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.

Posts about NCAA: football

Report shows how Minnesota's high school football talent compares nationally

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: February 14, 2013 - 9:17 AM

Need more proof that Minnesota’s in-state high school football talent was down this year?

Rivals.com released its annual report this week, showing the number of scholarship players each state is sending to FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools.

Minnesota has seven: James Onwualu (Notre Dame), Keelon Brookins (Wisconsin), Malik Rucker (Iowa), Jack Cottrell (Boston College), Chris Wipson (Gophers), Tyson Reinke (Kent State) and Jackson Wilson (Air Force).

For comparison, the state of Wisconsin produced 24 FBS scholarship players this year, Iowa had eight, and Idaho had seven. So Minnesota and Idaho were tied.

Last year, Minnesota produced 17 FBS signees, and 10 of those landed with the Gophers, including Philip Nelson, Jonah Pirsig, Isaac Hayes and Andre McDonald.

In 2011, Minnesota had 11 FBS signees, so maybe the number will bounce back again next year. The Gophers already have a verbal commitment from Jeff Jones, a four-star junior running back from Minneapolis Washburn.

According to Rivals.com, one of every 124 high school players in Florida signed an FBS scholarship this year. In Minnesota, it was one of every 3,403 players.

Last week, Chip Scoggins wrote about the effect Minnesota’s talent deficit is having on the Gophers, and here’s my story explaining why the Gophers signed just one scholarship player from their home state this year.

As for the possibility that Big Ten teams will drop FCS (formerly Division I-AA) opponents from future schedules, Michael Rand weighs in here on how that might impact the Gophers and FCS programs from the Dakotas.

Update: An e-mailer made a terrific point that bears mentioning here. Minnesota has produced a ton of players who've been a big part of the recent success at St. Thomas, North Dakota State and Minnesota-Duluth. The Rivals.com report focused on players heading to FBS schools, but Minnesota's contributions to those other programs shouldn't be overlooked.

Friday update: Gophers recruit flips to Florida State; New Mexico State coach leaves; Tusler flips, too

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 25, 2013 - 2:15 PM

Gophers WR/DB recruit Nate Andrews has flipped his commitment from Minnesota to Florida State, according to AL.com.

Andrews is rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and committed to Minnesota in late-November. He's from Fairhope, Ala., and reportedly had interest from Alabama and Tennessee, among others.

Chip Scoggins told me a few weeks ago that Andrews might make a good column if he indeed stuck with the Gophers with all those southern schools recruiting him. Scoggins has followed Minnesota's recruiting for years and seen this many times.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Andrews apparently visited Florida State last weekend and notified Minnesota's coaching staff of his decision today.

"It's done," Fairhope coach Adam Winegarden told AL.com, a conglomerate that includes The Birmingham News. "He's going to Florida State."

NEW MEXICO STATE COACH BOLTS FOR NFL

One team on the Gophers 2013 schedule is suddenly looking for a new head coach.

New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker left his post to become an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, overseeing defensive backs, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Walker, 52, actually lettered for the Gophers in 1981. He was the defensive coordinator at UCLA for three years before becoming New Mexico State's head coach in 2009.

The Aggies went 4-9 in 2011 but fell to 1-11 last year, so this move wasn't  surprise. McKinley Boston, former Gophers athletic director and now the AD at NMSU, named offensive coordinator Doug Martin interim head coach and plans to conduct a national search.

The Gophers play at New Mexico State in their second game of the season, on Sept. 7.

TUSLER FLIPS, TOO

Bridgeport Tusler, the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year, has already decommitted from Northern Iowa and committed to South Dakota State, according to our David La Vaque (via Twitter).

And yes, as a newbie to these college football recruiting wars, I can officially say my head is spinning.

NCAA considers moving touchbacks to 25

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 16, 2012 - 6:25 PM

     There's an interesting column on espn.com today that details the new rules that have been proposed for next season, all of them dealing with safety. (The NCAA is currently receiving feedback from member schools about the rules, and will be voted upon next Tuesday.)
     The rule sure to be most controversial is one that matches last year's NFL rule change -- moving kickoffs forward by five years, to the 35-yard line. But the colleges are adding a twist that the NFL doesn't have, one that it hopes will cut down on the number of kickoff returns even more. Under the new rule, touchbacks would be placed at the 25, rather than the 20.
     The impetus of this, of course, is to reduce the number of kickoff returns, which produce more violent, high-speed collisions -- and thus more injuries -- than any other play. It seemed to work in the NFL, so colleges are quick to move in that direction, too. Minnesota's opponents downed only eight of the 58 Gopher kickoffs they received, one of the lowest rates in the Big Ten. By contrast, Purdue's senior kicker Carson Wiggs produced 23 touchbacks in 89 kickoffs.
     Other changes include protecting punt returners from devastating hits as they catch the ball, and requiring any player whose helmet comes off during a play to sit out a play, just as if he had been injured.
 

NCAA considers moving touchbacks to 25

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 16, 2012 - 6:24 PM

     There's an interesting column on espn.com today that details the new rules that have been proposed for next season, all of them dealing with safety. (The NCAA is currently receiving feedback from member schools about the rules, and will be voted upon next Tuesday.)
     The rule sure to be most controversial is one that matches last year's NFL rule change -- moving kickoffs forward by five years, to the 35-yard line. But the colleges are adding a twist that the NFL doesn't have, one that it hopes will cut down on the number of kickoff returns even more. Under the new rule, touchbacks would be placed at the 25, rather than the 20.
     The impetus of this, of course, is to reduce the number of kickoff returns, which produce more injuries than any other play. It seemed to work in the NFL, so colleges are quick to move in that direction, too. Minnesota's opponents downed only eight of the 58 Gopher kickoffs they received, one of the lowest rates in the Big Ten. By contrast, Purdue's senior kicker Carson Wiggs produced 23 touchbacks in 89 kickoffs.
     Other changes include protecting punt returners from devastating hits as they catch the ball, and requiring any player whose helmet comes off during a play to sit out a play, just as if he had been injured.
 

Another football season without a true champ

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: January 10, 2012 - 5:33 PM

By Phil Miller    

     I took part in a fraud last night, and I'm here to confess.
     Alabama is the champion of major college football, according to the Associated Press, and mine was one of 55 votes (out of 60) to make it so. But I don't actually believe the Crimson Tide, dominating though they were Monday night, are the champions of anything. They are merely the eye-test, judgment-call, most-plausible "best" team in the game this year -- but that's not the same thing. That's not what sports attempts to measure, and you can ask last year's Miami Heat, the 2007 New England Patriots and about half the NCAA basketball champions of the past two decades if you don't believe it.
     Champions earn their way, though a level-playing-field regular season (well, that's the ideal, anyway) into a tournament that eventually eliminates all but one team. It's not perfect, but it brings out the best in the sports we love. It's why we watch.
     College football doesn't do that, though. College football goes to the ballot box, asks purportedly neutral observers and so-called experts to decide the winner, like the Academy handing out Oscars. Even the BCS championship comes down to a ranking, though the outcome is fixed by the requirement that voters place the title-game winner atop their ballots.
     (The AP lacks that rule, but it makes the system only fractionally more credible, and that's before you consider the notion that someone like me -- who spent football Saturdays mostly watching Gopher football, had to make time to witness the top teams perhaps once or twice during the season, and who feels unqualified to make these judgments anyway -- is doing the voting. The AP poll has lost its cachet as the definitive championship, as it was a couple of decades ago, but the organization has named a champion for 76 years now, so I owe it to them to take the responsibility seriously. I just don't think it means much.)
     But one game is not a tournament, particularly when the selection process is so arbitrary. It's just a way of giving the "champion" and the polls a semblance of credibility, one they haven't earned.
     The FCS holds a 20-team tournament every year, Division II invites 24 teams and Division III includes 32. Football's not the same at those levels, and FBS teams will probably never sanction an eight-team field, much less a real tournament, despite the billions of dollars they would earn. Surely, however, we can agree that a great sport like college football deserves better than this exclusionary setup that is exposed as fraudulent, seemingly in a different manner, each year.
     This season, in choosing Alabama for a winner-takes-all title game, the BCS -- whose mantra is "every game counts" -- rendered the season's biggest game, LSU's 9-6 victory on the Crimson Tide's home field, meaningless. It equated LSU's incredible season, which included victories over the Rose, Cotton and Orange Bowl winners plus five other ranked teams, with Alabama's, which was inferior in almost every way. It marginalized Oklahoma State and Boise State for single slip-ups just as excruciating as the Tide's. And it actually rewarded, not penalized, the Crimson Tide for losing that November "showdown," because the loss forced LSU to play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game while Alabama, champions of neither its conference or division, could relax, get healthy and still play for the title.
     Because of all of that, I was prepared to hold Alabama to a higher standard on Monday, and to vote for LSU even after a loss if the game was close -- an absurdly subjective way to choose a "champion," but all I was left with. Ultimately, those plans were scuttled by Alabama's impressive rout, by LSU's offensive meltdown, by the fact that the Tigers played eight quarters and an overtime against Alabama and never scored a touchdown. Alabama's case on the field simply trumped LSU's on paper.
     Could Oklahoma State have beaten the Tide? Dunno. How about Boise State or Oregon? Imagine those offenses taking on that defense.
     Instead, I voted for Alabama.
     Maybe they're really the champions. I would have loved to find out.

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