Rich Gannon, who started his career with the Vikings and wound up quarterbacking the Raiders to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season, makes his home in Minnesota and has been following all the criticism of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.

"I went to Oakland but they ran me out of Minnesota and said I couldn't play and I went on to four Pro Bowls and league MVP [in 2002]," said Gannon, who now does color commentary on NFL telecasts. "I think in this day and age the problem is that we're very fickle, we're not very patient, we're not willing to let a young quarterback develop.

"I mean the guy is just in his second season. I think the guy has a lot of talent. You look at him physically, I think he can make all the throws, I think he's a very smart guy. I think that they have to help him and I think that starts with personnel, I think it starts with coaching. There's a lot of things they can do to help this guy get through what is a difficult time. He has to play better, there's no question about that, I'm not making excuses for him, he has to play better, but I think they can help him."

Gannon said there are some things in Ponder's footwork and mechanics he has to get cleaned up. Asked if Ponder has the ability to be a top quarterback, he answered: "When you say 'top quarterback,' there's different levels. I mean there's [Tom] Brady and the [Peyton and Eli] Mannings and the Aaron Rodgerses of the world and I'm not sure he's there, but I think he can be a very efficient, very productive winning quarterback in this game.

"I think his accuracy, some of his decision- making things, I think those are two of the biggest things right now when you look at him. I'd like to see him be able to do more with his legs and some of those things. But I think that's the biggest thing right now is the accuracy and the decision-making.

"That's the things that separates the average ones from the good ones to the elite ones -- the ability to make a difficult throw, the ability to be very efficient in critical situations, third-down passing, fourth-quarter passing, those kinds of things."

He added: "I also would tell you that I think they need more talent around him. You look at how he has struggled without Percy Harvin in the lineup. I don't think when you look at what the Vikings have at wide receiver compared to Chicago, Green Bay and Detroit, I don't think it's comparable. I think all those factors contribute to a guy that's struggling right now in the passing game."

Gannon emphasized that with an average group of receivers, it's apparent how much Ponder and the Vikings offense misses Harvin.

"You look at the personnel they have at wide receiver, I think that Percy Harvin is a guy that is a very good player and you look at how productive they were with him in the lineup and now without him, they're not the same football team," Gannon said. "Right now they're a one-trick pony. They've got the running back [Adrian Peterson] and that's it. It's hard to win, the field shrinks when you have just one explosive player. You look at the Green Bay Packers and they can spread you out and attack you in different ways. The Vikings just don't have that right now."

Gannon said he has talked to some other coaches in the NFC North about Ponder and they really like him.

"It's amazing, people turn on you so fast," Gannon said. "It's like, 'Oh, he can't play, he's no good.' Hell, [former Vikings coach] Denny Green ran so many decent quarterbacks out of there, it was crazy. If you don't give a guy a chance to grow and develop in the system, there are going to be growing pains. We're seeing that right now in Christian Ponder."

Gophers are big underdog

Early Las Vegas odds have the Gophers a 13-point underdog in their Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance against Texas Tech (7-5) in Houston on Dec. 28. This will be a tough opponent boasting a great passing attack, with victories at Texas State (58-10) Iowa State (24-13) at TCU (56-53 in three overtimes) and home victories with New Mexico (49-14) Kansas (41-34 in two overtimes), West Virginia (49-14) and Northwestern State (44-6).

Texas Tech lost games to some outstanding teams like Kansas State, ranked No. 7 in the AP poll (55-24) , No. 12 Oklahoma (41-20), Texas (31-22), Oklahoma State (59-21) and Baylor (52-45 in overtime). The Red Raiders did lose four of their last five games by combined scores of 197-112 so defensively they have some shortcomings, finishing tied for 91st in the country in points allowed per game at 31.8.

But offensively they're hard to fault. They were second in the country in passing with an average of 361.9 yards per game and 16th in the country in scoring at 37.8 points per game.


• Boston media is reporting that the Red Sox have talked to the Twins about a possible trade for Twins catcher Joe Mauer. However, Mauer has a no-trade clause in his contract and would have to approve any move. But the Red Sox aren't afraid to spend money and have ways to get superstars. Mauer has already agreed to play for the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic this March. Mauer and New York Mets third baseman David Wright are the only confirmed players thus far on the U.S. team, which will be managed by Joe Torre.

• It will be some type of coincidence if quarterback Max Shortell, who is leaving the Gophers, winds up at Mississippi State, where former Gophers coach Tim Brewster, who recruited Shortell, is the wide receivers coach.

• The Bears announced Friday that starting cornerback Tim Jennings will miss Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury, which could help the Vikings' passing game. Jennings, linebacker Brian Urlacher and wide receiver Earl Bennett are all out for the game.

• The appearance of Dean Blais, coach of the Nebraska Omaha hockey team who split last weekend's series with the Gophers at Mariucci Arena, reminded me that he has a daughter, Mary Beth, who is married to Rick Fritz, the former Minnesota Duluth quarterback who is the grandson of former Vikings coach Bud Grant. The couple has three great sons, and if sporting genes can pass through generations, look out for those kids in the future.

• Eric Decker, the former Gopher who is Peyton Manning's favorite receiver on the Denver roster, has 64 receptions for 790 yards and eight touchdowns. He has one more year on his contract before he will become a free agent. What a pickup he would be to improve the Vikings' unproductive group of wide receivers.