Early in this blog's life I wondered if we would look back on 2007 as the year of the gopher? Traditionally (recent traditions) the Golden Gophers have been very good at many non-revenue sports.
Wrestling - NCAA Championships
Baseball - year in and year out a conference favorite
Volleyball - a rare non West Coast team who can compete with anybody
Hockey - (non-rev by national standards), NCAA Championships
Golf - nationally competitive
running sports - usually near top of B10
But the money sports of Football and Basketball have always lagged somewhere between bad and slightly above mediocre. But with the addition of a passionate recruiting genius to football and a hall of famer for basketball can this be the year things turn around for the University of Minnesota?
2007 wasn't/isn't the year we win but will this be the start of something that will make the Golden Gophers relevant in the Big Ten and beyond? Time will tell. The basketball team is clearly headed in the right direction with Tubby. While an NCAA tournament berth might be just out of their reach this year, the team is playing much better basketball and the future looks bright. The jury is still hung on Tim Brewster. Over promising and under-delivering to the tune of 1-11 will make his seat hotter than it had to be. But it appears a new wave of talent is coming in which has the potential to lead the Gophers to a new level of competitiveness.
2008 might be the year we see results, but 2007 was the year the groundwork was laid.
I polled some of the quality gopher blogs to get their opinions and have compiled the First Annual Gopher Nation Awards...
Golden Gopher Player of the Year - Cole Konrad
Non Revenue Player of the Year - Cole Konrad
Jonathan of From the Barn said it best..."I don't care if you are a D-III ping pong player, any time you go undefeated in consecutive seasons you deserve an award, even if it is an award from blog covering a moderately successful athletic program."
Konrad finished his gopher career going 76-0 over his junior (41-0) and senior (35-0) seasons. Obviously winning NCAA and Big Ten Championships both seasons. He also led his gopher team to the 2007 NCAA Championship and back to back Big Ten team Championships in 2006 and 2007.
Cole also won the Big Ten Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year award for the 2006-07 academic year. To win this award Konrad beat out other outstanding athletes such as OSU QB Troy Smith and Wisconsin F Alando Tucker. This is the highest honor the Big Ten awards.
Other Candidates: Mike Mee (baseball), Alex Goligoski (hockey), Hassan Mead (cross country)
Football Player of the Year - not awarded in 2007
PJS abstained from voting and Nathan who contributes to Down with Goldy voted for shark. He felt it was like choosing between being eaten by a shark or a bear. Personally I would have gone with bear, but that is what makes us all so unique.
A 1-11 season does not warrant a player of the year. Dom Barber was very good on defense earning 2nd team All Big Ten, but he was the best of the worst defense in all of NCAA football so I can in good conscience award it to him. Adam Weber had a better than expected season as a freshman QB, but his mistakes cost the team more wins than his arm brought them.
If I had to give it to anybody it would be Sam Maresh, the high school linebacker who chose to stay in Minnesota and help turn the program around. When the other highly recruited in state players chose other programs, Maresh stuck with this original commitment despite a 1-11 season (although the ink has not yet been put to paper). But he is not yet a gopher so he doesn't get it either.
Basketball Player of the Year - Lawrence McKenzie
This is a tough one to vote on. In my head I guess I'm going on the 2007 calendar year so that makes it tough to vote on a basketball player. We have to look at the Big Ten portion of last year's schedule with the non-conference of this year.
I'm giving it to McKenzie and here is why. Last season was brutal for everyone involved, but McKenzie led the team in scoring and was 2nd team All Big Ten. This year he has been relatively quiet but he is also taking on more of a PG role and is more concerned with winning than scoring. This shows at least a little maturity and leadership. If this year's team is going to make a run at the NCAA Tournament then he is going to have to take on more of the scoring load.
Others Receiving Votes: Damian Johnson, Al Nolen
Newcomer of the Year - Adam Weber
Even though he wasn't worthy of being names Football POY, Weber did have a very nice freshman season. Did he make mistakes? Yeah, but name a freshman QB in the Big Ten who hasn't. He also set U of M single season records of passing yards, completions, TDs and total yards in just his first full season.
Here is a look at some of the other Big Ten QBs and their numbers as freshmen starters in the Big Ten...
|Yds||Comp %||Rush Yds||TDs||INTs|
Chad Henne of Michigan had better numbers as a freshman but one could argue that he might have had better weapons around him (Braylon Edwards, Hart, Long and a defense). So all in all it was a fine freshman season. Of course his freshman season is meaningless if he doesn't improve as a sophomore. There are a ton of questions for Weber heading into next season but he was good enough to be the newcomer of the year.
Other Candidates: Nolen (basketball), Derek McCallum (baseball), Jayson Ness (wrestling), Kyle Okposo (hockey)
Coach of the Year - Tubby Smith
AD Joel Maturi was my initial winner. He fired Monson and Mason (in 2006). He hired Tim Brewster who was completely unknown but Maturi felt this was the right hire and hired him anyway. He then shocked Gopher Nation with the hire of Tubby Smith. This hire surpassed all of Gopher Nation's wildest dreams. But Maturi can't win this award this year. The hire of Brewster hasn't exactly paid immediate dividends and might not have been the right hire. And the hire of Tubby was great but I don't think he should be given all the credit for this one. Tubby kind of fell into his lap and all he had to do was not screw it up.
Tubby has accomplished more on all fronts in the last 9 months than the previous staff did in the 2 prior years. Ticket sales are through the roof, this is the best recruiting class we've seen since the mid-90s and this season's 10-2 record is already guaranteed to be better than last year's overall record.
This current team is playing harder and smarter basketball. They are fun to watch and could make some noise in the Big Ten. The conference is ripe for a team like the Gophers to finish on top of a large mediocre middle. If anybody can get us there it will be Tubby.
Other Worthy Candidates: Joel Maturi (AD), J Robinson (wrestling)
That wraps up my Gopher Nation Golden Gopher Awards for 2007, here are a few other miscellaneous favorites of mine that I'd like to throw out there.
Favorite Gopher Blog - Paging Jim Shikenjanski - excellent blog, well written and always has great content. Charlie started PJS just shortly after GopherNation was born so we have kind of journeyed through our initial blog year together.
Down with Goldy is very funny and the newborn blog From the Barn has a lot of promise. But for 2007 PJS has been my favorite Gopher Blog. A year ago the gopher blogdome was sparse but now we have some quality and diversity for gopher fans to get your daily gopher fix.
Favorite Big Ten Blog - Lake the Posts - another blog that is very well written but what makes this blog my current B10 fav is that it makes me interested in what has always been the least interesting school in the conference (imo).
There are so many good B10 blogs out there but LTP is the most entertaining read for my money. MGO is the standard and about the only thing Michigan has over Ohio State, BHGP is pretty funny for an Iowa blog, UMHoops is a nice new basketball blog, Hoosier Report is the best IU has to offer and Off the Tracks gives great analysis of Purdue.
Favorite College Basketball Blog - Basketball Prospectus - the new college basketball blog that is the brainchild of Ken Pomeroy and the John Gassaway (formerly Big Ten Wonk). BP is full of great analysis based on tempo free stats and is an excellent source for your college basketball fix.
That is enough for 2007. 2008 should be a a great year for Golden Gopher sports. Tubby will bring in a recruiting class that should really get Gopher Nation excited, Tim Brewster should have better athletes on defense and a more experienced offense to improve on last year's colossal failure.
Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for taking the time to read my addiction. I've had a blast with Gopher Nation and I look forward to what we'll have to talk about in 2008.