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.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay held a conference call Thursday morning, and I asked him about two Gophers -- Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen. Here's a snippet of what McShay said:
On Hageman: "Overall this year, I thought it was his best season. ... He made more big plays. He wasn’t an elite sack guy in college football, he only had two sacks, but he had 11 tackles for a loss, he had that one interception.
"Really the NFL draft is about projecting the next level, and to me, he’s got a chance to be a better pro than he was a college player. He’s so tall and kind of just starting to figure it all out, and when it comes to leverage, and being able to take on blocks and being able to disengage and go make plays.
"There aren’t many guys who are built like him – 6-6 and 310 – and can move like he does, so there’s a high ceiling there and it’s really promising to me that he got better this year.
"If it’s not late-first [round], it’ll probably be early second, but I really think at this point, if everything goes well between now and the draft, Hageman’s got a good chance to go in the first round."
On Vereen: "He’s one of the guys that you create a list throughout the course of a year, in terms of guys who are playing better than the year before, and warrant the time to sit down and do a full film evaluation, and he’s one of those guys.
"But in talking to a couple scouts, one guy who works in the North and another guy who has Big Ten country, both guys have mentioned him as a guy who has improved and probably a Day 3 pick [Rounds 4-7], and a guy who can do multiple things, and help you in terms of your versatility and roster."
For the second consecutive year, the Gophers are heading to Houston for a bowl game, this time against Syracuse on Dec. 27, a person familiar with the decision confirmed Sunday.
The Gophers (8-4) accepted their invitation from the Texas Bowl, hoping to improve on their performance from last year, when they lost 34-31 to Texas Tech, when the game was known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Many projections had the Gophers playing Texas Tech again in Houston, but the Texas Bowl was able to avoid a rematch, selecting Syracuse (6-6) from the ACC.
The Gophers defeated Syracuse 17-10 last year at TCF Bank Stadium.
This year, in Syracuse's first year in the ACC and first year under Coach Scott Shafer, the Orange finished 4-4 in conference play and defeated Boston College 34-31 in its final regular season game. Its other victories this year came against Wagner, Tulane, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Maryland. Syracuse opened the season with losses to Penn State and Northwestern.
Syracuse did not allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
Later today, the Gophers will learn their bowl destination and opponent. Our latest Big Ten Bowl Projections still have the Gophers going back to Houston to play in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27.
That's not an ideal situation for the Gophers, who played in that same bowl last year when it was called the Meineke Car Care Bowl, losing 34-31 to Texas Tech.
But the bowls can pick teams regardless of records. There's a selection order, and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz.) or the Gator Bowl (Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.) are bound to take a 7-5 Michigan team over 8-4 Minnesota -- because it's all about filling seats and TV ratings.
For a long time, several projections had the Gophers facing Texas Tech again in Houston. It would have been tough generating much interest in that rematch, but that can be avoided if the Big 12 lands two teams in BCS Bowls. Baylor won the Big 12 title, assuring a Fiesta Bowl trip, and many projections now have Oklahoma going to the Sugar Bowl with an at-large berth.
That would let Texas Tech go to the Holiday Bowl -- as the last Big 12 selection -- and then the Texas Bowl could pick a team from another conference.
Our current projections have the Gophers playing Oregon State from the Pac-12. Washington State, coached by Mike Leach, is another possibility. So the opponent will be the most interesting component. Stay tuned.
INDIANAPOLIS – The bowl projections keep changing at the top, with Northern Illinois and Oklahoma State falling out of the BCS picture with losses in the past 17 hours.
The Gophers seem to be headed back to Houston for the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27, but they could wind up facing a Pac-12 team instead of a Big 12 team. Jerry Palm currently has the Gophers facing Oregon State, and Phil Steele has them playing Washington State. Stay tuned.
Tomorrow is Bowl Selection Day, and we'll have you covered.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
I’m really enjoying my first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. I’m impressed by how functional Indianapolis is for an event like this. I’m staying about a half-mile from Lucas Oil Stadium, but the hotels all seemed connected to the Convention Center by skyway, and it’s a short walk from there to several bars, restaurants and the stadium.
The streets are filled with fans yelling “O-H!” and “I-O!” or “Go Green!” and “Go White!”
I’m tempted to pick Michigan State in an upset. But I’m predicting a 34-30 win for Ohio State. I think the strength of Michigan State’s defense can cancel out the strength of Ohio State’s offense, and I think the Buckeyes’ defense is better than the Spartans’ offense.
That might sound blasphemous after Ohio State just gave up 600 yards to a sputtering Michigan team, but I’m chalking that up to a rivalry game where anything can happen. I think this one will be close, but Braxton Miller will make just enough plays to send Ohio State to the BCS title game.
With the Gophers' season over, the graduating seniors can focus now on the possibility of extending their football careers.
Quarterback/receiver MarQueis Gray announced via Twitter on Monday that he "Just got the news that I'm officially invited to the NFL Combine! Time to get busy!"
But he's not the only Gopher expected to showcase his talents for NFL scouts. In fact, thanks to the NFL's new, expanded talent scouting process, nearly every senior can be evaluated by professional talent-hunters.
Gray has presumably been invited to the National Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, a weeklong workout-and-interview session for roughly 300 prospects which begins Feb. 20 in Indianapolis. That's where most of the top prospects for next April's NFL draft will go, hoping to solidify their professional prospects, and where Gray will attempt to impress scouts with his physical stature and ability. His case will be particularly interesting, given that his position as a pro -- receiver? tight end? linebacker? running back? Wildcat quarterback? -- has not been established.
But last year, the NFL expanded the process to include 10 regional combines, including four for punters and kickers, and a "super-regional" shortly before the draft for players who made a strong impression in the early sessions. Every collegiate player with NFL potential, in other words, should have a chance to prove his professional worthiness.
Cornerback Troy Stoudermire is in Houston, where on Wednesday he will begin training for the combine process. Other Gophers expected to get a look from scouts include cornerback Michael Carter, defensive end D.L. Wilhite, linebackers Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis, and tight end John Rabe.
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