Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana have yet to announce their starting quarterbacks for this week’s season openers.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill isn’t sitting on news that big, having said Philip Nelson will be the starting quarterback, but the coach has yet to name all of his kicking specialists for Thursday’s game against UNLV.
Chris Hawthorne was listed No. 1 on the placekicker depth chart released Tuesday night, but the punter spot is still very much open.
On his weekly radio show, Kill reiterated that Hawthorne, a senior has had a good camp. As for punting duties, Kill said, “Pete Mortell’s done an excellent job in camp. Ryan Santoso’s got a big leg, but as I say, he’s still a freshman, so he’s got to keep working. Dan Orseske had a nice camp, Christian Eldred — they’ve all done a nice job.”
Eldred handled most of the punting duties last year, averaging 38.1 yards.
“[Special teams is] probably the biggest decision that we have left on the table right now,” Kill said.
“As a staff we’ll make that decision [Wednesday]. That, to me, that’s worth two ballgames this year, without a doubt.
“We’re going to have to win one with a field goal or two, and we’re going to have to punt out of a critical situation, like we had against Texas Tech and didn’t get it done. I mean you have to be able to change field position, that’s so important.”
Santoso, who competed to handle all three special teams duties — field goals, kickoffs and punting — is a true freshman on scholarship.
In Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference, Kill said Santoso “had a good camp for a freshman” and has a “big strong leg” but noted how difficult it is to both kick and punt.
Hiking student support
It’s Welcome Week for more than 5,000 new students at the U, with fall semester set to begin next Tuesday. Kill and athletic director Norwood Teague will speak Wednesday night at a pep rally at TCF Bank Stadium, where the students are invited to gather for a “Class of 2017” picture.
“That excites me to get the opportunity to put myself in front of the freshmen and to let them know how important they are to us,” Kill said.
Like last year, every new student will receive a free ticket to the home opener, along with a meal voucher. After selling 10,000 student season tickets when TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009, the Gophers saw that number drop to 7,800 in 2010 and then to 3,888 last year. It’ll be interesting to see how many are sold this year after school starts.
• Freshman running back Berkley Edwards will miss Thursday’s opener because of a sprained ankle but could be ready to return for next week’s game at New Mexico State, Kill said.
• Junior cornerback Derrick Wells (bruised shoulder/tight hamstring) remains questionable for Thursday.
• Senior wide receiver Derrick Engel has returned to full speed after being limited for part of preseason camp with a groin injury.
• Kill indicated on his radio show that Donovahn Jones and Drew Wolitarsky are two freshmen who likely will play at wide receiver Thursday.