Jacks football opens at FBS opponent Thursday

Colton Prince, Assistant Sports Editor

Ranked No. 3 in the STATS Football Championship Subdivision preseason poll, South Dakota State University football will begin its 2019 campaign against the University of Minnesota.

The Jackrabbits’ matchup against Iowa State last season was canceled four minutes in due to severe weather, so this will be the first time since the 2016 season SDSU will play a full 60 minutes against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.

Though the Jacks and Golden Gophers haven’t played since 2009, the regional connection and anticipation surrounding both team’s prospects for the season make for an intriguing matchup come Thursday night.

“I think excitement comes from the fact that it is a Big Ten school. A local Big Ten school. There are a bunch of Minnesota guys on our roster, so I think that recipe together creates excitement,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier. “They are a level above us, so it is a challenge to go compete.”

A key difference from last year to this year will be who is taking snaps under center. J’Bore Gibbs, a redshirt freshman from Chicago, threw for 148 yards and a touchdown in the spring game and beat out junior Kanin Nelson and fellow redshirt freshman Matt Connors for the starting job.

After studying behind Taryn Christion all of last season, coach Stiegelmeier believes his new QB1 is ready.

“He had a great mentor in Taryn,” Stiegelmeier said. “His personality is one of confidence, but not false confidence. Will he be better in three weeks? Well, that’s our job. But is he where he needs to be right now? Yes.”

With a trio of dynamic running backs to choose from, eyes are on the stacked backfield and what they can do to make life easier for the young quarterback.

Returning rushers Pierre Strong Jr, Mikey Daniel and C.J. Wilson will be used in ways that Jacks fans may not be accustomed to.

“We are gonna use guys for different plays,” Stiegelmeier explained. “We are going to use combinations of Mikey and Pierre, Pierre and C.J., one back with Luke Sellers at tailback. Everyone has a strength and we are going to play to their strengths.”

Minnesota will look to neutralize those strengths and capitalize on SDSU’s relative inexperience at vital positions, but Gophers coach P.J. Fleck isn’t looking past his opponent from a lower division.

“South Dakota State is a really good football team and there’s no way around that,” Fleck said in a weekly press conference. “You can put three letters in front of the division — who cares? FBS, FCS, it doesn’t matter … They are picked No. 3 in the country and some people have them picked to win a national title.”

The Golden Gophers had a rocky season in 2018, only managing to go 3-6 in conference play, but finishing with an overall 7-6 record.

Positivity surrounded the Gophers prior to this season, with some experts picking them as a dark horse in the Big Ten’s west division, but sophomore starting quarterback Zack Annexstad suffered a foot injury earlier this month, meaning he will miss the season opener.

Backup quarterback Tanner Morgan is ready to step into the starting role as he did last fall after Annexstad suffered an abdominal injury.

Morgan will likely look to connect with senior First Team All-Big Ten wideout Tyler Johnson and take advantage of SDSU’s secondary that doesn’t return a single starter.

“They really played some of their best football at the end of last season … He’s really gonna manage the game. They make a lot of double calls so they will get a second call in from the sideline,” Stiegelmeier said. “Their skill on offense is unbelievable.”

Kickoff is 8 p.m. Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Live television coverage can be found on FOX Sports 1 with live updates available through @CollegianSports on Twitter.