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.

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Teague hints on podcast that big fundraising gifts are coming, says facilities project on track for August groundbreaking

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers Updated: April 24, 2015 - 4:49 PM

AD Norwood Teague said this week on the Gophers Sports Podcast that "everything's proceeding to break ground in August" on the university's $150 million athletics facilities project.

In an interview with Justin Gaard and Mike Grimm, Teague said the amount of money raised is still about $70 million, but the AD gave strong hints that some big gifts are being finalized.

"We’ve got to get some gifts committed and finish some things up before the June board of regents meeting," Teague said. "We can take another step there, but everything’s proceeded to break ground in August.

"We [have] no major problems right now. ... We’ve got kind of two groups out there right now, in addition to the $70 million we have committed. We have a good group of pending gifts, those that we’ve asked. And when you ask for a large gift, it takes a while for people to say yes because of either estate planning or lawyers or insurance or whatever it may be.

"So we have that group, and we have some others that we’re getting ready to go to who obviously know that we’re coming. And some of those are larger-in-esque, as we would say. So I feel very good about it."

The full interview can be found here.

Gophers to be featured prominently in prime time this fall

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers on TV Updated: April 23, 2015 - 2:49 PM

The Big Ten will have seven football games televised in prime time this fall by either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, and the Gophers will be part of three of them.

Ohio State also drew three prime time assignments on these networks, Michigan State drew two, and no other team in the conference had more than one. It's quite a leap for the Gophers, who had just one prime time game last year (on Big Ten Network) and played six consecutive games that started at 11 a.m.

With ESPN's official announcement Thursday of the Big Ten prime time schedule, coupled with last week's Big Ten Network prime time announcement, here the known details of the Gophers' four prime time games this fall:

Sept. 3 -- Gophers vs. TCU on ESPN, 8 p.m.

Oct. 31 -- Gophers vs. Michigan on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, 7 p.m.

Nov. 7 -- Gophers at Ohio State on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.

Nov. 14 -- Gophers at Iowa on BTN, time TBA

The other Big Ten prime time games on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 are as follows:

Sept. 12 -- Oregon at Michigan State, 7 p.m.

Oct. 17 -- Penn State at Ohio State, 7 p.m.

Oct. 24 -- Ohio State at Rutgers, 7 p.m.

Nov. 7 -- Michigan State at Nebraska, 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.

Matilus transfers to North Dakota

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers roster moves Updated: April 21, 2015 - 2:43 PM

Former Gophers linebacker Jephete Matilus has transferred to North Dakota, his new school announced Tuesday.

Matilus, a senior from Delray Beach, Fla., played in 21 career games for the Gophers, mostly on special teams. He came to Minnesota as a linebacker and switched to fullback before last season. Matilus will switch back to defense at North Dakota and will be eligible to play this fall.

"We are always looking for ways to improve our football team, and I think we have done that with the addition of Jephete," North Dakota coach Bubba Schweigert said in the press release. "He is an athletic linebacker from a successful Big Ten program that will have one season to play for us. He contributed on a number of special teams for the Gophers and we expect him to do the same here, while competing for playing time at outside linebacker."

McShay sees Williams as NFL second rounder with Cobb drafted on Day 3

Posted by: Joe Christensen under NFL draft, Gophers awards and honors Updated: April 17, 2015 - 1:18 PM

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Friday that he still views former Gophers tight end Maxx Williams as a second-round pick with running back David Cobb as a Day Three pick (rounds 4-7). McShay had similar thoughts back in January, but I jumped on his teleconference today to see if his thoughts had changed after the Combine, etc.

On Williams, McShay said: "I've got a really good grade on him in terms of intangibles. Everyone I've talked to around the program -- he knows what it takes to be a pro. Good work ethic, the family, obviously, his dad, his grandfather [were football standouts],and I haven't heard anything negative in that regard.

"I would take Maxx Williams probably in the second round and feel really good about it. And I think after that [among tight ends], it's Clive Walford from Miami and probably a little drop off. I think [Williams is] a really good solid all-around player, and I expect him to be the first tight end off the board."

McShay didn't seem to think Cobb's quadriceps injury from the Combine will have a big impact. Cobb showed he was back to full health this week at his pro day.

"I've got a third day grade on him," McShay said. "I know some people are a little bit higher on him. To each their own. So my guess is he'll probably be somewhere in the middle rounds in what is really shaping up to be one of the deeper running back classes I can remember in a long time."

My take: If Williams is option 1A at tailback for Gophers, Smith is 1B

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers spring football Updated: April 15, 2015 - 3:00 PM

Rodrick Williams appeared to solidify himself as the Gophers' No. 1 tailback this spring, but this probably won't be a David Cobb situation, where Williams takes over and gets 24 carries per game.

I think the Gophers will look for a solid 1B to complement Williams as the 1A, and from what I gathered, the 1B is clearly Rodney Smith. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith emerge as the lead option by midseason.

Berkley Edwards is in the mix, but he's definitely the third option behind Williams and Smith. Jeff Jones would be right in the mix, but the Gophers have fallen in love with him as a receiver. He worked in the slot this spring, and Kill said he'd even like to get Jones some work as an outside receiver, too.

The Gophers also have three incoming freshman running backs this summer -- Shannon Brooks (from Jasper, Ga.), Jonathan Femi-Cole (Vaughan, Ont.) and James Johannesson (Fargo, N.D.). The coaches like all three of them, but if I had to bet, I think Brooks has the best chance to play this fall.

Smith is the guy I keep hearing about from people inside and outside the program. He's 5-11, 202 pounds and has plenty of speed and shiftiness. When you watch him closely, you can just tell he knows what he's doing.

His numbers weren't overwhelming in the spring game -- 12 carries for 41 yards (3.3 average). But he was working with the No. 2 offensive line, and on several carries, there just wasn't anything there. Smith had two runs that stood out, a 17 yarder and an 11 yarder where he made quick moves to get to the second level.

"We knew he was a good player," coach Jerry Kill said Wednesday during the Big Ten West media conference call. "Nobody talked about him too much, but he had a very, very good spring. I thought all our backs did a great job.

"The thing that makes [Smith] really good as a young back is his pass protection, blitz pickup, out of the backfield. Some of those things where you don’t expect it out of a freshman. Usually, you’re begging for them to pass block sometimes, but he did a good job."

Smith was unavailable to the media this spring because he has yet to play in a game. But here are two other stories I've written with background on him, one with thoughts from Matt Limegrover, and one with thoughts from Smith's high school coach in Jonesboro, Ga. Gophers followers might want to study up on Smith because they'll be hearing a lot about him this fall.

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