Monday, August 31, 2009
We'll give you more preview and notes than you can shake a stick at in the coming days and hours leading up until kickoff. Brian Bennett is the Big East blogger for ESPN.com, and has therefore a ton of coverage on Syracuse. If you're looking for some background before we give it to you, that's as good a place as any to start.
So for all the Gopher football fanatics out there, let's dive into all the Gopher coverage in the local dailies...ok that didn't take long. Look, I know this town bleeds purple and gold, and that even when we don't have a future-hall-of-fame quarterback who's just gunslingin' his way into shape and loves to play football (and manipulate the media and make up stories about his daughter wanting him to play one last time so he can skip training camp and get as much attention poured on himself as humanly possibly), but we're lacking Gopher football coverage here. Or am I expecting too much? Does not everyone in the Twin Cities share the same passion for Gopher football that Jer and I do? I stopped reading the Favre coverage a long time ago, and at this point am only paying attention The Purple on gamedays, which makes it all the more frustrating when there's so little coverage of Gopher football.
Anyway, the Strib has a story from yesterday about the new stadium written by someone named Jenna Ross. Gopher beatwriter and "blogger" Kent Youngblood? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Bubkis. On the Monday of game week. Keep up the good work there Ken. Hope you don't wonder why newspapers are dying a slow and painful death. There's also an article with a general college football preview which focuses on Bloomington Jefferson graduate and new Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin. Quick, if you're a college football fan in this state, raise your hand if you give two $*%&s about Kiffin and the fact he went to high school in Bloomington? Anyone? Didn't think so, but way to try and glean the local angle for the sake of gleaning the local angle.
The Pioneer Press has an actual, current, up-to-date story from Marcus Fuller in today's paper about the Gophs' quarterbacks. Sure, there's nothing that hasn't been covered here and everywhere else all summer long, but at least Fuller and the PP are trying. It's the ol' basic "Weber is the starter until he gets hurt or really, really sucks" angle (Like when he throws 3 picks in a controlled scrimmage. Oh wait). The story that's of more interest to me is from the weekend edition where Fuller muses about whether Brewster is the right man for the job here longterm. Fuller is playing the angle of Brewster not having a contract extension yet and whether he should get one.
First, head coaches' contracts are pretty much worthless. Regardless of what they say and what they tell the media and fans and boosters, they're all year to year. Unless you're in one of the top 15-20 programs in the country, your coach is there until he can find a better job, and then he's gone. While on one hand I guess I can't blame Brewster for wanting the best job he can get (when the Gophs started 7-1 last year he was being mentioned as a candidate for every available opening), it'd also be nice for him to finish what he starts and bring us the trip to Pasadena he's been promising. The guy is a good football coach, but also a salesman. I love the job he's doing so far and believe he knows what he's doing, but I don't always believe what comes out of his mouth. Ok, maybe that's a little harsh, but I take what he says with a grain of salt. He's an eternal optimist (at least publicly) and you don't really learn much of anything from interviews with him except that he loves every player on his team, they're all the best, and they're all going to be awesome. Some candor and substance would be appreciated from time to time, but this is Brew's program right now and he's trying to build it his way.
While I don't always agree with his tactics, I'm happy with the job he's doing, but also feel like he hasn't earned an extension just yet. Barring a major improvement in a lot of areas, I don't think the 7-8 win season we're expecting (which would once again put them anywhere from fifth-seventh in the conference) wouldn't warrant a contract extension if I were Joel Maturi. But assuming Brew gets us another seven or eight wins in 2009, then 2010 is the make or break year- or at least it should be. IF Brew can come through this year, then 2010 shapes up for him to have a veteran roster which returns a ton of talent, most or all of which he'll have recruited. If he gets to 9 or 10 wins and a New Year's Day bowl, then that definitely is worthy of a new, richer contract for 2011 and beyond.
Problem is, IF all of that happens, I don't think Brewster will be around to sign that extension. Call me a cynic (I prefer "realist"), but IF everything falls into place for The U the next two seasons I think Brewster will take The Next Great Job. He wasn't doing much to squash the job rumors that started popping up midway through last season before things fell apart, and I think he'll use this as a stepping stone to a better job if he can, much like Glen Mason always wanted to do. I'm not naive enough to have shock and outrage that Brewster would have the audacity to leave Minnesota for a better job, I just hope that IF it happens, the next guy we hire will be the last one for a long time. I've said it before and will say it again- in the college football landscape, Minnesota will never be Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State. I get that, and I'm ok with that. But I still aspire to be in that next tier with Wisconsin and Iowa, who are two of the top 20 or so programs in the country, and are places that are destinations for head coaches, not stop-overs on their way up the ladder. Sure, Ferentz could leave for the NFL at any time (a reality that EVERY school could conceivably face), but I don't see him ever leaving for another college job. Same for Bielma at Wisconsin- that is if he survives long enough. Barry Alvarez built the program in the 1990's and retired to become the AD. There's only a handful of jobs in the country better than the head coach of the Badgers because of the stadium and traditions Alvarez built.
Maybe I'm crazy and I AM naive for believing Minnesota could some day be in that same class with our arch nemesis the Badgers and Hawkeyes. We've got the gorgeous, brand new stadium in the most underrated city in the country, and if we can ever get a consistent winner here the fans will come and stay. Hopefully 2009 is another step for Brewster, and whoever else follows him, to build the consistent winner we've always wanted that can turn the Gophers into a college football destination. It starts in five days at Syrause and I CAN'T WAIT!
Saturday, August 29, 2009
"I want to thank the whole Buckeye family for supporting me through my injury and everything," Mobley told Rivals.com. "I have learned so much from coach [Jim] Tressel and the rest of the coaches and my teammates. ... This had nothing to do with the state of Ohio or the fans or anything. This is just something that was best for me and something that I had to do."Oh, by the way, if Mobley would have come to Minnesota, he would have been an immediate starter. Now he won't even see the field until next fall.
And yes, I AM still bitter that he didn't choose to be a Gopher.
Friday, August 28, 2009
1. Ohio State OVERALL: 10-2 (Big Ten: 7-1) Losses: USC 9/12, @ Penn State 11/7
Buckeyes reload and win a share of their fifth straight Big Ten title, but the early loss to USC and a set back in Happy Valley means they're out of the national title hunt. All that means is somebody else besides Ohio State will get the bejezus beat out of them by Florida in the National Championship, allowing the Buckeyes to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997. Ohio State in Pasadena means the Big Ten as its best shot at winning the Grand Daddy of Them All for the first time since Wisconsin beat Stanford in 2000. Also, don't be surprised if the Pac 10 foe is Cal or Oregon instead of the Trojans.
2. Illinois, 11-1 (7-1) Loss- @ Ohio State 9/26
The Juice is finally loose! Yes, I'm probably more bullish on the Illini this year than anyone else outside (and maybe even inside) Champaign. The Illini have the best offense in the conference by a mile, and their D should be improved enough. They're the one offense in the Big Ten who can not only hang with Penn State's, but their passing attack can exploit the Nittany Lions' thin secondary, and getting that game at home is huge. Their loss to Ohio State will keep them from winning their first Big Ten title since 2001, but will still be a huge bounce-back for The Zooker.
3. Penn State, 10-2 (6-2) Losses: @ Illinois 10/3, @ Michigan 10/24
While they return some of the conference's most talented players, I just think replacing almost your entire receiving corps, offensive line and secondary, as well as your top three defensive ends, is going to be too much to overcome to win back-to-back Big Ten conference titles. They'll still be tough at home and another cupcake schedule will help them out (as does getting Ohio State at home), but I see a loss to Illinois, as well as an upset somewhere along the way. In 2007 it was Michigan, and last year it was the shocker to Iowa. Michigan seems to always have Joe Pa's number, and I think they get them again in the Big House.
4. Wisconsin, 10-2 (6-2) Losses: @ Minnesota 10/3, @ Ohio State 10/10
Despite a QB conundrum, their incredibly soft and forunate schedule (cupcake non-conny and they don't play Penn State or Illinois. Seriously) and returning talent will be more than enough to get the Badgers back to a New Year's Day bowl. As always they've got a stable running game and massive offensive line, and they might have their most talented group of pass catchers in years. They've got three weeks to figure things out defensively and at QB before their Big Ten opener against Michigan State. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon how much you hate head coach Bret Bielma, his job is safe for another season.
5. Iowa 9-3 (5-3) Losses: @ Penn State 9/26, @ Wisconsin 10/17, @ Ohio State 11/14
Since we hate Iowa here, it's difficult to look at them objectively, so this is as well as I could do. Their brutal road slate will be too much to overcome, and losses at Penn State (there's no way the Joe Pa's get upset by them two years in a row. Zero. Zilch. Nada) and Ohio State seem pretty obvious, but losing at Wisconsin? The Badgers are ALWAYS tough at home (since 2002 they're 19-8 at home in conference play) and Bucky will pull the upset at Camp Randall.
6. Minnesota 7-5 (4-4) Losses: California 9/19, @ Penn State 10/17, @ Ohio State 10/24, Illinois 11/7, @ Iowa 11/21
As I wrote yesterday, I see seven wins this year, but the Illinois, Michigan State and Sconnie games could go either way, which means I'm at least guaranteeing a revenge win over Northwestern.
7. Michigan State 7-5 (3-5) Losses: @ Wisconsin 9/26, @ Illinois 10/10, Iowa 10/24, @ Minnesota 10/31, Penn State 11/21
A program on the rise under coach Mark Dantonio, but I think they're a little overrated this year. The defense should be excellent but it's going to be difficult to replace tailback Javon Ringer and QB Brian Hoyer. I do think/hope they're good enough to knock around Notre Dame and keep the always-overrated Irish and their lame schedule out the National Title hunt.
8. Michigan 6-6 (3-5) Losses: Notre Dame 9/12, @ Michigan State 10/3, @ Iowa 10/10, @ Illinois 10/31, @ Wisconsin 11/14, Ohio State 11/21
The Wolverines will get back to a bowl, which should be barely enough for Rich Rod to keep his job for one more season. I see them pulling one big upset (the win over Penn State at home. I'd love for them to knock off Notre Dame, but it's just too early in the year for them to have things figured out), but they're going oh-fer on the road in conference this year.
9. Northwestern 6-6 (2-6) Losses: Minnesota 9/26, @ Michigan State 10/17, Penn State 10/31, @ Iowa 11/7, @ Illinois 11/14, Wisconsin 11/21
Pat Fitzgerald is working wonders in Evanston, and while he returns a solid defense it won't be enough to overcome an anemic offense. Plus they're Northwestern: I just can't take them seriously and see them being legit two years in a row. I also hope Minnesota beats them by 30.
10. Purdue 3-9 (1-7) WINS: Toledo 9/5, Northern Illinois 9/19, @ Indiana 11/21
Not a good year to be a football fan of Big Ten schools from the Hoosier state. Purdue's going to be lucky to split their non-conference games, and it's basically a coin flip to see whether they beat IU or not.
11. Indiana 3-9 (0-8) WINS: E. Kentucky 9/3, W. Michigan 9/12, @Akron 9/19
See above. For the love of all that's Maroon and Gold, why does Indiana have to be off the Gopher's schedule the next two years?!?!?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
GOPHERS WILL BE FAVORED (4)
@ Syracuse Sept. 5
Air Force Sept. 12
Purdue (Homecoming) Oct. 10
South Dakota State Nov. 14
I certainly don't have to tell fans of Golden Gopher football that when it comes to the Maroon and Gold, there's unfortunately no such thing as a gimme. There's been too many heartbreaks and too many "YOU GOTTA BE $*%&ING KIDDING ME!!!!!!!!!!!!" games over the years to believe that, even as much as I love Coach Brew, that we're at a point where we can really, truly, honestly say with confidence that "this game is a gimme. We should destroy these guys and we WILL!" Still, barring absolute and total disaster, Minnesota will be favored to win these four games (they're already 6.5 point favorites against Syracuse), and I'm not only going to say they SHOULD win these games but that they WILL win these games. So at the very, very worst, the Gophs win four.
GOPHS DEFINITELY NOT FAVORED (4)
California Sept. 19
@ Penn State Oct. 17
@ Ohio State Oct. 24
@ Iowa Nov. 21
I'm predicting they'll be at least a touchdown dog heading into these contests, and I think they'd do well to stay within 7-10 of all four of these teams. This isn't a knock on the Gophers as much as it is respect for the opponents. I really don't think people in the Midwest understand how good Cal is- they're LOADED on offense, have a preseason All-American running back in Jahvid Best, and will probably be ranked in the top 10 by the time they come to Minneapolis. I'd love to see Minnesota pull off the upset in any four of these matchups, but I'm going to play it safe and say they lose all four.TOSS-UP (4)
@ Northwestern Sept. 26
Wisconsin Oct. 3
Michigan State Oct. 31
Illinois Nov. 7
I wanted to put the Northwestern game in the "gimme" column except, well, need I remind you how that went last year? Didn't think so. I'm counting on some sweet, sweet revenge in Evanston next month, but the Wildcats being the Wildcats and the Gophs being the Gophs, you just never know. I LOVE The U's chances to pull the upset the following week when they host Sconnie. Wisconsin opens the season with four games at Camp Randall (and three of the four are cupcakes) before hitting the road to the MSP, so it's quite possible the Badgers could be favored by a field goal or more. Still, I'm lovin' the upset and some more payback for another heartbreaker last year. Michigan State is the preseason #3 choice in the Big Ten and are getting some love in the national top 25, yet by the time they visit The Bank, who knows what the line will look like? Another good chance the Gophs are underdogs coming in, but with homefield, and also believing the Spartans are overrated this year, I like another mild upset. Finally Illinois rolls into town in November, when for the first time in nearly three decades, the chilly Minnesota weather is going to play a factor for the visitors. I'm VERY bullish about Illinois this year (more on that in my Big Ten predictions tomorrow) so I see the Illini getting some payback for the Gophs big upset down in Champaign in 2008 that started to unravel Illinois' season, but again, this one could go either way.
So it looks like Minnesota is pretty much guaranteed four wins and four losses, and the other four could go either way. The fact three of the four toss-up games are at home, and the other is at Northwestern, means they've got a very real chance at eight wins this year. I'm going to officially predict a seven win season regular season, and hopefully Brewster's first bowl victory to finish it off.
Why that's bad news is because it says to me that none of the four really asserted themselves as the definite starter. Competition is healthy and good if it produces a clear-cut starter, but if you've got a situation like this where you have two guys competing and neither really stands out, that usually means you're naming a starter because you have to, not because you REALLY believe one's better than the other. This is especially troubling on the line , as not only is the center the leader and most important guy, but cohesiveness as a unit is so important to the success of the blocking. Instead of five guys taking all the first team snaps as a group and getting to know and trust one another, we instead get a mixture of seven at five spots trying to figure things out on the fly. For the love of Pete two of these four big ol' Minnesotans better assert themselves as THE guy at their position in the game against the Orange, otherwise it could really effect our blocking and the effectiveness of the offense. Remember how much fun that wasn't last year? Yeah, I don't want to have to go through that again either.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
As for the scrimmage played Saturday, well, there's really not much to be taken from it. I mean, what's more vanilla than vanilla? What if we separated vanilla ice cream into ice and cream? Really, the Gophs showed next to nothing of substance in the scrimmage, and rightfully so. Why show ANYTHING in a meaningless scrimmage that's already being broadcasted on the Big Ten Network? Yeah, Weber didn't look great, and they didn't run the ball all that well, but I'm not putting much stock into the actual play. As Youngblood reports, Weber's still learning a new offense, and sounds like he was experimenting a bit with reads and throws. If he's throwing three picks and making some bad decisions against Syracuse and Air Force, then ok, that's going to be a concern. For now, chalk it up to his learning curve.
The team ran no wildcat formations with MarQueis because QB's were off limits for contact, and they also did nothing of substance to get Troy Stoudermire involved other than a couple of out patterns for minimal gains. It's expected Stoudermire will be used in a Percy Harvin-type role for the Gophs, lining up at RB, receiver, and maybe even QB in the Wildcat at time. As for Gray, the second team offense ran the ball a LOT. Gray didn't have many opportunities to throw, and when he did, they weren't running many plays to let him throw downfield. Again, very, very, VERY vanilla.
A few things that I did take away from it were who played where, and with whom:
- Heyo Carpenter spent the entire scrimmage with the second team, and I haven't seen any comments from Brewster whether this is because Carpenter isn't picking things up fast enough, or if Brandon Green is just outplaying him right now. As Youngblood muses, I have zero concerns about the receivers right now, and if Carpenter is only the fourth best guy at the moment, that's a really good problem to have.
- True frosh corner Michael Carter was the starting corner for the second team, and other than the first play where he got toasted by Decker for the TD, he played pretty well. Good sign that he's already moving up the depth chart, and as I said last week, the sooner we get him on the field on passing downs, the better.
- Still some questions on the offensive line, although part of that was expected starting center Jeff Tow-Arnett, one of seemingly 19 Tow-Arnett's on the team this year, didn't play because of injury. A good center is the key to every good line, so Tow-Arnett's health, or someone stepping up in his place, is going to be crucial for the success of the offense this season.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Is Northwestern for real?
If by "for real" you mean better than the Indiana schools, then yes, they're for real. The Purple Smart Kids will probably get the six wins they need to go bowling for the second straight year thanks to what has to be the worst/easiest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten (Towson, Eastern Michigan, Syracuse, and Miami of O-HI-O. Way to challenge yourselves there Wildcats), and the fact they play both Indiana and Purdue. Hey nothing like earning that trip to the Motor City Bowl. I'd add something else but I'm STILL upset about their ridiculous upset of the Gophers 24-17 last year at the Metrodome, so let's just say I have September 26th circled on my calendar. I'm sure Coach Brewster and the Gophers do too.
Is too much being expected of Ohio State and QB Terrelle Pryor?
Look, no disrespect to the Buckeyes who, as far and away the best team in the Big Ten for this entire decade, have had to carry the weight of the conference's national reputation all by themselves and have done an admirable job. And no disrespect to the super soph Pryor, who besides being an all-world talent and probably the best sophomore in the country, also can walk on water and turn water into wine- at least according to Buckeye fans and the Big Ten media (who picked him as the pre-season player of the year over some more experienced players). But for almost every major poll and publication to rank them 6th in the country to start the season (AP and Coaches polls, ESPN, Foxsports, and Sporting News all have them 6th. Only SI.com has them 10th) is a bit much considering how much Ohio State lost from last year's team. Yes, Pryor is an other-worldly athlete who handled his quick ascension to the starting QB of a top five team last year as well as anyone could have, but the kid still has a LONG way to go to be a polished QB. Last year, with two NFL quality receivers named Brian (Hartline and Robiskie), Ohio State had the second worst passing offense, and the third worst overall offense, in the Big Ten. Sure, Pryor will be better than 2008, but his receivers certainly won't. Also add in that last year's starting tailback Beanie Wells left to be a first round NFL draft pick, and it means Pryor's going to be leading a very inexperienced group.
Defensively they also lose a ton of talent, including All-American linebacker (and Minnesota native. Sorry I always feel the need to mention it) James Laurenitis, and corner Malcolm Jenkins. They do return arguably the best d-line in football, a group that's going to have to be outstanding early to let the new guys in the back get comfortable and acclimated. Coach Jim Tressel and his staff recruit as well as anybody in the country, so there's a ton of talent stepping in, but I just don't see this being a top 6 team to start the year- or to end it. Not that I see them falling completely off the radar- they'll lose to USC September 12th, and probably only lose once in the Big Ten, but that'll still be enough to keep them out of the national championship talk for 2009.
Wait a minute, Penn State's non-conny schedule couldn't possibly be more of a cupcake than Northwestern's, could it?
Wait let me check...Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois...you know what? I owe the Purple Smart Kids an apology: Penn State has a cushier and lamer non-conference schedule than your team does. My mistake. What's the matter Joe Pa- was the team from the Happy Valley Retirement Home not able to reschedule their shuffleboard tournament? Were the Penn Quakers too busy studying for them to play you too? Good gracious, that's a lame schedule, but hey, it's four guaranteed victories and three of them come before the Nittany Lions first real challenge when they host Iowa then travel to Champaign to face Illinois at the end of September and early October. And the JoePas are going to need the tune-up games before that too, because they've got a LOT of new faces to break in. Having senior QB Daryll Clark and HB Evan Royster will help the offense transition as they replace their entire receiver core and a good chunk of their offensive line. Defensively they return the Big Ten's best linebacking duo in Sean Lee and Navaro Bowman, who will have to shoulder the load while an almost entirely new secondary and group of defensive ends get their feet wet. Like Ohio State, the Nittany Lions should compete for the conference title, but while they'll start the season ranked in the top 10, I don't see them finishing there.
Can 2010 come soon enough for Purdue?
Yeah, probably not. Joe Tiller pretty much left the Purdue program the way he found it- at the bottom of the conference. New guy Danny Hope is full of, well, hope, and there's should be some of it for Boiler fans for the future. If Hope continues to make recruiting inroads into Florida, the Boilers are going to be feisty in the not-so-distant future, and former high school All-American QB Robert Marve will get to suit up next year. But for this season, the cupboard looks pretty bare, and if they win even one conference game, even against Indiana, that'd have to be considered a success for 2009.
Just why exactly does everybody hate Wisconsin this year?
All of the negativiy in Madtown this offseason is enough to probably make Bucky Badger cry in his Old Mil Lite. Was it something Kelso and Eric Foreman said? Hey I can understand why Badger fans, and others, seem to hate their coach, Bret Bielma. After all, the guy IS an Iowa alum, so that's all I need to know. But why on earth do the media and pundits seem to hate the team and are predicting doom and gloom for 2009? First of all, have you SEEN Wisconsin's schedule? No really, have you? Go ahead and click on that there schedule link, and tell me how the Badgers aren't going to win at least 8 games this year. Please, I'd love to hear it. Not only should they win their four non-conference games, but considering they don't have to play Penn State or Illinois this year, I'll almost guarantee Sconnie will find four more wins in the Big Ten, especially when Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all come to Camp Randall this year.
Not only is the schedule favorable, but the team is pretty good too. Yes, they have a quarterback controversy, although if they'd just ask me they wouldn't: since incumbent senior starter Dustin Sherer hasn't proven good enough to beat out frosh Curt Phillips, you start Phillips and let him get his feet wet in the first 3 games against N. Illinois, Fresno State and the juggernaut from Wofford. And he's going to have plenty of help: Wisconsin ALWAYS has a solid O-line, they have a stable of good running backs (I was surprised to see 247 pound behemouth John Clay has been demoted to second team), and their receivers, led by former NFL All-pro Al Toon's kid Nick, David Gilreath has some wiggle to him, and TE Garrett Graham will be playing on Sunday's next year. Defensively the Bucky Badger's have some questions, as they return just five starters, but the offense, and the schedule, will be good enough to make the Badgers the surprise team of the 2009 Big Ten season.
Monday, August 24, 2009
So Friday I started breaking down the Gophers and what we can and should expect from them this season. Today we'll look around the Big Ten and see how the conference around us is shaping up. As I said on Friday, I think 2009 will be the most competitive Big Ten season in a long, long, LONG time. Last year was competitive because the level of play was down, but this year it looks to be just the opposite. I don't believe we're going to have a national title contender out of the conference as nobody will run the table, and I'm not so sure Ohio State and Penn State will be the juggernauts the preseason pundits are claiming them to be. It seems like just about every team is more talented, yet like the Gophers, every team has also has questions. I'll pose the most important for each team.
Can the Illinois defense keep pace with the offense?
In 2008 Juice Williams and the Illini offense were the best in the Big Ten, and for 2009 they could be one of the most potent in the country. If they could just get their defense to make a few more stops per game, I'm apparently one of the few people outside of Champaign who believe Illinois could be headed back to the Rose Bowl. Their schedule is incredibly top-heavy (Four of their first five games are neutral site vs. Missouri, at Ohio State, then home to Penn State and Michigan State), but if they can take two of three of those first Big Ten games (which, again, if the D comes to play is VERY possible), they are absolutely in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title. After Sparty Spartan comes to town Oct. 10th, the Illini travel to Indiana and Purdue, host Michigan, travel to The Bank, then home to Northwestern. Those are five winnable games, and I'm picking Illinois to at least share the Big Ten title in 2009.
Which is worse right now: Indiana football or basketball?
One word of caution: if you're going to ask that question of a Hoosier fan, make sure you're beyond the distance of a Bob Knight thrown chair. Just to be safe, because Hoosier fans are pretty cranky right now. The basketball team can at least give the excuse "we hired Kelvin Sampson" and have the right guy to rebuild the program in Tom Crean-at least once their Sampson-induced probabtion ends sometime around the year 2050. But IU football? It seems like every year is another step in their rebuilding process, which is kind of like taking one step forward and seven back. Ben Chappell returns at QB, and the Hoosiers are hoping that adding "The Pistol" offense will make them better. This could be true if by "better" they mean "we might win four games instead of one." Why does Indiana have to be off of the Gophs' schedule the next two years?
Who Hates Iowa?!?
We hate Iowa! Just in case you missed the witty banter last week, we hate Iowa- they hate us. And we like it that way. While I wish they were going 0-12 this year, they unfortunately have one of the best teams in the Big Ten for 2009. Howver, the only person who might hate the Hawkeyes more than us is the Big Ten schedule-maker, as a BRUTAL slate should keep them from Pasadena this year: their four conference road games are Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. Yeah that's not fun. They'll be lucky to split those. Still, they boast arguably the best offensive line and secondary in the conference, along with senior QB Ricky Stanzi who, if he didn't play in the same conference as Juice Williams, Daryll Clark and Terrelle Pryor, would be in the running for all-conference honors.
My only real question or concern is how Iowa fans seem to think it's a slam dunk that Jewel Hampton's going to replace Shonn Greene, the 2008 Doak Award winner as the nation's best running back, and not miss a beat. No question Hampton's talented, but he's been hurt three times in the past six months, and it's all been on the same knee. Yet they seem supremely confident Hampton will shoulder the burden of being the workhorse back Greene was last year. Not surprisingly, I'm skeptical at best. Yes, as Adam Rittenburg noted in his blog last week, he had Iowa's running backs ranked dead last in the conference entering 2008, only to see Greene go from the furniture show room to be the best back in the country last year. Can lightning strike twice? Sure, and I could win the lottery too.
I'm not questioning Hampton's ability, but I am questioning his ability to stay healthy in what's going to be a long, grueling Big Ten season. And sure, the response could be "well we're going to be able to throw much better than last year" and sure, the o-line is fantastic and Stanzi should be better, but then answer me this: who the hell is he throwing to? The Hawkeyes leading returning receiver is junior Trey Stross, who had a grand total of 13 CATCHES in 2008, and he's not exactly putting the fear of God into opposing defenses. Yes, converted QB Marvin McNutt looked good in the spring at wideout, but there's a wee bit of difference between the spring and fall. Let's see him do it for real before we can say Iowa's set at receiver. Again, there's a world of talent on this team and plenty of experience, but if Iowa wants to go to Pasadena this year, those are questions they need to answer.
Isn't it a little ridiculous that Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is on the hot seat after only one season?
Sure, but I can't think of anyone not named Charlie Weis or Kirk Ferentz who I enjoy seeing struggle more than Rodriguez and Michigan. Problem is, I don't see it lasting much longer. The 3-9 stinker he put up last year was the worst in the school's illustrious history, causing fans of the Maize and Blue to throw their wine and cheese in disgust. It raised the volume in what's usually the quietest 110,000+ seat stadium in the world to a level that could almost be described as "loud." Well, ok maybe "loud if you were in a library" but hey it's a step in the right direction.
So Michigan fans are upset at their first losing season since 1976, and are basically demanding a trip back to the Rose Bowl this year or next: OR ELSE!! Rodriguez will do neither, but they'll be bowl eligible this season (since he finally has a couple of QB's who can run his system), and with the way his recruiting has gone, quite possibly be fighting for a New Year's Day bowl the next. If Wolverine fans let him stay that long, he'll have them back being the Michigan we know and hate by 2011. Here's hoping they don't.
The media picked Michigan State third in their preseason poll, to which I say: REALLY?
I like head coach Mark Dantoni. Really, I do. He's doing a fantastic job rebuilding Michigan State, and it looks like they're going to be a factor in the Big Ten for as long as he's there. Is a Big Ten title in their future? Possibly, but we're getting ahead of ourselves to say it happens in 2009. Yep, they return a very good defense, led by preseason Big Ten player of the year linebacker Greg Jones, but to finish third in the conference, the offense will need to be very good too, yet right now they have more questions than answers. Namely: just how in the h-e-double hockey sticks are they going to replace Javon Ringer? As I wrote about back in May, Ringer's 1,637 yards rushing accounted for an astonishing 96.7% of the Spartans rushing yards in 2008. He was also fifth on the team in catches and receiving yards for a squad that ranked sixth in passing offense with just 213.3 per game. Oh and they also return an underwhelming group of receivers, they have to plug holes on the offensive line AND replace their senior quarterback. But other than that, really, what's not to love?
*** we'll question Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin in the next post.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
-Outside of being burned by Eric Decker on the first play from scrimmage, true freshman Michael Carter had a pretty nice little day with two interceptions. Jeff and I agreed that the Gophers cannot afford to redshirt Carter, we need his talent on the field right away. Youngblood has high hopes for the Gopher secondary:
"I think the Gophers are in very good shape in the defensive secondary. We all know what Marcus Sherels and Traye Simmons can do. Now we have an idea what Carter can do."-I wasn't thrilled with the play of Adam Weber. I realize he's learning a new offense, and I realize that it's just a scrimmage, but 3 interceptions against a back-up defense is not good. One of the interceptions was a tip, so not exactly his fault. But the interception that he threw in the back of the endzone when he was "pulling a 2008" (I am coining this phrase to describe when Weber forces the ball the Decker without checking down any of his options) and trying to force a pass to Decker was unacceptable. I hope we see a serious decrease in Weber forcing throws this year. As a 3rd year starter I don't think this is an unrealistic expectation...
-Having said that... Weber to Decker is still a DEADLY combination.
-Lee Campbell has become a VERY solid linebacker. He had 6 tackles yesterday and he is just all over the field. In my opinion he gained a lot of confidence through the season last year, and it appears he has continued that.
-I was going to make some comments about the offensive line, but Youngblood really says it perfectly:
"I still think the success of the season depends on how well the offensive line comes together. I think it could be the biggest question needing an answer.In the first half Saturday the Gophers ran 15 times for 26 yards, a 1.7-yard average. Credit line coach Tim Davis and his crew, because it got better in the second half, in which the Gophers averaged 4.8 yards on 26 carries."
-Duane Bennett is back! He looked as quick and shifty as ever, and I had forgotten how physical he is as a runner. We could see some really big things from Bennett this year.
-Jay Thomas got a lot of work with the second team offense and he looked really good. It looks as though the Gophers are going to have a lot of RB options, especially when Kevin Whaley is back from his injury.
-The offensive scheme really seemed to focus on the run game, especially for the second team, so we didn't get to see much from the arm of MarQuise Gray. There were a few times where Gray was ready to run, but they were really protecting the QB's during the scrimmage, and as soon as any of the QB's were even touched by a defender, the official blew the whistle. It would have been fun to see him run a bit, because he looked like he was ready to make it happen with his legs.
-Additional note on Gray: we were about 4 feet away from him when the Gophers did their Victory Walk into The Bank, and he just looks like he belongs. He's a big boy, and he was all smiles. He carries himself with an incredible confidence.
-Troy Stoudemire is an amazing kick returner, and if he doesn't break one for a return touchdown this year, I will be shocked.
-I was a little nervous by how much trouble the Gophers had running the bal in the first half of the scrimmage. Things definitely improved in the second half, however. The question in the scrimmage situation is always is the defense doing a great job of stopping the run or is the offense doing a poor job executing?
Overall a great day at The Bank. It's going to be a very exciting place to watch Gopher Football.
Friday, August 21, 2009
"Dwayne is very explosive player, very hard working. He loves the game. Minnesota is getting a great football player and a great young man. He is academically qualified and will be a great contributor on and off the field at Minnesota. He was All-State, All-Metro and the district MVP. He squats 405 pounds, benches 315 pounds. He went to Minnesota this summer and he liked it. " - Edna Karr head coach Jabbar Juluke
So looking ahead to that most glorious of days, just what CAN we expect from your 2009 Minnesota Golden Gophers? The national pundits, from websites to TV to preseason mags, have the maroon and gold slotted at 5-7 wins, which would put them anywhere from 7-9th in the conference. From what we know, and with all the question marks this team faces after last year's horrible finish, 5-7 wins is not unfair. Not at all. I like it because the Gophs can fly under the national and conference radar for another season. If they blow up and things go right, then everyone loves us. If we see some struggles in coach Tim Brewster's third year, then that's what everyone expected.
But what should WE as Gopher fans expect? I'm going to start to tackle that one today. I think 5 wins in 2009 is the absolute basement for this team, and I'd be shocked if it happens. It would definitely be disappointing to take a step backwards in season three under Brewster, and I don't see it happening. Regardless of all the question marks, I think the Gophs should expect to go bowling again in 2009, even if it's back to the Insight Bowl or the dreaded Motor City Bowl. If we want to do better than that, however, a lot of things are going to have to go well. We'll break down the conference more later, but the quick summation would be that the talent level overall is better than last year, and only the two schools from the Hoosier State don't have a legit shot at going bowling. After Ohio State and Penn State at the top (both of whom are being overrated to start the year), you've got a logjam of 7 teams battling it out for positioning. Some, like Illinois, Iowa and perhaps Michigan State, have a shot at the conference title, while Wisconsin, Northwestern, and your Golden Gophers could go to a New Year's Day bowl if things break right for them. Michigan should at least double it's win total from last year to be bowl eligible, but they're another year away from fighting for a top four finish, let along the conference title.
So as Jer and others have said, even if the Gophers have a better team this year than last, it might not show up in the win column because the conference as a whole is that much better. In my wildest dreams, I don't think a trip to Pasadena is in store, but a New Year's Day bowl IF a lot of things happen and develop, is a possibility.
I'll split this into three parts, starting today with a look at the roster. We have a few areas of no concern, and plenty others with a lot of questions. Here's my positional list from least concerning to most concerning:
Adam Rittenburg ranked the Gophers as the second best unit in the conference, and you will get no argument here. Incumbent starter Adam Weber will be capable, and anything we get from Marqueis Gray is gravy. And I expect the Gravy Train to be flowin' this year!
We know Eric Decker's the second best receiver in the conference, and is rightfully getting some preseason All-American love. With him as the anchor, there's plenty of talent behind him that's going to sort itself out. The coaching staff seems to have zero concerns about JC transfer HAYO! Carpenter starting opposite Decker, and he should provide the big play receiving threat we've lacked here since...well...probably ever. I think Troy Stoudermire takes a big step this year to becoming a dangerous offensive weapon, and then we still have sophs Brandon Green and Da'Jon McKnight, senior Ben Kuznia and a stable of solid TE's.
Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence were hugely productive last year, and there's some good young talent fighting for the third starting spot. If Sam Maresh can return to his high school All-American form at some point this year, this will be one of the conference's most productive units.
This was the most disappoint group from the 2008 team, and their performance this year will determine whether the Gophers even get to a bowl or are playing somewhere on New Year's Day. With the influx of talent in transfers Matt Carufel and Jeff WHACHUTALKINBOUT Wills, the return of now experienced veterans AND the switch to a blocking system that plays to the strengths (both literally and figuratively) of the guys here, I'm VERY optimistic about this group.
Will they be great? No, but all I'm hoping for is for them to be effective. They were well on their way before Duane Bennett got hurt midway through the year, and the lack of depth and crappy blocking doomed the running game. Along with the big "hog mollies" up front being better, between returning starters Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge, and redshirt frosh Kevin Whaley, they should be able to piece together a serviceable running game. Key word there is "should."
We have the best corner in the conference in Big Play Traye Simmons, but after that there's a lot of unknowns. Returning starter Marcus Sherels was good at times, but got torched at others. There's been a good battle in camp for the nickel corner, but the guy I want to win that job is true freshman Michael Carter. The four star recruit from Florida did not spurn West Virginia to come here and ride the pine. He's been turning heads in practice, has more natural ability than anybody else in the group but Simmons, and the sooner he plays the better. With that kind of ability I'd throw him into the fire early and often and let his instincts and skills take over, and I think and hope he's starting by October. That would only help the corner depth and talent behind him. At safety, I tried to downplay it earlier, but losing Tremaine Brock to academic issues is a big blow. Sconnie transfer Kim Royston should be fine, but can he be the playmaker Brock was? At the other safety spot returning starter Kyle Theret was solid against the run, but suspect in coverage. That has to improve.
Always overlooked and underappreciated, yet always important, the Gophers special teams has to be better. We need consistent kicking from 40 yards in, better punting, and better kick and punt coverage as a whole. I'm not so worried about the talent returning kicks and punts, but everything else needs to be better.
Many of the same questions facing this year's group were there last year, and for the most part, the surpised all of us. Like the entire defense, the line sputtered down the stretch, but overall they were still much better than anticipated. A major, major, MAJOR part of that was defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, whose graduation was the biggest loss from last year's team. He led the team in sacks with 10.5, and helped the Gophs to lead the conference with 34 in 2008. Senior Cedrick McKinley is first in line to fill his shoes, but it's going take a group effort to try and repeat last year's surprise performance. There's a LOT of questions facing this group, and hopefully they give us some good answers starting against Syracuse.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The Big Ten CAN slam a revolving door.
The grass is always greener on the other side, unless the Big Ten has been there. In that case the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears.
The Big Ten fought Chuck Norris and...well it lost, because he's Chuck Norris. Nobody beats Chuck Norris, except himself.
So the Big Ten can't defeat Chuck Norris, or lately teams from other conferences in major bowls. But you know what? The Big Ten is still great, it's still valuable, and it's still as good or better than any other conference in the country. Do not pity the Big Ten, because the Big Ten does not need it. Yes, the on-field product needs to improve, and I believe it will sooner rather than later. There are nine potential bowl teams this year (everybody except the Indiana schools), with as many as four having a shot at knocking off Ohio State (Penn State, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan State) for the Big Ten title. The conference has the best group of QB's outside of the Big 12, as well as two of the best wideouts in Illinois' Arrelious Benn and the U's Eric Decker, the usual bevy of quality tailbacks, and the defensive talent is good as always.
But what makes the conference truly great are the fans, who for some reason don't seem to get the same respect as those from the SEC. Sure, the conference doesn't have as many rabid fan bases as the Southeastern Conference (I would say 10 of the 12 in the SEC have fans who eat, sleep and breathe college football 24/7/365), but there's strength in numbers for the Big Ten that can't be matched even by those south of the Mason Dixon line.
Want proof? The only conference comparable in revenue is the SEC, and not only is the Big Ten's TV money (both with their own network as well as deals with ABC and ESPN) comparable to what the SEC is getting, but according to a story SI.com's Stewart Mandel posted on Monday, they're about to equal the SEC in New Year's Day bowls by adding an agreement with the Gator Bowl. They already send the conference champion to the Rose Bowl (aka the best bowl on planet earth), send their #2 team to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando (vs. the SEC), #3 to the Outback Bowl in Tampa (vs the SEC again), and now they're all but set to announce that #4 will play in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville against the ACC's third best team. The fifth team would go to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona (who are bumping up their payouts for increased exposure) and it's rumored the sixth would go to the recruiting hotbed of Texas for the Houston Bowl in, of all places, Houston.
When the announcement is official (Mandel says in his piece that if/when the deal goes through the Big East, who are getting booted from the Gator Bowl, will announce they're going to send their #2 team to the Champs Sports Bowl. Well guess what the Big East announced on Tuesday?)
this will help the Big Ten keep pace with the SEC for the best and most valuable football conference in the country. Now all that's left to do is start winning those Big Bowls they get invited to. And it would help if Ohio State could beat USC Sept. 12th. It would help a lot.
Still, sponors, TV execs and the Bowls don't seem the least bit worried about the state of the Big Ten, because they're falling all over themselves to get a piece of it. So don't hate on the Big Ten, because The Big Ten does not sleep. It waits.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
In any case, Jeff's post struck a chord with some Iowa fans. How many we don't exactly know because several of the comments were posted anonymously, which is perfectly fine. What isn't fine, however, is the tone that this debate began to take in comment-land. Actually, I should rephrase that. The tone of the debate doesn't bother me so much as the language of the debate.
Look, I drop a cuss word every now and then (as far as you know), and I've been privy to hearing Jeff drop one or two as well. However, we do our best to keep it out of our writing. We would also appreciate it if those commenting kept it out of their writing as well.
In response to this, as the originator of this blog, I have deleted all of the comments from the "WHO HATES IOWA?!?" post. However, in the interest of full disclosure, lively debate, and fairness, I have copied and pasted all of the comments below, but I have censored the cuss words. I have taken the liberty of replacing these cuss words, and you will find the replacements in (parentheses and italicized). This is a family blog, and I don't mind the discussion, I just don't like some of the language in a public forum.
Please enjoy the debate if you haven't already been enjoying it, and please feel free to join the debate as well.
One more thing, just for the record, Kirk Ferentz was 4-19 in his first two seasons at Iowa. That's a .211 winning percentage. It will make sense why I mention this after you read a few comments.
Anyway, I found the piece interesting because in the back of my head I've been thinking the same thing about the Gophers, and I was afraid to say it. I have said many, many times (a phrase which you are certainly getting sick of), the Gophers could be a better team with a worse record. But what I've been reluctant to say is that the Gophers schedule is such that if things don't go exactly well... they could go very, very poorly.
I think Rittenberg sums it up perfectly when talking about the Gophers (& Illinois):
"You can make a good case for either team being the surprise of the Big Ten and reaching a January bowl game. Both squads could also crash and burn."The piece also draws on all of the similarities between the Illinois and Minnesota programs, and the comparison is actually pretty stagering.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Last year at this time Paulus was a point guard for a little basketball program in North Carolina that you may have heard of called Duke. He started 100 games for the Blue Devils over four years and averaged 8.6 points and 3.4 assists/game. He ranks 6th all-time in Duke history for 3-pt field goal percentage, with 39.8%.
But let's focus on football....
Paulus was the Gatorade National High School Football player of the Year in 2004, and was Gatorade's National High School Athlete of the Year (for all sports) in 2005. He was a 4-time all-state player in New York and averaged 3 touchdowns/game and threw for over 12,000 yards in his high school career. Paulus was offered football scholarships at Miami and Notre Dame before choosing to pursue basketball. He also considered entering the NFL draft this past spring and actually worked out for the Packers in anticipation of doing so, but decided to go for his master's degree instead.
The guy's resume reads something like Bo Jackson's (except he was also a good student at Duke and is now going for his master's at Syracuse), and after just a week of football practice he has already beat out last year's Orangemen starter Cam Dantley, and sophomore Ryan Nassib, who was expected to start for Syracuse this season.
This becomes a no-win situation for the Gophers. If they beat Syracuse and beat up Paulus, the response will be "of course they did, the guy hasn't played competitive football in 4 years." And if he picks them apart... yikes.
What I'm going to do is tweak the idea a little bit and give you the 5 most hated schools/people for your Minnesota Golden Gophers right here and right now. No surprise at who starts at #1...
1. IOWA HAWKEYES
Good lord almighty do I hate Iowa. I've watched a lot of sports in my time, and have hated a lot of teams (if you're wondering, and obviously you are, my most hated teams after Iowa look something like the Boston Red Sox, Duke hoops, Notre Dame football, Dallas Cowboys, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, Toronto FC, and any other team, sport, club, or sports person associated with the city of Toronto. And I especially hate all three Toronto "national" sports networks), but after sitting through last year's 55-0 thrashing to close out the gawd-awful Metrodome at the hands of the Hated Hawks, well, Iowa is #1 on my list of hated teams and should be for every Gopher football fan. And it's not close.
Not only have Iowa kicked the crap out of Minnesota on the field, but their fans are the worst. The absolute worst. They should rank near the very top of the most passionate fan bases in the country (although honestly- what the hell else is there to do in Iowa? Exactly) and at the very bottom rung for class. The Floyd of Rosedale, or any swine for that matter, have more class and dignity and probably smell better than Hawkeye nation does, especially the throng that showed up last year at the Metrodome. I can't decide whether they were a-holes or d-bags, but I think the answer is yes. They're obnoxious, arrogant, classless, and also seem scared by tall buildings and electricity.
Of course what they're not afraid of is the Metrodome or the Gophers- and as much as it kills me to say it, they have every right to be. I hate the team and their fans with every fiber of my being, but they've earned the right to act like jerks because they have out and out owned Minnesota for the last 3 decades. Since moving from Memorial Stadium to the Metrodome in 1982, the Gophs are 8-19 against Iowa. Let's hope the TCF Bank Era is whole lot better for this rivarly than the Metrodome was. WHO HATES IOWA? WE HATE IOWA!
2. WISCONSIN BADGERS
The last two decades the "Border Battle Rivalry" for Paul Bunyan's Axe hasn't been a rivalry at all- the Gophs are a staggering 4-14 since 1991 and after last year's 35-32 heartbreaker at Camp Randall, have lost five straight in the series. I feel like this SHOULD be our biggest rival and most hated school (a la the Vikings/Packers rivalry) but because the series lately has been more one-sided than a fight between Brock Lesnar and McLovin, it's been tough for either side to get that real deep-seeded hatred going. Badger fans, who are like the polar opposite of Iowa fans, treat us like their annoying little brother, and Gopher fans can't help but think we're doomed before we've even reached kick-off. Not only that, but because Badger fans are the opposite of Hawkeye fans and the Camp Randall stadium experience is one you have to see in person, they're a tougher group to hate. I also just married into a Badger family, so I might be a little biased too.
With Scony coming to TCF Bank stadium this year with QB issues (they need to name Curt Phillips the starter and be done with it), and a suspect front 7 on defense, there won't be a better time for the Gophs to end the five-game skid and put a whoopin' on Bucky Badger. But of course I'm already assuming the worst.
3. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
Another Gopher Trophy Game, another lopsided series for the Maroon and Gold. If you thought the Badger rivalry was bad, mutiply this one by ten. Thousand. Since 1967 the Gophers and Wolverines have played for the Little Brown Jug 39 times. The Gophs have won it three times. Three. 1977, 1986, and 2005. And that is it. 3-36. Michigan fans are like the quarterback and captain of the football team and we're the band geek who plays World of Warcraft- they don't even know we exist. While the Rich Rod Era has been a Lance Harbor-like fall from grace, the Gophers have a LONG way to go to be Jonathon Moxon.
Minnesota had their best chance in years- and possibly EVER- to knock off Michigan last season. The worst Michigan team in school history limped into the Metrodome as the Gophers were staring actual, real, possible New Year's Day bowl hopes square in the face. Instead of finishing off the wounded Wolverines and taking back the Little Brown Jug, it looked like Lloyd Carr Era Michigan all over again as they rolled to a 29-6 victory, outrushing Minnesota 232-83, and outgaining them 435-188. The loss was a kick in the groin for the Gophs and their fans, and was their second of five straight to end the season. I remember all too well sitting in our end zone seats with Jer, both of staring out onto the field with a bewildered look on our faces (part of that could possibly have been the Miller Lites. Possibly), wondering what in the world had just happened.
We've always hated Michigan because they've been, well, Michigan, and now, just when they're rebuilding and vulnerable, they're off the schedule the next two seasons. The hatred and loathing will have to wait til 2011.
4. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
You cannot argue the top 3 but the next two are wide open for debate. I'm going with Purdue here because of the history during the Joe Tiller ERA from 1997-2008. The teams met nine times in that span, with the Boilermakers winning all but once, including six straight from '97-'02, but it's that one win, a 42-35 double OT thriller at the Metrodome in 2005, that I remember well. I remember sitting with Jer and his uncle and family in their section in the upper deck, watching the unranked Gophers fight like hell against a Purdue team that came in ranked #11 in the country. I remember the jubilation and joy we all felt after knocking off Tiller and the Boilermakers, and what a program-changing win we all thought it was (2005 is the same year the Gophs went to Ann Arbor and beat Michigan).
Looking back now, it was arguably the best year Mason ever had, and all it resulted in was yet another middle-of-the-road bowl. Still, while I don't have the hatred or distain for the Boilermakers that I do for the three aforementioned schools on this list, when Purdue rolls into town it feels like a rivalry game and one we SHOULD win- but seemingly never do. I think it's because before Tiller they were pretty much the Duke football of the Big Ten, and to see them rise to prominence with Tiller and Drew Brees and go to the Rose Bowl and bigger and better bowls- it just feels like that should be us instead of them. They became the Jonathan Moxon I want the Gophers to be. With Tiller retired the Boilers could finish last in the conference this year, but new coach Danny Hope is hitting the recruiting trail hard down in Florida, and with former high school All-American QB Robert Marvre transferring in for 2010, this matchup should heat-up again soon.
5. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
The Gophers have almost no history with the Irish, as they haven't played them since 1938, and yet I still hate them as much as anyone, and I don't think I'm alone here. The next time they play Notre Dame, you can be sure Gopher fans will be getting their "hate on" for the Golden Domers.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The Gophers have a long tradition of being able to run the football, but when Tim Brewster took over the program from Glen Mason, the offensive focus shifted to the spread. While the spread offense can certainly be a successful offensive scheme to run out of (see Dunbar's California and Northwestern teams earlier in the decade), it is still a pretty huge philosophical change as far as offensive styles are concerned.
One of the trademarks of the spread is that the quarterback generally starts out in the shotgun formation. Having the quarterback in the shotgun allows for quicker passes, among other things. Because the QB is in the shotgun, and because the focus is on shorter, quicker passes, the offensive linemen are not required to hold their blocks as long and the spread actually favors smaller more athletic linemen to the traditional big, bulky earth-movers of the old 3-yards and a cloud of dust type of offenses.
This fact created two problems for Coach Brewster. First of all, the Gophers didn't have a lot of quick, athletic linemen to insert into the spread, and second, the O-linemen that they were bringing in to fill this type of void were very young and weren't ready for the Big10 primetime.
Enter a new problem: now that we have had a couple of years of trying to insert players who weren't built for it, or players who were new to it, into the spread, we're switching back to more of a pro-style, run oriented offense. Which begs the question, do we have the players on the offensive line to run this type of offense?
I won't pretend to have an answer to this question, but let's look at some of the pieces.
The Gophers are obviously just in the midst of the dog days of training camp, so we don't know who will be the eventual starters. It's safe to say that the coaches are taking this camp to allow the competition at several offensive line positions to dictate the starters. Since we don't know the starters for sure, we can speculate. And when I say we, I mean me. So, here's my best guess:
C - Jeff Tow-Arnett (6'2", 285#)
G - Matt Carufel (6'5", 303#)
G - Dom Alford (6'3", 332#)
T - Jeff Willis (6'7", 375#)
T - Matt Stommes (6'7", 296#)
So, just for fun, let's say this is the starting line-up. That being the case, our average offensive lineman is 6'4", 318lbs... and these numbers are clearly swayed a bit by Jeff Willis, who we might as well go ahead and just start referring to as "House," not to be confused with the fictional t.v. doctor, but possibly to be confused with, you know, a house. Willis is more of what you would call a prototypical pro-style offensive lineman. He's big... and big. He can get in front of people, he can stay in front of people, and he can move them out of the way when needed. And did I mention that he's big.
The rest of the O-line, if these are in fact the starters, are probably more likely there because of experience than size. Tow-Arnett probably isn't the prototypical Center for a pro-style offense, but he's got a lot of experience on the line including starting last year before getting injured. Trey Davis is Tow-Arnett's biggest competition, and neither has a size advantage in the race.
Carufel was the top prospect in the state in 2006 and a top 10 offensive lineman in the country that same year. At that time he shunned the Gophers and went to Notre Dame. Much to our delight that didn't work out and Carufel came back home. We should not feel bad that it didn't work out at Notre Dame, because Carufel is as talented an offensive lineman as we've ever had. He did his time on the practice squad last year, where he won scout team player of the year honors, and he promises to be a major piece to the running puzzle for the Gophers.
There are several other Gophers who have some experience that will likely get them some playing time this season as well, including Ned Tavale and Ryan Ruckdashel who are both seniors, and D.J. Burris who is a junior. Talented youngsters like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders are also likely to crack the playing time list in certain situations.
If you read this blog last season, you know that the offensive line was a major sore spot for me. Too small to hold up to an entire Big10 schedule; too inexperienced to get into a rhythm. With another year of experience in their corner, another off-season in the weight room under their belts, and two new coaches that will focus heavily on the importance of the o-line, there is bound to be improvement.
Let's hope it's enough to make a major impact against some great Big10 defenses.
We will be here every step of the way, and if that's not enough (and really, how could it be?), please make daily visits to the Daily Gopher, The Rivalry, Esq., Buck Bravo (although I think he's writing at The Daily Gopher now), and all of the other fine blogs on our blog roll to your right, as well as Adam Rittenburg's Big Ten blog on ESPN.com, and Gopher beatwriters Kent Youngblood of the Strib and Marcus Freeman of the Pioneer Press.
Gopher news of the day is that two-a-days start today, so check with Youngblood and Freeman for updates. Youngblood has a few thoughts today on the defensive backs, and like the rest of us, there isn't much to gleen other than we're hoping like hell Scony transfer Kim Royston can fill the shoes at safety of dismissed Tremaine Brock. Both Royston and returning starter Kyle Theret are good at stuffing the run, but yet aren't that big and are at the moment questionable in coverage. We hope these guys will be good, but honestly, would either be starting for the teams in the top half of the conference this year? Doubtful, but we'll see how much they've improved. He doesn't mention anything about cornerback, but after Big Play Tray Simmons, I think the other starting corner and nickel corner are just as big a question marks. Sure we don't play in the pass-happy Big 12 or Pac 10, but teams are still going to test the other guys early and often until they prove they can make plays. Of course a lot of this will depend on whether we can get a pass rush going to put some pressure on the opposing QB.
We'll dive into more Gopher and Big Ten related stuff in the days ahead. Jer and I are just excited that football season is close, the Gophs are intriguing, and the Dome is Dead!