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.
Former Gophers quarterback Max Shortell announced Thursday night on Twitter that he is transferring to Jacksonville State in Alabama.
The 6-6 junior from suburban Kansas City originally signed with Minnesota after being recruited by Michigan. In two years with the Gophers, Shortell played 13 games, completing 91 of 170 passes (53.5 percent) with eight touchdowns.
But the strong-armed Shortell is more of a pro-style quarterback who didn't fit Minnesota's offense, which has relied on its quarterbacks to run under Coach Jerry Kill. The Gophers liked what they saw this spring from young quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner.
Shortell's decision came five months after he decided to leave the Gophers program. Jacksonville State is an FCS school in the Ohio Valley Conference that went 7-4 last season.
Shortell's tweet (@goldenarmginger) says: "I will be playing ball next at Jacksonville State University. #GoGamecocks!"
The first four-team College Football Playoff is coming after the 2014 season, and the Big Ten doesn't want to miss it.
By adding TCU to their 2014 and 2015 schedules, the Gophers were complying with the Big Ten's desire to strengthen non-conference schedules. Every team in the league -- including Rutgers and Maryland, who join in 2014 -- has at least one BCS opponent on its non-conference schedule for 2014.
That might help the Big Ten from getting overlooked when selection day comes for that first four-team tourney.
David Benedict, the Gophers executive associate athletics director, noted what could have happened last season, when Ohio State went 12-0. With a season like that, assuming they were bowl eligible, Big Ten teams should expect to land one of those coveted four College Football Playoff spots.
But because of the Big Ten's weak showing in non-conference play, there would have been no guarantees for the Buckeyes last season. After the conference championship games, Alabama was 13-1, Notre Dame was 12-1, Oregon was 12-1 and there were four two-loss teams from the SEC (Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Florida).
"I think the Big Ten doesn’t want to be in a position like last year, where we were the fourth-ranked conference in the country at the end of the season," Benedict said. "And we don’t want to be in position where our best team is on the outside looking in, come the end of the year.
"And the reality is, if we don’t make sure the league is scheduling the way we’ve now set it up, there’s a chance that we could be on the outside looking in. And we cannot as a league let that happen."
The start time for the Gophers season opener was revealed today, when the Big Ten Network released its schedule of primetime games.
The Aug. 29 opener -- a Thursday game -- against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium will kick off at 6 p.m. It's the only scheduled night game so far for the Gophers.
Here's a link to the full Big Ten Network announcement.
Tackling the quarterbacks in the spring game is strictly forbidden for the Gophers and most other teams. But that didn’t stop defensive end Theiren Cockran from toppling Mitch Leidner in the second quarter last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
It prompted the public address announcer to say, half-jokingly, “We don’t encourage that type of behavior in the spring game.”
Agreed. No team wants to see its quarterbacks suffer a senseless injury. But the moment told me two things:
1) Cockran can get to the quarterback. The 6-6, 245-pound redshirt sophomore will be counted on to help replace outgoing senior D.L. Wilhite, who led the team with 8 1/2 sacks last year.
“You’ve gotta control your aggression sometimes,” Cockran said. “I didn’t try to hit [Leidner] too hard. I tried to avoid him at the end, but I just got him a little bit.”
What did the coaches say?
“I haven’t heard about it, but I will soon,” Cockran said after the game. Here's more on Cockran from a story I did last month.
2) Leidner can take a hit. He’s 6-4, 233 pounds. He got up and led his team into the lead with two second-half touchdown passes.
Asked what he thought of the hit, Leidner smiled and said, “I forgot about it. Obviously, just get up right away and shake it off.”
Leidner's durability could be critical. If something happens to starting quarterback Philip Nelson, the Gophers will need Leidner to lead them forward. After him, there's a big drop on the depth chart, as true freshman Chris Streveler has a lot of learning to do.
Here's more on Leidner from last month.
Jamel Harbison can’t wait for practice to start again, on Aug. 1. The Gophers receiver who started last year’s season opener as a true freshman, only to tear his ACL in the first quarter, showed how far he has come during last Saturday’s spring game.
Harbison, who was granted a medical redshirt for last year, had five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, leading the second-team offense. Not bad consider he's only eight months removed from major knee surgery.
“Jamel’s a dangerous receiver,” Leidner said. “You want to get the ball in his hands.”
The wide receiving corps is the biggest question for the offense. Derrick Engel had five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, but fellow starter Isaac Fruechte managed just one catch for five yards, and Devin Crawford-Tufts was out with a leg injury.
Those are the Gophers three projected starters for this fall, but Coach Jerry Kill makes no secret that the team is looking for more playmakers. Harbison and KJ Maye (two catches, 36 yards in the spring game) are both candidates, as are incoming recruits Drew Wolitarsky and Eric Carter.
Earlier in spring camp, Harbison said his speed was about 85 percent, coming back from the knee surgery.
On Saturday? “Ninety-five percent, just because the tempo was up a little more,” he said. “Felt good cutting on it and everything. So it’s not a problem right now.”
That’s good news for Minnesota's offense.
Note: Former Gophers TE John Rabe has been invited to Vikings rookie camp.
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