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.

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Kill pleased with Gophers preparation for Citrus Bowl, says team is ready to go

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Bowl games, Gopher coaches Updated: December 31, 2014 - 11:36 AM

ORLANDO -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill met the media Wednesday and sounded confident about his team's preparation for Thursday's Citrus Bowl against Missouri.

"I really feel good about our players," Kill said. "I mean they have practiced very hard. We’ve had excellent practices. Yesterday, we were very sharp. So we feel good going in. Now that doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it’s a lot different than it was a year ago [at the Texas Bowl], I can tell you that.

"The kids bounced around a little bit. I think they’ve had a good time, but when we work, it’s different. So I’m excited about watching them play. As a coaching staff, we feel very comfortable. We’ve got a good plan, we’ve just got to go execute it. So we’ll see."

One injury note: Kill said offensive tackle Ben Lauer won't play. Lauer had mono this month and returned to practice this week but isn't ready to play a game. Jonah Pirsig will make his fifth consecutive start at right tackle, and not having Lauer will test the Gophers' depth.

Buffalo Wild Wings exec: Gophers' berth in bowl sponsored by Minnesota company 'coincidental'

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Bowl games Updated: December 30, 2014 - 2:58 PM

ORLANDO -- Buffalo Wild Wings is headquartered in Minneapolis. This is the first year the company has sponsored the Citrus Bowl, and the Gophers somehow landed a spot in it, giving them their first New Year’s Day bowl berth since 1962.

Conspiracy buffs might wonder if the Minnesota-based company pulled some strings.

“It’s coincidental because we have no role in picking the teams that play in the game,” Bob Ruhland, the company’s vice president of North American marketing said.

Ruhland works in Minneapolis, but on Tuesday, he was at the Buffalo Wild Wings on International Drive in Orlando, where the Gophers and Missouri held press conferences.

On Dec. 7, when the bowl selections were announced, the Gophers appeared to catch a huge break when Mississippi State jumped ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings. This happened even though neither team played the previous week.

Had they been left in reverse, Michigan State would have gone to the Orange Bowl, which would have precluded the Big Ten from sending a team to the Citrus Bowl. But Michigan State went to the Cotton Bowl, and the Citrus Bowl grabbed the Gophers. Wisconsin would have been another choice, but they played in Orlando last year, when it was called the Capital One Bowl.

“It never really looked as if it was going to be the Gophers,” Ruhland said. “It’s interesting how all the planets aligned. It’s definitely a coincidence, but we’re happy with how it turned out. We’re totally psyched to have the Gophers get to be in our inaugural year sponsoring this bowl.”

ESPN and the conferences are big players when it comes to determining these bowl matchups. The Michigan State/Mississippi State flip prevented the Big Ten from having one bowl eligible team – likely Illinois – miss a bowl game altogether. And it helped the Gophers, too.

Ruhland noted that Buffalo Wild Wings has restaurants in all 50 states. There are 37 locations in Minnesota, and 34 in Missouri. So what result does the company want Thursday?

“We’re known as the proud sponsor of overtime,” Ruhland said. “So we would love to have an overtime game.”

Kill downplays impact of dismissing Donovahn Jones before Citrus Bowl

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers disciplinary action Updated: December 29, 2014 - 2:08 PM

ORLANDO -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill said it wasn't a distraction to dismiss wide receiver Donovahn Jones after the team gathered here for the Citrus Bowl. As Kill noted, the dismissal took place before the team held its first practice in Florida on Friday.

"First of all, I dismissed him before we even got started," Kill said. "I don’t need to explain that. I’m going to concentrate on the ones who have focused in and the guys that have been productive. So I dismissed him for team policy, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. That took away from no focus because we got that taken care of, and we’ve had great practices. And production-wise, we’ve got Drew Wolitarsky back [from his ankle injury]. He’s had a great practice, so we’re in good shape."

Jones didn't have a catch in the season's final two regular season games, so Kill doesn't sound too concerned about how his absence will impact the team's receiver depth.

"We didn’t have Drew Wolitarsky [for the final four regular season games], and he’s one of our better players," Kill said. "He caught the ball all over the place today. But having him back, and KJ Maye and Maxx [Williams] and Isaac Fruechte, You know, Logan Hutton's had experience. Eric Carter -- you know, those guys have done a great job. I can’t say enough about the way those guys have practiced."

Gophers dismiss wide receiver Donovahn Jones for violation of team rules

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers roster moves Updated: December 28, 2014 - 1:20 PM

ORLANDO – The Gophers have dismissed sophomore wide receiver Donovahn Jones from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules, a team source confirmed Sunday.

Jones' high school coach said Jones had grown frustrated that he didn't have a bigger role on the team and called the parting mutual. But a team source indicated that Jones was in fact dismissed.

Jones was with the Gophers in Orlando on Thursday, getting ready for the Citrus Bowl, but was on a plane home to Georgia by Friday morning, according to the team source. Gophers coach Jerry Kill won’t be available to address the issue until Monday.

“Donovahn’s a good kid, and coach Kill and [wide receivers coach Brian] Anderson are good people,’” said Terry Herrod, Jones' former coach at Dutchtown (Ga.) High School. "This was a mutual deal. … It’s really just a young kid who’s frustrated about his role on the team and that’s really the bottom line.”

Jones could not be reached for comment. His absence will leave the Gophers thinner at receiver against Missouri. Drew Wolitarsky will be back from his high-ankle sprain, and they'll have Isaac Fruechte and KJ Maye, but no other wide receiver on the team has more than one reception.

Herrod said the Gophers will give Jones his release on Jan. 3, which will free him to play anywhere outside the Big Ten or for a team that will appear on Minnesota’s schedule the next three years. Jones will need to sit out a year if he transfers to an FBS school, but he’ll still have two years of eligibility remaining.

“Coach Kill and Coach Anderson have been very honest and very supportive of Donovahn,” Herrod said. “And Donovahn’s very appreciative of Minnesota and the opportunity they gave him to play. But he’s just looking forward to moving forward and getting back in school at somewhere where he’s going to probably be in an offensive system that’s more tailored to his skill-set.”

Jones started nine games for the Gophers this year, making 11 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns.

He did not play against Ohio State on Nov. 15 after getting sick, but Kill also said he had planned to sit Jones for two series that game because of a minor disciplinary issue. Jones missed a class but was otherwise in good academic standing.

“We have high standards,” Kill said that day. “I run my program that way, and I might get fired for doing it, but that’s the way I am. We held [Jones] out for two series, and then he came in this morning and he was sick.

“Then the trainer said they didn’t feel like he could go, so we didn’t play him the rest of the game. Two-fold deal there, but that’s the way we do things.”

Jones played in the final two regular season games, but did not have a catch against either Nebraska or Wisconsin.

Jones had offers from 28 FBS schools coming out of high school, but he wanted to play quarterback, and most of those schools wanted him to play receiver. He made a verbal commitment to Missouri – Minnesota’s opponent in the Citrus Bowl – but flipped to Minnesota on signing day.

Jones began fall camp as a quarterback with the Gophers last year, but by late in camp, he had enthusiastically shifted to wide receiver.

I’m here [at receiver], and I’m settled,” he said in October 2014. “That’s where I’d like to stay.”

As a true freshman, he had 10 receptions for 157 yards, and he wasn’t able to improve on those numbers much as a sophomore.

Kill loves what he's seen from Gophers redshirts

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Bowl games, Gopher recruiting Updated: December 27, 2014 - 5:01 PM

ORLANDO, FLA. -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill had another chance to watch the freshmen who are redshirting during Saturday's practice and liked what he saw. He has long pined for a rule change that would allow teams to use the redshirted players in bowl games.

"We’ve got three or four guys that would start for us, if they were in the bowl game," Kill said. "I wish we had a rule where they could play. It makes sense because we’re starting a new year, and then everybody goes into the bowl games limping in because of injuries."

Kill didn't want to name names, but true freshmen wide receivers Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant, Jerry Gibson and Melvin Holland Jr. would all be starting candidates.

"We’ve got four wide receivers that we’ve redshirted," Kill said. "We’ve got two great running backs [Rodney Smith and Jeff Jones] that are guys that are redshirted. We’ve got some offensive linemen.

"I could keep going, but our football team a year from now, I think, will even be better. We’ll be better because we’ve got some guys who redshirted."

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