Big Ten football notebook | Minnesota enters AP Poll, Illinois’ Chase Brown leads nation in rushing

The Golden Gophers are No. 21 in the Week 5 AP Poll after a 4-0 start to the season.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Minnesota head coach P. J. Fleck walks down the sidelines during a football game between No. 19 Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated Gophers 27-22.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

Minnesota football entered the AP Poll for the first time in 2022 on Sunday, checking in at No. 21.

The Golden Gophers are 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten. In their conference opener last week, they downed Michigan State, 34-7, at Spartan Stadium. Minnesota knocked off New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and Colorado in its nonconference slate.

Before Sunday, the last time the Golden Gophers cracked the AP Top 25 was on Oct. 18, 2020 — six days before Minnesota’s delayed season started.

“It’s good for our president, it’s good for our admissions,” head coach P.J. Fleck said on Monday. “It’s good for everything. We are not the most important thing on this campus at this university or even in this town. I’ve made that very clear, but we can be a front porch to all the things we talked about.”

But Fleck also said the ranking doesn’t necessarily mean anything within the program — outside noise won’t affect the Golden Gophers’ play.

Minnesota welcomes 2-2 Purdue to Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff on ESPN2.

“We’re in charge of taking care of a football game and playing our best football to be 1-0,” Fleck said. “That’s it.”

Through the first four weeks of the season, the Golden Gophers rank in the top 15 in scoring defense and offense. Their defense has surrendered six points per game, which is second in the nation. Minnesota’s offense is 11th in the nation with 45.75 points per contest.

Minnesota is one of three programs in the nation that hasn’t trailed in a game during this season, joining Georgia and Washington.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Tanner Morgan has thrown for seven touchdowns and 886 yards in 2022. His 268-yard and three-touchdown performance at Michigan State gave him Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday.

Running back Mohamed Ibrahim, another fifth-year senior, ranks second in the nation with 141.8 rushing yards per game.

Fighting Illini’s Chase Brown tops rankings

 The top rusher in the nation is Illinois running back Chase Brown.

The fifth year is averaging 151 rushing yards per game. His best performance of the season came at Indiana in Week 1 when he totaled 199 yards, which made him the Doan Walker National Running Back of the Week.

In his last outing Thursday against Chattanooga, Brown recorded 108 yards and one touchdown, bumping his season total to 604 yards. Dating back to 2021, Brown has notched five straight 100-yard games, which is an Illinois record.

When Illinois head coach Bret Bielema was the head coach at Wisconsin from 2006-12, he coached future NFL running backs John Clay, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon, and James White.

Bielema told Lee Enterprises’ Anderson Kimball that Brown is a mix of previous running backs he coached, mentioning Brown is a “unique animal.”

“Chase has something not a lot of guys have,” Bielema said. “Chase has an incredible burst so he can literally burst through a hole and show short-area quickness. He also has long stride strength, which means he has the ability to pull away and create a big play. He has the ability to run through arm tackles and is a very physical back.”

Since joining Illinois as a transfer from Western Michigan in 2019, Brown has rushed for 2,167 yards and 11 touchdowns over 26 games.

The 3-1 Fighting Illini visit the 2-2 Badgers on Saturday at 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network. It will be the first time Bielema has coached at Camp Randall Stadium since he left the Badgers. In 2021, Wisconsin beat Illinois, 24-0, during Bielema’s first season in Champaign.