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.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week today after rushing for four touchdowns and 151 yards against Iowa.
Leidner also completed five of 12 passes for 71 yards in a victory over San Jose State.
The last Gopher to be named Freshman of the Week was Philip Nelson, on Oct. 29, 2012. Nelson, now a sophomore, missed Saturday's game with a strained right hamstring. Leidner, a redshirt freshman, was making his first career start.
Is there anything more frustrating as a sports fan than not being able to see a crucial replay when you're at a game?
You're sitting there with these magnificent, high-definition video replay boards. You're working through sensory overload, with seemingly every spare second filled with blinking advertisements and bellowing sound.
And then, the officials make a game-changing call, and you have no idea what just happened. Your cell phone blows up, as friends watching at home express their outrage about the call. They just watched 16 replays from three different angles, but you were the poor sucker who chose to actually go to the game.
Well, starting tonight, the Big Ten is ready to change that. The conference announced Wednesday that its schools can now show an unlimited number of replays. Previously, teams could show one replay -- even of a great touchdown pass -- at no less than 75 percent of full speed. But now teams can slow it down as much as they want and show it over and over -- just like TV.
“Our goal on game day is to blend the best parts of an in-stadium experience with the best parts of an at-home experience,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in the press release. “Enhanced replay is just one way to do that and we look forward to making it available to our fans this year."
I doublechecked with a conference spokesman this morning, just to make sure this included close officiating calls, and he said yes.
This should be interesting this year, especially now that the NCAA has established a new "targeting" rule, which calls for an automatic ejection if officials believe a tackler has targeted an opponent's head.
Another key point: The Gophers have the Big Ten's permission to show anything and everything tonight, but the conference still gives teams the discretion to show what they want. So it'll be interesting to see if they give equal exposure to replays that go for and against the home team.
Studying Minnesota's schedule for his Best Case/Worst Case series, Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart sees a best case of 8-4 and a worst case or 4-8.
In the best case scenario, he sees them defeating Iowa to move to 5-0 before withstanding losses to Michigan (home), Northwestern (away) and Nebraska (home) -- and then winning the next three games against Indiana (away), Penn State (home) and Wisconsin (home).
In the worst case, he sees San Jose State winning at TCF Bank Stadium. Then he sees the Gophers defeating Iowa before finishing the season on a seven-game skid.
I predicted a 7-5 finish in my StarTribune.com interview with Vineeta Sawkar last week. I didn't specify how the Gophers would get there, but I'm predicting a 4-0 non-conference mark and 3-5 Big Ten mark, with the wins over Iowa, Indiana and Penn State.
The Gophers think they can build off last year’s bowl game appearance and take another step forward in Year 3 of Jerry Kill’s rebuilding project this season, but beat writers from around the Big Ten are skeptical.
Minnesota is picked to finish last in the Legends Division, behind Iowa, in the poll of 26 writers – two beat writers for each of the 12 Big Ten schools and two Big Ten bloggers from ESPN.com – that was released today by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland.com).
The Plain Dealer started this poll in 2011, after the Big Ten conference stopped having writers pick the preseason conference favorite, as most conferences do.
(Note: I was one of the voters and picked the Gophers to finish fifth in the Legends Division, ahead of Iowa, but behind Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern and Michigan State. Iowa and the Gophers finished tied for last in the Legends Division last year with 2-6 conference records.)
Ohio State is a near unanimous pick to win the Leaders Division and the Big Ten Championship Game, which will be played Dec. 7 in Indianapolis. One writer picked Ohio State and Wisconsin to tie for the division title, with the Badgers winning the tiebreaker. Here are the predictions, with total points and first-place votes:
1. Michigan 135.5 (14)
2. Nebraska 132.5 (14)
3. Michigan State 101.5 (4)
4. Northwestern 95.5
5. Iowa 43
6. Minnesota 38
1. Ohio State 155.5 (26)
2. Wisconsin 128 (1)
3. Penn State 104
4. Indiana 74.5
5. Purdue 52.5
6. Illinois 31.5
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is on a mission to make sure member fan bases don't think the bowl experience is getting stale.
Take Wisconsin, for example. The Badgers have been to the past three Rose Bowls. Nothing wrong with Pasadena, of course. But it's asking a lot for an average fan to get excited to keep returning to the same place year after year.
Before this stretch, Wisconsin played in a Florida bowl game for six consecutive years -- Tampa, Orlando, Orlando, Tampa, Orlando, Orlando. No matter how much you like warm weather and college football, that's an awful lot of Florida.
On Monday, the Big Ten and Pac-12 officially announced new six-year agreements with the Holiday Bowl (San Diego) and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (San Francisco). The contracts cover the years 2014-2019.
Unlike the current arrangement, the Big Ten won't stipulate that a certain team from the standings is going from to a certain bowl. This year, the No. 2 team is heading to Orlando, and No. 3 is heading to Tampa, for example. Delany said the next arrangement will have tiers and steps will be taken to ensure teams don't keep returning to the same regions for bowl games.
The Holiday Bowl will be in the top tier, for teams toward the top of the Big Ten standings. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will bein the middle tier, along with the Pinstripe Bowl (against an ACC team) at Yankee Stadium. When finished, the Big Ten bowl slate likely will include games in New York, Florida, Texas, California and Detroit.
"Our goal was initially to create a national slate, and we feel like we’ve taken another step in that direction," Delany said. "We're looking to to broaden the group of opponents that we’re playing, but also to keep it fresh for fans and bowl communities, as well as our coaches and players."
Thumbs up from here. Who doesn't like San Diego? Meanwhile, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl has been underrated at AT&T Park and figures to get even better when it moves into the 49ers new Levi's Stadium in Stadium, in 2014.
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