Two years ago, the New Mexico State football team came to town a four-touchdown underdog and upset the Gophers 28-21. That loss was fairly typical in 2011 for the Gophers, who finished 3-9.

Now former Gophers athletic director McKinley Boston, who holds the same job at New Mexico State, says he believes his team can upset the Gophers again Saturday in the expected 95-degree heat in Las Cruces, N.M.

Despite losing 56-7 at Texas last week, after trailing only 14-7 at halftime, Boston reports that new head coach Doug Martin has the program heading in the right direction. Martin was hired in February after former Gophers cornerback DeWayne Walker resigned to become defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“He really is working on the positives, and his guys are certainly having a very, very good feeling about him,” Boston said. “It’s one of those things where they’re going to play hard for him. You have been around sports for a long, long time and when guys really play hard for a coach on any given Saturday, you can beat anybody.

“I mean [Texas] could have easily been ranked No. 10 in the country or higher. They’re legitimate, and they wore us down in the second half.”

Boston said one player who will give the Gophers trouble is senior quarterback Andrew McDonald, who went 32-for-46 against Texas for 242 yards passing, with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for 50 yards on 14 attempts.

“We have a senior, junior college transfer, that is very mobile and he’s going to certainly challenge [the Minnesota] secondary the same way we did a couple of years ago,” Boston said.

Does Boston think this year’s squad is better than the team that beat the Gophers two years ago?

“I think we’re better,” he said. “I’m not sure we have a superstar player, but overall we’re better. We think it will be a competitive football game.”

Boston also said the Gophers will be dealing with the high temperature Saturday.

“It’ll be about 95 at kickoff, and the humidity won’t be heavy, as it would be in the Twin Cities,” he said. “But it’ll be about 95. I wish it was hotter, to be honest with you.”

And even though the Gophers are 16½-point favorites, Gophers coach Jerry Kill agrees with Boston that the heat will be a positive for the home team.

Gardenhire’s future

David St. Peter won’t have the final say about whether Ron Gardenhire returns as Twins manager in 2014, but the team president certainly talks as if Gardy will return. That decision will be announced after the season.

Changing coaches — which the Twins did plenty of following last season’s 66-96 record — doesn’t always produce more victories. Even if Gardenhire doesn’t return as manager, St. Peter makes it clear he always will have a job in the Twins organization if he wants one.

GM likes Line

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was asked to describe rookie Zach Line, the fullback who made the team as a free agent and who might see some extended action after Jerome Felton was suspended for the first three games of the season.

“Line was kind of a one-back at SMU and [we] kind of converted him to fullback,” Spielman said. “Just like all these young guys, as they come in, and our coaching staff does a great job, is just keeping working with the guys on their technique. Whether it’s blocking or running routes or playing this coverage and so on and so forth, but you have to go through some of these growing pains with these young guys so they can learn and get it on tape and go from there.”

Line caught three passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason and could be a real weapon out of the backfield.

Jottings

•  After 28 years as Gophers basketball trainer — a career that spanned seven head coaches — Roger Schipper has been let go by new basketball coach Richard Pitino. Schipper was a popular and efficient trainer, who remained friends with many former players. The end result might be that those former players will decide not to contribute to the funds for building a practice facility for Gophers basketball. Apparently, Schipper has been given the choice of training the U tennis team this year or taking severance pay. If the number of phone calls from former basketball players who were upset by Pitino’s move is any measure, this was not a popular decision.

• The Vikings are having good luck selling season tickets with a plan that, in order to purchase a ticket for the Oct. 27 game against the Packers, the buyer must also get a ticket for either the Sept. 22 game against Cleveland or the Oct. 13 game against Carolina. As a result, the Browns and Panthers games are close to sellouts. The Dec. 1 Bears game, with no similar ticket package attached, is also nearly sold out.

• A good indication of how football recruiting rating services aren’t always accurate are the cases of two former Eden Prairie stars who were recruited by everybody but have struggled to stand out in college football: defensive tackle Walker Lee Ashley, who played only his freshman year at Southern California, and defensive end Willie Mobley, who started at Ohio State, tried to transfer to UCLA and then played some at Arizona. He will start Saturday for New Mexico State against the Gophers.

• Former Twin Francisco Liriano has pitched great for the Pirates against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are fighting Pittsburgh for the NL Central Division title. The lefthander is 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA against them this season. “Liriano is the best teammate on the team,” Pirates catcher Russell Martin recently said. “Whether he has a great start or just a decent start, he acts the same way.”

• Former Gophers quarterback Max Shortell was named Ohio Valley Conference newcomer of the week after he came off the bench following an injury to Jacksonville State starter Eli Jenkins and went 13-for-23 for 216 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-22 victory over Alabama State.

• The Miami Herald recently ran a long feature on former Cretin-Derham Hall standout offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson. Now a senior at the University of Miami, Henderson is down to 332 pounds, 13 lower than his listed weight and the thinnest he has been since high school. “I can tell you we haven’t seen the best of him yet,” said Hurricanes coach Al Golden.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com