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.
It looks like the rain could hold off tonight. A couple quick pregame items:
Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky is wearing his road jersey, so it doesn't appear he'll play. Sounds like an upper body injury, near his shoulder, but it's not considered serious.
Left tackle Ben Lauer is moving around OK, considering he's coming back from a high ankle sprain. I don't think he'll play, unless there's an emergency.
And defensive end Michael Amaefula also is not expected to play, due to injury. Alex Keith will take his place with the first unit.
The Gophers are wearing their maroon helmets, gold jerseys and maroon pants. So they'll wait to debut their new gold helmets at another time.
For quicker updates, follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib
As the Gophers get ready to open their season tonight against Eastern Illinois (6 p.m., Big Ten Network), here's a blog post to get you up to speed. I'll be hosting a live chat at noon, so stop by there with your questions.
Meantime, here are some links to get you up to speed:
And if those stories aren't enough to whet your appetite, here's an inside look at last year's Nebraska win.
Gophers running back recruit Jeff Jones has moved into a university dorm and is getting ready to start class when fall semester begins Tuesday. The NCAA still needs to weigh in on Jones’ eligibility status, but people close to the situation said Tuesday that Jones has been assured he’ll get his scholarship.
Though no one with the program is expecting Jones to play this season, this bodes well for the top recruit’s 2015 playing status. Last month, coach Jerry Kill said the most important thing was getting Jones into school so he’d be ready to compete next season, after David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood graduate.
Jones, who was admitted to the university this month, came just short of qualifying academically for Division I when he graduated from Minneapolis Washburn. He took summer school courses, and he was prepared in July to appeal for an NCAA initial eligibility waiver. It’s unclear exactly where that process stands.
Unless the NCAA gives full approval to an eligibility waiver, Jones wouldn't be able to practice or play with the team this fall.
The NCAA could grant Jones partial approval of an initial eligibility waiver, in which case he would need at least a 2.50 GPA in the fall semester before he’ll be able to eligible for spring practice. In the meantime, he’d be able to work out with the team’s strength and conditioning staff.
Zac Epping has made 34 consecutive starts on the Gophers offensive line, and he thinks that unit is capable of big things this year.
“I think we can be the best O-line in the Big Ten and possibly the country,” he said. “We have the size, strength, depth for it right now. We’ve just got to come in and perform and be consistent.”
Coach Jerry Kill thinks senior Tommy Olson will be one of best centers in the Big Ten. Epping is at left guard. Ben Lauer, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain, was a freshman All-American last year at left tackle. Junior right tackle Josh Campion has started the first 26 games of his college career.
The Gophers have Foster Bush at right guard, with the 6-9, 320-pound Jonah Pirsig knocking on the door for a starting spot. Brian Bobek is back to full health, backing up Olson at center. Kill said Isaac Hayes has been coming on strong at guard. And Jon Christenson (15 career starts) continues to recover from a serious broken leg injury.
Added up, the Gophers have 105 career starts on the offensive line.
Epping, a 6-2, 318-pound senior from Kenosha, Wis., doesn’t like dwelling on his own ironman streak.
“I really don’t think about it,” he said. “I mean, some of my teammates, my parents, my brothers – they’ll like talk about it. But I don’t like to keep track of that. Just got to stay healthy this year and keep going.”
Asked what it takes to compile a streak like that, he said, “You’ve just got to be consistent, never take a play off.”
With the season opener coming Thursday, the Gophers pushed up Coach Jerry Kill's weekly press conference to Saturday. Some quick highlights:
The competition for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Mitch Leidner has been settled, with Chris Streveler getting the nod over fellow redshirt freshman Conor Rhoda.
"There is no question Chris Streveler is our number two quarterback," Kill said.
Streveler struggled in the team's scrimmage Aug. 9 at TCF Bank Stadium, but coaches described that as a blip for him in an otherwise strong camp.
Kill said sophomore wide receiver Donovahn Jones had a good camp and is playing the best he's played. "But I have to tell you," Kill said, "the guy that's had the best camp is KJ Maye, without a doubt."
Maye was slowed by a sports hernia injury last year and managed just seven receptions for 70 yards.
"He’s a great player," Leidner said. "All through camp, he’s been 100 percent, full speed, the whole time. And I’m just really excited to see him break out this season and have a good year."
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