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.

Posts about NCAA: football

Q&A with Michigan beat writer Mark Snyder, who has a hunch Morris will start at QB

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: September 26, 2014 - 1:01 PM

Mark Snyder has spent years covering the Michigan beat for the Detroit Free Press, and he’s been a go-to source for me with any question I’ve had about the Wolverines. Here’s a sample of his outstanding work.

Follow him on Twitter: @Mark__Snyder (double underscore)

We traded e-mails this week, preparing for Saturday’s game at the Big House. You can check out the Q & A I did for the Free Press here, and Mark was kind enough to answer my questions, too:

1. Do you think Brady Hoke is ready to start Shane Morris, or will he stick with Devin Gardner?

A: I'm past the point of trying to figure out his decisions, because we don't know enough about the criteria. But I assume he would try to go with Morris because, if not, what was all this for? If he stays with Gardner after a week of making him re-earn his job, that seems like a very public demerit. If he goes with Morris, Gardner knows it's an ongoing competition.

2. Devin Funchess dominated the Gophers last year. Will they see a different player Saturday, and why?

A: He is battling a leg injury that he suffered against Notre Dame and has noticeably been affected since. He said it will be painful all year but he's willing to play through it. (Obviously a potential firs round draft pick, it's worth the effort.) Funchess' greatest limitation last week was Devin Gardner's wayward passes and he still caught four passes in the first half for more than 80 yards. If Gardner or Shane Morris is more accurate, Funchess is a problem for anyone.

3. I see a true freshman starts at left tackle. What’s your general assessment of the offensive line?

A: They've been better than last year but that's not saying much for one of the worst offensive lines in Michigan history. Against equal talent -- Notre Dame and Utah -- they've gotten little push for the running game. The problem is they're all juniors or younger so physically they're still maturing. There may be a change there this week.

4. The Gophers can run, but they have struggled mightily with passing. How do you think that plays to Michigan’s defensive strengths?

A: It should be good on good that way because U-M's run defense has been outstanding the past three weeks. The secondary has been better since the Notre Dame first half debacle, but there was leakage last week as Utah hit a few plays. Michigan's corners -- except Jabrill Peppers -- are still small which makes them vulnerable to size. Playing without their starting safety and corner the past two weeks, both injured, doesn't allow for a good read.

5. How big of a crowd would you expect for Saturday and what will be their mood at kickoff?

A: It may be still over 100,000 but possibly not by much. At least this is an opponent that people have heard of and I assume Berkley Edwards' fan base will fill in the empty seats. Seriously, though, there will be a short fuse with the fans that are there, wanting to see improvement. But whatever the crowd, it'll still be more than 98% of the teams in the country, which is still pretty darn impressive.

Cornell to name his college Wednesday morning on ESPN

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: June 29, 2014 - 2:43 PM

Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell will announce his college decision Wednesday morning on ESPN, and according to 247Sports.com, the five finalists are Iowa, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State.

Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan said in an e-mail that Cornell will announce his decision at the high school at 9 a.m. Cornell and Cincinnati St. Xavier linebacker Justin Hilliard will be making their announcements at the same time, and much of the speculation has them choosing Ohio State.

ESPN had Cornell ranked as the nation's No. 1 player in the 2015 class last year and has since lowered him to No. 16. The 6-3, 265-pound Cornell is a consensus four-star recruit. The Gophers were one of the first teams to offer Cornell a scholarship, but their hopes of landing him haven't been high for months.

Eslinger ranks 34th on Athlon's list of top players from the BCS era

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 29, 2014 - 9:30 AM

Former Gophers center Greg Eslinger made Athlon's recently released list of Top 50 college football players of the BCS era. He has some impressive company on a list that spanned from 1998 to 2013.

Greg Eslinger (Star Tribune file photo)

Greg Eslinger (Star Tribune file photo)

The rankings start with Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Ndamukong Suh, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald.

Eslinger, from Bismarck, North Dakota, was a four-year starter for the Gophers and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. He was a three-time first-team All-American.

He ranks 34th on this list, behind LaDanian Tomlinson (30th), Robert Griffin III (31st), Reggie Bush (32nd) and Drew Brees (33rd).

Athlon writes:

34. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota (2002-05)
Not many centers have an Outland Trophy on their mantle at home but Eslinger does. He was a freshman All-American in 2002, a third-team All-American as a sophomore, a first-teamer in '04 and earned consensus All-American honors as a senior. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and earned Big Ten Lineman of the Year honors in ’05. Minnesota never had a losing record during his four-year career.

Rutgers dismisses Nelson from its team

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 13, 2014 - 11:22 AM

Rutgers dismissed Philip Nelson from its football team Tuesday morning, one day after he was charged with first- and third-degree assault for his role in a fight that left 24-year-old Isaac Kolstad clinging to his life.

“The Rutgers football family’s thoughts and prayers are with Isaac Kolstad and his family,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood in the statement, announcing Nelson's release.

Nelson, 20, was a starting quarterback for the Gophers the past two season before deciding to transfer in January and soon landing at Rutgers. He went through spring practice with the Scarlet Knights and was prepared to sit out this fall, under NCAA transfer rules. Nelson was looking forward to playing the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Rutgers before being arrested Saturday.

Notes from the Big Ten Championship Game in Indy

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: December 6, 2013 - 5:24 PM

INDIANAPOLIS --  It’s snowing here on the eve of the Big Ten Championship Game, but it’ll be perfectly comfortable inside Lucas Oil Stadium, when No. 2 Ohio State faces No. 11 Michigan State.

Indianapolis is about a three-hour drive from Columbus, and it's a little more than four hours from East Lansing. I bumped into a bunch of fans for each school as I was checking into my hotel, so it should be interesting to see what the crowd is like inside the 67,455-seat stadium.

“We’re anticipating 50/50, but I’m hoping a stronger Buckeye crowd will show up, like I’m sure [the Spartans] do,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Can’t control that. But I think it’s going to be a great environment. Really, really excited for it.

HALL WON’T START

Meyer said senior offensive guard Marcus Hall won’t start Saturday after getting ejected from last week’s Michigan game and then throwing a tantrum before giving fans the double-bird salute on his way into the tunnel.

“Very, very disappointed in his actions,” Meyer said. “He paid the penalty for the fight, which is he missed three quarters in a rivalry game. It’s not Marcus. But just really disappointed in his actions after the fight.”

Hall is 6-5, 315 pounds, and his replacement -- redshirt freshman Pat Elfein -- is 6-3, 295.

"I love Pat Elfein," Meyer said. "He's going to have a great career here. A lot of confidence in him."

PRACTICING FULL-TILT

It’s unusual for teams to go full-contact in practice, especially at this stage of the season, but that’s what Michigan State did to get ready for Ohio State.

“I think you’re trying to put yourself in as many game-like situations – safe, not getting injured, so you can simulate as close to what you’re going to see on Saturday,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think we pushed the envelope there a little bit to try to do that.

“I think our players need to understand, ‘Hey, it’s not touch out there, it’s full-contact. We have to play. There’s no question in my mind that Braxton Miller is the most physical quarterback that we have played this year, in terms of … taking hits and running with power as a quarterback.”

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