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.
HOUSTON -- The new coach is conspicuously absent, but that's by design. Kliff Kingsbury will have plenty of time to make the Texas Tech Red Raiders his own.
Kingsbury will attend Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl against Minnesota, but he's left all bowl preparations to Chris Thomsen, the offensive line coach who was designated interim head coach when Tommy Tuberville suddenly left two weeks ago to accept the head coaching job at Cincinnati.
"He's done a great job of coming in and filling in for Coach Tubs," defensive end Kerry Hyder told reporters after Thomsen conducted the team's final bowl practice on Wednesday. "He's only been here a year, but he has the respect of the team."
So does Tuberville, Hyder said, despite his abrupt departure. "It wasn't a big deal to us. It was business; he had to do what he had to do, and we understood that," the junior from Austin said. Remaining focused on their game with the Gophers "says a lot about our guys. We're able to adapt to any situation so far. No matter who's coaching, we just come out here and do our jobs."
The Gophers know Kingsbury has a reputation for innovative offense after playing for the Red Raiders a decade ago, and coaching Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, but they assumed that the 33-year-old new coach would resist playing a role in the bowl game plan.
"Really, that offense goes back to Mike Leach," the coach who preceded Tuberville, said Gophers coach Jerry Kill. "They run a unique offense. That's hard enough to prepare for."
The Red Raiders sound relaxed as they get ready for Friday's game, which is probably a reflection of their temporary leader. Thomsen is "laid-back. He tries to crack jokes every now and then, but he's so nonchalant, that you can't really tell when he's joking," Hyder said. "He's a good coach."
Gophers freshman receiver Andre McDonald will not play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Friday because of a violation of team policy.
Coach Jerry Kill made the announcement this afternoon in a press release.
McDonald has 10 catches for 121 yards this season.
The Gophers' opponent, Texas Tech, will be missing three players on Friday.
The Red Raiders say the players violated undisclosed team rules.
Suspended are starting defensive back Cornelius Douglas, special teams player Chris Payne and reserve defensive lineman Leon Mackey.
Chris Thomsen is the Red Raiders' interim head coach after Tommy Tuberville left to go to Cincinnati three weeks ago. Thomsen will lead the Raiders on Friday even though Kliff Kingsbury has been hired as Tuberville's successor for next season.
Jerry Kill was sweating when he emerged from the Gophers' practice facility, and it had nothing to do with Texas Tech's passing game. Well, not much.
"It felt like it was 90 degrees in there," Kill said of the indoor practice field. "Of course, I had a sweatshirt on."
But the higher temperature wasn't his imagination, nor an accident. The Gophers' game with the Red Raiders will be played inside the Reliant Stadium on Dec. 28, and while it's possible the building's domed roof will be retracted for the game, it's more likely that the Meineke Car Care Bowl will occur indoors.
It's not a huge adjustment, but one worth preparing for, Kill figured. The long-term forecast calls for a high in the mid-60s in Houston next Friday, and the game could be played in room-temperature conditions.
That's as opposed to the normal temperatures in Minnesota's practice facility. "When we first started practicing (two weeks ago), I was about to freeze to death in there," Kill said. "I said, 'Hey, I don't think it's going to be quite this cold in Houston. We've turned the heat up to 75-80 degrees in there, to make sure we understand the sweat."
That part worked. Players were drenched in sweat as they walked off the field and onto buses to take them to TCF Bank Stadium's locker room to change.
Once they arrive in Houston this weekend, the Gophers will practice outdoors at St. Thomas High School.
With final exams mostly over and their trip to Houston looming, the Gophers turn their attention to the Texas Tech Red Raiders today.
Minnesota holds its seventh bowl practice Wednesday afternoon, but it will be different from the first six, coach Jerry Kill said. The Gophers, whose season finale comes Dec. 28 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Reliant Stadium, have spent December reviewing fundamentals, getting their academics in order, and giving the redshirts and underclassmen a head start on this spring's drills.
"It's been good. I've been excited about watching the young guys," Kill said. He's been impressed enough, he said, "that you'd like to take the redshirts off three or four of them, but you can't."
With recruiting entering an NCAA-enforced holiday break, most of Kill's assistant coaches are back on campus. With final exams winding down, most of his players are ready to focus on football. So the Gophers will practice today, tomorrow and Friday, before heading to Houston on Saturday.
And the generalities of the first half-dozen practices will give way to a new focus at this week's practices. In pre-practice meetings today, Kill and his staff will unveil the Gophers' game plan, then put it into motion on the practice field these next three days.
"We're going to try to get the game plan stuff in (place) here," Kill said, "so when we go down to the bowl site, we're not padded up. We can get their shoulders back, shorten up the practices."
Once they arrive in Houston, there are plenty of other activities to hold the players' interest, so Kill wants his team familiar with their game strategies ahead of time. The Gophers will hold daily practices in Houston at St. Thomas High School, roughly seven miles from Reliant Stadium, while Texas Tech works out at Rice University. (The Texans' practice facility, used by bowl teams last year, is unavailable this year because the Texans will be using it until late afternoon, and the University of Houston's stadium is undergoing extensive renovations.)
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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