Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hey Everyone! Gopher Spring practices are going on...

... and it appears that the Gopher beat writers at the Strib AND the Pioneer Press have actually taken notice.  Looks like both Kent Youngblood and Marcus Fuller were at Gopher practice yesterday, as both blogged about what they saw.

Both writers made notice of the changes on defense, which is going to be much scrutinized after losing 8 starters from a unit that kept the Gophers in most games last season.  Without Kyle Theret on the field, who I guess has gotten into a little bit of trouble with the law which subsequently has caused him to be suspended from the team, Kenny Watkins has stepped in and is taking reps with the first team.  I'll be honest, I don't know much about Kenny Watkins, but it appears that he runs a 4.4-40 yard dash, and some extra speed in the secondary can't hurt.

Youngblood also has a nice piece today on sophomore safety-turned-linebacker Mike Rallis.  The Gophers had GREAT SUCCESS!!!! (Sorry, I just channeled my inner-Borat there) with moving Simoni Lawrence from S to LB the last two years, and it appears that Rallis may be cut from the same mold.  Youngblood notes that Rallis isn't quite as fast as Lawrence, but LB coach John Butler thinks Rallis is smart enough to pick up the position and make a difference.

This brings up a question... Are you like me?  Despite the fact that our defense lost 8 starters and is basically starting from scratch, are you more confident in their ability to make a difference week-to-week than you are the offense?  I sure am, and I think the reason why is because we actually have some young kids with some talent there, AND will be building off of a defensive scheme that has had some very good success the past two years.

On the other side of the ball, I still think that our WR group is incredibly talented, but just what are we going to be able to do with them unless we can get some consistent production out of the QB position?  And how are we going to get production out of the QB position if the O-line can't protect?  And speaking of the O-line, are they going to be able to actually run-block this year?  And speaking of run-blocking, who is our QB going to be handing the ball off to?  The RB-by-committee approach has NOT worked for this team, but we've got some  young, talented RB's coming in this year... can any of them make an immediate impact?

So yeah... there's some questions on the offensive side of the ball.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now THAT'S kind of funny

Below is a screen shot of the front page today's Pioneer Press Gopher Football section on  I took this screen shot at about 1:45pm CST.  Fin

Oh the irony.  

Monday, March 29, 2010

You' ve... GOT... to be kidding me

Kyle Theret has been suspended for... big surprise Gopher fans... off the field issues.

Theret is a huge part of the Gopher defense, especially considering the fact that so many players graduated from the program after last season. Assuming Theret finds a way onto the field this fall, he will be looked to as a leader, not just on the defensive side of the ball, but on the team in general.

Obviously it's very early on in the criminal process, but if the Gophers were to lose Theret it would be a very big loss for this program.

Friday, March 26, 2010

29 days later...

Hey there Gopher football fans, just 29 days until the Gophers take the field against... the Gophers, in the annual spring practice game.

If you haven't been to a spring game (and judging by the attendance I've seen at the last few spring games, you haven't), you really should check it out.  It's a great way to end the 4 weeks of spring practice blog posts and articles that Kent Youngblood and Marcus Fuller write about... oh, wait.  What?  It's been two days since they wrote anything about the Gophers?  HAS to be an oversight, doesn't it?

Okay, so, where was I?  Oh yeah, spring game.  A great way to get out and see your Gophers after their 4 weeks of practices.

It's also a great way to get your football fix in the spring... only to be let down by the 3 subsequent months of no football.

I'm not doing a good job of selling this am I?  Good thing I don't do sales for a living or anything...

So anyway, that's coming up.  In the meantime, the Gophers are really practicing football over at the U of M.  There's competition all over the field and of course the "QB battle" is the main attraction.  I put "QB battle" in quotes because I'm still of the opinion that there isn't really a competition.  Despite what Tim Brewster says I believe that it's a foregone conclusion that Adam Weber is the Gophers starter once they break spring camp.

So, just 29 days until it becomes official that Adam Weber is your 2010 Gopher Football Quarterback.

Are you sensing any sarcasm?  In the words of Richard Hayden "Well, I should hope so, because I'm laying it on pretty thick."

Gophers All-Conference Candidates- Defense

What's the good word? Happy Friday to you and yours. Happy Friday if you watched March Madness last night. Double OT for K-State and Xavier (that Gopher 1st round loss doesn't look so bad now, does it?) and Butler pulls off yet another shocker. More good games to come tonight, although I'll be fortunate enough to be at another kind of NCAA Tournament- the 1st round of the hockey NCAA tournament for Wisconsin and Vermont at The X. Anyone know what time the Gophers play at? Oh that's right, they didn't make it. Not even close. As a Canucks fan I was so happy Jordan Schroeder went pro and is playing in the AHL (two goals in his first game including one on his first shift) because at least I know he'll develop properly. What is Don Lucia doing? Does he last another year?

Anyway, onto Gopher football, since today is Day 4 of spring practice and all so there's plenty to talk about. Let's check the dailies and our favorite beat writers Kent Youngblood of the Strib and Marcus Fuller of the PP to see what exciting stories and blog entries they have posted for us.......hmmmm they have nothing for the second day in a row.

Do they know practice is going on? Do they know it's their job to report on it? Both gentlemen are fine football scribes, but perhaps they need a refresher on this whole "blogging" thing? Am I crazy or is it not much to ask two guys who get paid to write about Gopher football to post once or twice a day during spring practice? Is it? Please tell me if I'm asking too much here.

So since we have no inside info on what's going on at practice and how the many, many, many position battles are going, we'll continue to muse about who could be an all-conference candidate for Minnesota in 2010. Yesterday we looked at the five best candidates on offense, and today it's all about the defense. If you're one of our tens of readers, you know I'm VERY bullish about our defense this year. Yes we lose nine starters, but I have to give Brew credit here: he's fielding the most athletic defense I've seen in my more than 10 years in Minnesota. While his offensive recruits haven't quite panned out yet, his young defensive kids were pushing a senior-laden group for playing time last year. We don't have much in the way of starting experience, but we do have plenty of guys with game experience. And speed. And in the case of Ra-Shede Hageman (who might have replaced MarQueis as this season's man-crush) ridiculous speed AND size at 292 pounds. Did I mention he's 292? Have I? Just checking. Because he's 292 pounds. As a redshirt freshman. You would expect that from Ohio State or Michigan or Penn State. But for little ol' Minnesota? Yeah that's fun stuff right there. Whatever happens with Brewster this year I will be grateful he left the cupboard stocked on defense.

Picking five possible all-conference candidates on offense was kind of like trying find a good singer on American Idol this year: after one or two people it gets pretty hard. But defensively, yeah there's a lot more than five. There might not be 11, but there's a lot more than five. So while I am man-crushing about Ra'Shede, it's a pretty tall order to ask a redshirt freshmen from any Big Ten school to be one of the best in the conference, so he doesn't make the list this year. But he's right atop my list of guys I'm excited about.

Here then, my pick for the five best defensive players, and the five most likely to garner All-Big Ten consideration for 2010:

5. Kim Royston, S, Senior
As one of two returning starters, I like Royston's skillset better than Kyle Theret's. Sure Theret is a thumper against the run, and I know he had more picks (3) than Royston (1) in 2009, but to say Theret's a tortoise in pass coverage is an insult to tortoise's everywhere. I just remember him looking SO overmatched in coverage against Ohio State, helping to make Terrelle Pryor and Devier Posey look like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. Royston is our leading returning tackler, including a game high 15 in the bowl loss to Iowa St, is decent in coverage, and I'm hoping really embraces a leadership role both on and off the field.

4. Keanon Cooper, OLB, R-Sophomore
Keanon's third in tackles for returing players, and while he's the size of a DB at just 6'0 and 210 (gee it'd sure be nice to get an update from practice to see whether Cooper's put on any weight in the offseason and looks bigger. Too bad we don't have any beat writers in town covering the team who could get us that information) he hits like a linebacker. IF he can put on some more weight, look out! He showed the speed and instincts last year to be a force both in coverage and rushing the passer, and whether it happens this year as just a sophomore or 2011 or 2012, I think it's safe to pencil in Cooper for an all-Big Ten selection before his Gopher career is over. Actually, you can put that in pen. Even in Sharpee.

3. D.L. Wilhite, DE, R-Sophomore
I'm calling him the "The Sack Doctor." Why? Well he's already been a scholar-athlete award winner and plans to pursue a pre-med degree, so if this football thing doesn't work out, he'll have something to fall back on. But after watching him as a freshman last year, I don't think he'll have to worry about a fall-back plan. It doesn't sound impressive if I told you he played in just 10 games and only recorded 3 tackles in 2009, playing at maybe 220 pounds (his bio has him up to 233 and I'd love to see him around 240 by September). But what if I told you all three were not only tackles-for-loss, but were sacks? And that total led the team- not just for returning players, but for everybody in 2009? Ok, ok so the fact a redshirt 220 pound freshman led the Gophs in sacks with just three shines a big glaring spotlight on the team's ineffectiveness on third down last year. But it still speaks to The Sack Doctor's pass rushing ability, and I believe with a full season, and a more athletic and talented front line beside him (you heard me: as much as I loved Garrett Brown and Eric Small, 2010's D-line will be better than 2009), Doc D.L. could be a pass-rushing force this year. And as we know, sacks are the glory defensive category that gets you noticed in a hurry.

2. Michael Carter, CB, Sophomore
He's switching numbers this year from #1 to #6, but whatever number Carter wears, he's still expected to be Minnesota's #1 corner. Jer and I were just plain giddy at his last-minute signing in 2009, and after watching him in the spring game made the bold prediction he could be starting by the end of the year. While he didn't quite make it, he was still hugely impressive as a true freshmen, getting thrown into the fire in the Michigan State game because starter Traye Simmons was doing his best Adam Weber impression, and the kid more than held his own against the second best passing offense in the Big Ten. He continued his strong play for the rest of the year, and if it wasn't for one boneheaded off-field move when he tried to fight another student, his freshman year would have been a smashing success. Since that incident which got him suspended, he's managed to stay out of trouble (hang on while I find the biggest tree I can find to knock on wood), and if he can focus his aggression on the field in 2010 Carter has a chance to be the best corner we've ever had here. He's at least the most talented corner since Willie Middlebrooks in 2000, but is getting a chance to play much, much earlier. It's a lot to ask of a true soph to anchor the pass coverage and be a shut-down corner, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it's Carter. If he keeps his head on straight, like Cooper, he's a lock for All-Big Ten before his career in Maroon and Gold is done.

1. Gary Tinsley, MLB, Junior
If you're looking for Minnesota's best player in 2010, look no further than Tinsley. Because of all of our senior linebacker talent in 2009, his numbers don't jump out at you. But against Iowa, in what was our most important game of the year, he led the team in tackles with 10, including 1.5 TFL and a sack. Linebacker is usually the most stacked position in the Big Ten, and the most difficult one to garner All-Conference honors (just ask the linebacking trio from last year), but this is how much I believe in Tinsley. Of course, all-conference will be as much about how much the team wins as it is about the numbers he puts up, but I fully expect Tinsley to be the best player in Maroon and Gold this fall, and if the team can get at least seven wins, he should be recognized by the media and coaches as one of the Big Ten's best players too.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Which Gophers Could Be All-Conference in 2010?

Heyo! Day 2 of Gopher football spring practice and just look at all the stories and reports we have coming from the local media...(searching the Strib)...(checking the PP)...(checking one local "all-sports" station that never talks about the Gophers)...(searching the other self-proclaimed "The Sports Talk" station)...and nothing. Thanks local media. Thanks for caring about a Big Ten college football team. I know we're not the Vikes or Twins but day two of spring practice and there's bubkis to report? Nadda? Zero? Zilch? 50,000 packed TCF Bank stadium last year, and more watched on TV but we can't have a story a day from the dailies and beat writers whose job it is to do this stuff? And we can't have a story or report or anything from our two "sports" radio stations in town? It's not hard, people, you're just making it seem that way.

ANYWHO, since I do this for fun and can't skip work to watch practice- oh wait Brewster doesn't open practices to the public anyway- I'm going off what I read and what is reported and when there's nothing reported, we as fans aren't left with much.

Soooooooooooooo...let's talk about All-Conference players. Or Minnesota's complete lack thereof. We're entering 2010 with only one player who's been named all-conference, QB Adam Weber, and as you may know, Weber is fighting this spring just to keep his job. Last season's disappointing 6-7 season saw just one Gopher be named first or second All-Big Ten by either the media or coaches- and he barely played in eight games. Yep, senior wideout Eric Decker was the only Gopher deemed worthy of being all-conference. I'm not arguing that a lot of worthy candidates in maroon and gold were left off the team- quite the opposite actually. Looking at the All-Big Ten teams from year to year, it's pretty indicative of how well a team did. If they're well represented on the all-conference team, chances are your team had a really good year.

Which brings up to the Gophs: In 2008, Minnesota finished 7-5 after a difficult and ugly 1-11 2007. Wideout Eric Decker and defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg were named 1st Team Big Ten for both the coaches and the media, CB Traye Simmons was named 2nd team for both and QB Adam Weber was 2nd team for the coaches and TE Jack Simmons was 2nd team for the media. I would venture to guess all five of those guys were not pre-season picks, but with Minnesota's improvement and those players' excellent play throughout the season (or for Weber for the first six games) they were worthy of selection for All-Big Ten. VanDeSteeg and Simmons graduated, while the other three were being picked as 1st or 2nd team again in the preseason...well we all know how that went. Only Decker made it back as Weber and Simmons were hugely disappointing. Simmons, along with fellow seniors TE Nick Tow-Arnett, and LB's Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence were the only other Gophers from 2009 who received honorable mention. And of course, along with Decker, they've all graduated.

So going into 2010, considering we lost all of our 2009 all-conference selections, our only two effective offensive starters, and 9 starters on defense, I don't expect to see anybody- literally ANYBODY- from the Gophers on a pre-season all-conference or national award watch list. Not one.

First that's a pretty telling sign of where we're at with the Tim Brewster Era of Gopher football: the so-called great recruiter is dealing with an entire team of player's he's brought in, and to start his fourth season he's not going to have one guy who the media or coaches considers a great player. As we know from the 2008 season, this is no guarantee we won't have anyone step up and have a big year, but I think it's pretty telling that four years in, Brew's Crew is facing about the same level of expectations around the conference and the country we did in 2008 coming off a 1-11 season. Nobody is expecting much of anything in what is looking like could be the strongest group of teams the Big Ten has had this decade.

So what this all means is what we already know: to keep his job Brewster is going to have to do his best coaching job of his life. He's going to have to start coaching up these kids that he's raved about in the recruiting process and in spring practice. The guys he keeps telling us are great, the one's no one else outside the program believe are great, are going to have to start to be.

But who will it be? Who's going to step up and save Brew's job? Let's look at the five most likely candidates on both sides of the ball. Today we'll focus on the offense:

5. The Starting Tight End
If there's been one offensive player not named Eric Decker who has consistently excelled in the Brewster/Weber offense, it's been the tight end. In 2009 senior Nick Tow-Arnett emerged as a favorite Weber target, and finished 2nd on the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. Had the team not fallen apart in November like it has every year under Brewster, he might have had a shot at all-conference. In 2008 another senior TE Jack Simmons also finished 2nd in catches, yards and TD's and, as we already mentioned, was named 2nd Team All-Big Ten. JC transfer Tiree Eure, junior Eric Lair, and senior Curtis Hughes will be battling for the starting spot, and if one of those guys can grab the position and some passes early in the season, history tells us they could have a big year.

4. Troy Stoudermire Jr, WR/KR/PR, Jr.
Ability has never been a question with this guy, but consistency certainly has been. He was one of the top kick returners in the Big Ten with an average of 24.6 and a long of 71- if his teammates could have stopped holding and clipping so much, his numbers could have been bigger. His return skills alone could get him All-Big Ten, but do it, he's going to need to be much better as a receiver. He showed some big-play potential, but also looked lost in the offense with plenty of drops, some wrong routes, and a disappointing 11.8 ypc average. Your big-play threat cannot average less than 12 yards per catch, and while part of that can be blamed on the quarterbacks and the play-calling, Stoudermire has so much athletic ability he should be better no matter what the excuse.

3. Duane Bennett, RB, Jr
He's not even guaranteed to be the starter, and we won't have much of an idea how the running backs are going to shake out until the freshmen show up this summer. Still Bennett has the inside track on the starting job right now, and now that he's more than a full year removed from major knee surgery, there's a chance we see the pre-injury Duane this season. In 2008 in just two games before blowing out his knee as a sophomore he already gained 140 yds and 2 TD's rushing and 125 and 2 TD's receiving. He clearly wasn't close to 100% last year, but if he can get close in 2010, he could have a breakout season.

2. Adam Weber, QB, Sr
Weber will be the first name mentioned, as he was 2nd team All-Big Ten in 2008 (even though he didn't deserve it). He's the likely starter and if the offense improves, he's going to reap the rewards. But considering how bad he was last year, and that he was only 2nd team in 2008 because it was the worst year for QB's in the Big Ten ever AND Weber built his numbers off the first seven games of the before he, and the season, fell apart, I'm not overly optimistic.

1. Da'Jon McKnight, WR, Jr
Yes, Da'Jon had only 17 catches last year and no touchdowns, but in Decker's absence the last four games of the year, the 6'3 gazelle really started to shine. He was the leading receiver in their last two games with 4 catches for 63 yards against Iowa and he snagged a game high 7 balls for 124 yards in the the bowl game against Iowa State. He has the size and ability to be a legit #1 receiver, and if starts 2010 the way he finished 2009, he has a great chance to be Minnesota's best offensive player.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Practice, Quitters and Booze: Welcome to Gopher Spring Football!

So we wait and wait for Gopher spring practice to start so we have something Gopher-football related to talk about...and then about nine things happen at once. Or three. Two more players have left the team, they might be able to sell booze to the cake-eaters at TCF Stadium after all, and yes, the boys are finally practicing.

We'll start with the exodus of two more Gopher players, as junior center Trey Davis and redshirt frosh corner Kerry Lewis have left the program.

Davis, who started six games in his career, will concentrate on track and field. The Farmington, Minn., native finished fourth for the Gophers in the shot put at the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships this year.
Lewis, who redshirted last season, decided to transfer to another school.

I don't have any behind-the-scenes info on the decision of these two, but it seems puzzling to me. Both guys, and especially Davis, would have been competing for playing time, if not a starting spot: I could understand both of them wanting to go a different direction AFTER spring camp if they found themselves way down the depth chart, but to quit before camp even begins? Anyone else find that a bit strange? Davis would have certainly been in the mix to start at center, so either shot put just became more important to him, or he lost the love for football, or maybe he didn't have as good a chance to play as we thought? I guess we'll never know.

As for Lewis, I was excited to see what he could do. He was a three-star prospect coming out of high school with a pretty impressive list of schools that were after him, so to lose a fast, athletic kid like that hurts. Haven't heard where Lewis is transferring to, but to me it's definitely a loss, especially with how shallow the defensive back depth is on the team already.


So the rich people in the luxury suites at TCF Bank Stadium, Mariucci and Williams Arena might get their booze after all. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St Paul is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the ridiculous law passed last year that if alcohol is to be sold at the three U stadiums then it has to be sold everywhere. While I still think it's naive and way too old fashioned to believe that not selling booze in the regular section is going to stop minors from getting it or sneaking it in (I don't say that to endorse underage drinking, I say it because the pro sporting venues in town sell alcohol and minors attend those events. Yet the pro teams aren't worried about the image it presents or that the minors are going to get their hands on booze because they ID everyone who buys a beer. If you ID everyone at a Gopher game who wants to buy booze then you're doing everything you can to stop minors from drinking. Of course I'm biased since I'll never be able to afford the cake-eater suites but would love to have a beer while watching the Gophers), this is a step in the right direction.

My wife works for The U, and they're slashing budgets all over the place. This would be easy revenue for the Gophers to make and would hopefully help stop further cuts. The bill cleared its first hurdle as it was approved unanimously by the Senate Higher Education Budget Division, and will now rests with another committee. In an election year, I would think this one has a chance as The U needs all the revenue it can get, and this one clearly has public support from Gopher fans and alumni.


And finally, let's talk some football. Kent Youngblood has a few notes from the half hour of practice he and the media were allowed to watch yesterday. His comments in bold and italics and my comments below:

1. Punter Dan Orseske, fresh off his medical redshirt (remember, he got mono early last season) was absolutely booming the ball during warmups. I mean booming.

There is no position I care less about right now for the Gophs than the punter. The only thing I care less about in the world right now than the punter is probably women's basketball, but I'd have to think about that one.

2. Here was the first-string offensve line, from left tackle to right tackle: Dom Alford, Chris Bunders, D.J. Burris, Matt Carufel, Jeff Wills.

With Davis now gone, it's not surprising in the least to see these five starting spring camp with the first team. While they were a trainwreck last year, they do have experience on their side, and hopefully some of the simpler schemes and run-emphasis OC Jeff Horton is installing will work wonders for these guys. But I'm also all for the young guys pushing this group, and it'll be interesting to see if these same five start in the spring game next month.

3. The starting defensive line, on Day 1: Defensive ends Ra'Shede Hageman and D.L. Wilhite with tackles Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey.

On a scale of 1-10 how excited are you to see 292 pound (the website has him at 272 but Brewster claimed in an interview last week he's up to 292. Good gravy!) freshman Ra-Shede Hageman's name penciled in as our starting DE? I'm at about a 27 right now. The kid is a freak and I can't wait to see him wreak havoc on Big Ten backfields in the fall. Just take it easy on our own guys over the next month please. Oh and I did mention he's a redshirt freshman and 292 pounds? 292?!?! Ok just checking. Wilhite on the other side has me almost as excited, as he really played well towards the end of last season. We really struggled to replace Willie VanDeSteeg's passing rushing skills last year, and the answer this season is hopefully going to be these two flying off the edges. There are states smaller than the 325 pound Jewhan Edwards, and I'm hoping he becomes the run stuffer we'll need against- well against pretty much everybody in the Big Ten schedule this seasons since everybody except maybe Michigan State can run the ball.

4. Cornerbacks were Michael Carter and Ryan Collado.

Zero surprise here either. Again, Collado starts the spring as the starter by default because he's a senior, but with his man coverage skills- or complete lack thereof- we're in trouble if he's still the starter when the games start counting.

5. The linebackers: Mike Rallis on the strong side, Gary Tinsley in the middle, Keanon Cooper on the weak side.

Tinsley and Cooper are automatic starters, and I think/hope/pray both have a shot at being all-conference this year. Rallis, the converted defensive back, is going to get pushed big-time by soph (and Cooper's Skyline high school teammate) Spencer Reeves and RFr Brent Singleton. That's three pretty talented guys for one spot, and of course doesn't even include Sam Maresh. Pretty nice position to be in when getting anything from someone with Maresh's potential as in impact middle linebacker is simply gravy because you've got plenty of talent ready to go. Have I mentioned how excited I am for our defense this year? Have I? I think I just broke the 1-10 scale with a 432. Good times.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let it Begin! LET IT BEGIN!!!

If you haven't seen the movie Bolt then you either a) don't have kids or b) you're an adult who wouldn't watch kids movies and you have no idea who Rhino the hamster is. Shame on you. I don't have kids yet I saw this movie with my wife and her family and thought it was hilarious. Rhino, a hilarious hamster who is always very excited and looking for adventure, was my favorite character. As he's being held from a bridge over a moving train, he's so excited he can't contain himself yelling "LET IT BEGIN! LET IT BEING!"

Well today is the first day of Gopher football spring practice and I feel exactly like Rhino: I'm very excited, and spring practice, if nothing else, will definitely be an advernture. I cannot wait for it to begin!

As you know by now, and as Kent Youngblood examines in a Strib story today, there's a LOT of competition going on for the Gophs. Hence the adventure. We assume the returning offensive starters could keep their jobs, but with a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Horton, and a horrible offensive performance, in 2009, I would hope nothing is set in stone. Defensively nothing is a given except for the two returning starters at safety in Kim Royston and Kyle Theret. Otherwise, we need nine new starters and there should be quite the battle royale for those spots.
Out of all the competition and adventure this spring will bring, there's some position battles I'm more excited about than others. All of them are important, but in some cases we're not going to get much for concrete evidence other than the usual coach-speak and high praise for how good this guy or that guy looks and has performed- even if it's just tying his shoe laces. Or maybe Horton will be a breath of fresh air and give us an honest assessment of what's going on with his offense instead of the Goodyear Blimp full of hot air and positivity we usually get from Tim Brewster.

Maybe Horton, unlike Brewster, will also give us a taste of reality, or at least an idea that he's living in it (in fairness to Brewster, he's finally, like in this interview with Adam Rittenberg, admitting his offense suckd last year and they need to get better. Still, he did nothing to make changes during last season, especially at quarterback, when it was clear to everyone else that what he and Jed Fisch were trying to do was not working). Maybe you haven't heard, but our offense stunk last year, and third year starter Adam Weber was a big reason why. The PP's Marcus Fuller rehashes a difficult 2009 for Weber and the points we've discussed here ad naseum. Last spring game Jer and I watched Adam Weber have a so-so game while MarQueis Gray looked like Peyton Manning zipping the ball all over the field...and of course none of that translated to the field for the 2009 season. Well, ok Weber's struggles did, but don't tell Tim Brewster that as he did absolutely nothing last year to motivate or replace his clearly struggling signal-caller.

I still think there's a better chance of Rod Blagojevich admitting he deserved to get canned as Governor of Illinois on Celebrity Apprentice (I can't get enough of that show and think The Gov is hilarious because it's hard to believe a man who acts that clueless could run a state. However I also can't stand The Donald and think his annoying kid Donnie is the worst kind of silver spoon, trust-fund d-bag. Honestly Donnie, I know daddy has given you everything you've ever wanted and you've never had to earn anything, but really, can't you at least get your own hairstyle? At least The Donald's daughter is intelligent and acts like she could run a business regardless of who her father is) than there is of anyone other than Weber starting the season at quarterback, but hey, there's always a chance right? All I can hope for is marked improvement from Weber, Gray, AND Moses Alipate, and that Horton simplifying the offense helps everyone's confidence.

So I don't think we're going to learn much at all about our quarterbacks, and really, we're not going to learn much about any of the skill position guys until we start playing real games. As far as I know, none of the freshmen running backs are showing up until the summer and I don't see any of the freshmen receivers pushing for much playing time, so it's going to be the same cast of characters we saw last year. And just as it was with the QB's last spring, no matter how good our backs and receivers look this next month, we're not going to know how good they really are until the line up for the opener against Middle Tennessee State on September 2nd.

But for the rest of the team? Oh yeah, we're going to learn some things. By 1:30 p.m. April 24 at TCF Bank Stadium for the spring game, we're going to see and start to know who the coaches trust and who has really put in the work in the offseason. O-line coach Tim Davis has been raving about 6'7 redshirt freshmen Brooks Michel and Ed Olson, but are those kids ready to push our incumbent starters (good lord I hope so)? Who's going to get the bulk of the snaps at tight end? Is redshirt frosh and four star recruit Ra'Shede Hageman (who is still listed at TE at 272 pounds, and who Brewster has said is up to 292!!!!) start? Who's going to start across the defensive line? How are the linebackers looking? Especially Sam Maresh? Will Michael Carter look as fast and as good as we hope? Is anyone going to push Ryan Collado out of the 2nd corner spot?

While I'm not expecting to learn much about our skill position guys, it's going to be a lot of fun learning about everyone else. Practice starts today, and as Rhino says: LET IT BEGIN! LET IT BEGIN!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Monday Musings...on a Tuesday

Ok so I'm a day late with this one. You know what? It happens. Sometimes it just does. You want to post on a Monday because, you know, Monday Musings sounds better than Tuesday...hell I don't even know what I'd call a rambling post on a Tuesday. Well actually I do- I'd call it Monday Musings on a Tuesday. Done and done. Glad we cleared that up.

Anywho, first a hearty congrats to the Gopher basketball squad. Gutty, gritty, determined performance in the Big Ten tournament- well except for the Sunday stinker against Ohio State. Apparently they knew they were in so they wanted to rest up for the Big Dance? That Evan Turner is pretty good though- and by pretty good I mean I would seriously consider taking him ahead of John Wall in the NBA draft. That is, if I had the opportunity and if I still cared about the NBA, which since the Sonics got shipped to Oklahoma, I do not. But still, Turner is the real deal and if Ohio State hadn't been placed in the bracket of death I'd love them as a Final Four team.

Honestly, I know next to nothing about college hoops this year as I've watch next to nothing for college hoops this year. Probably for the best for my bracket, considering in the years when I think I DO know something I end up doing terrible. Or at least not winning- and let's be honest, if you don't win it's terrible. Just ask Tim Brewster. What? Sorry, couldn't resist.

A few things to consider when filling out your brackets, courtesy of Colin Cowherd (who, by the way, you can now hear daily on AM 1500 in the Twin Cities. He talks about all kinds of sports instead of the host in the 9-noon slot on another so-called "sports" station that talks Vikings, Vikings, and more Vikings. And occassionally the Timberwolves because they're so relevant right now. Cowherd's not my favorite, but for me he's much better than the alternative):

* it's been 24 years since a team lower than a four seed has won the national championship.

* it's been about that long since anyone lower than a six seed has made the national final.

* 12 seeds and lower do not get past the first weekend- at least not usually. Since they started this whole crazy field of 64 back in the 80's, something like six in 400 hundred 12 seeds have gotten to the sweet 16. Not saying it can't happen, just saying it's very unusual. There's always a 12 upsetting a 5, but that's usually where it ends.

Having said all of that, and again remembering I have watched little college hoops and know absolutely nothing this year other than Evan Turner is a cross between Jesus (either the ice skating Jesus who does interpretive dance of my life or the baby Jesus who is watching his Baby Einstein videos learning about shapes and colors or the one who wears a tuxedo t-shirt. Or maybe the Baby Jesus who wears #7 for the Twins and who really should have signed that bloody extension right now? Or sweet baby Jesus), and some kind of really good basketball player who just seems to always make the right play (well except for his 10 turnovers Sunday) and is really, really "clutch" despite the fact stat nerds will tell you that clutch doesn't exist.

What was I saying again? Were we talking about bacon? No, but we should have been. From someone who knows nothing the brackets looked awfully messed up. Kansas is the supposed #1 seed in the tournament and they get the toughest bracket? Kentucky is the supposed 2nd best team and they also get a tough bracket? The ****ing Dukies are supposedly the third best team- even though they did not deserve a #1 seed and only got on because they're ****ing Duke and therefore stole it from both Ohio State and West Virginia WHO ONLY WON THEIR FREAKING CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS!?!?!?!?- and they get the easiest bracket in the history of mankind? I...I know nothing, and yet still I feel like I know more than the commitee of monkeys who put this together. They apparently just threw feces at a white board and then wrote the names of teams with their fingers. Oh what's that? They were a room full of men who should know something about this? Are you sure? Was Gary Bettman the committee chair? I'm going with a room full of monkeys until given definitive proof otherwise.

Ridiculous brackets. Ridiculous. Gonzaga an 8 seed? Temple only a five? Villanova a two? So much wrong with it I don't even have the time.

Oh and two more things before I forget- we barely had 65 worthy teams for the tournament this year. Barely. Maybe Mississippi State got snubbed, but Viriginia Tech played a non-conference schedule that made even Glen Mason say "geez, challenge yourselves, will you?" and I'm not even sure Wake Forest belonged and Illinois wasn't great either. Yet we're going to increase the bids to 96 so coaches can keep their jobs and schools can make more money? Yet another example of why sports needs an independent board to make decisions on this stuff, because when those involved make decisions only for profit and not for the good of the game or without giving a spit about the fans, well, they need a little more common sense thrown into their decision making. Or any.

The second thing: Bill Simmons has had a lot of good ideas over the year. His best might be that any women's college basketball score, or brackets, that scroll on the bottom line of E!SPN or CBS or ABC or wherever should be done in pink. Countless times I've seen a score or bracket and thought "wait I didn't know those teams were- OH FRICK it's the women's bracket." And then been mad about it. Honestly, to the people who run networks- it's not sexist to put that in pink. We know fans of Tennessee, UConn, and the families of women's college hoops players really care about those results. But for the rest of us, do us the public service so we're not always confused.


Ok so what else? Oregon coach Chip Kelly is having some issues with the inmates of the Oregon correctional facility- I MEAN his Oregon Ducks football team. Starting tailback LaMichael James is suspended for being arrested for domestic abuse. Starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended for the season for his alleged involvement in a dorm theft. As much as this looks bad for the Ducks and Kelly, I have to praise him for his discipline and reaction to this. No really- as Andy Staples says so well in his satirical piece, Kelly could have taken the Bobby Bowden approach and given both of his stars, especially Masoli, a slap on the wrist as punishment and saved his conference and national title hopes in 2010. Instead, Kelly came down hard on both players, as he did last year on tailback LaGarret Blount for his punch in the opener against Boise State. If he keeps having players arrested, Kelly is going to get himself in hot water and perhaps a ticket out of Eugene, but for now, his stern punishments (at least by college football standards) will help keep him as Ducks coach. Well that and the Pac 10 title he won last year.


Gopher spring practice starts March 23rd- just seven sleeps away!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What Does Tim Brewster Have to do to Keep His Job?

Heading into the 2010 season Tim Brewter's seat as Gophers head coach is almost as hot as the brake pads on that runaway Prius in California. While we all know he has to "win" this season and be "successful" to keep his job, but what exactly does that mean? Are there benchmarks he needs to hit?A win total or bowl game he needs to get to? A certain number of player arrests(more wins than police incidents would sure be swell)?

Only Joel Maturi seems to know for sure what's expected of Brewster, but still, if we can't take educated (or wild, uneducated) guesses, what good is the interweb Al Gore worked so hard to invent? Exactly. So let's take a guess at just what it's going to take for Tim Brewster to be leading Gopher Nation into 2011...

As we found out last year, all wins are not created equal. While a win over Northwestern or Ohio State counts the same in the standings, the magnitude of what they would mean are substantially different. So the quality of wins Brewster gets might mean as much as the total. Personally, I do not believe another 6-6 season and a trip to a crappy bowl gets it done, even if the six wins include beating USC, Ohio State, Iowa, and/or Wisconsin. 6-6 last year didn't impress most Gopher fans, althought I do wonder if the perception would have been a little different if we'd lost some of those games 45-42 instead of 12-0? If the offense had been clicking on all cylinders but the defense struggled, would people look at 2009's 6-6 as more successful than the offensive gong show we had to endure? Maybe, maybe not. But for 2010, no matter how exciting or close the losses, and even if Jeff Horton morphs into Bill Walsh and the offense actually, you know, scores points and piles up yards and first downs, if Brewster doesn't win at least seven games in the regular season then he's out.

As we've said time and again, Brewster lacks a signature win, and really has very few quality wins. Thus far, he has never beaten a rival (0-9 in trophy games), has never beaten a ranked opponent, has never beaten a team he wasn't supposed to, and has never won a game in November. Oh, and he's also 0-2 in bowl games. So yeah, I'd say there's some work to be done there. Thanks to a tough schedule- or an anti-Mason schedule- in order to get to the magic seven wins in 2010 Brewster is going to HAVE to notch a signature win or two to keep his job.

In years past, like Mason did, he could have lined up four cupcakes in the non-con (as long as those cupcakes weren't NDSU), and then hoped for three more wins somewhere in the conference schedule. But in 2010 that won't be happening. Sure, three of his non-con games should be gimmes- Middle Tenn St, USD, and Northern Illinois- but the fourth one is about as tough as it gets, and there is not one cupcake on the conference schedule this year. Four Big Ten games could go either way, and really, Brewster needs to win all of them: Northwestern, then at Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois.

IF he were able to win all of those, that gets him to seven, and it would also get him not one, but two victories in November. That would not only put the Gophers at no worse than 4-4 in the conference, but should also get them to the Alamo Bowl, a place Minnesota has never been. I do believe those accomplishments, win or lose at the Alamo, would be enough for Maturi to bring Brewster back.

Still, as we saw last year with the crazy Michigan State win and the maddening Illinois loss, those toss up games are exactly that- a toss up. While we Gopher fans can point at those games and say "we should win those" well guess what? Fans of the Spartans, Boilers, Illini and the 17 Wildcat fans who actually make it to home games would say the same thing about us, especially considering I'd bet at least three of those teams will be predicted to finish ahead of us in the conference standings (as I said in my quickee preview a few months ago, you could make an argument for the Gophers to be ranked as high as 7th in the Big Ten or as low as 10th. After OSU, Sconnie and the dirty, dirty Hawkeyes, this conference is WIDE OPEN).

So if/when the Gophs drop at least one of those four conference games, it means to get to seven wins Brewster would have to win a trophy game, and/or quite possibly not just get his first win against a top 25 opponent (thought Purdue, Michigan State, and even the Purple Smart Kids could all be ranked depending upon how the season plays out), but beat an opponent ranked in the top 15.

The five other games on Minnesota's 2010 sched are REALLY difficult games. The only silver living is that four of them are at home (get those season tickets now!!): USC, Ohio State, Penn State, and Iowa. The Bucks will be a national preseason top 3 team (and might be the best team the mighty Sweater Vest has ever had in Columbus), Iowa should be in the top 10, and both the Nittany Lions and Trojans should start the year somewhere in the top 15. Yikes! The fifth tough team is on the road at Wisconsin, another preseason top 10 squad, in a place the Gophers haven't won since 1994.

If Brewster wants job security, if he wants to make good on all the promises about building up Gopher Nation, then he needs to win one of those five. I think his best chance is against Penn State because they look to be the "worst" of the five (and I use that term loosely. They're still at worst the fourth best Big Ten team to start the season), but if I could chose one of those five for them to win it would absolutely, positively be the last game of the year against Iowa. We'd beat our most hated rivals, a top 25 team in November, in a trophy game? Brewster could check off every category he needs to except for a bowl win, and then Maturi would hand him a big fat check and another extension.

So that's the task ahead for Tim Brewster: Beat the three teams we're supposed to, win at least three of four of the toss up games, and then find a way to slay goliath. Do that and he goes from the hot seat to the catbird seat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Notre Dame Admits They Could be "Forced" into a Conference

Oh boy. If you thought the firestorm surrounding Big Ten expansion was heating up before, just wait until this gets around:

Per Adam Rittenberg, and the New York Times story he links to, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick admitted that giving up their beloved independence and joining a conference is possible. Not probable, but possible if they were forced to:

“We start that process with a clear preference,” he said. “You each could invent a scenario that would force our hand. It’s not hard to do. We just have to pay attention and stay on top of the game and talk to people. That’s what I’m spending 50 percent of my time doing right now. I’m talking to people who you’re writing about and trying to make sure I understand what they’re thinking and what’s going on.”

How would they be forced to? Essentially, it'd be the Big Ten taking either one or three teams that are not the Irish and then closing the doors on expansion for the forseeable ever, leaving the Big Ten and SEC as the clear-cut goliaths of college football- at least financially. And really, for the non-fans involved, that's what it's all about. Asked about how big of a change expansion could cause in college football, Swarbrick responded:

“I think seismic is a possibility,” he said. “I don’t know where the spectrum falls out. You have such an interesting media environment here. It’s having such an impact on people. You have two conferences who have separated themselves economically. And you have all the other conferences lined up in successive years for broadcast negotiations. That’s a tough situation for everyone in that position. The bar has been set so high, and the media market is so tepid, that it creates tension.”

Indeed, Jack. Indeed. As Swarbrick admits, the Big Ten and SEC have each not only signed a whopping TV contract that dwarfs everyone else, the fact they have those contracts for the best time slots with the main networks that show college football (CBS, ABC, and the E!SPN family of networks) means there isn't much left for everyone else. And if the Big Ten gets bigger which, as their study showed, makes them even more money, there's going to be even less around for everyone else.

Now, this doesn't mean the Irish are in danger of going bankrupt if they don't join the Big Ten. Far from it, obviously. If the Irish stay independent they can have that NBC contract from now until eternity because it seems people will always watch Notre Dame football. But the amount of money that they COULD make by joining the Big Ten will be lost, and that amount will continue to grow.

The Irish have remained independent because their alumni and boosters love it and, more importantly, because they don't need a conference to make money. While that's still true, not joining a conference in this expansion push means Notre Dame will miss out on gigantic dollars that would and will dwarf anything they could make with NBC, or by joining anyone else.

“I believe we’re at a point right now where the changes could be relatively small or they could be seismic,” Swarbrick said. “The landscape could look completely different. What I have to do along with Father Jenkins is try and figure out where those pieces are falling and how the landscape is changing.”

Swarbrick is not saying Notre Dame wants to change, or that it will change, but just that like any good business man he's reading the market and trying to set up his company to be as profitable as possible. I imagine that if they can stay independent, they will, but if the signs continue to point to making a boatload more money by joining the Big Ten or losing the possibility to someone else, I have to think the Irish will finally join a conference. And that confernence is the Big Ten.

Any other Gopher fans excited to see Notre Dame every other year? Hey it'd be better than once every never like it is now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who Will Be the Gophs #2 Corner?

With the loss of seniors Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels from the 2009 squad, the Gophers will be holding auditions for both starting cornerback spots in 2010. Not sure your thoughts on these two, but I'm only going to miss one of them- and it's not the guy who was named 2nd team Big Ten in 2008. Despite missing part of the season due to injury, I though Sherels played the best football of his career in maroon and gold in the latter half of 2009. He was always pretty good against the run, but thought he held up very well in pass coverage.

Simmons? Yeah not so much. After giving this some thought (I know, a rare thing for me) I think Simmons' play was the biggest mystery of the 2009 season: How does a guy go from 2nd team all-conference as a junior to getting yanked for a true freshman in a conference game as a senior? Unlike Adam Weber, whose struggles and regression can be at least partially explained (terrible O-line play, no running game, coaching, play-calling, young receivers and trying to run an offense that doesn't suit him), I can't think of a single excuse for Traye. Same coaches, same schemes, and a lot the same teammates combined with a year of experience should have set Simmons up for a big, big year. Honestly, after the way he finished 2008 I would not have been surprised to see him be 1st team all-conference and a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick. Instead, Simmons seemed content to rest on his reputation as "Big Play Traye"- the problem was, the big plays came for the guys he was trying to cover.

And so it is that I'm hoping the kid who replaced Simmons, sophomore Michael Carter who wears the #1 for the Gophers, will also be our #1 corner in 2010. The highly decorated four star recruit from Florida played very well as a true freshman in 2009, steadily moving up the depth chart as the season progressed and earned starter-type reps by the bowl game. If the kid can stay out of trouble off the field, this season and beyond looks very, very bright for him. Of course, we thought that about Traye last year, but I'm hoping Carter won't suffer the same fate.

So hopefully #1 is our #1 corner, but who's going to be #2? Before spring ball starts, the three strongest candidates look like the guy who wears #2 and then two guys named Lewis. Minnesota's #2 is senior Ryan Collado, our most experienced corner who probably belongs at safety. He was excellent last year in run support and decent in zone pass coverage, but looked thoroughly overmatched in man coverage. The problem, of course, is that we already have two starting safeties returning in Kim Royston and Kyle Theret, so there's no room there for Collado to play, but I think we're in big trouble if he plays the whole year as a starting corner.

For the Gophs NOT to have to rely on Collado so much in coverage means somebody taking the job from him, and while there will hopefully be a lot of guys pushing him, two candidates named Lewis are emerging as the favorites. Christyn Lewis is an incoming JUCO transfer from California who at 6'2 and 175 certainly has the build to be a successful corner in the Big Ten. He was ranked as a 3 star prospect by Rivals, and also had offers from BYU, Idaho and Utah State. Not exactly a list of heavyweight football juggernauts, but BYU and coach Bronco Mendenhal have made a name for themselves by developing under-the-radar prospects, so let's hope Lewis ends up being one of those guys.

The other Lewis is redshirt freshman Kerry Lewis, a 5'9 speedster who is the only one of the five guys on the Gopher team from Dallas who did NOT go to Skyline high school (he attended Lancaster). While Lewis didn't play at all last year, he was a three star recruit out of high school who chose Minnesota from a pretty impressive list of schools that included Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oregon State, and Vanderbilt. If you're scoring at home, that's seven BCS conference teams that have all been to at least one bowl game in the past two years, which means unless these seven were wrong, Kerry SHOULD be a legit BCS conference player.

So we can only hope that after sitting a season and getting bigger, stronger, and (hopefully) faster, Kerry is going to be ready to step in and contribute, and hopefully push the starters for playing time. While some people might worry that having a sophomore in Carter and a redshirt frosh in Kerry Lewis as our starting corners would be a recipe for trouble, if those are our best two kids then that's who should play. And it would certainly be our most athletic pair of starting corners since...well since when I'm not sure.

I believe neither Lewis will be showing up until the fall (please correct me if I'm wrong on that one though), so Collado will likely be the leader in the clubhouse right through the summer. Still, like we said about our competition at linebacker, while we don't return a ton of experience at corner, we do look to have some athletes, which is promising for a position that almost requires them best athletes on the field to succeed.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good Grief

Jeff is completely right.  Everybody just needs to calm down.  Let's take the Anchorman references over the top, shall we?

To everyone who is getting way too fired up about this expansion thing, way too early: "Take it easy, Champ. Why don't you sit this next one out, stop talking for awhile."

It's fun.  The speculation, I've been guilty of it myself, but there's just so much of it.  So I'm going to take my own advice and sit this one out... not going to talk expansion.

Have you been wondering where I've been?  No?  Not surprising.  While Jeff has been holding down the fort and absolutely carrying this blog on his big, freckled Irish back, I've been having easily the busiest first quarter of the year, both professionally and personally that I've ever had.  Busy is good, I'm not complaining, but it's clearly been keeping me from other things.

Having said that, it's about this time of year that I begin to get nervous.  Last year was the first year that I can remember where my feelings about Gopher Football, pre-spring practices, were feelings of excitement.  I was incredibly exited for Gopher ball last year.  Unfortunately my hopes and dreams were shattered as we actually got into the season.  Which leads me back to that old familiar feeling of nervousness.

What can we expect this year?  Will some of Brewster's recruits begin to emerge and make a difference on the field?  Will Brewster become a better in-game coach?  Will he learn to go for the jugular?  These are the things that sometimes, quite literally, keep me up at night.

I want to be excited about the QB situation (the boys over at The Daily Gopher gave the QB's a pre-spring grade of A...).  It sounds like we're finally going to have an open competition.  The problem, and the reason I can't get excited about it and I'm instead nervous, is because we all know that Weber not only has the inside track on the job, but he'll definitely do enough to win the job in the spring.  But how Weber has performed in games probably won't enter the equation.  No other QB on the roster has in-game experience close to Weber's, which means he'll get the job.  After last season, I've got some difficulty being excited about that.

I'm slightly more excited about the RB situation, but nervousness is still the mood.  All kinds of young guys will be fighting for a job that nobody has stood out for since Tim Brewster has been around.  Kevin Whaley was our best RB last year, but you could find him "in da club" more often then you could find him stuffing the stat sheet, so he's back in VA Beach with his buddies.  Duane Bennett... eh.  DeLeon Eskridge... eh.  Which leaves us with the newbies.  I'm excited about Lamonte Edwards out of Woodbury (check out his highlight video).  He's 6'2", 215lbs, and it looks as though he's not afraid to run people over, a trait that we haven't seen around here in awhile.

WR's?  Jeffrick and I said it all of last year, one of the most talent heavy positions on this team is WR.  And yet we couldn't figure out how to get those guys involved.  Jeff Horton?!?!?!  Paging Jeff Horton!!!!  I'm looking at you buddy.  You've got more weapons at WR than Kevin Whaley has in the trunk of his Honda Accord... let's find a better way to use them.

You'll see some more breakdowns of different positions in the coming weeks and months, but after breaking down the above positions I need to go take my happy pills.

When It Comes to Expansion, Let's not Go Ron Burgandy in a Phone Booth


Holy schnikes people are going all "Ron Burgandy in a phone booth because the bad man punted Baxter" about Big Ten expansion right now. People- CALM DOWN. Get ahold of yourself. Ed Harkin is not going to put Corningstone on the air, not anytime soon anyway. Baxter is still in his jammies, he's still a little tiny budda all covered in hair, and he's probably just eaten the entire wheel of cheese AND pooped in the refrigerator. I'm not even mad- that's amazing! Seriously, Baxter is fine. Calm down.

When the Big Ten announced before Christmas that they were considering expansion and were going to take up to 18 months to study the prospects, people have been freaking out. And hey, expansion is exciting and awesome and could be an amazingly great thing for the conference. But let's remember one thing here: 18 months. 18 months! And what month are we in now? Roughly month four since the announcement. Let me do some quick and dirty math and calculate... yep we still have roughly 14 FREAKING MONTHS until The Big Ten has said they'll make a decision. That's more than a year away. When the conference says they're going to take 18 months to get this thing figured out and done right, why can't we just take them at their word?

Apparently we can't because it seems like every month we have a new slam-dunk candidate that's THIS close to being the 12th member: first it was Missouri, then Pittsburgh was signed sealed and delivered, and now it's freaking Rutgers. It started when Teddy Greestein in the Chicago Tribune had "inside sources" who say Rutgers is the front runner. Adam Rittenberg has a video post up on his blog about the candidacy of Rutgers.
Rutgers? Really? A very good academic institution with gawd-awful athletics who CANNOT land the New York market for the conference? Their resume and legitimacy is about as thin as our previous candidates in Missouri and Pittsburgh. Law Buck has an excellent post on the non-candidacy of the Scarlet Knights on TRE right now, and Frank the Tank has about 10,000 hours worth of excellent reading on this, and every other possible angle on the Big Ten Expansion topic.

What you'll find both men saying in a very well though and logical manner, is that all of this is posturing. The Big Ten is not going to make any decision right now, and despite how fun it is to guesstimate who will be the next to join the conference, it's not happening anytime soon because, you know, the Big Ten has an 18 month timeline and believe it or not, they're sticking to it.

Another point I want to make, which is basically just parroting what Frank the Tank has already said, and continues to say, is that this whole thing is all about two schools: Texas and Notre Dame. That's it. That's all. Jermo is definitely the poker expert on this site, yet I'm going to use the analogy that this is really all one big poker game: The Big Ten is sitting with the most chips, and Texas and Notre Dame have the second biggest piles. Everybody at the table knows this. This is a poker game between these three to see if they can't strike a deal that can make three very, very rich corporations substantially richer. All parties involved in this know that the Big Ten can make both Texas and Notre Dame substantially more money than they're getting in their current situations, and that both of those fine academic institutions either by themselves or together can make the Big Ten substantially more money than any other candidate, or combination of candidates, the conference could add.

This is not rocket science. It's not. Everybody knows this, but just because they know it doesn't mean it's going to happen right away- or at all. There are negotiations going on here, more public than privately at the moment, and both sides know there's no hurry at the moment. They are posturing, and that is all.

News spilled last week that the Big Ten had an independent research firm investigate between five and fifteen schools to see whether they'd be a good fit. Two schools not on the list? Texas and Notre Dame. People then went all Burgandy on the bit yelling and pointing and chugging milk as they ran (which, as we all know, was a bad choice) saying how it was ridiculous to even mention these two and there's no way they'd leave their current situations and this puts the final dagger in their candidacy.

Frank the Tank, as he has done all along, went ahead and shot that idea full of holes. He said the reason this information was leaked was simply as a very public message to the Mighty Texans and the Mighty Catholics that goes something like this...

"Hey, it's the Big Ten. How are things? Hopefully super swell. So listen, we've been doing some research. As you know, all 11 members of our conference made at least $10 million more than you did last year in TV revenue. Yeah that's right bitches- Northwestern made more than you! Sucks doesn't it? Anywho, as you've no doubt been told, you could make that much, and probably a lot more by joining us. But here's the thing: our smart-guy lawyer research type guys? They've just told us that while we can make the most money by adding you, we can still make a boatload by adding just about anybody else. No really, we can. Like Rutgers. Hahaha ok we can all have a good laugh about the ridiculousness of Rutger's candidacy. We know, it won't come close to delivering the New York market, and unless the Yankees or Knicks start playing college football you're never going to get a ton of people in that city to care. But still, they can make us more money. So could Syracuse, Pitt, and a bunch of others we leaked to the Teddy at the Tribune. It's all true. So yeah, I guess what we're saying in a round about way is you need us more than we need you. You've got our number. Thanks for your time. We're going to go back to swimming in our Scrooge McDuck-style money bin."

You get the idea. As Frank the Tank said in his post "you don't need a research firm to tell you Notre Dame and Texas are the best candidates." Really, you don't. I also like his belief that this list could also be used to pick a 14th school if they were forced to take Texas A&M along with the Horns. A good theory for sure.

What is not a good theory is that Texas (please read this article from Frank the Tank that shoots down every single possible argument against Texas joining the Big Ten. Seriously, every single one) and Notre Dame don't make sense and wouldn't join. I'm not guaranteeing they WILL join, I'm just saying they make by far the most sense, and until the process is officially completed and the Big Ten adds a school(s) that are NOT the Longhorns or Irish, only then will they be out of the running. Until then, the poker game continues.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Don't Forget About the D

Not sure if you heard, but yesterday this happened. And then in Vancouver, and all across Canada, and in my house, something like this happened. While watching the games Friday and yesterday my buddy Phil (a fellow Canadian) and I consumed almost as much Molson as the Canadian as the Canadian women's hockey team! All in all a great hockey tournament, hopefully it will gain the sport some new fans and ultimately get it back on E!SPN where people can actually watch it. And maybe somehow get rid of all the teams south of the Mason Dixon line. And get Gary Bettman fired. Not that I think the game needs some changes or anything.

Ok then, back to Gopher football. Besides the focus on recruiting, all the talk this offseason seems to be on offense: How can the offensive coordinator for the worst offense in the Big Ten actually get an NFL job? Can a man who has never called plays before be a good offensive coordinator? Who's going to start at quarterback? Who's going to start at tailback? Can the receivers get some consistency? Can the offensive line actually learn to, you know, block and stuff?

Certainly a lot of good questions and a lot of intrigue on the offensive side of the ball, but let's not forget about the defense. GN over at The Daily Gopher (this is a good time to point out that if you like March Madness, and for some reason can't get to a TV but are stuck in front of your say, at work...TDG will be showing NCAA tourney games live on their site thanks to an agreement with CBS Sports) said this offseason that despite the fact the offense gets nine starters back and the defense LOSES nine starters, he's more confident in the D than the O heading into 2010. While I don't always agree with GN (especially when it comes to Adam Weber), I could not agree with him more on this one.

As bad as the offense was in 2009, let's not forget the defense was pretty darn good, especially in the last three games of the season against SDSU, Iowa, and Iowa State. Overall, Kevin Cosgrove's defense ranked 5th in the Big Ten in scoring (allowed 23.8 pts per game), 6th in total defense (369.2 ypg), and 5th in pass defense. When the Gopher offense wasn't going 3-and-out all game long and keeping our D on the field for 35 minutes a game or more, they were pretty effective. The nine starters we lose were all solid contributors, and most were not highly ranked prospects but through hard work and (I'd like to think) good coaching, developed into Big Ten caliber defenders. So they're certainly going to be missed.

Still, regardless of what happens with our offense, there's definitely some improvements that need to happen defensively for this program to take the next step in 2010. I see two big things that need to change: one is getting off the field on third downs, and the second is getting pressure on the quarterback, and the two are definitely related. For most of 2009, the defense was dead last in the Big Ten in opponents 3rd down%, hovering near 50%, although there were some improvements in two of the last three games, holding SDSU to 3-16, and Iowa to 1-13. Granted, those two were not exactly offensive juggernauts, but Iowa did win the Orange Bowl. A big reason they struggled so much with third downs is the failure to get any kind of pressure on the quarterback. The Gophs were tied with Michigan for the second least amount of sacks in the Big Ten with just 22 (Sconnie and Penn State led with 37 apiece), and were just never able to replicate the sacks and pressure DE Willie VandeSteeg generated in 2008.

Finding an edge rusher from our young group of defensive ends will be key, but bringing pressure from anywhere and everywhere is going to be a team effort. Thankfully, while we don't have a ton of starting experience coming back in 2010, we do have more size and athleticism on defense than any Gopher group I can remember. We're big and/or fast at pretty much all 11 spots, and for me what's just as exciting is there's going to be some heavy competition for just about every starting position. I fully expect Kim Royston and Kyle Theret to be our starting safeties, but the rest are pretty open. I want to focus on the defensive line battles for another time, because there's certainly some good candidates along the line that can help us get more pressure and fill the running lanes. But another part of the QB pressure and 3rd down efficiency issue is the pressure we can bring from our backers and safeties on blitzes, as well as the coverage our back seven can provide. Improvements there are just as important as it is for the four guys up front, and two of the most interesting competitions on the team will be at linebacker and corner.

We'll look at the corner battle soon, but today let's talk linebackers. We have as many as six linebackers who will be considered for three starting positions, but really, two of them are already locked up. Sophomore Keanon Cooper, who finished 7th in tackles last year with 37, will be a starter at one of the outside spots. While he was only listed at 210lbs last season, his speed and strength more than made up for it. Hopefully some time in the weight room and the cafeteria can bulk him up some more, but regardless he's going to be a disruptive force on the outside both on the blitz and in coverage. Despite having three solid senior linebackers, by the end of the year the coaches just couldn't keep junior Gary Tinsley off the field. Tinsley might have been the Gophers best defender in the loss to Iowa, and continued his strong play in the bowl game. With good size and speed, Tinsley WILL start somewhere in 2010, but whether it's at inside or outside linebacker depends upon one man: Sam Maresh.

Maresh, as you probably know, was a highly decorated recruit from Champlin (who was also a 2-time Class AAA state wrestling champ) who at 6'3 and 250 lbs was expected to compete for playing time immediately as a freshman in 2008. Then doctors found a congenital heart defect which required surgery and some thought might end his playing career before it ever began. Maresh defied the odds and returned to the team in 2009 where he was redshirted and worked hard to get back into football shape. The question for 2010 will be whether he can be 100% again and play like the potential all-Big Ten middle linebacker he looked like coming out of high school? If he can, and he looks great in the spring, then either the coaches will move Tinsley outside, or they might play more 3-4, allowing both Tinsley and Maresh to play the middle.

But if Maresh doesn't prove to be worthy of starting, then Tinsley stays inside and it'll be up to as many as three other guys to fight for the other outside linebacker spot. Spencer Reeves, who like Cooper played at Dallas Skyline high school, is another sophomore with speed and strength who could make a real impact in 2010. IF Maresh isn't ready, then I hope Reeves is, as to me he has the most potential of the remaining guys to be a play-maker. The great thing is, he's going to really have to prove it, as he'll be pushed hard by redshirt frosh Brent Singleton and converted DB Mike Rallis. Neither guy is very big, as both are currently listed around 210 lbs, but they make up for it with good speed and instincts, and both would help a lot in pass coverage. As much as I loved last year's group of starting backers, other Simoni Lawrence, both Lee Campbell and Nate Tripplet weren't great when they had to drop into coverage. Whoever starts for us on the outside should be an improvement there, and hopefully can be just as good against the run.

With these six, and with perhaps more guys stepping up around them, we've got every reason to be excited about the potential of our linebackers, and our defense, in 2010.