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.

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Posts about College football

Gophers' Williams, Olson named to preseason football watch lists

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 8, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Gophers tight end Maxx Williams on Tuesday was named to John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List. The Mackey Award goes to the nation's top tight end. Williams was among 40 tight ends named to the preseason watch list, including five others from the Big Ten: Kyle Carter and Jesse James from Penn State, Jeff Heuerman from Ohio State and Tyler Kroft from Rutgers.

Gophers center Tommy Olson was among 66 centers named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List. Other nominees from the Big Ten include Austin Blythe (Iowa), Betim Bujari (Rutgers), Sal Conaboy (Maryland), Robert Kugler (Purdue), Jack Allen (Michigan State), Mark Pelini (Nebraska), Collin Rahrig (Indiana), Brandon Vitabile, (Northwestern) and Dan Voltz (Wisconsin).

Gophers offer fans up-close access to practice, team meetings and training table -- for $2,000

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 16, 2014 - 3:05 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill is offering 25 fans up-close access to the team during fall camp -- including practices, team meals and position meetings -- at a cost of $2,000.

The Gophers announced today that they'll be hosting their first "Boys of Fall Elite Camp" from Aug. 1-3 -- the first three days of fall camp.

The release says, "In addition to getting to know the team and staff on a personal level, attendees will also have unfiltered access to the day-to-day operations of a Big Ten football program.

"Campers will receive an in-depth look at Coach Kill’s offensive, defensive and special team’s philosophy and will be able to attend all team, position and special teams meetings with student-athletes and coaches. Attendees will also attend practice each day and will partake in the team’s training table. Each person who attends will also receive gifts, athletic gear and will eligible for raffle prizes."

The camp will be limited to 25 participants. It costs $2,000. The web site says, "Your financial support will assist in the enhancements of our football program." For more information, click here.

Boy's of Fall Elite Camp

Starts: 5 p.m., Aug. 1
Ends: 2 p.m., Aug. 3
Cost: $2,000 ($500 non-refundable deposit due at registration)
Total Participants: 25
Deadline To Register: July 1, 2014

Northwestern's new football facility will push Gophers even further behind

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: March 14, 2014 - 10:46 AM

The Gophers just fell another step behind in college football's arms race. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Northwestern has received the green light to build "the multipurpose lakefront facility that football coach Pat Fitzgerald says will be a 'game-changer' for his program."

From the story:

Donations have poured in despite the Wildcats' 5-7 record last season. Sources said construction of the two-building complex will begin by early 2015 and should take about two years to complete.

The school will announce Friday, the Tribune has learned, that it is launching a new fundraising campaign and that Mark and Kimbra Walter have donated $40 million to be used for athletics and law school scholarships. Mark Walter, a graduate of NU's law school, is the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

NU officials have been tight-lipped since unveiling plans for the project in September 2012. The price tag for the facility on the shore of Lake Michigan is likely to exceed the original estimate of $220 million.

This project was first announced in September 2012, but there are new renderings, and quite frankly, they are stunning. The Chicago Tribune reports that the cost likely will exceed the original $220 million estimate.

Last July, Gophers AD Norwood Teague unveiled a $190 million plan to drastically upgrade the school's athletic facilities, including new practice facilities for the football and basketball teams. Teague has since said that the school is close to announcing the results of a fundraising feasibility study, and he keeps saying he feels good about it. But it's been relatively quiet.

ESPN commentator Dan Dakich, a former Bowling Green coach and interim head coach at Indiana, said on Thursday’s broadcast of the Gophers-Penn State game that Minnesota can’t afford not to build a facility. Dakich called Minnesota high school basketball the nation’s best-kept secret, and said there “are Minnesota kids all over Division I.’’ Dakich said if Minnesota finally builds a practice facility comparable to other Big Ten schools and starts keeping top in-state kids at home, the basketball program could take off.

Last December, the Big Ten Network's Gerry DiNardo held nothing back in his assessment of Minnesota's football facilities. Here's an excerpt from that story:

DiNardo tours the entire Big Ten twice each year — during spring practice and preseason camp — giving him a firsthand look at what the Gophers have compared with their competition.

“You can make a case that they’re 12th of 12 [teams] when it comes to resources in the conference,” DiNardo said. “Facilitieswise, it’s not even close.”

By that, DiNardo means the indoor practice facility, weight room and nutrition areas. He said it’s nice for Minnesota fans to have 5-year-old TCF Bank Stadium but notes that players spend about 10 days per year there, counting spring practice. They spend almost every other day on campus in the training facilities, and those aren’t helping recruiting, DiNardo said.

“A prospect wants to know where he’s going to go every day,” DiNardo said. “Training table, for example: I often see at Minnesota they eat in the hallway, and it’s food with Bunsen burners underneath.”

The Gophers do indeed hold their training table with catered meals inside the entryway to the Gibson/Nagurski Practice Facility. It’s a high-ceilinged room filled with Gophers memorabilia — a nice place to visit, but hardly a dining room.

“When [recruits] go to Nebraska, by way of example, when you walk into their training table, it looks like a restaurant,” DiNardo said. “I mean, it is decked out. Wisconsin just built brand new facilities. They have juice bars — it’s a kitchen, it’s a restaurant.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Fitzgerald had this to say on National Signing Day:

"A lot of other universities have made the decision just to do the stadium. We've put the priority on student-athletes with a 365-day facility. We already have everything we need to win, but now we'll be able to compete facility-wise with anyone in the country."

Vereen getting set for East-West Shrine Game on Saturday

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 17, 2014 - 4:52 PM

Outgoing Gophers senior Brock Vereen will get another chance to perform before NFL scouts on Saturday, when he plays in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The game will be televised on NFL Network, with the kickoff at 3 p.m. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch and Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston are among the other standouts who'll be there.

Vereen, a first-team All-Big Ten defensive back, is a potential late-round pick. His brother, Shane, is a running back for the New England Patriots.

"Coming into college, I think it’s safe to say most players have aspirations to play at the NFL level," Brock Vereen said last month. "I’ve been fortunate enough to see Shane go through his whole process, and I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from that is whether you’re the first pick or a free agent, all you need is an opportunity.

"So I’m not worried about when I’m taken, if I’m taken. As long as I can get a chance I know I’ll make the most of it."

Note: Gophers defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, a potential first-round pick, is gearing up to play in the Senior Bowl, on Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala.

O'Brien promoted to Senior Associate Athletics Director

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 13, 2014 - 4:40 PM

The Gophers announced today that they've promoted longtime director of football operations, Dan O'Brien, to Senior Associate Athletics Director overseeing the football program and facilities.

O'Brien, who has been with the athletics department since 2008 and worked closely with head football coach Jerry Kill for the past three years, moves into the role vacated by David Benedict, who has moved on to become chief operating officer at Auburn.

"We are extremely excited for Dan to take on his expanded role within the Athletics Department,” Gophers AD Norwood Teague said in the press release. "His work with the Gopher football program speaks for itself, and his more than ten years of experience as Director of Athletics at both Hamline and Concordia Universities will be a welcome addition to our current staff.”

To fill O'Brien's role as director of football operations, Kill promoted Adam Clark, the Gophers director of player personnel.

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