TCU at Minnesota primer

Trevone Boykin leads an explosive TCU offense. AP Photo/LM Otero

No. 2 TCU's chase for the College Football Playoff kicks off Thursday night with a nonconference rematch against Minnesota, this time at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). Heisman contender Trevone Boykin and his Horned Frogs, winners of eight in a row, are out to prove they deserved all their offseason hype. Can the Golden Gophers avenge their 30-7 loss in 2014 and pull off the stunner?

Big 12 reporter Max Olson and Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett break down the opener:

How TCU can control the game: Efficient, patient offense with a healthy dose of big shots. Last season, TCU attempted 202 passes of 10 yards or longer. Minnesota? Just 110. Those chunk plays snowball into momentum quickly, but Boykin needs to stay on schedule and let his playmakers do what they do. No matter how many stops their defense gets, we know the Horned Frogs have all the pieces they need to outscore anybody. -- Olson

How Minnesota can pull off the upset: The Gophers must ride their strengths. A power running game behind their veteran offensive line. A lock-down secondary. And outstanding special-teams play. If they can keep TCU’s offense off the field with long, sustained drives, win field position in the kicking game and disrupt Boykin’s timing in the passing game, they’ll have a shot. -- Bennett

TCU's X-factor: Sammy Douglas and Mike Freeze. TCU is breaking in new starters at linebacker against an offense that loves to pound the rock. What they lack in experience they'll make up for in pure athleticism. Freeze, a true freshman who sat out his senior season of high school ball with a dislocated shoulder, will be particularly compelling to watch. He and Douglas will have to be sharp with their reads, because Minnesota should test them early and often. -- Olson

Minnesota’s X-factor: KJ Maye. The speedy slot man looks to increase his role in the offense as a senior, and he’s had a strong offseason. The Gophers don’t throw the ball downfield with much precision, but they can find different ways to get the ball into the hands of their most experienced playmaker and let him run. -- Bennett

What a win would mean for the Big 12: Well, we do know this game is meaningful. Remember how much time pundits spent praising TCU for the Minnesota victory on its resume last year? This Power 5 game is once again a small advantage the Frogs would have over Baylor, whose best nonconference opponent is Rice, but only if the Frogs win convincingly and Minnesota goes on to have another quality season. -- Olson

What a win would mean for the Big Ten: The league is already riding a wave of momentum after last year’s finish. Taking down the No. 2 team and major playoff contender on opening night would only add to the Big Ten’s improving image. Minnesota has won eight games in each of the past two years, but a victory here would represent a real breakthrough and signal that the Gophers are ready to take the next step. -- Bennett