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.
Jerry Jones built his billion-dollar football palace for his Dallas Cowboys. But college football is reaping the benefits of Cowboys Stadium, too, in the form of better scheduling.
In this era of playing soft preseason schedules in order to guarantee winning records, you have to appreciate any attempt to get elite schools to play each other. Johnson has done it by creating the Cowboy Classic and inviting Top 10 teams to play in his stadium -- first Oklahoma-BYU, then TCU-Oregon State, and last year, LSU-Oregon.
This year, it's Michigan vs. Alabama, in one of the season's most intriguing games featuring a Big Ten team. Alabama is ranked second in the nation, the Wolverines are eighth, and they'll open the season in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 1.
What's notable about that is that it makes Michigan one of only two conference schools to schedule two non-conference games away from home. Only Indiana will travel twice, with games scheduled at Massachusetts and Navy.
The Wolverines are also one of only three Big Ten teams to open its season off campus. The Gophers travel to UNLV next Thursday, the fourth straight year they open on the road (a trend that you can bet Jerry Kill intends to halt), and Northwestern goes to Syracuse for its first game.
Ohio State takes the opposite approach -- the Buckeyes will play eight home games this year, and not travel to any non-conference game.
For the most part, the rest of the league has chosen a reasonably challenging road opponent, in most cases necessary to attract reciprocal home game in a future season. The Gophers may have the worst road opponent in UNLV, coming off a 2-10 season -- unless it's Michigan State, which plays at Central Michigan. Or Indiana, traveling to FCS-level UMass.
The rest of the Big Ten's non-conference road games: Illinois at Arizona State; Iowa vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago; Michigan at Notre Dame; Nebraska at UCLA; Penn State at Virginia; Purdue at Notre Dame; and Wisconsin at Oregon State.
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