Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
The Gophers added another football commitment Monday after a key recruiting weekend, as Jaylen Waters, a linebacker from Texas, announced his plans to play for Minnesota.
Waters is a consensus two-star linebacker from Copperas Cove High School, the alma mater of former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
The 6-2, 233-pound Waters is Minnesota's ninth commitment for the 2015 class, and the second linebacker, joining Julian Huff, from Bolingbrook, Ill.
Waters attended camp at TCF Bank Stadium this weekend, along with the Gophers' annual recruiting barbecue. On Saturday, the Gophers got commitments from Canadian running back Jonathan Femi-Cole and Michigan safety Ray Buford.
Waters, who also had offers from Nevada and Texas State, announced his decision on Twitter:
Excited to say that the University of Minnesota will be my new home in 2015 & where I will further my education. Golden Gopher Commit ����✏️��— Jaylen Waters (@Texas_boy49) July 21, 2014
The Gophers knew this would be a key recruiting weekend, with a camp at TCF Bank Stadium followed by their annual barbecue, and Saturday they landed two three-star commitments.
Rivals.com ranks the 5-11, 218-pound Femi-Cole as the 47th best running back in the 2015 class. The Gophers recruited him while they were in Canada pursuing defensive lineman Julien Kafo, who signed in February and will be a freshman this fall.
Rivals.com ranks the 6-0, 190-pound Buford as the No. 43 athlete [position not determined] in the 2015 class. He had reported offers from Boston College and Western Michigan among others.
Gophers recruiting coordinator Billy Glasscock didn't mention names, but signaled the program's excitement Saturday night on Twitter:
The Gophers now have eight commitments for their 2015 class.
The Gophers will begin practice two weeks from today feeling very good about their offensive line. Ed Olson has graduated, after splitting left-tackle duties with freshman All-American Ben Lauer, and right guard Caleb Bak had to retire because of concussion issues. But a ton of experience returns, along with some talented underclassmen.
Right now, here's my projection for the starting offensive line:
LT Ben Lauer 6-7, 315, 4 career starts
LG Zac Epping 6-2, 318, 34 career starts
C Tommy Olson 6-4, 306, 13 career starts
RG Josh Campion 6-5, 315, 26 career starts
RT Jonah Pirsig 6-9, 320, 0 career starts
Knee and wrist injuries have slowed Pirsig's development a bit, but even with a cast on his wrist during spring practice, the Blue Earth, Minn., native had clearly become a force. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who also coaches the offensive line, said in April that if Pirsig kept progressing, he could start at right tackle, with Campion moving to right guard.
Campion has started 26 consecutive games at right tackle, but there is an opening at right guard with Bak's retirement. Foster Bush [6-5, 304, 4 career starts] filled in admirably for Bak late last season, but there has been an assumption -- from outside the team anyway -- that Bush would be replaced this fall.
But in an interview this week, Limegrover kept several options open. Asked if Campion would be playing tackle or guard when practice begins Aug. 1, Limegrover said, "Yes."
"He’s been working at guard and working at tackle," Limegrover said. "Foster Bush has had a great offseason. This is the first extended period of time where he’s been healthy, been able to get in the weight room, and he’s more explosive than he’s ever been.
"And I think he’s no dummy. He’s looking around going, 'OK, this is my opportunity. I can either just be a guy or I can lay my claim.'
"[Campion] is at a point where, I don’t want to say he’s getting bored palying tackle because he can always get better. But he’s the kind of kid who loves the game. So if there’s additional time he can put in, he’s going to do it and get better at guard.
"You’ve got the young pup from Blue Earth [Pirsig], who’s hungry, who wants to do it. Jon Christenson [6-4, 298, 15 career starts] coming back [from his broken leg], doing a great job. I don’t know when he’ll be ready. I talked to him and said, 'You don’t have to be ready to win us a football game on Aug. 1. We’ll get you back there when you’re ready.' But he’s a smart kid, an experienced kid, a kid who’s worked his tail off. He’ll find a way to be a factor there.
"So a lot of those guys are doing a great job."
Gophers senior David Cobb was among 53 running backs named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list Thursday.
The Doak Walker Award is given annually to the nation's top running back. Cobb had a breakout season last year as a junior, rushing for 1,202 yards, the highest total for a Gopher since Amir Pinnix rushed for 1,272 in 2006.
Other Big Ten running backs who made this year's watch list include Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Illinois' Josh Ferguson and the Penn State duo of Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak.
The Gophers announced Wednesday that their kickoff time against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 6 will be at 2:30 p.m. Middle Tennessee, from Conference USA, went 8-5 last season with a loss to Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The game times for five of the first eight Gophers games are now set:
Aug. 28: Eastern Illinois (Home) 6 p.m., Big Ten Network
Sept. 6: Middle Tennessee (Home) 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Sept. 13: TCU (Away) 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Sept. 20: San Jose State (Home) TBA
Sept. 27: Michigan (Away) TBA
Oct. 11: Northwestern (Home) TBA
Oct. 18: Purdue (Home) 11 a.m., TV TBA
Oct. 25: Illinois (Away) 11 a.m., TV TBA
Nov. 8: Iowa (Home) TBA
Nov. 15: Ohio State (Home) TBA
Nov. 22: Nebraska (Away) TBA
Nov. 29: Wisconsin (Away) TBA
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