Return to Glory

Return to Glory

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Keelon Brookins decommits from Gophers to Badgers

The first Gopher commitment of the 2013 Class has just decommitted from the Gophers today and sadly committed to the Badgers. TheBadgerNation broke the news and Star Tribune picked up on it soon after. Keelon is a native Minnesotan that is playing his high school football at Tartan, so losing him to the Badgers is a tough blow to Jerry Kill's attempts to solidify the Minnesota border. Keelon is a solid 3 star defensive back recruit that would be a valuable addition to the Gophers. The good news is signing day is still roughly 7 months away, so who knows what will happen between now and then. Remember that last year highly regarded Andre McDonald decommitted from the Gophers, but ultimately signed his letter of intent to play with the hometown Gophers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Indiana Hoosiers

Sept. 1: Indiana St. WIN
Sept. 8: @Massachusetts WIN
Sept. 15: Ball St. WIN
Sept. 29: @Northwestern LOSS
Oct. 6: Michigan St. (homecoming) LOSS
Oct. 13: Ohio St. LOSS
Oct. 20: @Navy LOSS
Oct. 27: @Illinois LOSS
Nov. 3: Iowa LOSS
Nov. 10: Wisconsin LOSS
Nov. 17: @Penn St. LOSS
Nov. 23: @ Purdue LOSS

3-9 Overall Record
0-8 Big Ten Record

Over the last 4 seasons (2008 - 2011) the Indiana Hoosiers have averaged just over 3 wins per season, so my 2012 prediction falls right in line. The bottom line is that thanks to the Hoosiers the Gophers haven't been the worst Big Ten team over the past four years. The Hoosiers are coming off a terrible 1-11 year and just there doesn't appear to be a quick turnaround on the horizon. The Hoosiers have a few possible bright spots on offense in quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Stephen Houston. However, they do lose both starting tackles in Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald who combined for 62 career starts. I don't anticipate the Hoosier offense being anything above ordinary. The real problems are on the defensive side of the ball. The Hoosiers fielded arguably the worst defense of any team in a BCS conference and they now look to replace essentially their entire linebacking corp and are still seeking a pass rush. The good news is that Indiana has some winnable non conference games against Indiana St., Massachusetts and Ball St. Keep in mind Indiana managed to lose to Ball St. and North Texas last year, so any improvement over 2011 must begin with winning some of their non conference games. The remaining non conference game is against Navy,which will probably be a loss. The bottom line is, I don't see any way that Indiana reaches a bowl, as they would likely have to win a combination of 3 games against Northwestern, Michigan St., Ohio St., Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn St. and Purdue. Their easiest Big Ten games are essentially all road games: at Northwestern, at Illinois and at Purdue. Indiana is facing home games against Michigan St., Ohio St., Iowa, Wisconsin. When Iowa is your best chance for a home win it all adds up to a dismal 0-8 Big Ten record.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Washington Times Ranks Gophers 80th in Preseason Poll


Ah the beauty of meaningless preseason polls, we now have something to get fans to experience a wide range of emotions spanning elation to enraged. Unless of course the fan base has already entered the dangerous doldrums of complete apathy. The Washington Times is doing their annual countdown ranking of all the D1 schools and the Minnesota Gophers find themselves ranked #80 out of 124 teams. It is interesting to note, the Gophers are actually ranked behind non conference opponent Western Michigan who finds themselves at #76 in the countdown. There are 68 teams in the "BCS" conferences, so essentially this poll ranks the Gophers as close to the worst BCS conference team. The only BCS conference teams to rank lower than the Gophers are:

Indiana #95
Kansas #91
Colorado #90
Kentucky #88
Boston College #85
Temple #82

In theory, this puts the Gophers as underdogs in every game except the opener against UNLV and FCS opponent New Hampshire. Call me a biased Gopher fan, but if we are going to rank on projected 2012 performance I believe this ranking is low. The fatal flaw with most preseason polls is the exaggerated emphasis placed on prior seasons performances. There is no doubt the Gophers will be an improved team heading into Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era.

Other notable facts:

Gophers Opening Week opponent UNLV ranked #115

Big Ten the only BCS conference to have two teams ranked 80th or lower.

19 "non BCS" schools ranked ahead of the Gophers

http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/d1scourse/2012/jul/18/college-football-lookahead-nos-76-80/

Friday, July 13, 2012

Big Ten Preseason Media Days

Big Ten preseason media days are fast approaching, July 26-27, in Chicago. Minnesota's three player selections to participate at the media days are seniors Keanon Cooper and MarQueis Gray and junior tackle Ed Olson.  I don't think the selections of Cooper and Gray come as a surprise, as they are obviously key leaders of the respective offense and defense. However, it is a bit surprising to see Ed Olson tapped as the third member of the group. This highlights that Ed has clearly stepped into a leadership role on this team and hopefully he can help lead our core group of young talented offensive linemen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

LB Chris Wipson Commits to Gophers

I am excited to announce that in state LB Chris Wipson has committed to play football for Gophers. Again, these are all only verbal committments at this time, since signing day isn't until February 2013. However, this committment holds a special pride for me, since Chris is a fellow Wayzata Trojan. I was a proud Wayzata Trojan graduate in 2003. Chris impressed the coaching staff at last month's summer camp and was able to earn a scholarship offer. I have his measurables around 6'1" 200lbs and during his junior season with the Trojans he racked up 82 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions. Chris had not generated strong D1 interest as of yet, but some think that would have changed with another strong senior season. Currently, Chris had scholarship offers from Air Force, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Here are Chris's own words on why he chose the Gophers, "I really like the coaching staff. The program is going in the right direction. They are on a mission to make the Minnesota football program one of the best in the Big Ten and I want to be a part of that."  It is encouraging to continue to hear in state kids buying into the belief that better days are ahead for the Gophers program. Now if we could start to see progress in the win loss column I really think recruits may take a longer look at playing for the Gophers. Here are junior highlights of Chris that have been posted on YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0yFqSiyewE 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Two Time Minnesota All State Receiver to Walk On with Gophers

Two time Minnesota All State wide receiver Hunter Friesen has decided to walk on Gophers football team. Hunter had initially decided to walk on at Minnesota St. Mankato, but Hunter's desire to play D1 football led him to the Gophers. He was lightly recruited coming out of high school due to his size 5'10" 170 lbs, but he does possess solid speed. Hunter was the star wide receiver for Mankato West High School where he racked up 63 catches for 1,181 yards and 21 TDs. He was also the favorite target of his more well known high school teammate, Gophers freshman quarterback Philip Nelson. According to a great article by Mike Blaha at Gophers Digest, Hunter and Philip have played football together since fifth grade. With Philip seeming to be the heir apparent at quarterback for the Gophers, the chemistry he has with Hunter bodes well for his future. There is a great quote in Mike's article where Hunter states, "I'll do whatever I have to do to play. If they want me to play D back, I'll play D back. Anything I can do to play. I'm going to put everything on the line to get on the field and get playing time." I don't think it hurts to bring in a kid with a chip on his shoulder that is willing to work hard and has a proven track record of productivity, especially when it doesn't even cost the Gophers a scholarship. Welcome to the Gophers, Hunter!

http://minnesota.scout.com/2/1200050.html

Friday, July 6, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Illinois

Sept. 1: Western Michigan LOSS
Sept. 8: @ Arizona St. LOSS
Sept. 15: Charleston Southern WIN
Sept. 22: Louisiana Tech WIN
Sept. 29: Penn St. LOSS
Oct. 6: @Wisconsin LOSS
Oct. 13: @Michigan LOSS
Oct. 27: Indiana (homecoming) WIN
Nov. 3: @Ohio St. LOSS
Nov. 10: Minnesota LOSS
Nov. 17: Purdue LOSS
Nov. 23: @ Northwestern LOSS

3-9 Overall Record
1-7 Big Ten Record

A promising early 2011 campaign came to an ugly end. After starting 6-0 the Illini staggered to a 1-6 finish, which cost Ron Zook his job. As a result, Illinois enters 2012 with significant coaching changes. Illinois has turned to Toledo's head coach, Tim Beckman, to lead the Illinois program. Illinois returns 7 starters on offense and defense. However, key offensive players running back Jason Ford, 1st round draft pick wide receiver AJ Jenkins and 2nd round pick offensive tackle Jeff Allen have all departed. On defense, the Illini lose big time playmaker Whitney Mercilus and his 16 sacks to the NFL. The Illini face one of the most daunting stretches of any Big Ten team this fall with 3 consecutive games with Penn St. and then on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan. as a result the Illini will be 0-3 in the conference before they even get their season started. The Illini's bye week is wasted on pitiful Indiana and then it is back on the road at Ohio St. The Illini's best chance for Big Ten wins are all stacked at the end of the season with consecutive weeks against Minnesota, Purdue and at Northwestern. However, by that time this will be a lost season for the Illini and I would expect to see coach Beckman shift the focus to 2013. The bottom line is coaching changes are always a challenge and Illinois's 2011 record of 7-6 is deceiving. They racked up wins against Arkansas St., South Dakota St, Arizona St., Western Michigan, Northwestern and at Indiana. 5 of those wins were at home. The three quality opponents (Arizona St., Western Michigan and Northwestern) were all played at home and each game was won by exactly 3 points. This year Arizona St. and Northwestern will be played on the road.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Overall view of the Legends Division in 2012

I have now finished analyzing how I see the entire Legends division shaking out this year. The final results are as follows:

Legends Division Conference Record:
Nebraska      7-1
Michigan       7-1 but lost to Nebraska head to head
Michigan St.  6-2
Minnesota      3-5
Iowa              2-6
Northwestern 2-6

I think there is little dispute that the three heavyweights in the Legends division are Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan St. Those three teams will beat up on each other and essentially who does the best in this three way "round robin" will probably be claiming the spot in the conference championship. Nebraska has the slimmest margin for error as they have the 3 brutal crossover games of Wisconsin, Ohio St. and Penn St. Michigan St. also has to play Ohio St. and Wisconsin, but does swap Penn St. for Indiana. Michigan gets the best of the crossovers as they obviously have their protected game with Ohio St. but the other two crossovers are Illinois and Purdue. The crossovers certainly favor Michigan, but Michigan does have to play at Nebraska. For Michigan St. the challenge will be trying to win in Ann Arbor and keep their winning streak against the Wolverines alive. Conventional wisdom would put Michigan in the title game, but I am riding the proverbial hunch with the Cornhuskers. I think this is a big year for Bo Pelini and something tells me he will have his team ready to answer the bell. No Big Ten team had a toughest schedule last year and that experience will prove valuable this year.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Nebraska Cornhuskers

Sept. 1: Southern Mississippi WIN
Sept. 8: @ UCLA WIN
Sept. 15: Arkansas St. WIN
Sept. 22: Idaho St. WIN
Sept. 29: Wisconsin (homecoming) WIN
Oct. 6: @Ohio St. WIN
Oct. 20: @ Northwestern WIN
Oct. 27: Michigan WIN
Nov. 3: @Michigan St. LOSS
Nov. 10: Penn St. WIN
Nov. 17: Minnesota WIN
Nov. 23: @Iowa WIN

11-1 Overall Record
7-1 Big Ten

Nebraska returns largely intact from a solid 9-4 campaign with 8 starters returning on offense and defense.  The defense does lose star players in Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonso Dennard, but Baker Steinkuhler and Cameron Meredith should help anchor another solid defensive front.  The Cornhusker season will live and die by the progress Taylor Martinez has made as a quarterback. Taylor is unquestionably athletically gifted, but in the past he has simply been to inconsistent and error prone to lead the Cornhuskers to a Big Ten title. I think I am in the minority, but I look for Taylor to make progress this year while leaning heavily on solid running back Rex Burkhead frequently. When Taylor does throw he will have the dynamic Kenny Bell ready to make big plays. This year Nebraska gets Wisconsin and Michigan at home. Plus, Wisconsin has a major overhaul to make to their offense. Ultimately, I see an experienced Nebraska squad that acclimated themselves to Big Ten football last year and are ready to eek out a bunch of close wins against a demanding schedule. Look for the Huskers to be the Legends 2012 division champs.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Northwestern Wildcats

Sept. 1: @Syracuse LOSS
Sept. 8: Vanderbilt WIN
Sept. 15: Boston College WIN
Sept. 22: South Dakota WIN
Sept. 29: Indiana WIN
Oct. 6: @ Penn St. LOSS
Oct. 13: @ Minnesota LOSS
Oct. 20: Nebraska LOSS
Oct. 27: Iowa LOSS
Nov. 10: @ Michigan LOSS
Nov. 17: @ Michigan St. LOSS
Nov. 24: Illinois WIN

Overall Record 5-7
Big Ten Record 2-6

Northwestern is another Big Ten team that is having to replace a solid starting quarterback, Dan Persa in this case. However, there have been numerous other depatures too. In fact, only Wisconsin returns fewer starters in the Big Ten this year. In addition to Persa, Northwestern must find a way to replace the reliable produciton of solid wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. It appears Kain Colter will be the starting quarterback this fall for the Wildcats, which means it is additional 2011 wide receiver production that will be missing in 2012. Tight end Drake Dunsmore has also graduated and moved on to the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Lastly, the Wildcats must also replace 4 year offensive line starters tackle Al Netter and guard Ben Burkett. To be honest those were their best two linemen and the rest of the line is proving to be below average, which will add to their offensive woes. Northwestern has shown a history of being able to generate a quality offense, but I see a signifcant step back this year. The one offensive bright spot would be if 5 star wide receiver recruit Kyle Prater, who transferred from USC, wins his hardship appeal this July that would allow him to immediately suit up for the Wildcats this fall. Northwestern's defense has been stuck in neutral, if not actually going in reverse. Only Minnesota and Indiana gave up more points last year, and there simply isn't a quick fix for 2012. I look for the offense to struggle, as they seek to generate continuity on the offense. Unfortunately, the defense will be ill equipped to make up any shortfall on the offensive side of the ball. Northwestern has road games against Penn St., Michigan and Michigan St. and will face Nebraska at home. If Northwestern has any hope of reaching a bowl game they absolutely have to beat Boston College and either Minnesota or Iowa. The end result is a disappoint 5-7 campaign.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Michigan St.

Aug. 31: Boise St. WIN
Sept. 8:  @Central Michigan WIN
Sept. 15: Notre Dame WIN
Sept. 22: Eastern Michigan WIN
Sept. 29: Ohio St. WIN
Oct. 6:   @Indiana WIN
Oct. 13:  Iowa (homecoming) WIN
Oct. 20: @Michigan LOSS
Oct. 27: @Wisconsin LOSS
Nov. 3:  Nebraska WIN
Nov. 17: Northwestern WIN
Nov. 24: @Minnesota WIN

10-2 Overall
6-2 Big Ten

The one consistent thing about the Spartans of old was their inconsistency. However, Mark Dantonio has clearly turned around the Spartan program and has them looming as a perenial threat in the Legends division moving forward. Defensively, the Spartans should again be the elite unit in the Big Ten and arguably a Top 5 defense in the country. The Spartans return 8 defensive starters including: William Gholston, Max Bullough and Johnny Adams. In fact, 6 returning defensive starters were All Big Ten members last season. The issues will be on offense where the Spartans must break in a new quarterback and crop of wide receivers. Replacing Kirk Cousins, the winningest quarterback in school history, is no easy task. The task is even more daunting with the exodus of graduated wide receivers: Keith Nichol, Keshawn Martin, and BJ Cunningham. The bright spot is that Andrew Maxwell is an experienced backup that has been around the program 4 years and many feel is ready to step into the bright lights. Plus, he will have an experienced offensive line and Le'veon Bell to hand the ball off to in the backfield. Kicking off the year with Boise St. with a new quarterback and wide receivers looks daunting, but don't forget the game is at home and Boise is having to replace their own long time starters in quaterback Kellen Moore and running back Doug Martin. The Notre Dame game is another key earlier season game, but ultimately won't have an impact on the Big Ten conference race. The late October stretch on the road at Michigan and Wisconsin is the daunting part of the schedule that sinks the Spartans hopes of heading to another Big Ten title game.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Owen Salzwedel verbally commits to the Gophers

Owen Salzwedel became the 4th verbal commitment of the Gophers 2013 recruiting class on June 21st. Owen is 6'5" 235lbs and plays defensive end for Beaver Dam High School in Beaver Dam, WI. Much like Chris Streveler, Owen hasn't received much interest from big D1 programs yet. However he does hold offers from Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Toledo. After his senior season this fall, Owen will have been a 3 year starter. In 2010, Owen recorded 11 sacks and improved upon that last year by notching13 sacks as a junior.  The Gophers continue to desperately need to upgrade their pass rush and Owen seems to be the next piece to the puzzle. His measurables continue to follow the Gophers trend of seeking slightly undersized ends that have the speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback quickly.

http://host.madison.com/test/beaver-dam-s-salzwedel-commits-to-university-of-minnesota-football/article_bb843984-6a38-51c3-b1ce-f3a5640ba911.html

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chris Streveler verbally commits to the Gophers

Gopher recruiting continues to pick up some steam after a slow start with the verbal commitment of Chris Streveler. Chris is a dual threat quarterback from Woodstock, IL. He is listed at 6'2" 190lbs. Chris hasn't received much attention from the larger D1 schools, but he has solid size and athleticism. He accounted for 43 touchdowns and 970 rushing yards during his junior season at Marian Central High School, while leading his team to an 11-1 record. With the only loss being in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A tournament. He has demonstrated a strong work ethic and is extremely competitive, so he seems to be capable of being a solid leader.

Here is a good article that provides some further insights on Chris Streveler. http://mchenrycountysports.com/articles/2011/12/02/r_3fbozxljtvwpjgeztjydtq/index.xml

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Alex Mayes verbally commits to Gophers

Alex Mayes verbally committed to the Gophers on June 18th. Alex is a 6'5" 285lbs offensive tackle from Van Alstyne, TX. He is a solid 3 star recruit according Rivals and Scout, with Scout ranking him the #41 offensive tackle in the country. It is just a verbal commitment right now, but all accounts are he is firmly committed to the Gophers. In fact, Alex has stated he is not taking any more campus visits or attending various camps. His final 3 schools that were in the running were Minnesota, Colorado and Kansas St. Another reason this is a significant recruiting win is that Alex's younger brother, Connor, is another solid offensive linemen that will be in the 2014 class. Both brothers have stated they would like to play together and Connor already has an offer from the Gophers, so this could prove to be a double win. It is exciting to see the Gophers continue to build their pipeline of offensive line talent, as they will be a key component of the Gophers turning their fortunes around.

Here is a great article by Grant Erickson highlighting Alex Mayes. http://minnesota.scout.com/2/1195967.html

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Charges against Hageman dismissed

Great news for the Gophers, Ra'Shede Hageman's disorderly conduct charges stemming from a fight outside a Sally's Saloon and Eatery on May 10th have been dismissed. Ra'Shede's initial response was that he was actually breaking up the fight, but Ra'Shede and his attorney declined further comment after the charges were dropped. I have seen no word on further any further action will be taken by Jerry Kill, or the athletic department. With the charges having been dropped I don't envision any sort of suspension occurring for Ra'Shede. Instead, I imagine he simply got to have a delightful chat with Jerry Kill about avoiding further incidents moving forward.

Brian Bobek transferring to Minnesota!

Although 2013 recruting has gotten off to a slow start, a big piece of news broke June 16th when it was announced the Ohio State center Brian Bobek is transferring to Minnesota. http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/51692/bobek-transfers-from-osu-to-minnesota
Brian will have to sit out this upcoming season and will then have 2 years of eligibility remaining for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Brian is going to be paying his own way this fall due to the Gophers being at the scholarship maximum, but then be on scholarship starting January 2013. This is an exciting transfer because Brian was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. ESPN ranked him the #3 center prospect in the 2011 recruting class. The scouting report on Brian is that he has solid athleticism and is a technically sound run blocker. The most recent measurables I have seen list Brian at 6'2" 280lbs. Brian is a solid recruit that certainly infuses more talent into the Gophers young offensive line. I am really excited about this transfer because it may mean that Issac Hayes can stay at guard, instead of some projections that have him taken over at center. This gives the Gophers more flexibility and elite level linemen that can compete in the trenches of the Big Ten.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Michigan Wolverines

Sept. 1: Alabama (at Cowboys Stadium) LOSS
Sept. 8: Air Force WIN
Sept. 15: Massachusetts WIN
Sept. 22: @ Notre Dame WIN
Oct. 6: @Purdue WIN
Oct. 13: Illinois (homecoming) WIN
Oct. 20: Michigan St. WIN
Oct. 27: @Nebraska LOSS
Nov. 3: @Minnesota WIN
Nov. 10: Northwestern WIN
Nov. 17: Iowa WIN
Nov. 24: @Ohio St. WIN

10-2 Overall
7-1 Big Ten

The Wolverines have a few key losses in WR Junior Hemingway, C David Molk, DT Mike Martin, DE Ryan Van Bergen and CB Troy Woolfolk. However, they still return 6 starters on offense including all important Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint and OT Taylor Lewan. The defense brings back 8 starters and with Hoke's influence one has to believe they will continue to improve on defense. Kicking off the season against Alabama is a huge game for a Wolverines team that could aspire to a National Championship. However, they fall short against the perenial powerhouse. It appears that Michigan may be in a battle with Nebraska to claim the Legends Division. Unfortunately, Michigan has to play Nebraska on the road and that makes the difference. Another solid campaign for the Wolvernines, but they again fail to even reach the Big Ten Championship game.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Realistic Expectations for Iowa Hawkeyes

Sept. 1: Northern Illinois (at Solider Field) WIN
Sept. 8: Iowa St. LOSS
Sept. 15: Northern Iowa WIN
Sept. 22: Central Michigan WIN
Sept. 29: Minnesota LOSS
Oct. 13: @Michigan St. LOSS
Oct. 20: Penn St. LOSS
Oct. 27: @Northwestern WIN
Nov. 3: @Indiana WIN
Nov. 10: Purdue LOSS
Nov. 17: @Michigan LOSS
Nov. 23: Nebraska LOSS

5-7 Record and 2-6 in the Big Ten

The bottom line is there is a lot of turnover on the coaching staff and the Hawkeyes defense. The Hawkeyes defensive front has lost DT's Thomas Nardo and Mike Daniels and DE Broderick Binns. In addition, MLB Tyler Nielsen and CB Shaun Prater are gone. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes are having to revamp their offensive line after the departure of 3 starters including 1st round draft pick Riley Rieff. Lastly, the Hawkeyes lost reliable wide receiver Marvin McNutt and quite simply have no reliable experience at running back. The end result is a dissapointing 5-7 record. Honestly, the Hawkeyes record could be worse, but they have favorable cross division games which include Purdue and Indiana.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Realistic Scenario for Gophers 2012 Season

Let us complete our picture of the Gophers upcoming season by looking at how the season will most likely turn out.
Realistic Scenario
Aug. 30 - at UNLV - WIN
UNLV was 2-10 last year and 2-11 in 2010 and haven't even been 6-6 since the 2003 season. Their last win vs. a BCS conference team was September 20, 2008 vs. Iowa St. in overtime. The bottom line is the Gophers are more talented and with a complete off season to work with his players Jerry Kill will have his team ready to turn the page on a difficult 2011 season and begin setting the tone on the 2012 season.

Sept. 8 - New Hampshire - WIN
New Hampshire is a IAA program coming off an 8-4 campaign in which their only IA game came against Toledo, which crushed New Hampshire 58-22. The Gophers recent track record against IAA schools is absolutely embarrassing having lost last year to North Dakota State 37-24 and South Dakota 41-38 during the 2010 campaign. In 2009 the Gophers squeaked out a win against the mighty Jackrabbits of South Dakota St. 16-13. It is inarguable that the Gophers will be more talented at nearly every position and with more familiarity with Jerry Kill's system I think the Gophers begin exercising the demons of IAA opponents from the prior five years. In addition, it must be pointed out that the IAA schools the Gophers have played are the Dakota schools which are full of players from Minnesota that feel snubbed by their hometown team. Against, New Hampshire that personal motivating factor will be lacking. Chalk up a W for the Gophers.

Sept. 15 - Western Michigan - WIN
The Gophers face their first true test of the season against an underrated Western Michigan team. The Broncos have a returning senior starter at quarterback in Alex Carder that can put up points in a hurry, as he racked up 31 TDs last year while completing 66% of his passes. Ultimately, he ranked 8th among all players in IA by averaging 335 yards of offense per game. This will be a huge test for the Gophers secondary to see if the holes from last season have been filled. Ultimately, the Gophers improved secondary led by Stoudermire, Carter, Vereen and Shabazz prove up to the challenge while the Gophers young, but talented, offensive line controls the trenches. Gophers win a close one.

Sept. 22 - Syracuse - LOSS
I think the Gophers will ultimately split the Western Michigan and Syracuse games. I will say that the Gophers beat Western Michigan, but fall to a steadily improving Syracuse team led by Coach Marrone. The Gophers exit non conference play with a solid 3-1 record.

Sept. 29 - at Iowa - WIN
The Gophers have won Floyd of Rosedale the past two years, but now they make the trek back down to Kinnick Stadium. From the realistic perspective this proved to be one of the most difficult games for me to decide upon and could prove to be a key game in the Gophers becoming bowl eligible. There is no doubt the Hawkeyes are in transition and I think it benefits the Gophers to get them early in the season. Some way some how the Gophers eek out a road win and hold onto Floyd for a 3rd straight year.
Oct. 13 - Northwestern (Homecoming) - WIN
Northwestern has beaten the Gophers the previous two seasons, but Dan Persa, Drake Dunsmore and Jeremy Ebert  have all graduated. New starting quarterback Kain Colter is unable to make up for the team's lousy running game. With the Wildcats forced to be one dimensional, the upgraded Gophers secondary shines again and MarQueis exposes a suspect Wildcat defense in an inspired Homecoming effort
.
Oct. 20 - at Wisconsin - LOSS
The Gophers exciting 5-1 start comes to a sudden halt with a defeat at Camp Randall Stadium to the hated Badgers. Without the transfer of Danny O'Brien into the Badger program, the Gophers may have had a shot, but his veteran leadership keeps the Badgers balanced. Montee Ball and the hostile Camp Randall atmosphere are to much for the young Gophers to handle.

Oct. 27 - Purdue - LOSS
The Gophers come out slow after the hard fought border battle of a week ago. Purdue proves to be the surprise team in the conference and they keep things rolling with a road win in a high scoring affair.
Nov. 3 - Michigan - LOSS
Sadly, Michigan has dominated the Gophers seemingly forever and you need look no further back than last year's 58-0 dismantling of the Gophers. While 2012 is a more competitive game and the Gophers defense continues to make strides, it is simply not enough. The Little Brown Jug remains safely in the Wolverines trophy case.
Nov. 10 - at Illinois - WIN
Illinois is mired in a difficult season with their first year head coach and arrive at this game 3-6 on the year and having lost 4 of their last 5 games while getting drilled by Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. In addition, the Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State games were all on the road. The battle weary Illini simply get out of the gate slow and the Gophers offense takes advantage. Gophers win a game that was never as close as the score indicates.

Nov. 17 - at Nebraska - LOSS
Gophers enter Lincoln one of the major surprises of the season and the program appears to be leaving the Tim Brewster era behind. Nebraska comes into the came sluggish having just wrapped up consecutive games against Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St. However, Nebraska reminds the Gophers they still have a ways to go by coming from behind in the second half to earn the victory and stay on track for the Legends division title.

Nov. 24 - Michigan St. - LOSS
The Gophers offense simply can't get anything moving against perhaps the conference's best defense. While the Gophers defense keeps the Gophers in the game, the Spartans pull away late.
Final Record 6-6 and goes to a bowl game
I think the Gophers can reasonably be expected to win between 5 - 7 games in 2012.  I will say that the Gophers reach the 6 win mark and are able to go to a bowl game and allows Jerry Kill to highlight to steady growth in the program. The X factor will be our quarterback play. MarQueis is immensely talented, but erratic as a thrower, if he can put it together and be an All Big Ten quarterback the Gophers could be a sneaky good team. Defensively, I believe you will see the Gophers secondary be immensely better than a year ago. If Michael Carter and Ra'Shede Hageman can play up to their talent level this will be the best defense the Gophers have had in awhile.

They key games for the Gophers to reach a bowl game are the following:
Western Michigan/ Syracuse - The Gophers get both these games at home and really need to win at least one of them. If somehow the Gophers win both of these games they will be in great shape.

Northwestern - The Gophers get this game at home on homecoming and Northwestern is going through a lot of offensive transition. The Gophers really need to win this game to help them get to 6 wins or they will head down the home stretch having to chase a win against Michigan, Nebraska or Michigan State.

Iowa/Purdue - Much like Western Michigan/ Syracuse, I think the Gophers really need to at least split the Iowa and Purdue games. You may have noticed I am down on Iowa this year, but that game is on the road. Plus, Iowa has been upset by the Gophers the past two seasons, which means they will enter the game motivated. Meanwhile, Purdue could be another sneaky good team this year and we know what they did to the Gophers last year. If the Gophers drop both these games and were unable to sweep Western Michigan & Syracuse the odds turn towards a so close but so far away 5-7 campaign and the bowl drought continues.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Best Case Scenario for Gophers 2012 Season

Sadly spring practice has come and gone and other than an occasional recruiting update it is an extremely quiet time for Gophers news. Of course that is usually a good thing, as the only other news that pops up right now is players getting arrested and/or kicked off the team, so really no news is good news right now. Look no further than the Ra'Shede Hageman post for proof.

As a result, what better time then now to start going over each Big Ten team's schedule to provide my wildly unscientific guesses for best and realistic scenarios for each team's season. As an admitted Gopher fan, lets  kickoff our analysis by studying the hometown team.

Best Case Scenario
Aug. 30 - at UNLV - WIN
UNLV was 2-10 last year and 2-11 in 2010 and haven't even been 6-6 since the 2003 season. Their last win vs. a BCS conference team was September 20, 2008 vs. Iowa St. in overtime. The bottom line is the Gophers are more talented and with a complete off season to work with his players Jerry Kill will have his team ready to turn the page on a difficult 2011 season and begin setting the tone on the 2012 season.

Sept. 8 - New Hampshire - WIN
New Hampshire is a IAA program coming off an 8-4 campaign in which their only IA game came against Toledo, which crushed New Hampshire 58-22. The Gophers recent track record against IAA schools is absolutely embarrassing having lost last year to North Dakota State 37-24 and South Dakota 41-38 during the 2010 campaign. In 2009 the Gophers squeaked out a win against the mighty Jackrabbits of South Dakota St. 16-13. It is inarguable that the Gophers will be more talented at nearly every position and with more familiarity with Jerry Kill's system I think the Gophers begin exercising the demons of IAA opponents from the prior five years. In addition, it must be pointed out that the IAA schools the Gophers have played are the Dakota schools which are full of players from Minnesota that feel snubbed by their hometown team. Against, New Hampshire that personal motivating factor will be lacking. Chalk up a W for the Gophers.

Sept. 15 - Western Michigan - WIN
The Gophers face their first true test of the season against an underrated Western Michigan team. The Broncos have a returning senior starter at quarterback in Alex Carder that can put up points in a hurry, as he racked up 31 TDs last year while completing 66% of his passes. Ultimately, he ranked 8th among all players in IA by averaging 335 yards of offense per game. This will be a huge test for the Gophers secondary to see if the holes from last season have been filled. Ultimately, the Gophers improved secondary led by Stoudermire, Carter, Vereen and Shabazz prove up to the challenge while the Gophers young, but talented, offensive line controls the trenches. Gophers win a close one.

Sept. 22 - Syracuse - WIN
The Gophers build on the impressive Western Michigan performance and feed off the energy crowd at the Gophers only night game under the lights at TCF Stadium. Meanwhile, Syracuse comes in flat after an uncompetitive trouncing of Stony Brook and can't recover from the early hole they dug for themselves.

Sept. 29 - at Iowa - WIN
From a coaching perspective, Iowa has been arguably the most stable program, perhaps other than Penn State, in the Big Ten for a decade and was a key reason for the success of the program. However, that all changes in 2012 with Coach Ferentz having to replace his offensive and defensive coordinators. The instability on the coaching staff and significant departure of defensive talent to the NFL the past two seasons proves to much to overcome. The Hawkeyes spend the prior two weeks coasting past Northern Iowa and Central Michigan, while the Gophers come in battle tested from wins against Western Michigan and Syracuse. The Gophers hang on to Floyd of Rosedale for a 3rd straight year in a tight contest.

Oct. 13 - Northwestern (Homecoming) - WIN
Northwestern has beaten the Gophers the previous two seasons, but Dan Persa, Drake Dunsmore and Jeremy Ebert  have all graduated. New starting quarterback Kain Colter is unable to make up for the team's lousy running game. With the Wildcats forced to be one dimensional, the upgraded Gophers secondary shines again and MarQueis exposes a suspect Wildcat defense in an inspired Homecoming effort
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Oct. 20 - at Wisconsin - LOSS
The Gophers blazing 6-0 start comes to a sudden halt with a defeat at Camp Randall Stadium to the hated Badgers. While the Gophers play inspired football and demonstrate a closing of the gap between the programs, the Badgers simply beat the Gophers at their own game as the Gophers young offensive and defensive lines lose the battle in the trenches.

Oct. 27 - Purdue - WIN
Jerry Kill forces his players to remember the disastrous performance against Purdue in 2011 when the team lost 45-17 and surrendered 24 first quarter points. The Gophers play inspired football to purge the bad taste left by last year's defeat. In particular, MarQueis Gray continues to show his development as a quarterback and put his athleticism on display in a high scoring affair.

Nov. 3 - Michigan - LOSS
Sadly, Michigan has dominated the Gophers seemingly forever and you need look no further back than last year's 58-0 dismantling of the Gophers. Michigan shows some chinks in their defensive line that MarQueis and the running backs expose, but the Gophers simply have no answer for Denard Robinson.

Nov. 10 - at Illinois - WIN
Illinois is mired in a difficult season with their first year head coach and arrive at this game 3-6 on the year and having lost 4 of their last 5 games while getting drilled by Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. In addition, the Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State games were all on the road. The battle weary Illini simply get out of the gate slow and the Gophers offense takes advantage. Gophers win a game that was never as close as the score indicates.

Nov. 17 - at Nebraska - LOSS
Gophers enter Lincoln one of the major surprises of the season and the program appears to be leaving the Tim Brewster era behind. Nebraska comes into the came sluggish having just wrapped up consecutive games against Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St. However, Nebraska reminds the Gophers that they are not an upper echelon team yet by coming from behind in the second half to earn the victory and stay on track for the Legends division title.

Nov. 24 - Michigan St. - WIN
Gophers continue the trend of wrapping up the regular season on a high note by upsetting the Spartans. The Gophers defense and offense benefit from their growth throughout the season and put together one of their most complete games on both sides of the ball. Troy Stoudermire cements first team All Big status with a big time interception late in the game and breaks the NCAA all-time kick return yardage record. The Gophers go bowling for first time since 2009!

Final Record 9-3 and goes to a bowl game
The Gophers show dramatic improvement in the secondary thanks to the return of a healthy Troy Stoudermire, the long awaited maturity of gifted Michael Carter, the steady play of Brock Vereen at saftey and the influx of JUCOs make an impact, much the way Traye Simmons and Trumaine Brock did at the start of the Brewster era. The linebacking core is rock solid with seniors Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis. The Gophers decision to emphasize speed at the defensive end positions with Theiren Cockran and Michael Amafuela generates the spark the pass rush has craved for years and big Ra'Shede Hageman proves to be a dominator in the middle. Meanwhile, the offense takes significant strides as MarQueis translates his immense athletic ability into a dynamic season and earns 2nd Team All Big Ten honors behind Denard Robinson. The young offensive line delivers on its promise and leaves fans excited for the years ahead.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Night Games Hard to Come By for Gophers

With the track record of the Gophers over the past decade it is not surprising that when the Big Ten announced its prime time schedule for the upcoming season the Gophers were nowhere to be found on ESPN or ABC. The Big Ten Network selected the Gophers non conference game against Syracuse on September 22, 2012 for a 7PM kickoff, but that is it. All the Gophers other home games will be day games, but starting times have yet to be announced. It should be pointed out that the Gophers first game of the season against UNLV will also be a night game, but that is an away game for the Gophers. Primetime games are a great way to gain exposure for a program, which the Gophers could clearly benefit from. First, the Gophers are going to have to become relevant in the Big Ten. Hopefully in the coming years we will see the Gophers listed more then once on the primetime schedule. However, there are still some great games on tap for the upcoming season. The Michigan vs Nebraska game could be the key game to decide who heads to the championship from the Legends division. With Ohio State not even being eligible for post season play, I must admit I am disppointed that somehow Ohio State still finds itself on ABC/ ESPN twice this year and an additional game on the BTN. For instance, on October 27th, I would much rather see Michigan St. at Wisconsin in primetime.

Here are the Big Ten prime time games for the upcoming 2012 Season:

August 31st: Boise State at Michigan St. 8pm ESPN
September 1st: Indiana St. at Indiana  8pm BTN
September 8th: Vanderbilt at Northwestern 8pm BTN
September 15th: Notre Dame at Michigan St. 8pm ABC
September 15th: Utah St. at Wisconsin 8pm BTN
September 22nd: Syracuse at Minnesota 8pm BTN
September 29th: Wisconsin at Nebraska 8pm ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
October 6th: Nebraska at Ohio State 8pm ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
October 13th: Ohio State at Indiana 8pm BTN
October 20th: Penn State at Iowa 8pm BTN
October 27th: Ohio State at Penn State 6pm ESPN or ESPN2
October 27th: Michigan at Nebraska 8pm ABC, ESPN or ESPN2

Per conference rules, there are no outdoor night games at Big Ten stadiums after October
All listed times are ET

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ra'Shede Hageman Arrested

It has been a quiet off season for the Gophers on the police blotter, but unfortunately that changed last Thursday. Starting defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman was arrested last Thursday after being involved in a bar fight outside Sally's Saloon and Eatery near campus. Per the Pioneer Press, Ra'Shede was booked into Hennepin County jail on suspicion of disorderly conduct at 2:40AM and posted bond. He has a May 24th court date. http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_20592356/gophers-football-rashede-hageman-cited-disorderly-conduct

Gophers spokesman, Garry Bowman, said "Hageman was breaking up a fight at the bar." However, the police reported that Hageman was the only person arrested that was involved in the incident. I would find it strange that the person trying to break up a fight proves to be the only one that gets arrested.

Bowman also said, "Hageman's status with the team has not changed, but Jerry Kill will handle it according to team policy."

I think this will ultimately prove to be a minor incident, but it is still a troubling sign from a player that the Gophers plan to rely on heavily this upcoming season. Hageman really has an opportunity to step up and be a leader on this defense with the graduation of Kirksey and Jacobs, but behavior like this will not sit well with Jerry Kill. Perhaps this proves to be a wake up call and gets Hageman focused in on having a solid season.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Safety

The whirlwind tour of Gophers positional depth ends with the last line of defense, the safety positions. First lets look back at 2011. The safety position began and ended with senior leader Kim Royston last year. He led the team with 123 tackles, 36 more tackles than the next closest teammate. However, that statistic is also a glaring red flag about the underwhelming performance of the Gophers defense in 2011. When the 3rd level of the defense is leading the tackles category it highlights that there were critical failures in the front seven. Also gone is Christyn Lewis and his 43 tackles, who graduated, and James Manuel due to a transition to outside linebacker. As a result, the Gophers enter 2012 with really no experienced safety on the roster.

Brock Vereen: is a junior from Valencia, California and measures at 6'0" 195 lbs. He started all 12 games last year at cornerback, but Jerry Kill has moved him to safety due to the lack of depth. Brock was a bright spot in 2012 as he stepped in and handled the cornerback role quite well. He racked up 67 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 5 passes broken up. This position change is a quick and effective upgrade to the safety position. There is no question Brock has the size and speed to excel at safety and should start from Day 1.

Derrick Wells: is a sophomore from Lehigh Acres, Florida and weighs in at 6'0" 205 lbs. Derrick was a pleasant surprise last year, as he appeared in 11 games as a true freshman. Derrick has demonstrated that he is a versatile player that has the size to start at safety, which is why the transition from cornerback was made. I look for Derrick to be the other starting safety opposite Brock.

Kenny Watkins: is a junior from Detroit, Michigan and measures in at 6'0" 200 lbs. He only appeared in 3 as a reserve last year. Kenny is another player that bounced around a bit between corner and safety, but with the influx of JUCOs I expect Kenny to remain a fixture at safety moving forward. I don't expect Kenny to start, but  he should be one of the first guys off the bench and continue to see more action in a reserve role.


Grayson Levine: is hometown Minnesotan that will be a sophomore this year. Grayson played for Eden Praire High School and earned all state honors as a senior. He is 5'11" 195 lbs. ESPN ranked him the #117 safety in the country and the #7 player in the state of Minnesota. Grayson played in 5 games as a true freshman, again highlighting the lack of safety depth last year. It has quickly become clear that Grayson has the prototypical safety mental to play physical and thrive on delivering solid hits. Although he lacks elite athleticism, he has shown he can play smart and be a physical enforcer on the back end of the defense. He should be a solid contributor and provide needed depth to the position in upcoming years.

Cedric Thompson: is a sophomore from Calipatria, California and weighs in at 5'10" 205 lbs. Just like Derrick and Grayson, Cedric was pressed into service last year as a true freshman. Cedric saw action in 7 games and recorded 16 tackles. ESPN ranked Cedric as the #128 cornerback in the country. The other interesting fact is that his brother, Tedric, is a 2013 recruit that has the Gophers high on list. Tedric is another solid safety prospect that is seeing interest from Colorado, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC. Cedric possess great athletic attributes and has shown as willingness to hit, so I see him continuing to grow into an effective safety.

Damarius Travis: is a true freshman from the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall. Damarius is from Pensacola, Florida and weighs in at 6'2" 205 lbs. As a senior in high school, he was named second team all state. Rivals gave Damarius a solid 3 star rating. Damarius is an exciting safety prospect because of his size and athleticism. He will join the Gophers and immediately be the largest safety on the roster. I would imagine he will redshirt this year, but after a year in the program I will be interested to see if he is ready to claim a starting job.

Antonio Johnson: is also a true freshman from the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall. Antonio is from Cleveland, Ohio and weighs in at 6'0" 190 lbs. ESPN ranked Antonio the #158 safety in the country. The scouting report is that he tackles with authority, but maintains good tackling technique. He has also shown the ability to quickly read his keys and react appropriately to run or pass situations. His weakness is in man coverage because he lacks top end speed, but overall is considered a great prospect that flew under the radar.


Conclusion: Losing a senior leader and talented player in Kim Royston is tough, but it is especially tough when there is so little experience to fall back on. The good news is that Jerry Kill actively addressed the situation and transitioned Brock Vereen and Derrick Wells to safety, which provides some much needed talent and stability. In addition, Grayson and Cedric both were forced to play early as true freshmen, so they enter 2012 with more experience than you would expect. Lastly, Damarius Travis and Antonio Johnson are incoming freshmen that appear to have the necessary tools to be solid multi year starters.  Entering 2012, the Gophers will have 2 Juniors, 3 Sophomores and 2 true Freshmen manning the safety positions. As a result, it is a young core of players that can hopefully make significant strides over the coming year. Thanks to the position changes it is not the glaring weakness it appeared to be a matter of weeks ago, but I would still look for Kill to fill the safety position with at least another player in the upcoming 2013 recruiting class.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Cornerback

After a brief hiatus due to a calendar full of work and family obligations, it is time to dive back into detailed analysis of the Gophers roster. Next up is the cornerback position. Gone is senior Kyle Henderson who played in all 12 games and registered 67 tackles with 5 passes defended. The other key departure is the result of a position change, as Brock Vereen is making the transition from cornerback to saftey this spring. Brock proved to be a bright spot at corner last year, but with the influx of JUCO corners it is not surprising that Jerry is seeking to plug a big hole at saftey due to the graduation of Kim Royston. The great news is that Troy Stoudermire was rewarded an extra year of eligibility as a result of a broken arm that derailed his season. After Stoudermire went down last year, the Gophers simply lacked consistent playmakers at the cornerback position. Gophers corners accumulated 3 interceptions last year and 2 of those were by Stoudermire, who only started 5 games! It is tough to put all the blame on the secondary as we have already discussed how the lack of pressure generated by the front four. As a result, the corners were simply called upon to cover for too long. Who will the corners roaming the Gophers secondary be in the upcoming years?

Troy Stoudermire: A fifth year senior that was given a medical hardship waiver that allows him to suit up for the Gophers again in 2012. Troy hails from Dallas, Texas and weighs in at 5'10" 200 lbs. Troy transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback during his junior season in 2010. He started the final 6 games of his junior season at cornerback and played well. Troy carried that over with a fast start in his senior season, but a broken arm ended his season. In his 4 full games of the 2011 season he registered 24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions. There is no doubt he will be starting at cornerback and generally matching up with the opponent's best wide receiver. I believe Troy has an opportunity to be an All Big 10 cornerback this year.

Michael Carter: a senior from Pompano Beach, Florida and weighs in at 5'11" 185 lbs. He is actually the cousin of Gophers two time All America safety Tyrone Carter. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, which ESPN ranked the #17 cornerback in the country. However, he has been an enigma as a Gopher. Despite his talent, Michael only saw the field in 5 games last year while recording 9 tackles. As a sophomore he had played in 7 games and started 4 games. As a true freshman he appeared in all 12 games. Clearly, his playing time has dwindled with every passing year. By all accounts Michael has often been in Jerry Kill's doghouse. The good news is he may have finally matured and turned a corner this spring. This article from the Star Tribune highlights that sentiment http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/145449395.html Michael has always had the talent to be a Big 10 caliber cornerback and he is finally flashing those skills this spring. I look for Michael to carry that over to the fall and end his Gophers career on a high note.

Jeremy Baltazar: is one of the incoming JUCO corners that arrives after spending two years with Blinn Community College. Jeremy was first team All Conference and Honorable Mention All American at Blinn. Jeremy will be a junior for the Gophers in 2012. He hails from Corona, California and measures 6'0" 195 lbs. According to Jerry Kill, "He benches 390 lbs...squatted 455 lbs and verticals over 33 inches." Clearly, he is a big and strong cornerback that helps provide a physical presence to the secondary. It is always tough to project from JUCO to Big 10 play, but from an athletic standpoint he injects some athleticism and experience that is seriously lacking behind Stoudermire and Carter.

Martez Shabazz: is another incoming JUCO corner that arrived on campus this spring after spending two years with Trinity Valley Community College where he earned all conference honors. Martez is from DeSoto, Texas and measures 5'11" 165 lbs. He will be a junior this year for the Gophers. By all accounts, Martez is an absolute burner who will immediately be one of, if not the, fastest players on the team. Martez is a perfect example of the commitment Jerry Kill has to injecting speed into the Gophers defense. At 165 lbs, Martez risks being unable to handle some of the bigger and physical receivers in the conference, but there is no doubt his speed can help this defense. He should be able to run with anyone the opposition has on the roster.

Briean Boddy: is the remaining JUCO corner that Jerry Kill brought in with the 2012 recruiting class and weighs in at 5'11 185 lbs. The great news is even though he is a JUCO, Briean will actually have 3 years of eligibility with the Gophers. Briean hails from Wilmington, Delaware and spent the previous season playing for Coffeyville Community College. I think it should be pointed out he academically qualified directly out of high school, but due to playing on a bad high school team in Delaware he really never generated any recruiting traction. As a result, he went the JUCO route to raise his athletic profile. He was named second team all conference cornerback after recording 40 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. Based on those stats, it seems Briean has a knack for being around the ball and making good things happen. The scouting reports are that while he isn't a flashy player, Briean is a smart and polished player that demonstrates strong anticipation and the ability to be in the proper position. I look for Briean to be a true diamond in the rough that will turn some heads in the years ahead.

Steven Montgomery: is a redshirt freshmen from Miramar, Florida. Steven measures 5'10" 205 lbs. Steven is a bit of a hybrid player that could see time at safety or corner. Coming out of high school ESPN ranked him the #76 safety prospect in the nation. Since he redshirted last year there is minimal evaluation that can be done. His high school evaluation is that he has good speed and range combined with a hitter's mentality. The key weakness was a need to work on his tackling technique and breaking down in space to wrap up ball carriers. Unfortunately, Steven tore a pectoral muscle this off season, but he is back to being a regular participant in spring practice. With the influx of JUCO's highlighted above I don't anticipate Steven to see the field a lot this year.
Eric Murray: is a true freshman that will arrive on campus this fall as a member of the 2012 recruiting class. He hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and measures 6'0" 178 lbs. He helped lead his high school team to an 11-2 season this year and won the city championship. Eric was a first team all state selection and ranked the #4 recruit in Wisconsin by Rivals. He displays a good combination of athleticism and coverage skills. He also is not afraid of contact and displayed a willingness to come up in run support.  Eric has an intriguing blend of natural athletic ability and a 6'0" frame that should get stronger and faster after hitting the weight room. Eric will undoubtedly redshirt this year, but should have opportunities to play in the years ahead.


Conclusion: A healthy Troy Stoudermire is the key to rejuvenating the secondary in 2012. He has the athletic ability to match up with elite wide receivers and has already shown the ability to make game changing plays. The other exciting development is that Michael Carter is suddenly poised to conclude his Gophers career by perhaps being the elite corner many hoped he would be when he signed his letter of intent. Michael has seemingly been making big plays every day of spring practice. Troy and Michael could help anchor our secondary and give us our best cover corners since 2008 when we had Traye Simmons and Tramaine Brock. Unfortunately, they are both seniors so while they are the present, they will not be the future. Baltazar and Shabazz are both juniors, so they will be around this year and next. They will help provide stability after the departure of Troy and Michael. I also look for Boddy to be heavily involved in upcoming years. The concern is that the pipeline only has redshirt freshman Steven Montgomery and true freshman Eric Murray. I actually feel very good about the cornerback position in 2012 & 2013, but worry about where the Gophers go from there. I am hopeful Keelon Brookins ultimately makes good on his verbal commitment to the Gophers, as he will inject another dynamic cornerback into the Gophers secondary.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Analyzing Depth at the Linebacker Position

Mike Rallis: is a redshirt senior and the leader on this Gophers defense. Mike started all 12 games in 2011 as an outside linebacker and recorded 83 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also started 6 games at linebacker as a sophomore, so Mike enters 2012 as an extremely experienced linebacker. Mike hit the weight room hard this offseason and added 15 lbs to his frame to get up to 245 lbs without sacrificing any speed. There has been speculation that Mike would slide inside to replace Gary Tinsley and early indications from spring practice are proving that to be true. Sliding Mike inside to middle linebacker continues the Gophers theme of injecting speed into the defense. I look for Mike to play at an extremely high level and provide strong leadership on what will prove to be an extremely young defense.

Keanon Cooper: is a redshirt senior that hails from Dallas, Texas where he played at the football powerhouse Skyline. He was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. ESPN had him rated the #128 overall player and #12 outside linebacker in the country. Keanon weighs in at 6'0" and 220 lbs. He has seen significant playing time over his career with 10 starts as a sophomore in 2010 and started all 12 games as a junior in 2011. Keanon had 77 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1 sack during the 2011 season. Keanon is without question one of the best athletes on the Gophers defense and I look for him to be a dynamic contributor in his senior season.

James Manuel: is a junior that hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. He weighs in at 6'2" 215 lbs and just this spring is making the transition from safety to linebacker. James will inject additional speed into the Gophers linebacker position and after his struggles at safety I look for this position switch to be a positive. I look for James to make an impact as an outside linebacker for the Gophers moving forward.

Lamonte Edwards: is a redshirt sophomore from Woodbury, Minnesota. He weighs in at 6'2" 210 lbs. In 2011, Lamonte underwent a transition from running back to linebacker. He was able to start the game against Purdue at linebacker during 2011. In 2011, Lamonte recorded 17 tackles during the season. Lamonte has a ton of athletic ability and should be an asset to the linebacker position. He will benefit from having an entire spring and fall practice schedule to acclimate to the linebacker position. He held up well last year considering the transition was made on the fly during the season after the game against Miami (Ohio). I anticipate Lamonte pushing for time as a starter as early as this year and he should be a solid linebacker in the years ahead.

Dwayne Mitchell: is a redshirt sophomore from New Orleans. He played for high school powerhouse Edna Karr and helped lead them to a 11-2 record as a senior and earned all state honors. In fact, Dwayne holds the school's record for season and career sacks. Dwayne is 6'2" and 210 lbs. ESPN ranked him the #71 outside linebacker. Dwayne has yet to really see any live action, but he has a high motor and demonstrated an ability to explode out his stance and cause disruption in the backfield. The issue that remains to be seen is if Dwayne has the size to hold up against the run. Jerry Kill has been preaching speed over and over again and Dwayne has it, so I look for him to also be an active part of the rotation this season. In particular, I could see Dwayne getting after the quarterback in obvious passing situations.

Jephete Matilus: is a redshirt freshman from Delray Beach, Florida. ESPN ranked him the #75 outside linebacker. Jephete weighs in at 6'1" 230 lbs and as a result has some added size to hold up against the run. Jephete has excellent speed and athleticism for the outside linebacker position and displays sound tackling technique. His high school tape demonstrated an ability to beat blockers with his good hands and quickness. While he didn't play during the 2011 season, accounts I have heard are that he was one of the more impressive practice squad players. I look for Jephete to ultimately anchor one of the Gophers linebacker spots in the upcoming years.

Peter Westerhaus: is a redshirt freshman from Chanhassen, MN. He was named Minnesota's Mr. Football for 2010 and actually was second team All American as a tight end by Rivals. ESPN ranked him the #100 outside linebacker. He has prototypical linebacker size at 6'3" and 230 lbs. Based on the other lighter athletic players already mentioned, I think it is likely that Peter's future is manning the middle linebacker spot for the Gophers. He has proven to be a high motor guy with good instincts and sheds blockers at the point of attack.


Nick Rallis: welcome the next of a line of Rallis brothers to suit up in the maroon and gold. Nick is the younger brother of senior Mike Rallis. Nick was a member of the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall as a true freshman. He played his high school football at Edina. Nick was ranked the #8 player in the state of Minnesota and the #65 outside linebacker in the country by Scout. Nick is a great athlete that played both ways in high school, but should settle in at linebacker for the Gophers. He has great speed and size at 5'1" 220 lbs. The scouting reports state that he has good speed, solid tackler and simply allows finds himself around the ball. I think he will be an outstanding player in upcoming years, but will almost certainly redshirt this season.

Conclusion: When you initially look at the position depth it is alarming to see Mike Rallis, Keanon Cooper and Spencer Reeves all as graduating seniors this year. There is no question they have all been solid multi year starters on the Gophers defense. However, as you examine the younger guys left on the roster I believe there is a lot to be excited about. There is no question that in the years ahead the Gophers will be putting more speed on the field at the linebacker position than we have typically been used to. Players like James, Lamonte, Dwayne and Jephete all are extremely athletic guys, but with the exception of Jephete also undersized. The key to the success of the Gophers linebackers moving forward is whether the advantages of increased speed will outweigh the disadvantage of being undersized. Outside of conference play, I think it will prove to be beneficial but I have some concern that teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Michigan may take advantage of that weakness. This weakness gets nullified if we can get good push from our defensive line, which will help keep blockers off our linebacks and allow them to flow to the ball. The good news is that with the exception of James Manuel all these guys are still underclassmen and have another year to develop behind the seniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Overall, I would say that linebacker remains the strength of the Gophers defense and not a crucial immediate recruiting target.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gopher Hockey Team on to the Frozen Four!

The Gophers hockey team continues to follow the path laid out for them by the Gophers women's hockey team that took home the National Championship hardware earlier this month. The Gophers crushed border rival North Dakota 5-2 to win the West Regional at Xcel Energy Center. Outstanding goalie, Kent Patterson, was named the region's Most Outstanding Player. Now the Gophers move on to the Frozen Four and a date with Boston College on April 5th at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. This will be a stiff challenge for the Gophers, as Boston College is the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament. However, the Gophers are playing excellent and have to be a huge threat to take home the hardware.

This is the Gophers 4th trip to the Frozen Four during Don Lucia's 13 seasons as coach. The Gophers last National Championships were the back to back titles in 2002 & 2003.

http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/144160665.html

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Key Position Changes Announced by Jerry Kill

It is that time of year again... spring practice a time of renewed hope, optimism and excitement. Another key ingredient of spring practice is the ever changing two deep depth chart and players changing positions. During Wednesday's press conference Jerry Kill was very open about some significant position changes that are taking place this spring. 

Moses Alipate is finally officially confirmed to be making the switch to tight end. You will recall I addressed this in the tight end analysis I performed last month. I am glad this position change is confirmed because Moses was clearly buried on the quarterback depth chart, but his athletic abilities will be invaluable at one of the team's weakest positions. Moses has bulked up to 290 lbs, but he also greatly improved his conditioning. Plus, Moses already showed off some solid hands during Thursday's initial practice. This could prove to be the most important position switch of the year, if Moses can deliver as an effective weapon in the passing game.

Kendall Gregory McGhee is also making the switch to tight end. As a high school player he was a tight end/ wide receiver, but came to the Gophers as a defensive end prospect. However, he continually struggled to embrace his role as a defensive lineman. My earlier post analyzing the defensive end position already mentioned that Kendall had been bypassed by younger defensive ends, so I think this is another positive position change. Kendall certainly possesses athletic ability and is a fairly big target at at 6'5" 260 lbs. Again, tight end is a position of weakness currently on the Gophers, so moving two good athletes in Moses and Kendall gives the Gophers a much better chance to generate some production from the position. Hopefully, they can step in and contribute, which would take the pressure off of Maxx Williams to have to deliver immediately as a true freshman.

James Manuel will be moving from safety to weakside linebacker. This is an intriguing move that I am cautiously optimistic will be a great fit. James continually struggled in coverage at safety, but his speed will be an immediate asset at the linebacker position. James has always shown a willingness to embrace contact, so putting him closer to the box where he can let his speed and natural ability take over could be a huge success. There is no doubt Jerry Kill wants to inject speed into every level of the defense and this is another move in that direction. It is honestly similar to the blueprint LSU has implemented where they essentially are regularly converting safeties into linebackers to put more speed on the field. James will be a player to watch closely as spring practice unfolds to see how quickly he makes the conversion.

Brock Vereen will be moving from cornerback to safety.  This came as a big surprise to me since Brock started all 12 games at cornerback during 2011 and played well. This proves to be a big sign that Jerry Kill is confident that the JUCOs he brought in Jeremy Baltazar, Martez Shabazz and Briean Boddy are going to be able to step in and play cornerback opposite Troy Stoudermire. This should certainly help bring some stability to the saftey position that is having to replace Kim Royston. Brock is one of the better cover guys on the Gophers and has shown a knack for making some big plays, so he could flourish.

Derrick Wells will also be moving from cornerback to safety. Derrick saw action in 11 games last year as a freshman, so he will also bring some experience to the depleted safety position. According to Jerry Kill, Derrick has bulked up from 175 lbs to 205 lbs. His added size should help bring some physical toughness to the back end of the Gophers defense.

I don't think it is surprising that 4 of the major moves involved getting players transitioned to the tight end and safety positions. Those were clearly two of the glaring weaknesses on the Gophers 2012 roster and hopefully these changes can help bring stability to those units. I am most excited about seeing Moses develop as a tight end, James Manuel become an outside linebacker and Brock Vereen become a playmaker at the safety position.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Freshman Scott Ekpe already impressing Jerry Kill

There is some exciting news already developing this spring as true freshman defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is already impressing the coaching staff. A direct quote from Jerry Kill after the first spring practice was "he did a really nice job for a freshman and he didn't seem like the transition was a big deal to him". Also, when Jerry addressed the media on Wednesday he made a point to mention that Scott Ekpe "when he arrived on campus was 248lbs and right now, he's about 276lbs. I mean, he is eating and growing right in front of our eyes. I think we'll be excited about watching him play as a young person."

It certainly appears that Scott Ekpe has benefited greatly from enrolling early and should continue to benefit by being able to participate in spring practice. It is rare for an unheralded freshman to get this much publicity so early in his career, so there is a distinct possibility of a solid defensive tackle in the Gophers future! This would be great for Gopher depth at the position because behind juniors RaShede Hageman and incoming JUCO Roland Johnson there are really no proven players. Minnesota will always struggle to compete for many of the elite level prospects, so unearthing and developing diamonds in the rough will be critical to the success of the program.

A final point to make about the value of Scott Ekpe is that his brother, Hendrick Ekpe, is a 2013 high school recruit that has been generating some buzz. He already has scholarship offers from Minnesota and Iowa, as a defensive end, so hopefully the family ties will be a valuable selling point.