The Gophers football team has spent the past eight months adjusting to big change, and another could come Saturday. Or before.
Concerns over air quality brought on by wildfires in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has prompted the Pac-12 Conference to monitor the situation and consider alternative start times and even game days for Minnesota vs. Oregon State, scheduled for a 9 p.m. (Central) kickoff Saturday in Corvallis. The Pac-12 also is watching Nebraska vs. Oregon, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Central in Eugene, about 45 miles south of Corvallis.
“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.
The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast. The air quality reportedly is not as bad in Corvallis.
“There is a lot of smoke in the air; I’ve gotten that type of message in terms of the wildfires,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “But those are all things that we can’t let affect us.”
Adjusting schedules has become the new norm for the Gophers and Fleck.
The Gophers will play their first regular-season contest in the Pacific time zone since 2012, when they beat UNLV 30-27 in three overtimes. They did beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego last December, but they arrived four days ahead of that game.
“[The players] know that on their bodies, they’re going to play a 9 Central game,” Fleck said. “So we have to do everything we can in terms of training them to sleep.”
For the players, the schedule roller coaster continues. Fleck changed team practices from afternoons to mornings this season. “They’ve got to get up for practice in the mornings,” Fleck said, “so we want them in bed by 9, 10 o’clock.”
But that won’t be the case Thursday and Friday, when “we might have to have them up a little bit later,” the coach said. “And Friday night, we’re gonna keep them up later so their time clock shifts.”
The change to morning practices has been an adjustment, but one that has positives.
“I’m not going to lie, I took a nap today before I came here,” punter Ryan Santoso said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a little different, but it’s great because that’s the first thing you get to, the first thing that you love, is football. And you get to do it the first thing when you wake up.”
Come Saturday night, football is scheduled to be on the other end of the clock.
“No circumstances will dictate our behavior,” Fleck said. “We will prepare for the circumstances.’’
• Fleck said true freshman wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who was impressive in training camp before suffering a broken foot on Aug. 8, likely will redshirt.
• The Gophers listed no major changes among starters. Senior Garrison Wright moved from right guard to left guard, while redshirt freshman Conner Olson switched from left guard to right guard.