July 30, 2008

Time for YOU to get involved

The commenting here at Gopher Nation is pretty light so the following request may fall on deaf ears but I want to know what you want for preseason football info.

As it stands I have no greater access to information than you do, but in all likelihood I spend considerably more time researching and compiling data to form my often brilliant opinions. So what would you like to read here?

Do you want to see another traditional analysis of Offense and Defense (maybe by position), schedule breakdown, opponent previews, depth chart guessing, etc?

Or is there something else, you'd rather see here to get yourself primed for Gopher Football 2008?

If you have an opinion or suggestion, please utilize the comment section or e-mail me your thoughts.

July 29, 2008

An optimistic Gopher preview (not from me)

If you are like me you have probably seen at least a dozen Big Ten preview and just about every one of them has the Gophers finishing 11th in the Big 10.

Big Ten Bloggers - 11th
NYT-Quad Blog - 11th (101st in NCAA)
Lindy's Sports - 10th
Athlon - 11th
Phil Steele - 10th
SureFireScouting.com - 10th
USA Today - 11th
The Sporting News - 11th
Game Plan - 11th
ESPN / Blue Ribbon - 11th

(HERE is a good link with the Big Ten Grid for all rankings above.)

Of course, who can blame them. Minnesota's defense was on the verge of setting some dubious records, a -15 turnover +/-, our worst non-conference record in recent memory and the fact that we actually finished 3 games out of 10th place in the Big Ten.

Gopher fans would like to believe that last year was the perfect storm of things going wrong and 2008 will be very different.

Well, the brilliant football minds over at Saturday Sound Off think the Gophers could conceivably go 7-5 this year.

THE OUTLOOK: I LOVE Minnesota this year. Are they this year's Kansas? Not in a sense that they'll go 11-1 and win a BCS bowl game in the process, but in terms of +/- wins from 2007 to 2008, they might have the largest overall improvement. Weber is a sophomore, the running game will take on more of a priority and they'll be fine there, the WRs are more than solid, the offensive line is decent, the defensive line isn't that great but should get marginally better, the LBs are solid, and incoming JUCO talent in the secondary will send the pass defense's production skyrocketing.
I know it sounds like you are reading a post on a Gopher message board that tends to ooze with optimism. Of course I tend to agree with the handsome, witty, clever and handsome folks at Saturday Sound Off.

Previews are a fuzzy formula of looking at

last year + (looking at the schedule + opponents last year)
+ looking at returning talent + incoming talent.

Looking back at 2007 there is no reason to believe that we should have any hope for this year. This is about where everyone stops with the Gophers. Most publications and blogs do more than their share of previews and Minnesota is an easy one to gloss over.

But if you ask me the schedule + Weber's added experience + a defensive talent upgrade makes us ripe for a win turnaround. I'm going to e-mail the SSO staff to find out exactly why the "LOVE Minnesota this year" but it is refreshing to see someone else who thinks they just might be more than a 1-11 team this year.

The only thing that bothers me is that people will be happy with a 7-5 season and a trip to the Poinsettia Bowl. How quickly we lower expectations and backslide to the Mason Mindset. 7-5 would be a massive improvement and is really the upper limit for this team, but I still yearn for the days of more. I'll be happy to take a big step forward this year but I really hope it would lead to more steps forward.

July 25, 2008

Nobody is talking about Adam Weber

Top 5 storylines surround the Golden Gophers heading into the 2008 football season.

1 - they were bad last year
2 - the defense was REALLY bad last year
3 - Tim Brewster uses the word tremendous a lot
4 - Tim Brewster had a tremendous recruiting class last year
5 - Eric Decker played baseball

I wonder why there is so little talk or coverage of Adam Weber's tremendous freshman season. Weber wasn't exactly on a Heisman list nor was he even under consideration for All Big Ten, but when you really look at things, he did have a very good season as a freshman starting in the Big Ten.

Just looking at the numbers alone Weber had a good year. Weber finished top 4 in the conference for Passing Yds and TDs. And don't give me the "product of a system" argument because more teams in the Big Ten run a spread or spread variation than teams that run a more traditional offense. So even if he is a product of a system it is a similar system employed by most of his peers.

The areas that were not as pretty were of course completion percentage an interceptions. This is where we break down the numbers to compare Weber to previous quarterbacks who started as freshmen in the Big Ten. Obviously 19 interceptions and completing only 57.5% of your passes are areas that need improvement but when you compare numbers to the following you realize it was pretty good "for a freshman."

PCT Yds TDs INT Rsh Yds
Juice Williams (Ill)
39.5 1489 9 9 576
Kellen Lewis (Ind)
54.9 2221 14 7 441
Chad Henne (Mich)
60.2 2743 25 12 0
Jeff Smoker (MSU)
52.3 1365 6 7
Brett Basanez (NW)
58.5 2204 7 7
Zach Mills (PSU)
55.2 1669 9 12
Adam Weber 57.5 2895 24 19 617

The interceptions stand out as bad no matter who you are comparing it to. That has to improve. But everything else looks very good.
  • 1st in yards
  • 2nd in TD
  • 3rd in completion %
  • 1st in rushing yards
All in all what a solid year for a freshman starting all 12 games for a Big Ten program. Juice Williams is a phenominal athlete who gets a lot of press but when you break it down Weber had a much better freshman season (more yards, more TDs, higher completion % and even more yards rushing).

What does this mean as he heads into his second season as QB1? That is hard to judge. I'd love to assume his good numbers will go up and his bad numbers will go down. I looked at Brett Basanez (ran Dunbar's spread), Juice and Kellen Lewis to see how they fared from their freshman to their sophomore seasons. Lewis and Williams saw all good numbers increase dramatically and INTs also increased slightly. Basanez's numbers actually decreased as he threw only 4 TDs to 12 INTs as a sophomore. I don't know what the reasoning was behind this dramatic drop in production but let's hope Dunbar does not let this mistake repeat.

What I wasn't looking for but was pleasantly surprised was the increase in their team's wins from freshman to sophomore seasons.

Win +/-
Juice Williams +7
Kellen Lewis +2
Chad Henne -2
Jeff Smoker +2
Brett Basanez +3

Last year was painfully bad for Golden Gopher fans. For this season to be considered a success we need more than a +2 turnaround. But I fully anticipate Weber will modestly increase completion % by 3-4 points, INTs will reduce by -4 while TDs and passing yards will remain about same (maybe down a little bit as defense improves and running game is more consistent). If this were to happen +3 in the win column is a very real possibility with hope of +4 or +5.

After a record breaking season as a freshman, Adam Weber is poised to put his name to the left of several more school records and potentially Big Ten records. It is simplistic math to take his freshman numbers x 4 and assume he'll throw for over 11,500 yards and 96 TDs. Both would be top 2 in Big Ten history, but history shows us that injuries and defenses often have a lot to say about how Weber's career shakes out. I don't care about Big Ten records at this point, what I care about is winning games. And I think Weber gives us a very good chance to do just that. Whether anybody else is talking about it or not.

Brewster at Big Ten Media Day

Here is the video of Brewster's Big Ten Media Day press conference...

In typical Brewster fashion he used the word tremendous within the first two sentences! In fact reading the transcript I was able to find usage of said word nine times. I'm a big fan of Brewster and his optimism but when I meet him, I am going to give him a thesaurus.

Main Entry: tremendous
Part of Speech: adjective
Synonyms: amazing, astounding, colossal, deafening, enormous, extraordinary, fabulous, fantastic, giant, gigantic, great, huge, immense, large, mammoth, marvelous, mighty, momentous, monstrous, overwhelming, powerful, stupendous, terrific, titanic, vast, whopping, wonderful
After his initial optimism and coach-speak about last season's competitive yet unsuccessful squad, Brewster pretty quickly got down to business...
"last year we were pretty solid on offense, did some pretty good things, scored some points and ran the ball fairly well. What we didn't do was stop anybody. We were a very poor defensive football team. From the head coach to the defensive staff to our team."

"And as you look through the years at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota has had good offensive football teams for a long time where we would come up short on the defensive side."
While I enjoy Brewster's optimism, the thing I most appreciate is that he isn't afraid to speak some of the truth. He wasn't afraid to say "Rose Bowl" when he first started and he isn't afraid to tell everyone that "yeah, we stunk on defense last year." While this fact is clear and anyone who paid attention knows this, most in the coaching world would pussy foot around this issue and say things like "we need to improve defensively" or "it is a total team effort" but Brewster wasn't afraid to call out his staff, the players and take some responsibility for not bing able to "stop ANYBODY."

Brewster also talked a little about our new defensive coordinator, Ted Roof (Roof received a double "tremendous")...
"Again, as I said, the key in our improvement without question is our development as a defense. I'm really excited about Ted Roof, our new defensive coordinator, comes to us with tremendous experience, not only as a defensive coordinator but a head coach. Tremendous calmness about him, understands, has been in the heat of battle, and his imprint on our defense was strong this spring. I thought that he came in and really got after those kids and let them know exactly the style of play that we want to play, and again, it just goes back to our commitment to playing great defense."
We really don't know a lot about Roof or what kind of style or personality he'll bring to the defense. But I like hearing that he got after kids a little bit. I'm sure as the season draws near we will hear more about how Roof wants to play an aggressive defense that flys around the field and swarms to the ball, but show me a defensive coordinator who doesn't want that and I'll give him directions to the unemployment center. The best thing that Roof can bring to this defense is his ability to teach. We have young guys who are going to have to contribute and they need to learn their responsibilities quickly.

Now on to the Q & A
Q. I know you. You mentioned about the emphasis on defense and trying to improve it and all that. How are you changing the defense in terms of style or scheme from last year?

COACH BREWSTER: You know what, I don't think it's at all about style. I don't think it's at all about scheme. I think it's about players, players having an attitude to swarm and attack. We talk about alignment, assignment and tackle, those basic premises which lead to playing good defense.
I know this is kind of a cop out answer, but for the Gophers this is completely true. If you have the tape, watch last year's Iowa game. The Hawkeye RBs would take a false step towards the Gopher sideline then cut back the other way in a designed counter play. Holes were massively huge because our linebackers would sprint three steps in the wrong direction before they realized the play was coming right at them. That is just bad defense of watching the ball and not reading the play. It doesn't matter how fast you are or whether or not you can tackle, if you take yourself out of the play you are a non-factor.

Then go and watch any other game on the schedule to see how awful we were at tackling. I thought Kyle Theret and Dom Barber were a solid tacklers but that was about it.
Q. Hearing from you and having just heard before from Mark Dantonio and Bill Lynch, a number of young coaches who are taking over programs who aren't traditionally the Ohio State do you feel like you and these younger coaches can continue to balance the power in the Big Ten?

COACH BREWSTER: You're a young guy, right? You don't realize that the University of Minnesota has won six national championships and 18 Big Ten Championships. University of Minnesota is truly one of the top schools in the Big Ten. Now it's been a long time since we've won a championship, but without question we believe that we can make an impact in the Big Ten, and that's why we're here.
I believe that HE believes he can make an impact on the Big Ten. Whether or not he can actually accomplish this is another question, but I still like the attitude and tremendous optimism.

July 24, 2008

Big Ten Alumni (non-athletics)

I really don't have an original thought in my head so I am stealing this from Brent's Big Blog's Blog over at the BTN. Brent came up with a handful of notable alumni from Big Ten Schools who are not athletes. I did minimal research and came up with a few different ones, but stole most of them from BBBB.

So lets play a little matching game.

A Ilinois
1. Lucy Liu
B Indiana
2. Charlton Heston
C Iowa
3. Orville Redenbacher
D Michigan
4. Dwight Yoalkam - country music
E Michigan State
5. Yanni - pianst/composer
F Minnesota
6. Mark Cuban
G Northwestern
7. Hugh Hefner
H Ohio State
8. Dick Cheney
I Penn State
9. James Hoffa - son of Jimmy
J Purdue
10. Tom Browkaw
K Wisconsin
11. Toby Flenderman - fictional character on The Office, didn't actually attend school

Answers to be posted in the comments. Pretty exciting game, huh?

July 22, 2008

Maresh to play in 2009 ???

Adam Rittenberg of ESPN posted yesterday that Sam Maresh believes he'll be practicing with the Gophers in the spring of 2009!

But when Maresh talks about returning to the football field for Minnesota, it's hard not to believe him. Most people, including doctors, will attach the word "if" to Maresh's football future, but the talented linebacker who headlined the Golden Gophers' highly touted 2008 recruiting class speaks with a tone of certainty.
Obviously Maresh is being a little optimistic, but he was fortunate that the doctors were able to do the procedure without a "full incision of his sternum." Not completely breaking the bone that protects the heart and holds your ribs together significantly reduces the recovery time. So maybe, just maybe Maresh's optimism has some validity.

Currently he is unable to do any sort of exercise, "lift anything heavier than the remote" and has lost 15 lbs. But he will be at camp in August watching from the sidelines.
"It's going to be pretty hard to sit on the sideline, but it will be good to be a part of the team," he said. "For me to sit back and watch and learn from other people, it's going to help me when I start playing again."
As fans it would be great to see Maresh come back strong to lead the 2009 Gopher defense, but most importantly it is incredible that he not only survived open heart surgery and encouraging that all signs point to Maresh being strong, happy and healthy. Playing D1 football for the Gophers is just icing on the cake.

July 19, 2008

Welcome to Gopher Nation Kid - Eric Stephens

The Gophers have landed their second 4-star running back from the state of Texas in the 2009 class. The other verbal came from Hasan Lipscomb who committed back in early May. The two backs will instantly upgrade our backfield as we head into the 2008 season with questions of depth and mediocrity surrounding the current core of RBs.

Eric Stephens
Size: 5-8, 177
High School: Mansfield, TX (Timberview)
Stars: 4 (rivals)
Rank: 196th, 25th in Texas
Notes: Fort Worth NIKE running back MVP, high school team is ranked #20 in preseason class 4A
Other Offers: Boise State, Duke, Vandy, Houston, Buffalo

More than just being a highly ranked offensive weapon landing that Stephens is a significant get because it continues a Texas pipeline that has been started by Brewster and staff. As we start to establish a presence in Texas, continuing to land recognized players is very important to future recruiting endeavors. If you have read quotes from southern kids considering MN you know that many of them believe it is winter here 11 months out of the year. This gives us seven Texas commits in two years with a presence in Dallas and Houston. I have no doubt in my mind that this does make a difference. Landing a handful of Texas kids every year will help kids to see that they CAN survive a winter in Minnesota and this is a viable institution to continue their careers.

Stephens has plenty of praise coming from Rivals and ESPN Insider, while Scout barely recognizes him giving him just 1 star and not ranking him in the top 200 running backs in his class. Rivals however has him ranked 196th overall, 5th among all purpose backs, 4th best RB "in space" and 25th overall in the state of Texas. At a recent Fort Worth Nike Camp, Stephens picked up an MVP award and caused "several linebackers to whiff completely during the one-on-ones."

According to ESPN, Stephen's skills are the perfect fit for a spread offense.
"Stephens lacks great size but is a very slippery, elusive back with the skills to shine in a spread offense. Shorter frame but has a sturdy, strong body. Attacks the line of scrimmage with great burst and is a very sudden, quick-footed runner through the initial traffic. Avoids defenders with excellent lateral quickness and loose hips. Slips through the small cutback creases showing good body control and vision."

"Overall, Stephens is a quick-twitched athlete with great initial burst as a running back prospect. Could be a potential sleeper if he lands in a spread or zone read type offense that utilizes his great quickness and skills in space. Not a high-carry runner but a kid that could develop in a great change of pace back."
From everything I have read Coaches Dunbar and Brewster want to feature a running game in their spread. We threw the ball a lot last year but we really lacked depth and quality at the RB position. The only thing that will change that this year is a little more experience for the likes of Bennett and Thomas , and how well incoming freshman Kevin Whaley recovers from getting shot in the thigh. All of this adds up to a great opportunity for Stephens in Hasan Lipscomb to come in and contribute immediately as the next great running back duo at Minnesota.

Stephen's lack of size or top end speed does not concern me. I'm happy he is on board as our eithth verbal commitment of the year. What does make me nervous is that there is still a LOT of time between now and signing day in February. Until he puts his signature on a MN letter of intent I'll be worried the big boys from Texas will come calling.

But for now, welcome to Gopher Nation and I'll be sure to keep tabs on his senior season with the Mansfield Timberview Wolves, who texasfootball.com ranks as #20 in class 4A.
Why They're Ranked: We'll admit some intra-office dissent with this selection, and not because Timberview is ranked. Everyone agrees on that, but some feel Timberview should be among the Top 10. Their reasoning: for starters, 14 of them are back, seven on both offense and defense. No running back in Class 4A, in fact, returns with more rushing yardage than Eric Stephens, whose 1,906 yards came against 5A competition. Stephens was the offensive MVP in his district last year, while another decorated player, CB Christian Spears, was named the district's top sophomore. Both Stephens and Spears have what coach Terry Cron said is the overall strength of the team: speed. Fleet feet are in the receiving corps (where all three starters return) and the defensive backfield (where four starters return). Don't just assume Timberview will finish behind Stephenville and Everman in this district; Timberview will challenge for the district crown, and in doing so, it will justify its ranking.
Sounds like Stephens should have an exciting senior season that will then flow into a brilliant freshman season with the Gophers.


(photo stolen from Dallasnews.com, don't tell them)

July 18, 2008

Ranking the Big Ten QBs as NFL QBs

The cool thing to do now is put out your own ranking of Big Ten Quarterbacks and as a blogger you are required to do a comparison list at least 4 times a year. Since Weber was one of our few bright spots in 2007 and is one of our few positions of "strength" heading into 2008 I too will take part.

The Best

1. Curtis Painter (Pur) - Painter threw a lot of passes a year ago (1st in B10), completed a high percentage of them (2nd in B10), threw very few INTs (just 11 in 569 attempts) and also threw a lot of them for 6 pointers (1st in B10). Is Curtis Painter the Tom Brady of the Big Ten? He doesn't have quite as much to work with, but his ability to be consistently accurate and able to find the endzone more than anybody else does draw some comparison. The biggest difference? Painter hasn't show he can win big games against good teams. In his last collegiate season this is his chance to give a big boost to the Boilermakers and put his name on the map.

4. Kellen Lewis (Ind) - Could Kellen become the Daunte Culpepper of the Big Ten? Mr. Lewis losses his primary offensive weapon in WR-JJ Hardy who accounted for 29.8% of Lewis' completions, 37% of his yards and 57% of his TD completions. When DC lost Randy Moss his numbers dropped substantially. TD:INT ratio went from 3.5 : 1 to 1:2. Injuries came along to shorten his season but prior to that he dropped 70 yds per game and was on pace to throw 60% fewer TDs than the year before. I don't know that Lewis will fall victim to essentially seeing his career tailspin into oblivian, but it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to losing the best that offense had going.

3. Todd Boeckman (OSU) - Boeckman is a big QB, with a strong arm and lacks mobility. Peyton Manning anyone? Sorry Buckeye fans, but it would be irresponsible of me to put a former SEC QB here, lets go with Ben Roethlisberger. He's also big with a strong arm, plus he's more of a midwest guy. But I'll end the comparisons there. Everything is ripe for Ohio State to win the Big Ten and roll into the BCS Championship game. Boeckman needs to be just a little improved. Believe it or not, but TB has the highest INT per attempt % of any returning Big Ten QB (even higher than Juice's). Painter threw INTs on 1.93% of his attempts and Lewis 2.26%. TB? He threw an INT on 4.68% of his attempts. That needs to improve and is the primary reason he is where he is on my list.

Next Best

4. Adam Weber (Min) - Vince was Brewster's guy, Vince is probably the best rusher on his team, does not have many weapons on his team and tends to have higher INT%. Check, check, check and check for the Weber comparison. I know I'm a homer but its my blog so screw you. I really think Weber flew under the radar on his way to a very good season last year. Mistakes were high and I've not hidden my thoughts that Weber was directly responsible for the Florida Atlantic and Northwestern losses. But with that said he also put up great numbers in his rFR year while learning a brand new, complicated offense. Of course mistakes will have to be reduced and steady improvement must be shown but this list is not about last year and more about where they will rank in 2008. I think Weber is poised to have a breakout season and will have every opportunity to be near the top of this list in 2009.

5. CJ Bacher (NW) - Jon Kitna threw the ball a LOT last year, was on a losing team and threw about as many TDs as INTs. Bacher threw for a lot of yards with a lot of attempts, but he has the lowest TD% of any returning B1o QB throwing TDs on just 3.65% of his attempts. The next lowest among returning QBs is Jake Christensen at 4.60%. That is kind of an alarming number for Bacher. For those who don't pay attention to the lower half of the Big Ten it would be easy to confuse Bacher and Weber as both are on teams trying to improve but that all depends on fewer mistakes from their QB.

6. Juice Williams (Ill) - I am NOT a fan of Juice Willaims as a QB. He is an incredible athlete and to be fair improved in the last several games last year. BUT, in multiple games last year I watched him completely miss guys who were wide open. Twice in their Indiana game he had certain TDs to WRs who had no defender within 10 yards. On both instances he missed the WR by 5 yards. Completion % was better but his INT% was still really bad. He should probably be higher because his value is in his legs (hence the Michael Vick comparison). Like I said, Juice is an incredible athlete, but I think he will have a very disappointing season with Rashad Mendenhall playing on Sunday's this year.

Solid Starters

7. Brian Hoyer (MSU) - Hoyer quietly is solid. None of his numbers stand out but he threw 20 TDs to 11 INTs and 2,700+ yards. Jeff Garcia was the best I could find as a solid but unspectacular NFL QB. Hoyer is losing WR-Devin Thomas so, like Kellen Lewis, it will be interesting to see how he responds.

8. Daryll Clark (PSU) - I chose Rex Grossman for two reasons. One, nobody is certain who will be starting for the Bears but conventional wisdom suggests that the more experienced Grossman should be the guy in week 1. Secondly, in Chicago if they are going to win it is because of the defense. I guess the fan base's frustration with their team's offensive coordinator factors into this decision as well. Clark should be the man in the new "Spread HD". Nobody is sure yet but

9. Jake Christensen (Iowa) - Cleo Lemon was on a bad team. He wasn't terrible but had a low completion percentage which stalled drives and lacked other offensive weapons. Having an experienced, returning starter is big in NCAA football. Christensen is solid who threw the fewest INTs of any returning QB. But like Lemon was on a bad team, was an unspectacular QB who isn't hurting his team but isn't exactly helping them either. The hopes of the Hawkeyes rest on the shoulder pads of Christensen.

The Rest?

Wisconsin QB (Allan Evridge, Dustin Sherer)- Just hand the ball off, don't worry about throwing the ball. Hand it off and let your defense give you good field position. If you are not familiar with why this comparison is apt or who Tarvaris Jackson is. He is the QB of the Minnesota Adrian Peterson's. Jackson is an unknown but all he has to do is hand the ball off to a super talented RB.

Michigan QB (Steven Threet, ??)- I should lead with the fact that this comparison has NOTHING to do with stats or individual success on the field. The comparison here hinges on teh fact that whoever starts for the Wolverines will probably put up big numbers but we all know they won't beat their more talented rivals.

Terrell Pryor (OSU) - MAKE UP YOUR MIND WOULD YOU? Plenty of talent and the tools to help lead his team to a championship. But probably won't play this year.

If you want some of the other Big Ten QB rankings you can go here...

ESPN Big Ten Blog
Big Ten Network
Lake the Posts (NW Blog)

Skyline-4 end of season awards that I missed

I'm not sure how I missed this but I wanted to put it out there just to get the juices flowing about how excited we really should be about our in coming recruiting class. This is the final time to enjoy their epic high school season before we leave it in the past as they learn to dominate the Big Ten as they dominated the Dallas area.

LB/S - Spencer Reeves - Dallas / Ft Worth Defensive Player of the Year

Maybe all of Gopher Nation knew this already, but last fall the Dallas Morning News named Spencer Reeves the Dallas/Fort Worth area Defensive Player of the Year last fall. That is a pretty cool honor especially when you consider how much talent and division I football players there are in the Dallas area.

Reeves was credited with 160 tackles, but that's only one way he contributed. His personality became the fiery heart of Skyline's defense.
Reeves also received defensive MVP of District 11-5A.

LB/S - Keanon Cooper

Dallas Morning News 1st Team All-Defensive team

Key stats: 165 tackles, four interceptions, three blocked punts.

About Cooper: His quickness at outside linebacker made him one of the top playmakers on Skyline's formidable defense.

Did you know? "I'm very goofy on the field," said Cooper, who jokes with his teammates to keep them loose during games.

Also District 1st team Defense

ATH - Troy Stoudermire

District 11-5A Offensive Player of the Year

There are no notes on Stoudermire's season but he was all over the field for Skyline playing QB, RB and WR at different times. He did have an outstanding season.

WR - Dajon McKnight

Not wanting to miss out on the party, McKnight also drew 1st team All District 11 as a WR.

Dallas-Skyline had an historic season as they won a playoff game for the first time since 1995 ending an 0-11 streak, advanced to the 5A Quarterfinals and finished with a 12-2 record. The heart of the team was a rock solid defense that held teams to just over 200 yds per game (this group may have fared better than the Gophers last year).

Impressive season but the fun part is just the beginning for Gopher fans. In their freshman seasons I would expect Cooper and Reeves to contribute from the beginning. Both will have the opportunity to earn starting jobs but at the very least they will contribute. If Stoudermire or McKnight earn playing time that is great but I would expect they will redhirt and be regular contributors down the road as they'll both likely be learning to play DB at the Div1 level.

High school is over for these guys but hopefully the fun is just beginning for them as well. While I'm sure advancing a few rounds into the Texas State Playoffs is a lot of fun, but taking the Gophers to the Rose Bowl would be an unbelievable achievement.

July 16, 2008

ESPN Big Ten Blog Interview with Eric Decker

Part 1
Part 2

ESPN's Big Ten Blog is a fairly new endeavor of theirs (began July 3) and so far I love it. Adam Rittenberg was hired away from covering Chicago area teams (NW, Notre Dame, DePaul and others) to be ESPN's Big Ten Blogger.

Rittenberg chats with Decker about playing baseball, what was learned from last year and what we can look forward to this year.

What do people not know about your team right now that they'll find out in the fall?

ED: That we don't give up. We're definitely a bunch of guys that are fighting for starting spots and won't give up, because 1-11, that's something you carry on your shoulders for a while. You definitely want to erase that season by being successful.

I hope they can learn from last year's mistakes and make some serious strides forward.

This is basically the same thing Kevin Seifert left the Star Tribune for as he is ESPN's new NCF North Blogger. Also a very well done blog so far.

SI's alternative to the Director's Cup - Minnesota 5th in Big Ten

SI published their top 25 overall collegiate programs today. This is really a simplified version of the Director's Cup. I find these kind of rankings interesting. For obvious reasons football and basketball get all of the attention. If you live in the midwest you'll find more fans of hockey and even wrestling. And if you live in the south baseball is higher profile. But all of the minor sports get lost when evaluating the strength of collegiate athletic programs.

Here is a comparison of Big Ten teams in the rankings...

Director's Cup
Sports Illustrated
3 Michigan
6 Penn St
9 Penn St
12 Michigan
11 Ohio St
23 Wisconsin
18 Wisconsin
29 Mich St
28 Minnesota
36 Minnesota
29 Mich St
47 Ohio St
34 Illinois
48 Purdue
35 Purdue
50 Indiana
39 Indiana
NR Illinois
40 Nortwhestern
NR Northwestern
50 Iowa
NR Iowa

Basically if you are Penn State or Michigan State you understand that SI figured out how to accurately judge overall programs. If you are Ohio State or Michigan then you understand that SI doesn't know anything about sports and they should just stick to swimsuits. And if you are Iowa you still suck.

Really I like the simplicity of the SI rankings but it needs just a bit more. In a nutshell they awarded points in 22 sports (11 mens, 11 womens) for national championships (10 points), conference championships (5 pts) and top 30 finishes (2 pts). What this is missing it doesn't reward teams for very good seasons that don't end in winning a title. For instance Illinois goes to the Rose Bowl yet earns a total of two points for their season for being ranked. Purdue goes 15-4 in Big Ten basketball and has next to nothing to show for it. Taking it to the national level Memphis doesn't get extra points for being the #2 team in the country? Texas is a 2 seed, goes to Elite Eight and gets 2 points for their entire season (same as Michigan State?!).

Interesting system, it makes for good discussion and validates my arguments with friends or other bloggers that Minnesota is a vastly superior program to Nebraska, Iowa or Kentucky. But it needs to be expanded just a little bit. A sliding scale for final rank or for finishing top 3 in your conference would reward successful seasons without giving points away to terrible teams. Minnesota should not receive any points for football or a mediocre basketball season. But in my examples above Illinois should get a bump for a great football season and Purdue deserves more than two points for their basketball season.

Your thoughts?

July 11, 2008

Gopher Football Recruiting Wish List - v2

This is nothing official of course other than my 'official' wish list for 2009 recruits. I'll try to make the table actually fit so you can read the full comments.

I have moved a few guys around and added a couple names.

Significant move up - Craig Drummond (4-star DE) has moved up two spots into the #3 hole. The move was made because I feel we have a greater need along the DLine and also I'm not as sold that we have a realistic shot at Wingo or Davenport.

Significant move down - Ronnie Wingo Jr (4-star RB/Ath). Wingo seems to have cooled on Minnesota and RB isn't as much of a concern with the commitment of Lipscomb.

Added - Xavier Su'a Filo (4-star, OL), Nolan Washington (3-star CB), Eric Stephens (4-star RB), Cameron Gordon (4-star, WR) and Taylor Lewan (3-star OL).

Dropped off the List - Dan Orseske (P) - committed to Gophers, Nat Berhe (S) - not as significant of a need and although I'd love to land a good athlete with a 2.9 GPA he just isn't in my top 20 for now.

Gopher Nation Wish List

Pos Size Stars Hometown OFFERS NOTES
1 Michael Carter CB 5-11 154 4 Pompano Beach, FL FL, Clem, Georgia, Miami, Aub and others cousin to Tyrone Carter
2 Ra'Shede Hageman TE 6-6 252 3 Mpls (Washburn) FL, OSU, Neb, Wis, Ill, Iowa, Mich St a must have for Brewster
3 Craig Drummond DE 6-5 260 4 Chicago LSU, FL, OSU, USC, Tenn Top 5 DE - We have our work cut out for us here
4 Chris Davenport DT 6-4 318 5 Mansfield, LA FL, LSU, USC, Tenn, Tex, Mich, Bama, everybody I'm not holding my breath
5 Bryce McNeal WR 6-2 170 4 Mpls (Breck) committed to Michigan We win, Mich loses things might change here
6 Ronnie Wingo Jr Ath 6-3 210 4 St. Louis, MO Bama, Mizz, Tenn, OK, Neb, Kan, Ill, Iowa, Ark planning to visit, would be a great get, maybe RB
7 TyQuan Hammock ILB 6-1 220 3 Fort Wayne, IN L'ville, Mich St., Ind, MAC schools 13 sacks, 164 tackles as JR, brother to ast coach Thomas Hammock
8 David Gilbert DE 6-4 215 4 Oakland Park, FL Wis, L'ville, Pur, Scar, UCF, Mich St, etc. As of 4/30 had 3 offers, now has 12+
9 Chris Williams CB 5-11 185 4 Cincinnati, OH WV, Ind, Cincy (has academic hurdles) "The thing that shocked me was I didn't follow Minnesota football and they told me they went 1-11. I was like 'wow.' I mean if a I believe a school can really turn things around, and they want me to help I, would be interested in that."
10 Cam Gordon WR 6-2 210 4 Inkster, MI MSU, Cincy, BG not ready to make a decision, #30 WR according to Rivals
11 Eric Stephens RB 5-8 175 4 Mansfield, TX Duke, Hou, Vandy, Boise St strong, great attitude, wants to pair with Lipscomb to be the next Barber-Maroney combo
12 Nosa Equae DE 6-4 235 3 Mansfield, TX KU, Col, Iowa, Pur, L'ville Kan and Col are top 2, is planning to visit
13 Xavier Su'a Filo OT 6-4 285 4 Provo, UT USC, Aub, LSU, Mia, ND, BYU, Col, Stan Moses Alipate is trying to convince him MN is the place to be, don't hold your breath
14 Rodney Smith WR 6-6 202 4 Miami, FL Aub, FSU, OleMiss, Mizz, Tenn, many others 3.0 GPA, but kind of a longshot imo
15 Nolan Washington CB 5-11 165 3 Burien, WA Idaho fast with 34" vert. Loves Oregon but they have not yet offered. One I'd particularly like to see end up at MN
16 Dwayne Difton WR 5-11 166 4 Ft. Lauderdale, FL BC, Pur, Sflor, S Miss, Syracuse seems high on Auburn if offered
17 Taylor Lewhan OT 6-6 270 3 Scottsdale, AZ ASU, UT St likes ASU, dad went to Minn
18 Matt Garin DE 6-4 220 3 Apple Valley, MN AZ St, Ore St, Stan, Wash St, AirForce, MACs plenty of Pac 10 schools but no other BCS schools, interesting
19 Anthony Jones OLB 6-2 200 3 Chandler, AZ AZ, ASU, OreSt, Wash St
20 Artice Kellam S 5-11 180 NR Miami, FL OleMiss, SoCar

July 9, 2008

Golden Gopher Football Rivals - Part 1

one of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess
b: one striving for competitive advantage

I want to take a look at the three teams Gopher fans view as our rivalry games. Bear in mind that I am defining these teams as rivals, not peers.

For decades the Gophers have competed in the Big Ten and sought to add 5 trophies to the trophy case each season.

1-Big Ten Championship Trophy
2-Rose Bowl Trophy
3-Paul Bunyan's Axe
3-Floyd of Rosedale
3-The Little Brown Jug

Since very few of you reading this (if any) can remember a B10 or Rose Bowl trophy making it's home in the Bierman Building, the next best thing has been our attempts to bring home one of our three traveling trophies. It is rivalry trophies such as these that are part of what makes college football great and keeps Gopher fans interested in throughout terrible seasons. We will get into much greater detail but these rivalries and the stories behind their trophies are fascinating.

It is a little known fact (thank you Cliff Claven) that the Gophers actually won the first game in all three of these trophy games (Michigan was actually a 6-6 tie, but since it ended their 28 game winning streak and we were heavy underdogs it is considered a victory).

There is often much debate as to which is the "biggest" of the rivalries.

Some say Michigan is the biggest and most important to win. This isn't a natural rival and to say we have been "rivals" is laughable for Michigan fans. But the point here is that if we want to be the best we have to beat the best. Beating Michigan is more of a statement and puts us in a better place to accomplish other goals than beating Wisconsin or Iowa will typically do for us. But there certainly is no bitterness or dislike for each other. Michigan fans want to beat Ohio State and Michigan State. Gopher fans have more passion for beating Iowa and Wisconsin. But the Little Brown Jug has been around for a long time and might be my favorite of the traveling trophies.

The further you live south of the Twin Cities, the more you will find Iowa to be our biggest rivals. I grew up in south central Minnesota and cared much more about brining home Floyd of Rosedale than I cared about the Axe or the Jug. Geographically this makes sense. This has also been our most successful rival as it is the only one of the three where we have a winning record. The story behind Floyd of Rosedale is interesting and amusing that an actual pig was sent from Iowa to the Governor's office to pay the debt.

My best guess would say that the majority of Gopher fans would say Wisconsin is our biggest rival. With the Twin Cities being so close to the border you usually have at least a couple Badger fans in your office, at church and/or living on your block. The close proximity of these Badger fans is also amplified on Sunday's when they turn into Packer fans so the rivalry carries over. From our calm and level headed perspective Badger fans seem to be more obnoxious than our other rivals. But then again that may just be that they are here in greater numbers and they are Packer fans.

Before I get too in depth with each rival, I encourage you to take let your voice be heard and vote as to which rivalry you think is biggest.

July 3, 2008

a WAY early look at 2008-09 Basketball

Tomorrow is the 4th of July (for those of you who didn't already know this) and starting next week the countdown to football should really heat up. But before we all go into full on gridiron mode I'd like to take a moment to look ahead to basketball.

This week I made a trip over to St. Paul to watch some of our current and incoming Gophers play in the Howard Pulley Pro City League. I am not going to reproduce any game recaps done by Ryan James over at Rivals but I'm going to use my observations there to help form my thoughts on the 2008-09 season.

Starting Lineup (best guess)

PG - Al Nolen

I am a big fan of Nolen and what he brings to the court. Watching him play at Pro City League (PCL) reminded me how good he is defensively but is also reiterated that he is not much of a shooter. He reminds me of Eric Harris early in his career. Harris worked his tail off to become a better shooter and by his senior year shot nearly 39% from behind the arc. But I'm not concerned with Nolen's shooting (we have scorers), I love his defense and what he does to get the rest of his team involved. The PCL is great for a guy like Nolen who gets to guard guys like Troy Bell, Kammron Taylor and Ariel McDonald. For next season I am counting on a similar defensive presence and improved passing on the offensive end. He was able to penetrate the lane last year but often threw passes away or couldn't quite thread the needle in traffic.

SG - Devoe Joseph

I'm taking a shot here, but I think Joseph will be our starting SG by the time we get to the Big Ten season. I'm probably wrong as this spot could go to Westbrook, Hoffarber or even Bostick but I'm taking a shot here. Joseph as most of you know was allowed to try out for the Canadian national team. He did not make the team but is considered to be an integral part of Canadian basketball future. But again the competition and increased speed/intensity can only be a good thing for a kid like Joseph. Jason Thom has this to say about Joseph on his Inside Training Camp blog...

The kid is a shooter...more importantly, he is coachable. Mike Malone, Dave Smart and Leo all took him aside at different times to explain something in practice. He listens, asks questions and without the blank stare that many young players have. It was a glimpse into Canada’s future when he was grouped with Sammy D and Carl English during a few drills.
HERE is a link to a short video of Joseph talking about the privilege of playing with Canada on your jersey while he shoots around.

Basically Joseph is a big time wild card. He could potentially come in and stand out early as a scorer or he could blend in with the handful of other perimeter players we have as he matures and fills out that thin frame.

SF - Devron Bostick

JUCO national player of the year and a big time scorer. After watching Bostick at PCL I'm really not sold on his jump shot. I watched him closely during warmups and was not impresed, but then questioned my original analysis when he drained a deep three early in the contest. But Bostick then went 2 for his next 9. This was just one game but to me he didn't have a great follow through and I don't see a consistent shot coming from him when the Big Ten season speeds things up a little bit. I could be completely wrong as Bostick shot 6/12 from NBA threes in his previous PCL game. And he did attempt 186 threes last year making 33% of them. But my hunch is that he will not be reliable or shoot that % next year in the Big Ten.

With that said the kid is a scorer. I envision him starting here in the small forward spot and getting plenty of minutes at SG throughout the game when Tubby goes bigger. At 6'5" he isn't ideally suited for SF but smaller lineups and three guard offenses are more the norm in college ball these days and I envision a small starting lineup.

Bostick will be our leading scorer.

PF - Damien Johnson

Again, smaller starting lineup will require Johnson to play PF which he often played last year when Coleman was on the bench. Johnson also played on Tuesday in PCL and he continues to amaze me in how far he has come since his freshman season. 15 pts, 16 rebounds, a couple blocked shots and an impressive put back dunk. I'm counting on Johnson to really be the heart and soul of this team. I don't know if he is ready or even capable of leading but if he lets his play do the talking others will follow. DJ will not be our leading scorer but will probably lead the team in rebounding.

C - Ralph Sampson

Big Jon Williams is the more experienced returner in the post but I think Sampson will earn the starting spot. This is the guy I was most looking forward to watching at PCL but he was not present. It is hard to gauge Sampson's impact on next season but everything I have read says that he is continually improving and will be ready for the Big Ten. I think his preferred position is PF, but until we have a center we can count on I expect he'll start at C. Envisioning a lineup where we have someone else at C and Sampson at PF is fun to think about but for now neither Iverson or Williams can be relied on to start at C.

His first PCL game has him scoring 20 and grabbing 6 boards. This was against a weaker team but encouraging none the less for a kid just out of high school.

BENCH (in order of who will enter the game first)

G-Lawrence Westbrook - will come in at either guard spot. Westbrook had an inconsistent season last year, but at times was our primary scorer. The kid isn't afraid to put the ball up, but he also was prone to some awful turnovers. An increase role in the offense and better decision making will allow Westbrook to be more successful this year but also with the incoming talent I see the offense being geared more for the likes of Sampson, Joseph, Bostick and Hoffarber. Westbrook should be used to adjusting by now. He'll be a key perimeter defender and an occasional offensive shot in the arm.

SG-Blake Hoffarber - needs to get better at everything except shooting. I don't think The Hoff is as stoic as others do, but he does need to do more than just shoot. The kid is arguably the best shooter in the conference and that will be his primary role. I don't care that he can't create his own shot or that he won't penetrate the lane. Not his role on the offense. What he does need to get better at is defending the perimeter and he needs to contribute as a rebounder. I do believe he is athletic and is capable of more than just shooting but at the same time his shooting is what other teams will fear and it is exactly what we need him to provide.

C-Jon Williams - Big Jon will likely see the biggest increase in minutes. I don't think you'll see much more scoring out of the big man but he is going to have to be a factor defensively and most importantly on the boards. As his minutes creep up to about 25 min / game can he average 5 of 6 reb/game? That will be significant.

C/F-Colt Iverson - I was able to see Iverson play this week at PCL. When he did not have the ball he looked like a plodding big white guy. But with the ball or attacking the glass Iverson displayed some athleticism and desire. The kid has 7 boards in each of his first two PCL games. Much like Williams I don't see Iverson as a scorer we will be counting on this year. Minimum shots and any points we can get will be a bonus but rebounds and defense will make a big difference for this team. I'm expecting 15-20 min per game.

F-Paul Carter - Our second JUCO commit but not yet on campus. Carter is another wild card who could really be a significant contributor or not. Carter and Johnson are probably our only true SF type players and will give us some size/length when playing at the SF spot. My hope is Carter is able to defend athletic SF's around the conference (think Raymar Morgan). He put up solid numbers last year as a first year JUCO. In an interview with his JUCO coach Carter's length and athleticism kept coming up as his strengths so hopefully he'll be a big boost in all areas off the bench.

G-Jamal Abu-Shamala - I have never been a supporter of JAS on this blog. I just don't think he is a Big Ten caliber player. This summer JAS has tried out for and made the Jordanian National basketball team. They did not qualify for the Olympics but JAS will get the opportunity to compete with and against a different level of competition which can only benefit him in preparation for his senior season in Minnesota. But he is essentially a less athletic and not as good a shooter as Hoffarber. Expect about 10 min per game.

G-Kevin Payton - again someone I do not endorse as a viable option off the bench. From my perspective Payton is taking up a scholarship I'd rather use on a PG for next season. There are rumors that his junior season will actually be his last as the staff is pushing for him to graduate this year and then possibly help out coaching (much like Ryan Saunders). I endorse this move. I am sure Payton is a great guy but he just offers very little value on the floor and that is what we are talking about here.

G-Travis Busch - another scholarship that belongs with someone more talented. Busch's scholarship is already in play to be yanked next year, but considering he is a walk on he has to know this was potentially coming. I love his hustle, when given minutes last year he outworked more talented players but that hustle is best utilized in practice to make others better. Glad he's on the team, don't want to see him in games.

Some random predictions...

Leading Scorer - Devron Bostick
Leading Rebounder - Damien Johnson
Steals Leader - Al Nolen
Assist Leader - Al Nolen
Blocked Shots - Ralph Sampson
All three-point categories - Blake Hoffarber

Final record? - can't give that without a schedule
Big Ten Finish - 3rd place behind Purdue and Ohio State. 3rd place will be a battle with Wisconsin and Michigan State
NCAA Tournament - YES

I am eagerly watching for the Gophers to release their non-conference schedule. Thus far all we know is that they'll be playing Louisville in the Stadium Shootout (Dec 20) and Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Dec 2).

July 1, 2008

Blake Hoffarber up for his second ESPY

The ESPY Nominations were released today.

Blake Hoffarber's shot to beat Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament has earned a nomination. I don't know the stats or ESPY records but he would have to be one of the few (if not only) amateurs to win more than one ESPY. Really he could become the only person to win multiple ESPY's who's name is NOT Tiger Woods.

Click HERE to start voting.

Hoffarber's competition?

#1 - Super Bowl: Eli Manning to David Tyree...

This one is obviously the heavy favorite. It is arguably the best play in Super Bowl history. I'm not sure the legend that is Blake Hoffarber is enough to beat Mr. Manning. (You've all seen the real play a million times and I like Tecmo Bowl so go to YouTube to find the real play if you want to see it.)

#3 - Mississippi Miracle...

This DIII game where Trinity needed 15 laterals to score a TD and win the game. Cool play, but probably #3 in the final standings here.

#4 - Nash Shoots and Scores...

I was expecting a Steve Nash shot, but teah, that was Rick Nash, not Steve (hockey, not basketball). Cool play but this will not win.

The Manning/Tyree catch is clearly the favorite to win this but Hoffarber has a chance to pull off the upset. Let's get Gopher Nation out there and voting to get Blake his second ESPY.

And here is the brilliant highlight of the year for Gopher basketball...