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.
The draft experts saw this coming, so it should come as no surprise. But the first round of the NFL Draft is in the books, and the Big Ten came close to getting shut out.
The SEC produced 12 first-round selections, the ACC had six, the Pac-12 had five, and the Big Ten had one -- Wisconsin offensive lineman Travis Frederick, who went to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 31.
This story advancing the draft by the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Doug Lesmerises compared the SEC and Big Ten's first-round draft production since 2006, when the Big Ten had eight first-round selections. As Doug wrote:
If you wonder why the league has struggled in nonconference and bowl games lately, with one winning bowl season since 2002, Thursday’s first round will show you part of the reason.
A few more Big Ten players should hear their names called Friday, in Rounds 2 and 3, including Purdue DT Kawann Short, Ohio State DT Jonathan Hankins, Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and Michigan State DE William Gholston. But the Draft remains an annual reminder of the declining talent in the Big Ten.
Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, from the Big Ten Network, watched the Gophers second-to-last spring practice Thursday, inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, and seemed to come away impressed.
On Twitter, DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) noted that Jerry Kill's program has looked better each time they've swung through camp, which would now be five times -- Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012 and today.
"For the 14th practice they got a bunch done," DiNardo tweeted, adding "14 is usually not a productive go."
Kill was less impressed. In an 11-on-11 drill, Cedric Thompson intercepted Philip Nelson and ran for a touchdown. It was among the examples when the offense looked out of sync.
"I think we’ve had 13 good practices," Kill said. "I think today wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as clean as I’d like it. We didn’t go very long, and I think our kids have kind of hit that wall a little bit. We’ve got some guys banged up, which everybody does in spring, and we feel like we’ll get those kids back. It’s been a grind."
Next up for the Gophers is Saturday's 1 p.m., spring game at TCF Bank Stadium. They'll divide into two teams and play 15-minute quarters.
"I’m excited to get out there Saturday, be outside, a little bit different element, and finish off the spring good," Kill said. "Let those kids play and let them have some fun because we’ve been after them pretty good. Split them up and have a good time and hopefully get out of there without any major injuries."
Earlier in camp, the players did some pushing and shoving in one of the practices, and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said that's usually a sign that it's time to scrimmage. The drills can get pretty frustrating. Today was no exception, as Thompson and tight end Drew Goodger got into it, leading to a long multi-player scuffle.
"At the end of camp, everybody is tired, and everybody’s trying to push through," Thompson said. "So at times, everybody loses a screw every now and then. But at the end of the day, we’re still a family. We all shake hands in the lockerroom. We all still love each other."
If it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Big Ten would expand to eventually add more teams besides Rutgers and Maryland -- hold that thought.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told The Sporting News on Tuesday that further expansion is unlikely. There had been speculation that the conference was targeting ACC schools such as North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech.
But this week, the ACC adopted a new TV rights deal that ties all 14 teams and Notre Dame into a revenue sharing agreement through 2026-2027. The deal reportedly forces ACC teams to relinquish TV revenue back to the ACC throughout the 14-year contract if they leave the conference.
Asked if that deal would cement the lineups in the five major conferences -- Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac 12 and Big 12 -- Delany told the Sporting News, "Given everything that has gone on, yes."
Rutgers and Maryland will join the Big Ten in 2014, making it a 14-team conference. In coming days Big Ten presidents and chancellors are expected to scrap the Legends and Leaders divisions and divide into East and West divisions for 2014:
East: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin.
I'm not convinced the Big Ten is finished expanding. The Rutgers and Maryland developments came out of the blue last year. It's possible, for example, the Big Ten could convince Missouri to leave the SEC, which hasn't tied teams to a long-term TV contract. There are other possibilities, too, but at the very least, the ACC deal should cool the rampant speculation for a while.
Big Ten presidents and chancellors will vote next week on a proposal to adopt new East and West football divisions for 2014, when Rutgers and Maryland join the conference, ESPN.com reported Friday night.
The proposal would scrap the current Legends and Leaders divisions and divide teams by geography.
The Gophers would be in the West, along with their two closest rivals -- Wisconsin and Iowa -- as well as Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue.
The East division would have Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
There has been speculation for months that the Big Ten would divide into eastern and western divisions, but the one question was whether Indiana or Purdue would be the team moving west.
By 2014, the conference will have eight schools in the Eastern time zone and six schools in the Central time zone, so one Eastern team had to flip, and under this proposal it will be Purdue.
Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez also told CBSSports.com that the Big Ten is expected to approve a nine-game conference schedule for 2016.
The latest news on Big Ten division re-alignment bodes well for the Gophers. According to ESPN.com's Big Ten Blog, the league’s athletic directors plan to go with geographic divisions -- “East” and “West” -- for 2014, when Maryland and Rutgers join the conference, and the only lingering debate is whether Purdue or Indiana joins the West.
The divisions have yet to be named, but they would look like this:
Indiana or Purdue
Indiana or Purdue
By 2014, there will be eight teams in the Eastern time zone and six in the Central time zone, so one of those eastern teams needs to play in the West division. Previously, there had been talk of moving Michigan State to the "West" in order to help competitive balance.
Based on recent history, playing Purdue or Indiana every year should be a lot easier for the Gophers than Michigan State. And for the conference, this would allow the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry to continue right inside the same division.
Nothing has been made official yet, but the Big Ten Blog also reports that the league will likely move to a nine-game conference schedule starting in 2016. So that would mean six games within each team’s division and three crossovers.
|Sports (4)||Football (9)|
|College football (561)||Bowl games (13)|
|Gopher coaches (69)||Gopher quarterbacks (50)|
|Gopher recruiting (29)||Gopher road games (18)|
|Gophers disciplinary action (9)||Gophers injuries (39)|
|Gophers on TV (3)||Gophers preseason practice (49)|
|Gophers recruiting (21)||Gophers spring football (61)|
|TCF Bank Stadium (8)||The Big 10 (59)|
|NCAA: football (5)||Gophers game day (73)|
|Gophers postgame (48)||NCAA (15)|
|Gophers awards and honors (9)||Gophers post season (6)|
|Gophers roster moves (15)||Coaching (43)|
|Gophers player capsules (12)|