Here's a little season-ending trivia for serious Gophers fans: Which two Gophers have the longest consecutive-game playing streak, heading into Saturday's regular-season finale?
The answer: Linebacker Keanon Cooper, and the one that might stump you, Ryan Grant. Both of them have played in all 48 games of their careers.
It's easy to overlook Grant. That's because, while he practices with the linebackers and fills in there when necessary, Grant excels at a role that only a coach could appreciate. Considering his lineage, that's appropriate.
"He's the best No. 2 guy I've had in 10 or 15 years," said Gophers coach Jerry Kill, and that requires an explanation: "No. 2" means the second player in from the sideline on kickoff coverage, whose responsibility is to prevent the kick returner from running up the sidelines and force him toward the middle, where there are more tacklers to bring him down. "He's a contain guy, and he makes great decisions."
The greatest decision Grant says he made: staying in Minnesota and signing with the Gophers. The son and grandson of successful football coaches, Grant came to Minnesota as a quarterback, having led Eden Prairie to back-to-back state titles. But he was immediately moved to linebacker, where Grant admits "I didn't even know where to line up or how deep I should be."
He could have made a valuable H-back or fullback, Kill said, but he really thrives on special teams, doing important, though largely invisible, work. Would he rather have gone somewhere else?
"No regrets," said the 23-year-old grandson of legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant. "I've really enjoyed all the people I've met, all the experiences. I'm really happy and grateful for the opportunity I got.
"You want to play as much as possible, but I've played in every game for the last four years, so I don't have anything to complain about."
Kill had a hunch
The addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten may have taken much of college football by surprise, but Kill had a hunch that the landscape wasn't as calm as it seemed. "I knew this wasn't over yet," Kill said of the wave of conference expansion that has altered the football universe. "I thought it might happen. I just didn't realize it was going to take place this quickly."
But he's impressed that the league, and especially commissioner Jim Delany, acted so decisively. The expansion, adding two huge media markets to the league's footprint with new television contracts to be negotiated soon, should bring in millions more in money, perhaps enough to upgrade the football facilities.
Wide receiver Marcus Jones will not play on Saturday, but there was good news, too: There were no torn ligaments in his left knee, meaning he will avoid surgery.
"We expect him to be back" for the Gophers' bowl game, Kill said.
In addition, offensive tackle Marek Lenkewicz's knee injury wasn't as serious as the Gophers originally believed, and he was able to practice on Wednesday. His status won't be determined until Saturday, but "he's got a better chance than we thought."
Center Jon Christenson is questionable as well with a knee injury, Kill said.