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.
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.”
The Big Ten announced its 2018-2019 football schedules today. Here's how it looks for the Gophers, with crossover games against the Big Ten East Division in bold.
Sept. 29 -- at Maryland
Oct. 6 -- Iowa
Oct. 13 -- at Ohio State
Oct. 20 -- at Nebraska
Oct. 27 -- Indiana
Nov. 3 -- at Illinois
Nov. 10 -- Purdue
Nov. 17 -- Northwestern
Nov. 24 -- at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 -- at Purdue
Oct. 5 -- Illinois
Oct. 12 -- Nebraska
Oct. 19 -- at Rutgers
Oct. 26 -- Maryland
Nov. 9 -- Penn State
Nov. 16 -- at Iowa
Nov. 23 -- at Northwestern
Nov. 30 -- Wisconsin
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week today after rushing for four touchdowns and 151 yards against Iowa.
Leidner also completed five of 12 passes for 71 yards in a victory over San Jose State.
The last Gopher to be named Freshman of the Week was Philip Nelson, on Oct. 29, 2012. Nelson, now a sophomore, missed Saturday's game with a strained right hamstring. Leidner, a redshirt freshman, was making his first career start.
Is there anything more frustrating as a sports fan than not being able to see a crucial replay when you're at a game?
You're sitting there with these magnificent, high-definition video replay boards. You're working through sensory overload, with seemingly every spare second filled with blinking advertisements and bellowing sound.
And then, the officials make a game-changing call, and you have no idea what just happened. Your cell phone blows up, as friends watching at home express their outrage about the call. They just watched 16 replays from three different angles, but you were the poor sucker who chose to actually go to the game.
Well, starting tonight, the Big Ten is ready to change that. The conference announced Wednesday that its schools can now show an unlimited number of replays. Previously, teams could show one replay -- even of a great touchdown pass -- at no less than 75 percent of full speed. But now teams can slow it down as much as they want and show it over and over -- just like TV.
“Our goal on game day is to blend the best parts of an in-stadium experience with the best parts of an at-home experience,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in the press release. “Enhanced replay is just one way to do that and we look forward to making it available to our fans this year."
I doublechecked with a conference spokesman this morning, just to make sure this included close officiating calls, and he said yes.
This should be interesting this year, especially now that the NCAA has established a new "targeting" rule, which calls for an automatic ejection if officials believe a tackler has targeted an opponent's head.
Another key point: The Gophers have the Big Ten's permission to show anything and everything tonight, but the conference still gives teams the discretion to show what they want. So it'll be interesting to see if they give equal exposure to replays that go for and against the home team.
Studying Minnesota's schedule for his Best Case/Worst Case series, Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart sees a best case of 8-4 and a worst case or 4-8.
In the best case scenario, he sees them defeating Iowa to move to 5-0 before withstanding losses to Michigan (home), Northwestern (away) and Nebraska (home) -- and then winning the next three games against Indiana (away), Penn State (home) and Wisconsin (home).
In the worst case, he sees San Jose State winning at TCF Bank Stadium. Then he sees the Gophers defeating Iowa before finishing the season on a seven-game skid.
I predicted a 7-5 finish in my StarTribune.com interview with Vineeta Sawkar last week. I didn't specify how the Gophers would get there, but I'm predicting a 4-0 non-conference mark and 3-5 Big Ten mark, with the wins over Iowa, Indiana and Penn State.
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