Top 12 Minnesota sports stories of 2012: Gophers football

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 20, 2012 - 12:22 AM
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Gophers linebacker Keanon Cooper is reminded of the late Gary Tinsley — friend, roommate, teammate — each time he passes a mural of him.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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The end of 2012 is quickly approaching; as such, we have compiled a list of the top 12 Minnesota sports stories -- positive or negative -- from the year. We'll be counting them down every weekday from now until Jan. 1, when the top story will run. Here is No. 9:

The newsy year that was for Gophers football: Strictly speaking in terms of on-field matters, the Gophers football program should be quite pleased with how 2012 is playing out. They made undeniable progress on defense, which keyed a season that saw them double their victory total from three to six in the span of a year. And while only two of those six victories came in Big Ten play, it was enough to get them into a bowl game for the first time since 2009 -- bringing extra practices and exposure among other benefits. The team is rightfully optimistic about the future.

Off the field, however, it was a year of tragedy and drama. The death of linebacker Gary Tinsley in April shook the team; while it became a rallying point for the season, it was still a story filled with much sadness. Coach Jerry Kill continued to battle seizures, missing the second half of the regular-season finale against Michigan State as a result.

Far less serious but still headline-making were two other episodes: News that the athletic department spent $800,000 to get out of two future games against North Carolina did not sit well with the fan base, while A.J. Barker's abrupt departure from the team -- and scathing 4,000-word explanation -- provided another unwelcome distraction.

Perhaps the best news for the Gophers is that they get to end the year with that bowl game -- Dec. 28 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Texas Tech -- instead of with the lingering off-field news.

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