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.


Anonymous said...

I just want to thank you guys for giving us Gopher Football fans something to read about our beloved underachievers. I don't know how Youngblood even has a job with the Trib, the guy writes a blurb every 6 weeks if we're lucky. Keep up the good work!

Jeff said...

Thanks for the kind words. And thank you for reading us.