Minnesota opens vs. Kill, New Mexico State as heavy favorite

New Mexico State (0-1) at Minnesota (0-0), 9 p.m. EDT (Big Ten Network)

Line: Minnesota by 36½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: Minnesota leads 2-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Minnesota brings back four sixth-year standouts on offense in quarterback Tanner Morgan, running back Mo Ibrahim, wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell and center John Michael Schmitz. They have nicknamed themselves the “ Encore Four ” in their quest to win the Big Ten West Division after a 9-4 finish in 2021. Ibrahim tore his Achilles in the opener against Ohio State last year. New Mexico State’s new coach is none other than Jerry Kill, who stepped down midway through his fifth season with the Gophers in 2015 for health problems related to his epilepsy. Kill has been critical of Minnesota since he left, upset by the firing of his successor Tracy Claeys and the assessment of the program by current coach P.J. Fleck upon arrival in 2017. The Aggies, who are in their fifth straight season as a football independent, will join Conference USA next year.

KEY MATCHUP

New Mexico State QBs vs. Minnesota DL. Aggies junior college transfer Diego Pavia lost a fumble and threw three interceptions in an opening 23-12 loss to Nevada on Saturday, when true freshman Gavin Frakes took over in the fourth quarter. Whoever starts and finishes at quarterback will be facing a remade Gophers front, after losing three of four starters, including NFL draft picks Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo. Defensive tackle Trill Carter is the lone returning starter on the line.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

New Mexico State: WR Kordell David caught seven passes for 56 yards and a score against Nevada.

Minnesota: LT Aireontae Ersery replaces NFL draft pick Daniel Faalele as the protector of Morgan’s blind side. Fleck has called the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Ersery, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, the best offensive lineman prospect he has ever coached.

FACTS & FIGURES

This is the first time since Michigan’s Fritz Crisler in 1947 that a former Minnesota head coach will face the Gophers. … Kill’s record at Minnesota was 29-29 overall and 14-21 in the Big Ten. He was the conference’s coach of the year in 2014. … The Gophers beat the Aggies 48-10 in the 2018 season opener. … New Mexico State has had one winning record in the last 20 years, going 7-6 in 2017 under Doug Martin after beating Utah State in the Arizona Bowl.

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