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In talking to Gophers men's hockey fans in recent days, it was clear there was a certain amount of trepidation as to what the 2013-14 schedule would look like. Would the Big Ten -- and its TV network -- demand a lot of changes to the traditional Friday-Saturday structure?
The schedule -- for the most part, without game times or TV information -- was released Wednesday, and fans can breathe a little easier. While many of them still haven't embraced the move to the Big Ten for competitive and rivalry reasons with the WCHA, the schedule remains quite palatable.
The Gophers will play 10 Big Ten series, and eight of them will be Friday/Saturday.
Home series against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State, as well as road series against Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan are Friday/Saturday. Two of three other series -- home against Michigan and Michigan State and at Wisconsin -- will be Friday-Saturday, while the other will be Thursday-Friday. Which is which will be determined at a later date.
That TBA Thursday-Friday series and a Sunday-Monday series at Penn State are the only outliers. The Big Ten tourney, as the WCHA Final Five was, is Thursday-Saturday. That tourney is at Xcel Energy Center next season.
Here are some thoughts from Gophers coach Don Lucia, with whom we chatted this afternoon:
*On the non-Friday/Saturday Big Ten weekends: "We knew going in that we’d have some games that would possibly be on Thursday, with the majority on Friday/Saturday and maybe on Monday to accommodate the Big Ten Network. It’s not just our sport. TV is a driving force in all sports now that are on, and we understand that and accept that. From our standpoint, it worked out well. Our only Sunday-Monday, we’re on the road at Penn State, and it’s during break so we won’t miss any school. We have some options whether they are going to be Thursday/Friday or Friday/Saturday, which I think will be determined once the Big Ten basketball portion gets parceled out."
*Lucia said the home series against UMD in late November, slated to be Friday/Saturday, could end up being Friday/Sunday to work around football. He also said the long layoff -- the Gophers play Dec. 7 and not again until Jan. 3, a week longer than they usually take off around the holidays -- was a function of the calendar and not wanting to have the Mariucci Classic so close to Christmas.
*On having eight games against Minnesota teams (three series and the Minnesota Tournament): "That was a priority. The other schools in the state were appreciative and want to maintain that rivalry. We’re unique in our state, and it was important for us to do that. Who knows, down the line, if teams get added in any of the different leagues if that can continue, but right now we’re pretty much into a four-year deal will all those teams."
*On game times in the Big Ten: "The reality is on Friday, there could be some 8 p.m. starts. There is talk of some doubleheaders on Friday, with 6:30 Eastern [5:30 Central] and 8 p.m. Central. You have four Big Ten teams in the East and two in the West, so it would be us or Wisconsin doing an 8 p.m. start on a Friday night. That’s fine. That’s not as big a deal for our fans because it’s Friday night. I don’t think we’ll run into that on Saturdays. Who’s to say ever, but the indications I hear is that … it’s not as big of a priority for a television date."
The Gophers announced Tuesday a home-and-home series with Texas Christian in football for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. A nice component of the deal -- aside from the fact that TCU is in the Big 12 and gives the Gophers a BCS opponent that year -- is that TCU is paying the Gophers $500,000 to play the game at TCU in 2014, while Minnesota pays zip for the return home game in 2015. TCU is also taking over the South Dakota State contract -- the game Minnesota replaced in 2015 -- meaning the Gophers aren't on the hook for the $400K buyout of that game.
After a public relations nightmare in October, when the Gophers canceled two games with North Carolina and paid $800,000 in the process, this is a piece of good news that takes much of the edge off that debacle. That said, now Minnesota is playing a Texas school. With that comes plenty of football pride ... and at least one member of the press who doesn't think much of Gophers football.
From Mac Engel of the Star-Telegram:
Show of hands who knew Minnesota has a football team?
That's how it starts. ZING! Granted, the Gophers have wallowed in mediocrity for the last, um, half-century or so. But it's a Big Ten team. The joke doesn't work. But maybe a weather joke will work?
TCU will host the Golden Gophers on Sept. 13, 2014. It will play at Minny on Sept. 3, 2015. (BTW - The Twin Cities are a perfect place to visit in the summer months. U of M is a great campus. There is a lot to do up there, and the weather is usually fantastic in September - the snow doesn't fall until around September 23rd.)
Yes! Never mind that TCU plays in the sweaty concrete wasteland of Ft. Worth and just dive right in.
When Engel sticks to the facts, it's hard to argue with his premise: TCU's Gary Patterson (right) is a master at scheduling lesser BCS foes to make a non-conference schedule look better than it really is. Right now, the Gophers are a bottom-third program in the Big Ten.
The Horned Frogs are new to this BCS business, having moved from the Mountain West just a year ago, but give them credit for recent back-to-back big-time bowl bids and a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl following the 2009 season.
This past season? They had a losing record in the Big 12 and fell to Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. So let's not pretend TCU is Alabama.
Engel ends his piece like this:
Basically, this is like adding another Kansas to the schedule. As any good coach knows, you can never play Kansas enough.
TCU defeated Kansas 20-6 in 2012, and historically we can find some parallel between Minnesota and Kansas football. But there is this: Kansas was 1-11 in 2012. Minnesota won six games and at least went to a bowl game. If it is possible to undersell Gophers football -- which is hard to do -- Mac has done it.
If the Gophers are going to improve on their six-win season and bowl trip in 2012, it is going to be an uphill climb -- at least according to Football Outsiders. The troubling thing is that this isn't just a guy picking names out of a hat. The methodology, which FBO used to predict finishes for all 12 teams in 2013 goes like this:
For this series, we first ran preliminary projections for team, offensive and defensive efficiency. Then we calculated win likelihoods in each scheduled game, producing a projected record and win total range. Running the win likelihoods through 1,000 simulated seasons, we calculated the frequency with which each team claimed a conference crown.
The win range for the Gophers was between 3 and 7 based on that, with 5 being the projected number. That would leave the Gophers short of bowl eligibility. It should be noted that Minnesota's schedule is tougher than it was a year ago. Gone are Purdue and Illinois -- the two teams Minnesota beat in conference play. Per Football Outsiders:
The projection model gives Minnesota an outside shot at bowl eligibility, but the Golden Gophers don't have better than a 31 percent chance of winning any individual Big Ten game.
Jerry Kill's teams have a history of making a big jump in Year 3. Can he pull it off in 2013?
The Big Ten officially announced realignment starting in the 2014 football season, with teams divided into two seven-team divisions -- East and West, mercifully replacing Legends and Leaders. The general reaction is that the Gophers made out pretty nicely in the new configuration, which places the two joiners (Maryland and Rutgers) in the East with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana. The Gophers get Nebraska, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Iowa in the West.
The logic is sound. Even in their best years, the Gophers would have a hard time trying to compete for a division title against the loaded East. In the West? You could argue the best Gophers team could go 4-2 or even 5-1 against those six teams, and with the right draw from the East crossover games possibly contend for a division title.
As such, we took a look at what constitutes the "Golden Era" of modern Gophers football -- 1999-2006, the final eight seasons under Glen Mason. The Gophers went to bowl games seven times in that stretch and finished at least .500 in the conference four times. We wanted to break down how the Gophers fared during that era against the teams that are now going to be in the West. And, well, the results weren't quite as promising as we might have expected.
Keep in mind, this does NOT count Nebraska, which is certainly one of the power programs in the West but was not part of the Big Ten back then. Here is how Minnesota did against these teams from 1999-2006:
Overall against those five teams: 15-19
During that span, the Gophers were 29-35 against the Big Ten -- 15-19 against the five West teams and 14-16 against the rest.
One could argue that Iowa's program has fallen since then, as had Purdue's. Then again, one could also argue that Northwestern is more established now and that Nebraska's presence looms large.
What should a realistic expectation be for the Gophers starting in 2014? How about this: A good chance at going .500 against West foes in almost every season, with a chance once every 4-5 years or so, when the schedule breaks right, to realistically be a threat to contend within the division -- and also the chance, when the team is young and the East crossover games are tough, to finish near the bottom.
But remember when you get excited to see winnable games against Illinois, Iowa and Purdue on the schedule every year, those schools, at least for now, are also thinking the same thing about Minnesota.
In yet another example of how the national perception of Tubby Smith differs from the local perception (or that in Kentucky, for that matter), here is Pat Forde from Yahoo.com grading all of the coaching hires in college basketball this offseason -- including Richard Pitino and Tubby Smith:
Texas Tech: Hired Tubby Smith after relieving interim Chris Walker, who replaced troubled tyrant Billy Gillispie. Taking an older coach who was fired by a Big Ten school and owns a championship ring? The formula worked once for Tech with a guy named Bob Knight, give or take a salad-bar confrontation or two. Knight made the Red Raiders respectable, with five 20-win seasons and four NCAA tournament appearances. The hope in Lubbock is that the 61-year-old Smith can do the same with a program that has backslid drastically. Smith needs to reinvigorate his staff, and he got a start on doing that by reportedly luring Pooh Williamson (who played for Tubby at Tulsa) away from TCU. Grade: B-plus.
Minnesota: Hired Richard Pitino from Florida International after firing Tubby Smith. There is little doubt that if his name were Richard Pittman, the Gophers would have looked elsewhere. But it's Pitino, and while the bloodlines are excellent so are the early returns on Richard as a head coach. He went 18-14 and nearly made the NCAA tournament at FIU, a school that had not even come close to having a winning record since 2000. The job will not be easy at Minnesota and there figures to still be a significant learning curve ahead, but Pitino has shown signs of having the total head-coaching package: recruiter, tactician, motivator. Grade: B.
What do you think, Gopher Nation? How would you grade Forde's grades?
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