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.
OK, as I keep saying, I'm new to this. But Urban Meyer is either one of the most egotistical, self-righteous coaches in sports, or he's exactly what the Big Ten needs.
Maybe he's both.
In an interview Thursday on 97.1-FM in Columbus, Meyer acknowledged his concerns about Big Ten recruiting lagging behind the SEC and said this needs to be the focus of the discussions Monday at the conference coaching meeting.
Some media outlets have run with this, suggesting Meyer is going sit there with Brady Hoke, Bo Pelini, Bill O'Brien, Mark Dantonio, Jerry Kill, etc., and tell them it's time to step up their recruiting game. Can you imagine?
I wanted to make sure Meyer wasn't taken out of context, so I went back to listen to the interview. The question comes at the 2:25 mark:
Question: "Urban, you won two national titles in the SEC, and that league is on a heck of a roll, and I know you get asked this question all the time. ... You guys are on a heck of a roll right now, your rival to the north [Michigan] seems to be doing pretty good -- they had the nice class [Wednesday]. Is there any concern for you that the rest of the Big Ten isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, and do you think that’s important for what you’re trying to build here at Ohio State?"
Meyer: "Well, it’s not only important, it’s essential. It has to happen. And I don’t know enough about what goes on in the other programs. I know I have a lot of respect for the tradition and their historical success they’ve had, but we do need to as a conference need to keep pushing that envelope to be better. And I think ... our whole conversation [Monday] needs to be about how do we recruit? When you see 11 of the SEC teams are in the Top 25 in recruiting, that’s something we need to continue to work on and improve."
Here's the breakdown of the Top 40 classes, as ranked by Rivals.com:
SEC -- Alabama (1), Florida (4), LSU (6), Ole Miss (7), Auburn (8), Texas A&M (10), Georgia (12), South Carolina (16), Vanderbilt (19), Tennessee (20), Mississippi State (25), Arkansas (26), Kentucky (28), Missouri (39).
BIG TEN -- Ohio State (2), Michigan (5), Nebraska (17), Michigan State (38).
Now, if Meyer wants to lead a discussion about how to put the Big Ten, as a whole, in better position to recruit, more power to him. He has concerns about 11 a.m. (Central) kickoffs, for example, and the difficulty teams have getting recruits to campus in time after their Friday night games.
But he didn't handle the question very well. He could have taken the high road and been careful not to make it sound like he was calling out the other coaching staffs. His isn't the only one that recruits 24/7/365.
This year's 61st-ranked Gophers class can't match up with Ohio State's. Is that because Urban Meyer outhustled and outflanked Jerry Kill? Not necessarily. There are countless factors that go into it -- a program's recent success, facilities, game-day atmosphere, nearby talent pools.
Ohio State signed 10 players from Ohio, including five that are ranked as four-star recruits. Minnesota's talent crop was way down this year, so the Gophers signed one in-state kid and got the rest from 11 other states, including Florida (four), Georgia (three), Texas (two) and California (one).
Kill's staff combed the country, just as Meyer's did. The assistant coaches were everywhere, and Kill made home visits to all but one of the players Minnesota signed.
"This is the hardest as a head coach that I've gone in 32 years," Kill said Wednesday. "I mean, I have competed, hard. Because I know I have to."
So Meyer might have some ideas about game times and other logistics. But to suggest that he's going to give Kill and these other coaches a little kick in the butt Monday? Please.
On National Signing Day, with every recruit seemingly loaded with promise, Gophers coach Jerry Kill probably summed it up best.
"They're all paper tigers until they come through academics and go play," he said.
Sometimes, the recruits do OK academically, but they get injured, or for some other reason, all the talent that recruiters saw in high school just doesn't translate to college.
Willie Mobley was a four-star D-line recruit for Eden Prairie in 2008. Then-Gophers coach Tim Brewster recruited him hard, but Mobley picked Ohio State. After redshirting for the Buckeyes, Mobley transferred to Orange Coast (Calif.) College and then to Arizona.
He tore an ACL in 2011, but in three years at Arizona, he played in 23 games and made just 27 tackles, as colleague Patrick Reusse notes on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Mobley turned up on the signing list at New Mexico State, as the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen reports. Mobley got his undergraduate degree at Arizona, and now he's transferring as a grad student. He'll need to get a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA by showing an injury contributed to his 2008 redshirt year at Ohio State.
If it works, Mobley will face the Gophers when they visit New Mexico State in the season's second game, on Sept. 7.
GOPHERS WALK-ON CLASS
On that note, every school has several walk-ons eager to prove the talent evaluators wrong. Other kids might be more heavily recruited, but these players can't wait to get to fall practice and show what they can do.
On Wednesday, the Gophers announced five walk-ons who have signed admission acceptances at the University. A closer look:
Jeffrey Borchardt, WR, Wayzata, 6-0, 185: Second-team All-State selection. Scored six TDs (four rushing, two receiving) in 49-14 playoff victory over Champlin Park. All-State in track as a junior.
Michael Conway, QB, La Crosse Aquinas (Wis.), 6-5, 205: Named La Crosse Tribune Football Player of the Year after throwing for 1,950 yards and 20 TDs and rushing for 800 yards and 11 TDs.
Chad Fahning, OL, De La Salle, 6-6, 270: First-team All-State selection. Turned down a scholarship from Western Michigan. Can play either guard or tackle. Started 34 games in high school.
Matt Leidner, OL, Lakeville South, 6-2, 280: Second-team All-State selection recorded 105 pancake blocks as a senior. His older brother, Mitch, redshirted at QB for the Gophers last season.
Conor Rhoda, QB, Cretin-Derham Hall, 6-3, 195: Threw for 1,400 yards and 19 TDs, and rushed for 600 yards and three TDs. Along with Notre Dame recruit James Onwualu, helped lead the Raiders to a 6-3 finish.
Our baseball writers, La Velle Neal and Phil Miller, head to Fort Myers in a little more than a week. Will I miss it? Sure. The temperature difference alone is enough to make one pine for spring training.
But at the same time, I'm really digging the new beat. I feel like I'm at the Minnesota Daily again with so much to learn. I'll be the first to admit the recruiting stuff has left my head spinning at times, but I'm trying to keep Strib readers up to speed on the bigger developments.
We have a few things planned leading up to national signing day next Wednesday, and I'm anxious to see the entire Gophers class unveiled. The rankings aren't pretty, but there's more to it than that, and we'll work to give it all some context.
Meantime, I had a chance to write this feature story on the Gophers women's hockey team. Amanda Kessel, Noora Raty, Megan Bozek and Co., have won 34 consecutive games. My favorite stat: During that stretch, they've played 2,040 minutes -- and trailed for all of 27:45.
Minnesotans are used to seeing prolific hockey, but this might be the best women's team of all-time.
OK, it's back to football now. Super Bowl Sunday is almost here, and it's final decision time for some recruits. Enjoy the weekend, folks.
How would you design the perfect Big Ten Conference?
I often read ESPN's Big Ten blog, trying to get up to speed, and there is a lot of talk about continued expansion, division re-alignment, and possibly tweaking the schedule so Big Ten football teams play nine or even 10 conference games each year.
Maryland and Rutgers will make it a 14-team league in 2014. Conference athletic directors will meet several times in coming months, and it sounds like there is strong support to focus divisional re-alignment on geography.
I'd like to hear from Star Tribune readers:
* Do you favor more expansion? If so, who should be added -- North Carolina? Georgia Tech? Virginia? Texas? Others?
* How would you split the divisions? Is it time to scrap "Legends" and "Leaders" for some new names?
* What's the ideal number of conference football games and why?
* Are the Houston Astros ready for the American League? (Sorry that's a topic for my old blog. Let's keep this discussion focused on the Big Ten.)
With eight days until national signing day, I caught up with CBS Sports Network's recruiting expert Tom Lemming today and got his thoughts. A sampling:
On QB Chris Streveler (Woodstock, Ill.)
"I watched him play this year," Lemming said. "He’s definitely a big-time quarterback with arm and running skills and could develop, just like last year when they brought in [Philip] Nelson."
On WR Drew Wolitarsky (Canyon Country, Calif.)
"He's not real fast, but he’s big and catches everything within reach," Lemming said. "We had him at a couple of our combines the last two years. I was impressed with him. He’s a red-zone type receiver who doesn’t drop passes."
On RB Berkley Edwards (Chelsea, Mich.)
"He's a small, compact and explosive running back," Lemming said. "All his strength is in his legs, and that’s what you want in a running back. He can run between the tackles effectively and has real good speed to cut it outside, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he [plays] next year."
On Minnesota's in-state talent
Lemming said it was the thinnest crop from within Minnesota's borders that he can remember.
"[Notre Dame recruit] James Onwualu is a very good player; after that, there’s a lot of question marks with everybody," he said. "Normally Minnesota’s better than Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana even. So this seems to be bad. I guess it’s cyclical, so maybe next year will be better."
On Wayzata LB Chris Wipson being the Gophers' only in-state scholarship commit
"Jerry Kill’s a very good recruiter," Lemming said. "That’s why Northern Illinois did so well this year; all those guys were his starters. And I think he knows where to get talent. If it’s not in Minnesota -- I know he’ll go there first, but the fact is, if it’s not Minnesota, it’s Illinois or Florida or something.
"The key is to go to the best talent, and if you win, nobody’s going to care. The only time they care is if you’re losing, and you’re not getting the top players in the state."
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