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.
While waiting today’s bowl announcement, the Gophers held their annual team banquet and announced this year’s awards winners. Here’s a list, as compiled from Tweets from the @GopherFootball account:
Bronko Nagurski Award (MVP): Ra’Shede Hageman
Bruce Smith Award (outstanding offensive player): David Cobb
Carl Eller Award (outstanding defensive player): Ra'Shede Hageman
Bobby Bell Award (outstanding special teams player): Peter Mortell
Outstanding Offensive Freshmen of the Year: Donovahn Jones and Maxx Williams
Outstanding Defensive Freshman of the Year: Hank Ekpe
Wide Receiver of the Year: Derrick Engel
Offensive Back of the Year: David Cobb
Offensive Lineman of the Year: Zac Epping
Defensive Back of the Year: Brock Vereen
Linebacker of the Year: Aaron Hill
Defensive Lineman of the Year: Ra’Shede Hageman
Gary Tinsley Award (underdog): David Cobb
Neil Fredenburg Award (courage and love of the game): Aaron Hill
Butch Nash Award (competitive on field and in classroom): Jon Christenson
Paul Giel Award (honoring unselfishness, concern for the 'U'): Brock Vereen and Aaron Hill
Tony Dungy Character/Community Service Award: Chris Hawthorne
Work-Team Players of the Year: Jephte Matilus and Chris Wipson
Later today, the Gophers will learn their bowl destination and opponent. Our latest Big Ten Bowl Projections still have the Gophers going back to Houston to play in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27.
That's not an ideal situation for the Gophers, who played in that same bowl last year when it was called the Meineke Car Care Bowl, losing 34-31 to Texas Tech.
But the bowls can pick teams regardless of records. There's a selection order, and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz.) or the Gator Bowl (Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.) are bound to take a 7-5 Michigan team over 8-4 Minnesota -- because it's all about filling seats and TV ratings.
For a long time, several projections had the Gophers facing Texas Tech again in Houston. It would have been tough generating much interest in that rematch, but that can be avoided if the Big 12 lands two teams in BCS Bowls. Baylor won the Big 12 title, assuring a Fiesta Bowl trip, and many projections now have Oklahoma going to the Sugar Bowl with an at-large berth.
That would let Texas Tech go to the Holiday Bowl -- as the last Big 12 selection -- and then the Texas Bowl could pick a team from another conference.
Our current projections have the Gophers playing Oregon State from the Pac-12. Washington State, coached by Mike Leach, is another possibility. So the opponent will be the most interesting component. Stay tuned.
INDIANAPOLIS – The bowl projections keep changing at the top, with Northern Illinois and Oklahoma State falling out of the BCS picture with losses in the past 17 hours.
The Gophers seem to be headed back to Houston for the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27, but they could wind up facing a Pac-12 team instead of a Big 12 team. Jerry Palm currently has the Gophers facing Oregon State, and Phil Steele has them playing Washington State. Stay tuned.
Tomorrow is Bowl Selection Day, and we'll have you covered.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
I’m really enjoying my first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. I’m impressed by how functional Indianapolis is for an event like this. I’m staying about a half-mile from Lucas Oil Stadium, but the hotels all seemed connected to the Convention Center by skyway, and it’s a short walk from there to several bars, restaurants and the stadium.
The streets are filled with fans yelling “O-H!” and “I-O!” or “Go Green!” and “Go White!”
I’m tempted to pick Michigan State in an upset. But I’m predicting a 34-30 win for Ohio State. I think the strength of Michigan State’s defense can cancel out the strength of Ohio State’s offense, and I think the Buckeyes’ defense is better than the Spartans’ offense.
That might sound blasphemous after Ohio State just gave up 600 yards to a sputtering Michigan team, but I’m chalking that up to a rivalry game where anything can happen. I think this one will be close, but Braxton Miller will make just enough plays to send Ohio State to the BCS title game.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s snowing here on the eve of the Big Ten Championship Game, but it’ll be perfectly comfortable inside Lucas Oil Stadium, when No. 2 Ohio State faces No. 11 Michigan State.
Indianapolis is about a three-hour drive from Columbus, and it's a little more than four hours from East Lansing. I bumped into a bunch of fans for each school as I was checking into my hotel, so it should be interesting to see what the crowd is like inside the 67,455-seat stadium.
“We’re anticipating 50/50, but I’m hoping a stronger Buckeye crowd will show up, like I’m sure [the Spartans] do,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Can’t control that. But I think it’s going to be a great environment. Really, really excited for it.
HALL WON’T START
Meyer said senior offensive guard Marcus Hall won’t start Saturday after getting ejected from last week’s Michigan game and then throwing a tantrum before giving fans the double-bird salute on his way into the tunnel.
“Very, very disappointed in his actions,” Meyer said. “He paid the penalty for the fight, which is he missed three quarters in a rivalry game. It’s not Marcus. But just really disappointed in his actions after the fight.”
Hall is 6-5, 315 pounds, and his replacement -- redshirt freshman Pat Elfein -- is 6-3, 295.
"I love Pat Elfein," Meyer said. "He's going to have a great career here. A lot of confidence in him."
It’s unusual for teams to go full-contact in practice, especially at this stage of the season, but that’s what Michigan State did to get ready for Ohio State.
“I think you’re trying to put yourself in as many game-like situations – safe, not getting injured, so you can simulate as close to what you’re going to see on Saturday,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think we pushed the envelope there a little bit to try to do that.
“I think our players need to understand, ‘Hey, it’s not touch out there, it’s full-contact. We have to play. There’s no question in my mind that Braxton Miller is the most physical quarterback that we have played this year, in terms of … taking hits and running with power as a quarterback.”
Chanhassen offensive lineman Frank Ragnow confirmed today via text that he will be making his official visit with the Gophers this weekend.
Ragnow has offers from all over the country, including Florida State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, and has been labeled as one of the most important targets on Minnesota's board.
With Ragnow and Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones both on official visits, this becomes a critical recruiting weekend for the Gophers.
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