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.

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Writers pick Gophers to finish fifth in Big Ten West, behind Northwestern

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers preseason practice, The Big 10 Updated: July 25, 2014 - 1:04 PM

The Gophers are headed for a fifth-place finish this year in the Big Ten West, behind Northwestern, according to a poll of 29 writers conducted by Cleveland.com.

The same poll predicted the Gophers would finish last in the Legends Division last year, and the Gophers responded with a 4-4 conference record, finishing ahead of Michigan (3-5) and Northwestern (1-7).

Heading into their fourth year under Coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers need to replace NFL draft picks Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, along with quarterback Philip Nelson and leading receiver Derrick Engel. But overall, it’s an older team that expects to take another step forward this year.

The Big Ten scrapped its Legends and Leaders format and adopted East and West divisions with Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference this year. The Big Ten does not conduct its own media poll, so Cleveland.com has been putting this together for four years. I’m one of the voters and had the Gophers finishing fourth in the West, ahead of Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.

Here’s the predicted order of finish -- note there were more than 29 first-place votes in each division because of predicted ties:

WEST

1. Wisconsin, 183.5 points (15 first-place votes)

2. Iowa, 173 points (11)

3. Nebraska, 157.5 points (5)

4. Northwestern, 112 points (1)

5. Minnesota, 96.5 points

6. Illinois, 58 points

7. Purdue, 31.5 points

EAST

1. Ohio State, 195 points (23 first-place votes)

2. Michigan State, 180 points (10)

3. Michigan, 136 points

4. Penn State, 105.5 points

5. Maryland, 84 points

6. Indiana, 78.5 points

7. Rutgers, 33 points

Big Ten title game matchup predictions

Ohio State over Wisconsin, 12 votes

Michigan State over Iowa, 5

Ohio State over Iowa, 4

Ohio State over Nebraska, 3

Michigan State over Wisconsin, 2

Michigan State over Nebraska, 1

Michigan State over Northwestern, 1

Nebraska over Ohio State, 1

Preseason vote for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (13)

2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (10)

3. Michael Bennett, Ohio State (4)

4. Joey Bosa, Ohio State (1)

4. Jake Ryan, Michigan (1)

Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Award

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (21)

2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (5)

3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (2)

4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB (1)

Jeff Jones not likely to see Gophers game action this fall, even if he qualifies academically

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting, Gophers preseason practice Updated: July 24, 2014 - 3:40 PM

Jeff Jones is not expected to see game action for the Gophers this fall, even if he qualifies academically, according to people close to the situation.

If Jones, the prized recruit from Minneapolis Washburn, clears the NCAA academic clearinghouse in coming days, he would likely redshirt. With practice set to open next Friday, the Gophers already have strong depth at running back depth, and Jones could use the year to get settled academically.

Three sources said Thursday that they’re still optimistic Jones will end up at the university this fall, but Iowa Western Community College remains an option. His standing is still in flux, as his summer school classes stretched into late July.

The Gophers hope to have an answer on whether Jones clears the NCAA clearinghouse and gains his scholarship before practice opens Aug. 1, but it could take until the following week. The team is awaiting word on Jones’ NCAA eligibility, and there’s also the question of whether he’ll make it through the university’s admissions office.

Jones is right on the bubble of qualifying for his scholarship. The NCAA uses a sliding scale – with grades and test scores -- to determine eligibility. Jones had a solid ACT score but his grades weren’t high enough to quality upon graduation from Minneapolis Washburn.

It’s still possible the NCAA will clear Jones to play in 2014, but even in that scenario, all signs point to a redshirt season. The Gophers running back depth chart has seniors David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood, junior Rodrick Williams and redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards. Jones would be getting a late start, as most of the team’s freshmen are already on campus, going through strength and conditioning workouts and captain’s practices.

It’s also possible that Jones will make it to the university as a partial qualifier. In that scenario, the NCAA would allow the Gophers to give Jones his scholarship, but he wouldn't’t be eligible to practice or compete for one year.

For Jones, the third option remains playing two years at Iowa Western Community College. Non-qualifiers must spend at least two seasons at junior college – long enough to complete their associates’ degree -- to obtain Division I eligibility.

Gophers announced practice schedule: Four sessions open to public, including Aug. 9 scrimmage

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers preseason practice Updated: July 22, 2014 - 10:35 AM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill announced the team's preseason practice schedule today, with four sessions open to the public, including a scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium on Aug. 9. The Gophers begin practice Aug. 1 and open their season against Eastern Illinois on Aug. 28.

This is always subject to change, but here's a look at how it will unfold for the Gophers:

Aug. 1, 5:15 PM – Practice #1, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Media
Aug. 2, 10:25 AM – Practice #2, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Media
Aug. 3, 10:25 AM – Practice #3, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media
Aug. 4, 5:15 PM – Practice #4, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media  
Aug. 5, 5:15 PM – Practice #5, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media  
Aug. 6, 5:15 PM – Practice #6  
Aug. 7. 5:15 PM – Practice #7
Aug. 8, 5:15 PM – Practice #8
Aug. 9, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #9/#10, Gibson-Nagurski /TCF Bank Stadium, #10 Open to Public/Media
Aug. 10 – No practice
Aug. 11, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #11/#12
Aug. 12, 10:25 AM – Practice #13  
Aug. 13, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #14/#15
Aug. 14, 10:25 AM – Practice #16
Aug. 15, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #17/#18
Aug. 16, 6:07 PM – Practice #19
Aug. 17 – No practice
Aug. 18 – No practice
Aug. 19, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #20/#21
Aug. 20, 10:25 AM – Practice #22  
Aug. 21, 10:25 AM – Practice #23  
Aug. 22 – No practice
Aug. 23, 3:40 PM – Practice #24  
Aug. 24, 3:40 PM – Practice #25  
Aug. 25, 3:40 PM – Practice #26  
Aug. 26, 3:40 PM – Practice #27  
Aug. 27 – No practice
Aug. 28 – Game vs. Eastern Illinois at 6 PM

Gophers land commitment from Texas linebacker Jaylen Waters

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting Updated: July 21, 2014 - 4:42 PM

The Gophers added another football commitment Monday after a key recruiting weekend, as Jaylen Waters, a linebacker from Texas, announced his plans to play for Minnesota.

Waters is a consensus two-star linebacker from Copperas Cove High School, the alma mater of former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

The 6-2, 233-pound Waters is Minnesota's ninth commitment for the 2015 class, and the second linebacker, joining Julian Huff, from Bolingbrook, Ill.

Waters attended camp at TCF Bank Stadium this weekend, along with the Gophers' annual recruiting barbecue. On Saturday, the Gophers got commitments from Canadian running back Jonathan Femi-Cole and Michigan safety Ray Buford.

Waters, who also had offers from Nevada and Texas State, announced his decision on Twitter:

Gophers get commitments from Canadian running back and Michigan safety

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting Updated: July 19, 2014 - 10:23 PM

The Gophers knew this would be a key recruiting weekend, with a camp at TCF Bank Stadium followed by their annual barbecue, and Saturday they landed two three-star commitments.

Jonathan Femi-Cole, a running back from Vaughan, Ontario, and Ray Buford, a safety/wide receiver from South Field, Mich., committed while on campus.

Rivals.com ranks the 5-11, 218-pound Femi-Cole as the 47th best running back in the 2015 class. The Gophers recruited him while they were in Canada pursuing defensive lineman Julien Kafo, who signed in February and will be a freshman this fall.

Rivals.com ranks the 6-0, 190-pound Buford as the No. 43 athlete [position not determined] in the 2015 class. He had reported offers from Boston College and Western Michigan among others.

Gophers recruiting coordinator Billy Glasscock didn't mention names, but signaled the program's excitement Saturday night on Twitter:

The Gophers now have eight commitments for their 2015 class.

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