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.
Big 10 talk buzzing again. #UVA being mentioned often as likely to join. Georgia Tech still in the mix. #UNC, the big domino, has an offer.
With an eye toward what this would mean for the Gophers football team, here’s a closer look at those three ACC institutions:
2012 record: 8-4
3-year trend: 23-15
Coach: Larry Fedora (1 year)
Joined ACC: 1953
History vs. Gophers: The football teams haven’t played. North Carolina was on Minnesota’s schedule in 2013 and 2014, but Minnesota got out of those games by paying North Carolina $800,000.
Notable: North Carolina was ineligible for a bowl game last year and is on three year’s probation for improper player benefits under former coach Butch Davis.
Big Ten appeal: Stealing North Carolina from the ACC would be a coup, with the Tar Heels’ athletic tradition and the school’s academic reputation. It would expand the Big Ten’s footprint south and should boost the BTN's ratings in an expansive TV market.
2012 record: 4-8
3-year trend: 16-21
Coach: Mike London (3 years)
Joined ACC: 1954
History vs. Gophers: The football teams have met once, with Virginia defeating Minnesota 34-31 in the 2005 Music City Bowl.
Big Ten appeal: The football and basketball programs aren’t as strong at Virginia, but the academics sure are. With Maryland coming into the fold, the Big Ten already has a foothold in the D.C. market, and this would strengthen that.
2012 record: 7-7
3-year trend: 21-19
Coach: Paul Johnson (5 years)
Joined ACC: 1983
History vs. Gophers: The football teams haven’t met.
Big Ten appeal: The Yellow Jackets have played in a bowl game every year since 1997 and reached the Orange Bowl in 2009 after winning the ACC. So the football program is legit, and so is the school. But let’s face it, this is all about Atlanta, getting the Big Ten Network onto all those televisions. Not only would that be a boon for the conference financially, but it should help other schools recruit throughout the South.
Based on reports coming from Monday's Big Ten meeting, here are a few key football changes that could be coming soon:
LONGER CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
Teams currently play eight conference games. That number soon could be nine or 10. Eight conference games "is not even on the table right now," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told the Chicago Tribune.
According to ESPN's Big Ten Blog, "The change likely won't be implemented until the 2016 season, two years after Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten."
I had heard the conference could phase this in gradually, going with a nine-game conference schedule for two years and then ramping up to 10. A final decision is expected this spring.
Minnesota perspective: Who knows where the program will be after three more seasons? But for a team that is 6-18 in the conference over the past three years, and 12-36 since 2007, this could make things more difficult. Of course, adding Rutgers and Maryland should make the conference slate less daunting. Either way, I think season ticket holders would welcome another Big Ten game on the home schedule.
There's a movement to divide teams according to time zones, which makes sense. There are eight Eastern time zone teams, and six Central time zone teams, so one Eastern team would have to shift -- perhaps Purdue or Michigan State. Imagine this:
Big Ten East: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers.
Big Ten West: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin.
Minnesota perspective: From the current Legends Division, the Gophers would lose Michigan, and gain Illinois and Wisconsin. Besides geography, the athletic directors have to factor in competitive balance -- this seems to be about a wash -- and preserving rivalries. What becomes of the Little Brown Jug? It might not be a yearly battle, if the Big Ten places a bigger priority on Michigan/Michigan State as an annual crossover game. To put it kindly, I don't think Gophers fans would miss it.
Delany also told ESPN.com that the conference isn't opposed to more night games, even in November. ... Big Ten coaches urged the NCAA to reconsider legislation that removes restrictions on the amount of calls, texts and printed materials that schools can send to recruits. ... And Urban Meyer's point about Big Ten recruiting was indeed about logistics and not effort, as ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg explains here.
The Gophers football team will open spring practice March 26, with the annual spring game coming April 27, the University announced today.
Teams are allowed to hold 15 spring practices. Iowa also plays its spring game this year on April 27 -- the latest date for any team in the conference, according to ESPN's Big Ten Blog.
Nebraska and Indiana open spring practice on March 2, the earliest date in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers play their spring game April 6, and the Hoosiers play theirs on April 13.
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.
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.)
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