Jared Allen is one Vikings player who speaks his mind, and unlike many others, he is available to be interviewed at any time the NFL rules allow.

The other day, one of the reporters singled out the Vikings for having more problems off the field than other teams, citing the suspensions of Kevin and Pat Williams, and the previous problems of Bryant McKinnie, who was suspended by the NFL and missed the first four games of this season.

"It is what it is; it happens everywhere," Allen said. "It's the media's job to stir up controversy, that's why you guys get paid. We get paid not to listen to what you say and go play football. That's why the games are played."

Allen, who had three sacks against the Bears on Sunday, said the morale on the team is great despite the recent setbacks.

"We had a big win, and we're looking into going to Detroit [this Sunday] and carrying this momentum," he said. "The only way we can do that is by staying focused, again staying focused on the little things -- the task at hand.

"Unfortunately we're used to having big blows. Losing E.J. [Henderson] was huge. ... It's part of football, we all know that. We run a good defensive scheme, we really do. But again, it's one of those things where it doesn't matter what's called, offense or defense, it doesn't matter what play is called, it's about execution."

Allen added: "Everybody in the NFL, because they're good enough to execute on a high level, [is capable of winning]. I don't know -- it depends on motivation. I'm going to use it as motivation to get better and hopefully we'll see them on the other side."

Allen said the Vikings don't want to be the first team to lose to 0-12 Detroit.

"Not a chance. You don't want to be that team," he said. "There's a lot of outside pressures on this game, but that's football. That's the media's job to stir stuff up, and that's our job to discard it, go out there and play football."

If the Williamses aren't available at Detroit, look for Allen to have one of his greatest performances as a Viking. That's the type of competitor he is.

Top grades

Every one of the 12 seniors on the Gophers football team has graduated or is on course to graduate before another football season comes around. All the seniors on last year's team also graduated.

While there has been a lot of negative publicity about the academic performance of some of the Gophers football players, it was interesting to learn Wednesday that Minnesota, Ohio State and Northwestern topped the Big Ten's all-academic fall team, with each having 26 football players on it. The Gophers had three more players on the team than last year.

To earn the distinction, student-athletes in at least their second year at the school had to carry a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Many of the top players, including Adam Weber, Eric Decker, Deon Hightower, Steve Davis, Marcus Sherels, Jack Simmons and Jeff Tow-Arnett, were in the group of 26.

Northwestern is ranked with the top academic schools in the country, and Minnesota matched it in the number of members on the all-academic team. It proves that the grades of the Gophers' top student-athletes are a lot better than those of five years ago released by the NCAA.


Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason denied a rumor that he had been in San Diego talking to former Gophers associate athletic director and current San Diego State athletic director Jeff Schemmel about replacing the recently fired Chuck Long as football coach. "I've got a job," said Mason, who is working for the Pohlad family's Marquette Asset Management. I would be surprised if Mason was interested in the Aztecs job.

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said: "I have not been told what bowl the Gophers will be invited to. But if I would take a guess, I would say the Insight bowl [in Phoenix]. But that's just a guess."

Twins General Manager Billy Smith said he is interested in signing Casey Blake, and the free-agent third baseman would like to play here. However, the holdup is whether the Twins will meet the other offers Blake is getting. I don't think that is going to happen.

Artis Hicks of the Vikings, who started at right tackle in place of Ryan Cook in the Jacksonville game Nov. 23, was playing well until he suffered a triceps strain. Hicks hopes to play Sunday. "Some things I'll be able to do -- we have to see how it holds up, how it goes," he said. "But I feel good -- I feel good about my chances, we'll see. Just, you know, one of those things that happened. I'm an offensive lineman, of course, and we use our hands a lot and it was just on a play where I had to punch a guy and it just didn't hold up."

According to the Business Journal, the Twins have the strongest sports brand in town. The 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index shows the Twins performed the best among the four local professional-sports franchises in a survey of 300 Minnesota sports fans that looked at a wide range of factors, including entertainment value, ownership, player likability and commitment to winning. The Wild narrowly edged out the Vikings for second place, while the Timberwolves finished a distant fourth. Nationally, the Twins ranked 34th among all 122 teams in the four major professional-sports leagues. The Wild placed 51st, the Vikings were 53rd and the Wolves came in 115th. The index measures the strength of a team's brand within its home market, so only local fans rated the Minnesota teams. The national rankings indicate how a team is viewed within its home market compared to how other teams are viewed within their respective markets.

Former Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivsky has joined Andy MacPhail and the Baltimore Orioles as a special assistant to the president of baseball operations. Krivsky served in a similar capacity with the Mets in 2008 after getting fired as Reds general manager in April.

DeWayne Walker, a former Gophers football player and now an assistant at UCLA, was a candidate for the Utah State head coaching job, but withdrew his name from consideration.

One of the top recruited football players in the country is Taylor Lewan, a 6-6, 265-pound offensive lineman from Scottsdale, Ariz. Lewan attended the Gophers summer camp and has visited campus. Lewan's father attended the U from 1982 to '87. His football career was cut short after undergoing lung surgery after his sophomore year, but he attended many Gophers games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com