Friday, July 24, 2009

Three Gopher Questions

Is it time for college football yet? WELL IS IT?!?!?!? I'm starting to get a wee bit excited for the upcoming season- and it's still 45 days away!! But at least we're getting closer to teams reporting for camps and getting something of substance to talk about. Big Ten media days are next week in Chicago, and while they probably won't be quite as wild as the SEC media days going on down in Bama this week, it'll still be good to have Big Ten players and coaches talking Big Ten football.
Until then, we'll fill this space with some questions- some rhetorical, some actual- about your Golden Gophers, the Big Ten, and college football as we head towards the 2009 season. Today, I've got a few queries about the Maroon and Gold...

I don't know about you, but with Hayo! Carpenter's arrival this week, I now have zero worries about the passing game. None. Zilch. Nada. We've now got Decker, Carpenter, senior Ben Kuznia and a bunch of young, talented kids to not only catch the ball, but do something with it once they grab it. And throwing to them is a pretty damn good quarterback in Adam Weber, even if all anybody wants to talk about in the conference is Terrelle Pryor, Daryll Clark, Juice Williams, and Ricky F*&^ing Stanzi (I think that's my new nickname for him). Let them gush about the other guys coming back, I trust Weber to run the offense and make good throws. He's certainly going to have a lot more weapons to throw to than last year, which is all good news.

But no matter how good the QB's and receivers, and no matter how many teams in the Big Ten adopt the spread, if you want to win here you've got to run the ball in October and November when the temperatures drop and the winds howl. So can the Maroon and Gold move the chains on the ground? I'm not looking for Glen Mason-level of rushing excellence, just something where we can move the ball effectively and keep defenses honest. Losing explosive frosh Hasan Lipscomb definitely hurts, but as I've said and will keep saying, there is still talent at tailback, and the underrated and unheralded group will make some big strides this year.
The key is going to be on the offensive line, and whether they can open some holes and hold blocks for the tailbacks and quarterbacks (hello MarQueis Gray!!!). Last year the line was a train-wreck, as you had an inexperienced group trying to learn an entirely new system that none of them were really equipped to handle.

Well this year they should be helped by three things:
1) A year of learning and getting their a$$es handed to them can only help
2) Two talented new starters in Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel at guard, and massively ginourmous 6'7 375 pound JC transfer RT Jeff "WHACHOOTALKINBOUT" Willis (seriously, there are dump trucks smaller than this guy)
3) New o-coordinator Tim Davis going back to a pro-style, straight-ahead offense and running game.
It's very possible this unit goes from one of the conference's worst in 2008 to one of the best in 2009.

This group is the key to the defense, and if the defense wants to be good, and even great, these guys need to step up. Even with the loss of Tremaine Brock, I'm excited for what the secondary can bring with Big Play Trey Simmons, Marcus Sherels and Scony transfer Kim Royston. Same with linebacker, as returning starters Simoni Lawrence and Lee Campbell lead a very talented group. But I can't show the same excitement for the D-line because I have no idea what to expect. Willie Van Der Steeg was a HUGE factor last year, as he can almost out of nowhere to have an All-Big Ten senior year. Who's filling that void as a monster pass-rusher? The coaches loved what senior Cedric McKinley showed in the spring, but he's never showed it on the field in the fall to this point.

Even IF McKinley's that guy, who's going to stop the run? Who's getting into the backfield and wrecking havoc? I'm not expecting a bunch of All-American performances from a group of guys who have never even shown All-conference potential yet, and because of the returning talent in the back seven, they don't need to be. But what we DO need the D-line to be is disruptive and active and some kind of a positive factor. Whether it's McKinley or one of the other guys, somebody has to be a pass-rushing force off the edge that demands a double-team. If we can get that, this defense could be top-of-the league good.

There is nothing in college football more delicate than a quarterback controversy- everybody's supposed to say and do the right things, but deep down, the incumbent starter is going to be upset he gets yanked, and so might some of the vets who've played with him. It's one thing when it happens because of injury- think Tom Brady taking over for Drew Bledsoe way back in the day in New England- because then the young guy has a chance to prove on the field how good he is and that the team can continue to roll with him. But the rare and more difficult transition is when the younger QB takes over for the veteran because he's just better or the incumbent is just not good enough. This rarely goes well, but it did last year at Ohio State when after the USC blowout, Pryor took the reigns from fifth year senior Todd Boeckman not because Boeckman was hurt, but because he and the offense sucked (also Beanie Wells getting hurt was a huge blow).

Now I'm not saying Weber is going to be terrible this year- quite the opposite, I think and hope he'll be at least competent and hopefully pretty damn good. Maybe Weber and the offense is so good that no matter what Gray does he's not going to unseat Weber this year. But I think that's a BIG maybe. Maybe I don't believe in Weber enough, or maybe/probably I believe in Gray's ability and potential too much, but I see a QB controversy brewing before the season is over. I believe Weber's ceiling as a player is a little above what he showed last year: competent and can make plays if he's given time and has playmakers around him, but he's not going to take over a game or be somebody who the opposing D gameplans for. Gray, on the other hand, is one of, or perhaps even THE most talented QB to ever step on campus (which I know isn't saying much considering the Gophs haven't had a quarterback taken in the NFL draft in over a decade). Coach Brewster is on record as saying Gray is going to get on the field this fall, and he WILL be out there in the opener against Air Force. He and the coaching staff understand just how unreal this kid is, and that even as a freshman, he's so talented they need to get him on the field. I just see Weber struggling at times, and Gray doing nothing but good and exciting things, and by the end of October, the QB controversy will be on. Will Brewster stick to his three-year starter, or will he make a move for the present and future and put in Gray?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

HAYO to Hayo!!!!!!!!!!

I'm a couple of days late on this, but as Coach Tim Brewster announced on his Twitter page on Monday, it looks like Hayo Carpenter has finally made it to Minnesota. Carpenter arrives on campus as one of the top junior college wideouts from the 2009 class (Rivals has him 3rd among WR, and 13th overall), and after the annoucements a few weeks ago that four-star HB recruit Hasan Lipscomb and last year's starting FS Tremaine Brock won't be on the team this fall, this is huge, huge, HUGE news for the Gophs.

Carpenter should start opening day against Air Force opposite Eric Decker (check out a Youtube clip of Hayo! in JC), and should be the big-play guy we've been hoping/dying/praying for this offense to add. College football guru Phil Steele (I just bought his Big Ten preview, and the thing is HUGE!!! If I'm able to digest all of it, I might even know what I'm talking about this year- or at least sound like it) thinks so much of Hayo! that he named him 2nd team All-Big Ten for the coming year. Granted, after Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn the talent and experience at wideout in the conference definitely drops off, but to be named second team all-conference in the Big Ten before ever playing a down is a testament to how good this kid can be- and how excited we as Gopher fans should be to have him.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Big Ten News O' the Week

Just when you thought the "Slowest sports week of the year" couldn't get any worse, we get today's weather forecast: cloudly with a record low-high of 58 degrees- IN FREAKING JULY!!!!!!!!! Good lord if we're going to get October weather, why can't it just be October? It might be my favorite month here in Minnesota as the weather is cool, crisp and refreshing (not unlike one of my other favorite things- beer. By the way, am I a snob because I can't get enough Newcastle right now? The best liquor store in the Twin Cities is the one beside Rainbow Foods on Snelling and University in St. Paul because they have a ginormous selection and ridiculously low prices, like a 12 pack of Newcastle for 12 bucks. I mean really- how does it get any better than that- well ok unless someone is paying for my Newcastle. Anyone? Anyone? No? Ok then. Lately I've found myself asking myself the question of "why aren't you drinking a Newcastle right now?" And you know what? There's really not a good comeback to that one. There's really no excuse to NOT be drinking a Newcastle if you're not already drinking one. Maybe someone has a scenario where you shouldn't be, but I can't think of one), college football season is in full swing, plus baseball playoffs, the NFL, and for those that care, also some pro hockey league going on. Oh and Oktoberfest! We might- and by might I mean we MUST- have a gopherfootballblog Oktoberfest get-together this fall. Even if it's just me and Jer I think it would be worth it. Seriously, how great is October? It's not even scalable if you think about. I DO know it's a helluva lot better than this week in July when it's 58 degrees outside!!!!!

Anyway, where was I? Something about the Big Ten News of the Week on the slowest week of the year...

- I think we've covered about all the Gopher-related news earlier in the week- and thus far none of it has really been good, so in review...

...Star HB recruit Hasan Lipscomb and last year's starting FS Tremaine Brock were both officially rule inelgible for the upcoming season because of grades. While both players certainly would have helped, I maintain neither were vital for 2009. Lipscomb very well could have been the starter, but then again, he was having to beat out four other guys who return with talent and experience. I was actually surprised to hear Brock even had a shot at returning this fall, as I thought when dropped out of school in January he was officially done. He was certainly talented and a big part of their D last year, but Scony transfer Kim Royston should be more than adequate as the new starter back there. Obviously it's never good to lose a possible starter on defense and possibly your best recruit from your incoming class, but the Gophers can survive this year without them. However, this is two years in a row now that coach Tim Brewster has had his top recruit miss the season because of grades, so in order to build a successful program, hopefully the academic issues of the guys he targets will be an exception and not a trend.

...It's been a week now since Pioneer Press writer/blogger Marcus Fuller reported Hayo Carpenter's JC coach said Carpenter was "On his way, transcripts in hand"- and yet there's still no sign of the star wide receiver. Hayo needs to enroll- and soon- in order to be eligible for the 2009 season. Losing Carpenter- well ok technically you can't lose something you never had- so not getting Carpenter on the field this year would be a huge blow to the Gophers offense, as he was expected to be the starter opposite Eric Deceker this fall. Carpenter is a legit big-play deep threat would complement Decker extremely well and add another dymanic weapon to the offense. Here's hoping we'll be saying HAYO!!! to Hayo very, very soon.

...the Sporting News have the Gophers ranked as the 50th best team in college football to start 2009. I won't argue that one too much, as the Gophs certainly have some questions to be answered after the five game losing streak and blow-out losses to Iowa and Kansas to end last season. In the Sporting News rankings of the top 100, the Gophs are ahead of other Big Ten schools Northwestern (Number 57), Illinois (60), Purdue (76), and Indiana (not even ranked in the top 100- yeah that hurts. What hurts for Gopher fans is that Indiana is not on the schedule this year or next).

Of the six other Big Ten teams ranked in the top 50 along with Minnesota only two, Ohio State (9) and Penn State (12), were ranked in the top 25, with Iowa (26), Michigan State (31), Michigan (38), and Wisconsin (47) falling in that next group of 25. The only real beef I have with those rankings is Michigan at 38. Really? A 3-9 team from last year who will start a true freshman at quarterback and will have one of the younger and more inexperienced teams in the country is 38th best? Puh-lease. Rich Rodriguez WILL get the Wolverines back competiting for Big Ten titles and choking in bowl games before long, but they'll be lucky to go bowling this year, let alone finish as the 38th best team in the country. If that same team were Michigan State instead of the Maize and Blue they'd be ranked 68th instead of 38th. And yet I'm sure Michigan fans will still whine about a low ranking. Whatever. know it's a slow week for college football news, and sports news in general, when E!SPN takes a break from their sports man-gossip rumor mongering to give Utah Senator Orrin Hatch his own op-ed article on why the BCS is a crapshoot. Thanks Orrin, but we already know the BCS is a crapshoot. We didn't need your 969 whiny words to further prove the point, and we certainly didn't need a congressional hearing on it either. Actually, that wasn't even the point Hatch was trying to make. Sure, the title of his article was "Current BCS System Limits Competition" it's just the content of his article and argument has nothing to do with on-field competition, and everything to do with not getting more of the BCS Benjamins.

If you want to put yourself to sleep, read the article. Or I can save you the time and tell you he briefly mentions a few times how it's unfair that Utah and Boise State get excluded, but what he's really peeved about is the big bucks the Big Six conferences get from the BCS. As usual, here's another rich dude claiming to be championing the cause for fans of an unfair system and yet all he wants is more money is his constituents pockets. Last week on the Dan Patrick Show (scroll down to Friday, July 10) Hatch talked for 10 minutes about the unfairness of the BCS system, but only once, and only when prompted by Patrick, did he talk about how unfair it was that deserving teams from non-BCS conferences didn't get to play for a national title. The rest of the interview, and I'm not exaggerating, he whined about how unfair it is that Utah and the rest of the the Mountain West can't get more revenue from BCS bowl games. Revenue, revenue, revenue. It's all he really cares about, and he's trying to use Congress (because of course what else would Congress do with their time? Help fix the economy? Figure out a health care system that makes sense? Hell no! Not when we've got more important issues to solve like the BCS and steroids in baseball!!!) to get at that money.

Well you can guess how that actually went. For all his huffing and puffing the Mountain West took a sweetened deal from the BCS and E!SPN to get a little more of the BCS Benjamins and shut the f up. Hatch claims that had they not signed it, the "little guys" would have been shut out completely, so they had no choice and did so reluctantly.

You know what else would have shut the little guys out completely? If Hatch and his cronies had actually succeded in getting rid of the BCS. Stewart Mandell of (bring back the Mailbag Crush, Stew! Bring it back!) wrote a great piece before the hearings even started on what a total and utter waste of time the whole "Hatch Hearings" would be. Not only was he 100% correct, but he also had this quote from Nebraska chancellor Harvey Pearlman:

"The alternative is not a playoff," said Perlman. "The alternative is to go back to the system we had. That's fine. Many of us would think that's not a bad outcome."

Yep, no matter how tough Hatch talks, he cannot and will not be able to impose a playoff system (i.e. a way to get smaller conferences more money) on college football. The NCAA does what is deemed best for its members, and its members- the BCS conference schools, which are still the majority- do not want a playoff, and won't be forced into one. How funny it would have been if Hatch strong-armed the BCS into oblivion (or "Bolivia" as Mike Tyson once said. Good to see him making a comeback in "The Hangover". If you haven't seen that movie yet, leave work right now and run to your nearest theater. It's Friday, your boss won't notice. Tigers love pepper. They HATE cinnamon), only to have the NCAA go right back to the old bowl system where the little guys Hatch claims he was fighting for get completely shut out of the Big Bowls.

Personally, I'd be all for that. Sure, an eight team playoff (and no more than eight), or even a "Plus-One" system, would be the best solution, but since we're not likely to see either of those, I'd much prefer the old bowl system to the BCS. At least with the old system we were guaranteed great matchups in the Big Four Bowls and actually had them all played on New Year's Day, instead of what we've been getting now (Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, anyone? Hawaii and Georgia?) with mostly crappy games spread out over a week.

...Finally, the greatest video game in the history of the universe came out this week. I cannot wait to use the Gophs in their new outdoor stadium- and start MarQueis Gray over Adam Weber.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Still No Word on Hayo, but GREAT News for Gopher Hoops!!

E!SPN's Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenburg had what looked to be updated word in today's Lunchtime Links that Gopher star JC transfer Hayo Carpenter is on his way to Minnesota and is basically a done deal- except the story he quotes, from Pioneer Press writer Marcus Fuller, is actually from last week. That story on Carpenter's pending arrival actually predates the story Rittenburg linked to yesterday about Hasan Lipscomb being ruled ineligble, which also stated Carpenter was still somewhere in transit.

Rittenburg is just getting back from a well-deserved vacation, so we'll gladly cut him some slack on this one. Hopefully an official story of Carpenter's arrival will be coming soon!

While reading Fuller's blog, I did see this morning he posted some GREAT news for Gopher hoops fans (and yes I'm aware this is a Gopher football blog, but I'm assuming that most of you who read this fans also support Tubby and Gopher basketball): super-duper-uber local recruit Rodney Williams Jr. was declared eligbile by the NCAA clearinghouse, so he will be on campus and in uniform for the upcoming season.

Hopefully Brewster's team will get more good news like this in the future too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

4 Star HB Recruit Lipscomb Ruled Ineligible

Per Adam Rittenburg's Lunchtime Links today, the Pioneer Press is reporting that Hasan Lipscomb, a four star running back recruit out of Houston, Texas, and perhaps coach Tim Brewster's top player for his incoming 2009 class, did not qualify academically and will be enrolling in a junior college. According to his high school coach, Lipscomb still hopes to play at The U, but it won't be this season.

This is the second straight year that Brewster has lost arguably the top player in his recruiting class to academic issues, as QB MarQueis Gray had to sit last season because of grades. The good news of course is that Gray got eligible for the fall and well, as you may have noticed, we here at the blog have a wee bit of a man-crush on him. Still, there's no guarantee Lipscomb ever dons the maroon and gold, but let's hope he can get it together and be on campus for 2010.

To be honest, while it hurts to lose a player of Lipscomb's quality, it's not going to be a huge blow to the 2009 team, as the Gophers have plenty of returnees with some ability at running back: Duane Bennett was looking like an all-conference performer before he got hurt midway through last season, sophomore DeLeon Eskridge showed signs of promise last year, and redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley looked great in spring practice and in the Maroon and Gold scrimmage. Would it be nice to have a player as good as Lipscomb pushing the three guys in front of him? Yes, but it's not vital for the offense.

What's much more troubling to me is a mention further down in the story that top JUCO WR recruit Hayo Carpenter STILL hasn't gotten his a$$ in class yet for the summer. If Carpenter, who is the Gophs' likely number two receiver, doesn't qualify or doesn't get into school, his absence will be a much bigger problem for the Gopher offense than Lipscomb's. Here's hoping Carpenter enrolls soon and Lipscomb follows next year.