The University of Minnesota Athletic Department is admitting 6,000 freshman for free to Thursday night’s Gophers football matchup with UNLV and has sold 3,000 tickets to other students, and there are a bunch of other cheap ticket options for the home opener.

But I believe the game with the Rebels isn’t going to tell you much about how good the men of Jerry Kill’s squad are or what its prospects are for having a winning season.

The Gophers will face a team that has lost 22 road games in a row, and I look for Minnesota to dictate the score.

There isn’t a single player on the Rebels roster who has won a road game at UNLV.

Coach Bobby Hauck, who has presided over 20 of those 22 road losses, told the Las Vegas Sun this week, “We need to flip that switch at some point. Whether it’s this Thursday or not we’ll see.”

In fact, unless the Gophers lose to San Jose State, which is led by a great quarterback in David Fales, who had a 72.5 completion percentage last year for a team that was 11-2, I expect the Gophers to be 5-0 when they go to Michigan on Oct. 5.

There is lot of optimism at the Bierman Building among Kill and his staff.

“All I can say is we’ve had a great camp,” Kill said. “The kids have been focused in camp, they’ve worked hard, they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do.

“We’re a stronger football team and seem to have more speed. It has been fun to work with them; they’ve very coachable.

“To this point and time it has been a lot of fun and the kids have done a great job. Our expectations are like everybody else’s, and we want to be better than we were a year ago. I think we are, but you have to prove that. You can’t talk about it, you have to go out and do it.”

Kill added that the team is stronger than it has been in the past and said the one position that might be a concern is center, where injuries have caused some worries.

“We’ve had to do some things at center because of the loss of Zach Mottla and Brian Bobek is not cleared to play yet,” Kill said. “Jon Christenson has done a good job. We moved Tommy Olson over, who has done a good job. We do have a little bit of depth there. I don’t think you ever have enough. They’re all still learning.

“The only senior [on the offensive line] we have up there right now is Eddie Olson, and Eddie is coming off major surgery. So there’s still a learning curve there.”

Offensively a year ago, the team did pretty well. But the big problem was an improved but still deficient defense.

“The defense improved from the first year to the second year, and we expect them to improve from the second year to the third year,” Kill said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. We made a huge improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 with the kids we recruited. It may take a little bit, but our coaches feel that we’re a lot farther along learningwise than we were a year ago.”

Yes, if quarterback Philip Nelson has a good year, I look for the Gophers to embarrass those media members who picked them to finish last in their division.

Jackson to join Wolves

Bobby Jackson, a great basketball player for the Gophers and for several teams in the NBA, is going to join the Timberwolves coaching staff as an assistant, according to President Flip Saunders. Jackson has a lot of familiarity with Rick Adelman, having played five seasons under him with the Sacramento Kings.

Jackson started his post-playing career as an ambassador with the Kings and then as a regional scout working in player development. He became an assistant coach with Sacramento in 2009 and served in that role until June 5, when new head coach Michael Malone announced that the team would not retain any of the previous assistant coaches.

Then there is the news that Saunders is going to hire Milt Newton to be the team’s general manager. Saunders and Newton agreed on terms of a contract after Newton spent this week visiting the Wolves.

The two worked together for 2½ years when Saunders was the head coach of the Washington Wizards and Newton was the team’s vice president of player personnel. Newton held that role in Washington for 10 seasons before joining the Wolves.

Ellison gets chance

With the suspension of Jerome Felton, a Pro Bowl fullback for the Vikings in 2012, Rhett Ellison will have a great chance to step in and play a lot of snaps in the run game Thursday against the Tennessee Titans and in the first three games of the regular season.

Coach Leslie Frazier was asked if Ellison is ready. “[He] is always prepared, always understands what his role is and what the situations are,” Frazier said. “I don’t think we can overwork him. He is going to be prepared to work.”

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for the national expectations on running back Adrian Peterson being able to repeat his 2012 MVP performance, Bovada, a Las Vegas gambling website, recently released its odds for the 2013 NFL MVP and Peterson is the highest non-quarterback on the list, coming in at sixth.


• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have waived former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber. Weber was on the practice squad last season with the Bucs after having that same position with the Denver Broncos.

• UNLV’s Hauck and the Gophers’ Kill have faced each other twice before — in the Gophers’ triple-overtime win last year and in 2006 when Hauck’s Montana team beat Kill’s Southern Illinois team 20-6 in the FCS playoffs.

• Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea recently played in the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup with the Puerto Rico national team. Barea averaged 18.3 points per game, the second-highest average in the tournament, and won the tournament MVP award. Barea also will play with Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas Championship Tournament starting Friday. The games can be seen on ESPN3. … Also on ESPN3 starting next week will be the EuroBasket Tournament, which starts Wednesday. In that tournament Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio will play for Spain while Wolves shooting guard Alexey Shved will play for Russia.

• Clark Griffith, the son of the former Twins owner and a former Twins executive, has joined with another Minneapolis attorney, David Martin, to launch an initiative to provide free legal assistance to black men with criminal histories who are now on probation.


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