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The Big Ten is back, which means so are the rivalries within it. Michigan and Minnesota renew theirs on Saturday night inside TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis with the Little Brown Jug on the line as part of a seven-game opening weekend in the conference.
It's the premier matchup in the Big Ten this weekend as the Wolverines and Golden Gophers are the only two ranked teams playing each other in what should be a good one. Michigan is a three-point road favorite with an over/under of 54.5.
Jim Harbaugh has been itching to play since last season ended with a New Year's Day bowl game loss to Alabama. But this iteration of the Wolverines will take some time to get acclimated, earn and keep that Top 25 ranking.
Quarterback Shea Patterson graduated and will be replaced by Joe Milton, and five of the team's top seven receivers from last year's squad are gone. Early on in the season, expect the defense to keep the Wolverines in ballgames, especially against higher quality opponents like Minnesota.
Michigan's defensive line should wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines and running backs, which could mean this one starts (and even stays) ugly on Saturday.
Minnesota also lost a key contributor on offense, with running back Rodney Smith moving on to the next level. Smith was the third-leading rusher in the Big Ten last season and also scored eight touchdowns.
But the Gophers do have arguably the top quarterback-wide receiver combo in the conference back for another run, which should test the Wolverine secondary right off the bat. Tanner Morgan averaged the most passing yards per game in the Big Ten last year, and no one was more happy than the Minnesota quarterback that Rashod Bateman decided to return to school.
Bateman initially opted out, but when the conference decided to restart play, the all-world receiver decided to come back. Bateman's 1,219 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns were second in the conference only to former teammate Tyler Johnson. Watch out for the Morgan-Bateman connection all season long.
Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck has had to wait three years for revenge on Michigan, losing his first battle for the Little Brown Jug in 2017, 33-10. In his short time in Minneapolis, he has turned
the program into a potential power, earning Big Ten Coach of the Year honors last year after a 10-2 season.
Losing Johnson and Smith is tough for Minnesota, but it appears more equipped to fill the holes than Michigan, at least at the start of the season. The Wolverines' strength will be on defense out of the gates, but Morgan and Bateman will give everyone fits all year long.
Both will go in the 2021 NFL Draft, with Bateman projected as a first-rounder. It will be interesting to watch the position-jockeying between him, Purdue's Rondale Moors, LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, and Jaylen Waddle from Alabama.
Pick: Minnesota +3