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.
The first four-team College Football Playoff is coming after the 2014 season, and the Big Ten doesn't want to miss it.
By adding TCU to their 2014 and 2015 schedules, the Gophers were complying with the Big Ten's desire to strengthen non-conference schedules. Every team in the league -- including Rutgers and Maryland, who join in 2014 -- has at least one BCS opponent on its non-conference schedule for 2014.
That might help the Big Ten from getting overlooked when selection day comes for that first four-team tourney.
David Benedict, the Gophers executive associate athletics director, noted what could have happened last season, when Ohio State went 12-0. With a season like that, assuming they were bowl eligible, Big Ten teams should expect to land one of those coveted four College Football Playoff spots.
But because of the Big Ten's weak showing in non-conference play, there would have been no guarantees for the Buckeyes last season. After the conference championship games, Alabama was 13-1, Notre Dame was 12-1, Oregon was 12-1 and there were four two-loss teams from the SEC (Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Florida).
"I think the Big Ten doesn’t want to be in a position like last year, where we were the fourth-ranked conference in the country at the end of the season," Benedict said. "And we don’t want to be in position where our best team is on the outside looking in, come the end of the year.
"And the reality is, if we don’t make sure the league is scheduling the way we’ve now set it up, there’s a chance that we could be on the outside looking in. And we cannot as a league let that happen."
The start time for the Gophers season opener was revealed today, when the Big Ten Network released its schedule of primetime games.
The Aug. 29 opener -- a Thursday game -- against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium will kick off at 6 p.m. It's the only scheduled night game so far for the Gophers.
Here's a link to the full Big Ten Network announcement.
The Big Ten officially announced today that it will scrap its Legends and Leaders football divisions for 2014, and split into East and West. And beginning in 2016, each Big Ten team will play a nine-game conference schedule.
The Gophers will play in the Legends Division for just one more season, along with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern.
Beginning in 2014, the Gophers will be in the West Division, along with Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
The East Division will feature Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
As written here last month, the new format should make things easier for the Gophers.
The conference's presidents and chancellors voted unanimously today to approve the new division format, along with the nine-game conference schedule for 2016 and beyond.
“Big Ten directors of athletics concluded four months of study and deliberation with unanimous approval of a future football structure that preserved rivalries and created divisions based on their primary principle of East/West geography,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in the press release. “The directors of athletics also relied on the results of a fan survey commissioned by BTN last December to arrive at their recommendation, which is consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll.”
The draft experts saw this coming, so it should come as no surprise. But the first round of the NFL Draft is in the books, and the Big Ten came close to getting shut out.
The SEC produced 12 first-round selections, the ACC had six, the Pac-12 had five, and the Big Ten had one -- Wisconsin offensive lineman Travis Frederick, who went to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 31.
This story advancing the draft by the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Doug Lesmerises compared the SEC and Big Ten's first-round draft production since 2006, when the Big Ten had eight first-round selections. As Doug wrote:
If you wonder why the league has struggled in nonconference and bowl games lately, with one winning bowl season since 2002, Thursday’s first round will show you part of the reason.
A few more Big Ten players should hear their names called Friday, in Rounds 2 and 3, including Purdue DT Kawann Short, Ohio State DT Jonathan Hankins, Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and Michigan State DE William Gholston. But the Draft remains an annual reminder of the declining talent in the Big Ten.
Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, from the Big Ten Network, watched the Gophers second-to-last spring practice Thursday, inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, and seemed to come away impressed.
On Twitter, DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) noted that Jerry Kill's program has looked better each time they've swung through camp, which would now be five times -- Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012 and today.
"For the 14th practice they got a bunch done," DiNardo tweeted, adding "14 is usually not a productive go."
Kill was less impressed. In an 11-on-11 drill, Cedric Thompson intercepted Philip Nelson and ran for a touchdown. It was among the examples when the offense looked out of sync.
"I think we’ve had 13 good practices," Kill said. "I think today wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as clean as I’d like it. We didn’t go very long, and I think our kids have kind of hit that wall a little bit. We’ve got some guys banged up, which everybody does in spring, and we feel like we’ll get those kids back. It’s been a grind."
Next up for the Gophers is Saturday's 1 p.m., spring game at TCF Bank Stadium. They'll divide into two teams and play 15-minute quarters.
"I’m excited to get out there Saturday, be outside, a little bit different element, and finish off the spring good," Kill said. "Let those kids play and let them have some fun because we’ve been after them pretty good. Split them up and have a good time and hopefully get out of there without any major injuries."
Earlier in camp, the players did some pushing and shoving in one of the practices, and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said that's usually a sign that it's time to scrimmage. The drills can get pretty frustrating. Today was no exception, as Thompson and tight end Drew Goodger got into it, leading to a long multi-player scuffle.
"At the end of camp, everybody is tired, and everybody’s trying to push through," Thompson said. "So at times, everybody loses a screw every now and then. But at the end of the day, we’re still a family. We all shake hands in the lockerroom. We all still love each other."
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