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.
The Gophers had a narrow increase in home attendance this season, to 47,865 per game. According to a report from CBSSports.com, this came in a year when attendance across the nation dropped to its lowest since 2000.
The CBSSports.com report notes that Ohio State led the nation 106,296 fans per game, followed by Texas A&M (105,123) and Michigan (104,909). This ended Michigan's 16-year run as the nation's attendance leader.
The report notes that average attendance in the Big Ten was 66,939, down from 70,431 last year, which was largely the result of adding Maryland and Rutgers. Maryland had a 14 percent increase in attendance but was still at 46,981, and Rutgers had a 9 percent attendance increase to 50,639.
Nationally, the average for FBS schools was 43,483, the lowest since it was 42,631 in 2000.
Here's a look at the Gophers' year-by-year average attendance in six seasons at 50,805-seat TCF Bank Stadium:
2009 -- 50,805
2010 -- 49,513
2011 -- 47,714
2012 -- 46,637
2013 -- 47,797
2014 -- 47,865
The new field has been installed at TCF Bank Stadium, with the hydronic heating system beneath it. If you look at the @TCFBankStadium Twitter page, you can see the difference in how the field looked before and after the renovation to accommodate the Vikings for the next two years.
As of today, the markings were fairly generic, with no logo at midfield and the word "MINNESOTA" in gold letters with white trim in the end zones. Here's the latest look from the @GopherFootball feed.
A Gophers spokesman clarified the plans. The Gophers' historic Block 'M' will be back on the field soon, with Coach Jerry Kill getting ready to host numerous camps. The Block 'M' will be there for every Gophers game, and the Big Ten logos will be back at the 25-yard lines. The wider, NCAA hash marks will be down.
The Vikings will have their traditional Norseman logo at midfield for their games, with NFL logos at the 25-yard lines and the narrower hash marks.
The end zone plans are still undecided. There is some flexibility built into the contract for those markings. The green portions around the word "MINNESOTA" can be painted maroon for the Gophers, and purple for the Vikings, but they also could stay with this neutral look for both teams. That would be less work, and of course, less expensive.
Maintenance crews could also paint the white trim around the gold letters maroon or purple, but whatever gets painted needs to be restored to neutral for the other team. If the Vikings add purple paint to the end zones, they have to scrub it clean or restore it to the neutral setting for the Gophers, and vice versa.
But it's clear in the contract that this is the Gophers' field and that the Vikings have to restore it with the Block 'M' and neutral end zones after each game. So on non-game days, if a recruit or booster visits the stadium, they'll have that reminder that this is an NCAA field with an NFL tenant.
Greetings from TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers are getting ready for their annual Spring Game.
The weather has shaped up pretty well, with temperatures expected to be about 60 degrees, with mostly cloudy skies for today's start at about 2:30 p.m.
The game -- which will actually be a scrimmage between the offense and defense -- will be aired live on 100.3-FM, and streamed live on BTN2GO.com. Big Ten Network will show the game tape delayed on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
I'm most curious how Mitch Leidner and the first-team offense look, of course. But the Spring Game is really an opportunity to see how some of the lesser-experienced players look under the spotlight.
It's a big day for some of the redshirt freshmen, such as QB Chris Streveler, QB Conor Rhoda, TE Nate Wozniak, WR Eric Carter, LB Rayfield Dixon and S Daletavious McGhee. And, of course, RB Berkley Edwards, whom I wrote about for today's paper.
The Gophers didn't release a depth chart for this game, but I put one together, based on what I've seen in spring practice:
WR 82 Drew Wolitarsky (So.)/17 Logan Hutton (Sr.)
WR 14 Isaac Fruechte/4 Donovahn Jones (So.)
WR 1 KJ Maye (Jr.)/11 Eric Carter (Fr.)
LT 78 Ben Lauer (So.)/74 Marek Lenkiewicz (Sr.)
LG 52 Zac Epping (Sr.)/73 Joe Bjorklund (Jr.)
C 53 Tommy Olson (Sr.)/67 Brian Bobek (Jr.)
RG 77 Foster Bush (Jr.) /68 Isaac Hayes (So.)
RT 65 Josh Campion (Jr.)/79 Jonah Pirsig (So.)
TE 83 Drew Goodger (Sr.)/85 Lincoln Plsek (Jr.)
TE 81 Duke Anyanwu (So.)/39 Nate Wozniak (Fr.)
QB 7 Mitch Leidner (So.)/5 Chris Streveler (Fr.)
RB 27 David Cobb (Sr.)/32 Berkley Edwards (Fr.)
FB 44 Riley O’Hara (Jr.)/41 Miles Thomas (Jr.)
DE 55 Theiren Cockran (Jr.)/93 Ben Perry (Sr.)
DT 46 Cameron Botticelli (Sr.)/90 Demaris Peppers (Fr.)
DT 97 Scott Ekpe (Jr.)/94 Harold Legania (Sr.)
DE 98 Michael Amaefula (Sr.)/69 Robert Ndondo-Lay (Jr.)
LB 26 De’Vondre Campbell (Jr.)/59 De’Niro Laster (Fr.)
LB 5 Damien Wilson (Sr.)/56 Nick Rallis (So.)
LB 50 Jack Lynn (So.)/38 Ray Dixon (Fr.)
CB 31 Eric Murray (Jr.)/16 Steven Montgomery (Jr.)
CB 28 Jalen Myric (So.)/15 Marcus Jones (Sr.)
S 2 Cedric Thompson (Sr.)/8 Daletavious McGhee (Fr.)
S 11 Antonio Johnson (Jr.)/7 Damarius Travis (Jr.)
K 28 Ryan Santoso (Fr.)/33 Andrew Harte (Fr.)
KR 1 KJ Maye (Jr.)/11 Antonio Johnson (Jr.)
P 37 Peter Mortell (Jr.)/94 Christian Eldred (Sr.)
PR 15 Marcus Jones (Sr.)
NOT PLAYING DUE TO INJURY
88 Maxx Williams
91 Alex Keith
95 Hank Ekpe
12 Cody Poock
13 Derrick Wells
63 Jon Christenson
64 Caleb Bak
52 Yoshoub Timms
29 Briean Boddy-Calhoun
The Gophers just fell another step behind in college football's arms race. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Northwestern has received the green light to build "the multipurpose lakefront facility that football coach Pat Fitzgerald says will be a 'game-changer' for his program."
From the story:
Donations have poured in despite the Wildcats' 5-7 record last season. Sources said construction of the two-building complex will begin by early 2015 and should take about two years to complete.
The school will announce Friday, the Tribune has learned, that it is launching a new fundraising campaign and that Mark and Kimbra Walter have donated $40 million to be used for athletics and law school scholarships. Mark Walter, a graduate of NU's law school, is the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
NU officials have been tight-lipped since unveiling plans for the project in September 2012. The price tag for the facility on the shore of Lake Michigan is likely to exceed the original estimate of $220 million.
This project was first announced in September 2012, but there are new renderings, and quite frankly, they are stunning. The Chicago Tribune reports that the cost likely will exceed the original $220 million estimate.
Last July, Gophers AD Norwood Teague unveiled a $190 million plan to drastically upgrade the school's athletic facilities, including new practice facilities for the football and basketball teams. Teague has since said that the school is close to announcing the results of a fundraising feasibility study, and he keeps saying he feels good about it. But it's been relatively quiet.
ESPN commentator Dan Dakich, a former Bowling Green coach and interim head coach at Indiana, said on Thursday’s broadcast of the Gophers-Penn State game that Minnesota can’t afford not to build a facility. Dakich called Minnesota high school basketball the nation’s best-kept secret, and said there “are Minnesota kids all over Division I.’’ Dakich said if Minnesota finally builds a practice facility comparable to other Big Ten schools and starts keeping top in-state kids at home, the basketball program could take off.
Last December, the Big Ten Network's Gerry DiNardo held nothing back in his assessment of Minnesota's football facilities. Here's an excerpt from that story:
DiNardo tours the entire Big Ten twice each year — during spring practice and preseason camp — giving him a firsthand look at what the Gophers have compared with their competition.
“You can make a case that they’re 12th of 12 [teams] when it comes to resources in the conference,” DiNardo said. “Facilitieswise, it’s not even close.”
By that, DiNardo means the indoor practice facility, weight room and nutrition areas. He said it’s nice for Minnesota fans to have 5-year-old TCF Bank Stadium but notes that players spend about 10 days per year there, counting spring practice. They spend almost every other day on campus in the training facilities, and those aren’t helping recruiting, DiNardo said.
“A prospect wants to know where he’s going to go every day,” DiNardo said. “Training table, for example: I often see at Minnesota they eat in the hallway, and it’s food with Bunsen burners underneath.”
The Gophers do indeed hold their training table with catered meals inside the entryway to the Gibson/Nagurski Practice Facility. It’s a high-ceilinged room filled with Gophers memorabilia — a nice place to visit, but hardly a dining room.
“When [recruits] go to Nebraska, by way of example, when you walk into their training table, it looks like a restaurant,” DiNardo said. “I mean, it is decked out. Wisconsin just built brand new facilities. They have juice bars — it’s a kitchen, it’s a restaurant.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, Fitzgerald had this to say on National Signing Day:
"A lot of other universities have made the decision just to do the stadium. We've put the priority on student-athletes with a 365-day facility. We already have everything we need to win, but now we'll be able to compete facility-wise with anyone in the country."
University of Minnesota athletes don’t have to look far to see the importance of bone marrow donors.
Longtime Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last June, and a bone marrow transplant from his brother helped save his life. Oakes is in remission and back coaching the baseball team, as Samuel Gordon writes in today's Minnesota Daily.
Gophers wide receiver Connor Cosgrove was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. He didn't need a transplant, but he has spoken to the team about the importance of registering healthy donors.
The football team and an organization called Be The Match are hosting a bone marrow registry drive on Wednesday from 1-4 p.m., in the Gophers locker room at TCF Bank Stadium.
Be The Match focuses on finding potential donors ages 18-44, so it is critical that they register as many college students as possible. Their research shows that younger donors are best for patients because they provide the greatest chance for transplant success. Donors between the ages of 18 and 44 are asked to donate more than 90% of the time.
The registration process is quick, simple and painless. Potential marrow donors simply need to complete a registration form with contact information, health information and sign an agreement to join the Be The Match registry. Those who will be registering are encouraged to bring personal identification (such as a driver’s license or passport) and contact information for two family members or friends.
After the paperwork is complete, all potential donors have to do is have the inside of their cheek swabbed. Their information will be stored in the Be The Match registry. This is the national registry where doctors turn to when their patient needs a marrow transplant and there is not a known matching donor in the family.
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