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When Philip Nelson emerged as a true freshman starter midway through the 2012 season, shedding his redshirt and starting the final seven games (including a bowl game), many assumed he was the frontrunner to start the next three seasons at QB for the Gophers.
A quieter minority wondered this: was Nelson thrust into action because he was the most-ready to play, or did Mitch Leidner keep his redshirt that season because he was the quarterback the Gophers believed in more and therefore wanted to develop and save all four years of his playing eligibility?
We might never know, and actually the truth could be a combination of both. That said, Leidner's emergence into at least a dual role in 2013 -- and his primary takeover of the position in the Gophers' bowl game -- led to all sorts of questions about the quarterback spot heading into spring football.
As such, it wasn't shocking when Nelson announced Thursday that he is transferring. The official reason is that he wants to play in an offense more geared toward passing, and that does seem plausible for a QB better suited, overall, to throw than run.
But with Leidner having three years left, and with 2013 redshirt Chris Streveler presumably set to push them both, playing time was not going to be a given for Minnesota's most experienced QB. By transferring now, Nelson can use his redshirt year to sit out as a transfer and still have two years of eligibility left.
The timing and the uncertainty of playing time mean the move makes sense. It's still a surprise since he's one of those "face of the program" guys, but it's hardly shocking.
We're planning on writing about this subject for Page 2 in Wednesday's paper (and online, of course), but we thought we would throw it out there for some input first:
The Wild, Wolves and Gophers men's hoops are all about halfway into their seasons in terms of games played. Some a little more, some a little less, but basically half. Which is the most likely to make the postseason (defined for the Gophers as the NCAA tournament)?
The Wild has won five of its past six games ... but right before that it lost six in a row. It currently occupies the No. 8 spot in the West, but it has also played three more games that No. 9 Phoenix.
The Wolves are No. 10 in the West, but the No. 8 seed (Phoenix) has lost three in a row and looks vulnerable. Their peripheral stats are better than the Wild, suggesting they could make a surge, but their competition is also tougher.
The Gophers are 13-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten. They are not among the elite, but they could be in that next tier. They are in the midst of a brutal stretch, but with a win in any of their next three games (Ohio State, at Iowa, Wisconsin) they would be in decent shape with a quality victory under their belts. As of now, they are No. 44 in the RPI, right around perfect bubble range.
Which do you pick? Feel free to comment and to vote in our poll.
Far be it from us to suggest you should buy tickets to the Gophers' Dec. 27 bowl game against Syracuse from anyone other than the U of M, but you should also know that tickets on Stub Hub are plentiful and cheap. The lowest-priced seats -- high up in Reliant Stadium, but still -- are priced at 75 cents as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
A tweet earlier in the day said they were as low as a nickel.
At this point, we imagine good seats will be available.
H/T: Coworker Randy Johnson for the heads up.
The Gophers will learn their bowl game fate on Sunday, but when it comes to being practical, their fate seems pretty much sealed -- even if their web site offers a bit of optimism.
Take a look at ESPN.com ... then SI.com ... the CBSsports.com ... and you'll find the same thing: the Gophers are projected to wind up back in Houston in the same bowl they played in last season -- called the Texas Bowl now, and formerly the Meineke Bowl.
What prompted our curiosity earlier in the day was an e-mail from the Gophers asking the same question as was posed on a link to their web site:
The Golden Gophers are eagerly anticipating bowl game selections, which will be announced this Sunday, December 8. We realize the level of commitment a bowl game takes in all aspects including time, travel, financial and planning, particularly surrounding the holiday season. The support from Gopher fans this season in the Twin Cities, in the state of Minnesota and across the nation is indescribable, and it is our hope that support continues to the post-season bowl game. We are asking for your feedback on the potential bowl games you will travel to once the bowl game is selected. This feedback is important and helpful to our cause in terms of our ability to communicate the expectations of Gopher fan support and attendance at the bowl game to the bowl selection committees. The likely potential bowl games for the Gophers, along with dates and locations are provided below. Your feedback is greatly appreciated, Go Gophers!
Which potential Gophers bowl game destination would you be most likely to attend?
Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, Fla. (Wednesday, January 1 / 11 am. Central)
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - Tempe, Ariz. (Saturday, December 28 / 9:15 p.m. Central)
I do not plan to attend the Gopher Bowl game this year
Those two bowl games were the only options. No Texas Bowl in sight. But a spokesman for the U said not to read anything into it. The e-mail and corresponding survey are merely information-gathering tools. In other words, they don't know anything we don't know.
The smart money is that they will be playing Friday, Dec. 27 at 5 p.m. (Central) on ESPN in the Texas Bowl. They might even play Texas Tech again, just as they did in losing 34-31 a season ago.
If that seems like an unfair plight considering the Gophers have won two more games this season than a year ago, remember that Ohio State and Penn State, who would have been ahead of Minnesota in the bowl pecking order a year ago, were ineligible for the postseason so the Gophers landed in a better bowl than they normally would have. The school announced 3,163 tickets to last year's bowl game were sold through the university. It will be interesting to see if they can top that mark this year if Houston is, indeed, the destination again.
Game of the weekend: 2:30pm today, ESPN: #19 Wisconsin at #25 Minnesota
Most people already consider this year of Gopher football, broadly speaking, a success. Four Big Ten wins, including one over traditional power Nebraska, have seen to that; even if the Gophers lose their final three games of the year, it has been a positive year for Minnesota.
Today, though, the Gophers have a chance to make 2013 the most memorable year of Gopher football for a generation - to not only get to five conference wins, but to get a truly memorable win. ("Remember the year we beat Wisconsin, the year it was like zero degrees?")
Minnesota has had a handful of five-win conference seasons in the past forty years, but perhaps only 1986, when the Gophers beat Michigan at the Big House, can truly compare - and even that year, Minnesota lost to Pacific in the non-conference schedule. 2003 was marred by the Michigan debacle in the Dome (and the nearly-as-craptacular Michigan State loss at home the following week.) 1999 had the epic upset at Penn State, but also had the frustration of four losses of five points or less. 1990 had a 56-0 loss to Nebraska, and a Pacific-style loss to Utah to open the year.
A win over Wisconsin would give Minnesota those five Big Ten wins, plus the fond memory of beating the Badgers in the below-zero wind chill. The Gophers probably aren't going to the Big Ten championship game, let's be honest; Michigan State can end that hope before things even kick off on the East Bank today. But regardless of what might happen next week against the Spartans, the Gophers can seal 2013 this week as one of the team's best years ever. All they have to do: bring the Axe home.
What else to watch this weekend
11:00am today, ESPN: #13 Michigan State at Northwestern. All of that said, just keep an eye on how things are going in Evanston... you know, just in case.
7:25am Sunday, NBC Sports: Tottenham at Manchester City. It's the best of the weekend English soccer slate, according to Dana Wessel. Can City continue their run of playing well at home? Can Spurs score a goal this season, pretty much ever? Can you find anything else to watch if you happen to be up early tomorrow morning? (Probable answers, in order: Yes. No. No.)
4:00pm Sunday, FSN: Minnesota-Duluth at Minnesota. When the kickoff for the Gophers and Wisconsin was announced for the late afternoon, this game was moved from Saturday night to Sunday, in order to minimize the difficulty of getting football fans out of Stadium Village and hockey fans in. A lot of Gopher hockey fans were mad about that one - Saturday night is hockey night! - but here's the weird thing: Sunday afternoon Gopher hockey games are always raucous. I don't have an explanation for that, but some of the loudest crowds I've ever heard at Mariucci were Sunday afternoon crowds.
7:20pm Sunday, ESPN: Denver at New England. Sunday afternoon is inviolable for a lot of NFL fans. I've talked to at least one person, and I'm sure there are others, who have negotiated a truce of sorts with their families: just let me have from noon to 6:30 on Sunday to watch football, and I'll go anywhere and do anything the rest of the week. It is to those people I speak here: The afternoon games (Indy at Arizona, Dallas at the Giants) are terrible, and you probably don't want to watch the Vikings/Packers game anyway. Move it back. Give up the afternoon so you can take the evening; you'd much rather watch this game instead. You have a day to pull this off. Go.
What to read this weekend
With Thanksgiving coming up, you probably haven't been thinking much about the Twins' starting rotation. I'd like to offer you the chance to correct that, thanks to the TwinsCentric / TwinsDaily crew. Last week, Parker Hageman looked at Ricky Nolasco, one of the guys the Twins are rumored to be high on; this week, John Bonnes did the same for Bronson Arroyo.
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