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.
In an effort to create a loud and electric atmosphere for Saturday's game against Syracuse, the Gophers' only night game at TCF Bank Stadium this year, Minnesota put more than 5,000 upper-bowl tickets on sale shortly after last Saturday's victory over Western Michigan.
Gopher fans apparently know a bargain -- the tickets were snapped up by Monday evening.
There are still tickets available to watch the Gophers try to improve to 4-0, but all in the better reserved sections, priced between $40-90. Assuming those tickets move by game time, it could give the Gophers their first sellout of the season.
And nobody is rooting for that more than Jerry Kill. The coach emphasized how much the fans at TCF Bank Stadium helped his team on Saturday -- and that's with a mediocre crowd that the university announced as 44,921 tickets sold, but looked like several thousand fewer, certainly a smaller crowd than one week earlier against New Hampshire.
In discussing the Gopher defense's stand on Western Michigan's final possession, Kill said, "To be honest, I think the crowd had something to do with it."
The Broncos, apparently having communication problems, were penalized five yards on first down for having five men in the backfield. After a sack and a short run, they faced third-and-18.
"The crowd was tremendous on third down," Kill said. "If we're on the road, that may be a little bit of a different story."
Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder's pass was broken up by Michael Carter on third down, and receiver Jaime Wilson was stopped short of the first-down marker on fourth down, cementing the Gophers' victory.
Carder "was trying to check (change) plays. I can't tell you how important it is when that stadium is loud and it's third down, how tough that is on the quarterback," Kill said. "Everybody's calling plays on the line of scrimmage right now. Communication to get 10 guys to do the right thing is not easy."
Better get used to those 11 a.m. kickoffs again.
BTN announced its TV schedule for September on Thursday, and the Gophers' home games against New Hampshire on Sept. 8 and Western Michigan on Sept. 15 are morning starts, something the Gophers avoided at TCF Bank Stadium last season.
Along with the Oct. 13 game against Northwestern, that means Minnesota has been relegated to the early starts in three of the four home games announced so far. The exception is Sept. 22 against Syracuse, which will kick off at 7 p.m.
Last season, six of Minnesota's seven home games began at 2:30 p.m., a result of Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi lobbying the conference and its network for relief from the morning starts, which make it more difficult for fans to tailgate. But the policy only lasted one season.
In addition to a pair of road games -- a 10 p.m. CDT kickoff at UNLV on Aug. 30 and an 11 a.m. start at Iowa on Sept. 29 -- the Gophers now know the start times for the first half of their 12-game schedule. Most of the remaining games will not be assigned kickoff times until 10 days before each game, as the Big Ten's TV partners slot the games into their schedule. Minnesota's opener in Las Vegas will be televised by CBS College Sports, and the next three games will air live on BTN.
A few quick notes from the Gophers football spring game Saturday, which signals the end of the spring practice season for Minnesota:
*Quarterbacks: MarQueis Gray looked sharp on most of his passes, completing 4-of-8 passes for 62 yards while competing for the Maroon team, which technically took home a 3-0 victory over the Gold team in the 50-minute scrimmage. The crispest offensive play of the day might have been Gray's early 35-yard hookup with Brandon Green. ... Sophomore Max Shortell was 4-for-10 for 68 yards and ran for 30 more. He directed an impressive late drive that ended with a missed field goal. ... Freshmen Philip Nelson (0-for-6) and Mitch Leidner (0-for-2) did not complete a pass. The passing game overall often looked disjointed, though it's not entirely surprising.
Said coach Jerry Kill: "We divided up our receivers evenly. ... Today, there was a ball, an inch, a foot, two feet here or there, and we didn't make a play. But I think that can all get corrected through repetition in the summer."
*Kill was impressed by the team's speed in the secondary and singled out junior college transfer Martez Shabazz, who had a pass breakup and two tackles. "We've got some guys in the secondary who can run, and we're a little bigger in the secondary," Kill said.
*JoJuan Harper led all running backs with 44 yards on the ground. Donnell Kirkwood had 25 and sophomore Cole Banham had 24 on eight carries.
*The Gophers made just one of three field goal attempts, but Kill chalked much of that up to rotating in less experienced holders.
*The announced crowd was 3,512. The weather was overcast at the 11 a.m. kickoff and light rain developed late.
I know today is practically a holiday, what with the highlight of the 2010 bowl season -- the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, with Utah going for its 10th straight bowl victory against some pretenders from Idaho -- just a few hours away, but I did want to pass along the answer to a few emails I received over the weekend.
Why, a few Gopher fans wondered, doesn't a brand new stadium in an extreme climate like ours have heating coils under the playing surface? It became an issue for the Vikings and Bears last week, although the field at TCF Bank Stadium ended up being, by all accounts, hard but playable for Monday night's game.
The answer, according to a spokesman for athletic director Joel Maturi, is that the coils are expensive, and once a feasibility study determined that it wasn't practical for the Vikings and Gophers to share TCF Bank Stadium, the building was designed with just the college team in mind.
"In the end, (it was) decided that the cost far outweighed the benefits," athletic department communications director Garry Bowman said, "so we did not give it much thought after that."
That's because the FieldTurf surface stays relatively spongy unless exposed to an extended period of temperatures in the 20s or below -- conditions an NFL team might face in December or January, but much more unlikely during the college season, which ends shortly after Thanksgiving.
"The odds of us experiencing an extended hard freeze during the (college) season are so remote, the investment didn't make economic sense for us," Bowman said.
Thanks to those who wrote for an answer. Now, back to your pregame festivities. Go Utes!
Everyone in the Twin Cities seem to be talking about the Twins today, so it's no surprise that the Gophers plan to do so, too. Specifically: What happens if the Twins win the American League championship?
It's a nice problem to have, the Gophers would agree -- but it is potentially a problem. First pitch in Game 3, which would be the first World Series game in Target Field, is scheduled for roughly 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.
A half-hour earlier and two miles to the east, the Gophers will kick off against Ohio State, the five-time defending Big Ten champion that could easily be the No. 1 football team in the country by then. The game will be nationally televised, either by ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, and it's a good bet that Minnesota would prefer that the visual being broadcast from its home stadium not be swaths of empty seats.
Trouble is, there may not be anything the university can do. "Changing starting times is tough in football," said assistant athletic director Jason LaFrenz, just because of the sheer number of people -- from concession workers to security officers to ticket-takers -- affected. "It's a lot easier to do in basketball or hockey."
There's also the not-so-small matter of the Gophers' TV obligations. ABC and ESPN don't care much about the proximity of the venues, because they're planning to televise a football game opposite the World Series anyway. The ratings in Minneapolis would be affected, obviously, but that's a tiny consideration. And anyway, think of the picturesque shots that a blimp will get of the two stadiums lit up on either side of downtown.
One more problem: There's no way to know if the Twins will get to the Series until the week before. The Gophers understandably are reluctant to give up their prime-time exposure if there is no conflict (and they might not want to do it even if there is), but Game 7 of the American League Championship Series is scheduled for Oct. 23, which likely doesn't give the schools or the network enough time to reschedule.
Still, the university's athletic administration will discuss the issue internally, and consult with the Big Ten, LaFrenz said. The game is sold out, so it's more a matter of consideration for the city's (and university's) sports fans.
"It's still early. We'll know more as we get closer to that day," LaFrenz said.
Speaking of Gopher attendance, this Saturday's game with Northern Illinois is sold out, too, except for the student section. (Roughly 1,800 of those end-zone seats went on sale to the general public on Tuesday.) LaFrenz said the university is hoping that the season's first night game will keep no-shows to a minimum. "People seem to show up better for these than for the 11 a.m. games," he said. More than 1,000 tickets were also distributed to high-school football teams, so "we're expecting a really good crowd on Saturday," he said.
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