Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Wish I could say there was a lot of news coming out of Jerry Kill's pre-camp press conference on Thursday, but there really wasn't.
Among the tidbits:
-- A couple of Totino Grace grads -- redshirt freshmen J.D. Pride and Gabe Mezzenga -- are likely switching positions, Pride from quarterback to receiver (a move he undertook during spring drills) and Mezzenga from linebacker to tight end.
-- Freshman Marcus Jones has been just as impressive off the field as he was on it last spring, posting a GPA of "3.8 or 3.7" during his first semester at Minnesota, Kill said. "He's a pretty special kid. Not many are like that," the coach said. "Marcus will be ready to play."
-- Da'Jon McKnight's reps will be limited in fall camp, after hurting his knee during the spring. No position has more uncertainty, so the senior wideout's health is of primary importance.
-- Stength coach Eric Klein is excited about MarQueis Gray's physical condition, after the quarterback-to-be raised his weight to 245 pounds. He's been doing a good job of establishing himself as a leader of the team, too, Kill said.
-- Every practice of the fall, all 26 of them, have been scripted, so the coaching staff is ready to go. The first 10 sessions, beginning Monday at 3:55 p.m., are open to the public.
That's about it, though. By far the biggest news of the day for Gopher football came from Chicago, where the Big Ten announced that it will switch to a nine-game league schedule in 2017. That means five home conference games every other year; for Minnesota (and Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin), that extra home game will come in even-numbered years, beginning in 2018.
It's an obvious move for a league with its own network, since non-conference games have evolved into little more than exhibition schedules against overmatched FBS or non-BCS teams. Programming managers, ticket-sellers and fans surely prefer a game against Penn State or Illinois to one against Central Idaho or Kentucky Tech.
(Go ahead, South Dakota fans, make your Gopher jokes. We'll wait.)
Anyway, since no Big Ten program is willing to play only six home games anymore -- Michigan and Illinois have eight this year -- it means no non-conference road games in odd-numbered years, since the schedule will already include five road games. The Gophers' schedule is already mostly formatted for this; home-and-home series with Oregon State (2017-18) and Navy (2019-20) call for games at TCF Bank Stadium in the odd-numbered years. A matchup with Colorado in 2020-21 is the opposite, so I'd look for the teams to agree to switch the order, or reschedule it some other way, in the next few years.
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