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Smoke swirled around Gophers coach Jerry Kill as he watched the seniors being introduced before Saturday’s game againsat Wisconsin. Despite the loss, Kill was energized by the way the Gophers competed physically against the Badgers. “Two physical teams went toe-to-toe,’’ Kill said. “And in the past two meetings we didn’t go toe-to-toe.”

JIM GEHRZ, Star Tribune

Gophers' loss to Wisconsin might turn into recruiting gain

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • November 25, 2013 - 2:44 PM

Jerry Kill still had a little spring in his step Sunday.

After Saturday’s 20-7 loss to Wisconsin, the Gophers football coach spent the evening and Sunday morning meeting with recruits.

“It’s hard to talk; you get beat, you’re down,” Kill said. “I had six recruits I visited with [Saturday] night, and they helped me be positive because every one of them was excited about the game.”

Kill couldn’t go into specific names, but over the weekend the Gophers received a verbal commitment from Julien Kafo, a defensive end from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, who also had offers from Nebraska and Iowa, according to Rivals.com.

Chanhassen offensive lineman Frank Ragnow was among the other recruits at the game. He’s one of the top players on Minnesota’s target list and has offers from Florida State and several SEC schools.

From the stands, he tweeted (@Knarfwongar): “Just an unreal atmosphere, not like a gopher game you’d go to in the past years.”

At 53,090, it was the Gophers’ largest announced crowd in five years at TCF Bank Stadium. Even though it was also the coldest game in the stadium’s history, with a windchill of 5 degrees, the place was legitimately packed.

“That’s the best recruiting tool we have,” Kill said.

The Gophers created buzz for the Wisconsin game by reeling off a four-game Big Ten winning streak, their longest since 1973. That’s over now, but Kill liked the way the Gophers competed against the then-No. 16 Badgers.

“Two physical teams went toe-to-toe,” Kill said. “And in the past two meetings [losses to Wisconsin by scores of 42-13 and 38-13] we didn’t go toe-to-toe.”

Now the Gophers are getting ready to close the regular season at No. 11 Michigan State. It’ll be a very similar test, as the Badgers and Spartans both have defenses that rank in the top five in the country.

Michigan State’s offense has made dramatic improvements this year thanks to the emergence of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford.

“Basically, we’ve got to go to Michigan State, play defense like we did on Saturday and not turn over the ball and make a few plays,” Kill said.

Michigan State might be tempted to look past the Gophers toward the Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State. But Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said, “I feel like we’re playing for a BCS game next week.”

In other words, Dantonio thinks the Spartans can earn an at-large BCS berth even if they lose to Ohio State. It’s hard to know. The bowl picture remains extremely murky.

The Gophers’ bowl destination will depend partly on how many Big Ten teams land in BCS bowls. Wisconsin is making a case, too, at 9-2, with one game left against Penn State.

But if the Big Ten lands only one BCS berth — with the conference champ reaching the Rose Bowl and the rest getting snubbed — it’s possible the Gophers could fall to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. That’s a Jan. 1 game, but it’s played at 11 a.m., on ESPNU, against a team from Conference USA.

The next step up for Big Ten teams is the Texas Bowl in Houston. That’s played Dec. 27, but it’s a prime-time game on ESPN, giving the participants better exposure. The Gophers went last year, when it was called the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

In Jerry Palm’s latest bowl projections on CBSSports.com, he has the Gophers playing Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. He based that partly on Ohio State and Wisconsin getting BCS berths.

Palm also has Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa getting picked ahead of Minnesota in the Big Ten bowl selection process.

The Gophers could bolster their bowl résumé by upsetting Michigan State. The early odds list Minnesota as two-touchdown underdogs, but a victory might land the Gophers in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

Now there’s a way to get fans and recruits excited.

Kill to remain in booth

Kill plans to coach from the booth for the sixth consecutive game at Michigan State, even though he’s made big strides in his battle with epilepsy in recent weeks.

“I’d say it’s best for the football team right now,” Kill said. “I’m in great shape, but I’ve got some marching orders I’m following right now for the best interest of the team and me.”

 

Joe Christensen • joe.christensen@startribune.com

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