After a 5-7 debut for P.J. Fleck in the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Golden Gophers appear ready to start climbing the ladder in the Big Ten West. On top of bringing in a pretty decent recruiting class, the Gophers have plenty of talent at various spots on the field -- particularly at the skill positions on offense. That said, the quarterback position is a huge question mark right now, and that could ultimately be the difference between another 5-7 season and qualifying for a bowl game in 2018.
To get to the postseason, they'll need to successfully navigate a schedule dotted with teams that will contend for division, conference titles as well as a national championship.
12. Aug. 30 vs. New Mexico State
The Aggies qualified for a bowl last season, but lost most of the talent that got them there. They are simultaneously rebuilding and transitioning to FBS independence. They won't put up much of a challenge most weeks.
11. Sept. 15 vs. Miami (Ohio)
The RedHawks have talent at the skill positions as well and could contend in the MAC. That said, they don't have the manpower to hang with the Gophers for four quarters in the trenches.
10. Nov. 3 at Illinois
It'll be a another year of tough sledding for Lovie Smith's bunch. Truth be told, the only reason this game busts the top 10 is because it's being played at Illinois.
9. Oct. 26 vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers suffered significant losses on defense but could field another very good offensive unit with what they have returning.
8. Sept. 22 at Maryland
The Terrapins should be good-if-not-great on offense in 2018. They may have trouble stopping teams early on as they work in a handful of new players on defense.
7. Nov. 10 vs. Purdue
These aren't your daddy's Boilermakers anymore. Jeff Brohm has implemented a system and turned around a program quickly. Purdue can compete with anyone right now.
6. Nov. 17 vs. Northwestern
Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats always show up ready for a fight. This game will be decided by whether or not the Gophers can get the better of Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson.
5. Oct. 20 at Nebraska
Nebraska will look like much a different team than it has in quite a long time -- both physically and schematically. Scott Frost -- his system and his confidence -- will make the Huskers a tough out every week, despite what their final record is.
4. Oct. 6 vs. Iowa
The Hawkeyes lost some big names but return a solid core of experienced players who will look to make some noise in the Big Ten West race in 2018.
3. Sept. 8 vs. Fresno State
This is a dangerous matchup for Minnesota this early in the season. The Bulldogs are a dark horse to play in a New Year's Six bowl. The Gophers better be ready.
2. Nov. 24 at Wisconsin
Wisconsin will likely be playing to remain in the College Football Playoff conversation at this point, hoping to punch a ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game. They are loaded on both sides of the ball.
1. Oct. 13 at Ohio State
The Buckeyes will easily be the fastest, and probably the most talented, team the Gophers face in 2018. Unfortunately, Fleck has not assembled a squad that matches up well with Ohio State anywhere on the field -- yet.
-- Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Top photo courtesy of www.gophersports.com)