who upset a hot Minnesota team at Champaign in 2014.

TOMMY ARMSTRONG-Nebraska quarterback: If the dual-threat athlete can cut down on his mistakes (16 interceptions in 2015), he could add to his 29 combined rushing and passing TDs from a year ago. WR Jordan Westerkamp makes Armstrong look good, too.

ANTHONY WALKER-- Northwestern linebacker: The 235-pound middle linebacker led the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for losses and racked up 120 total last season. The Wildcats gave up a paltry 18.6 points per game, including a shutout of the U in the Big Ten opener.

JUSTIN JACKSON-- Northwestern running back: The Big Ten's best returning running back had 1,418 yards on a staggering 312 carries but only crossed the goal line five times.

COREY CLEMENT-- Wisconsin running back: After a lackluster 2015, which included a sports hernia and suspension for the Gophers game, Clement hopes to return to the form that earned him 949 yards and nine TDs while backup to Melvin Gordon in 2014.

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