Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
Find him on Twitter
Awaiting the start of the Gophers game at Michigan State's Spartan Stadium.
This would be the Gophers' biggest win of the season, if they could pull it off.
I believe their performance last week, in a loss against Wisonsin, was their most impressive performance of the season. Beating a very good Michigan State team on the road would be more impressive.
In fact, beating Michigan State would give the Gophers their most impressive six-game stretch in the modern era.
Glen Mason's best seasons did not include a six-game stretch in the Big Ten schedule this impressive. The 2003 loss to Michigan interrupted an impressive stretch. If the Gophers win today, they will have gone 5-1 in a key six-game stretch with their only loss coming against a very good Wisconsin team.
I'd argue the Gophers' loss to Wisconsin marked their best performance this season, given the quality of the opponent.
A victory today would trump that.
I'll be in studio Sunday morning for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500ESPN before heading to the Metrodome for Vikings-Bears. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
There are rational reasons for starting Christian Ponder on Sunday.
I'm just not sure the Vikings are employing any of them.
Here are possible behind-the-scenes explanations for starting Ponder, or at least not starting Josh Freeman:
1. If Freeman has looked lost in practice. It would be hard for an NFL head coach to believe that a quarterback who has trouble running the offense or completing passes in practice would be able to do so in games, especially on the road.
2. The Vikings have decided to tank the rest of the season to obtain the highest possible draft choices. I could see the front office wishing for this outcome, but Leslie Frazier is incapable of trying to lose a game. A coach would tank only if he was assured of coming back next year, and there's no way the Vikings can be making assurances to their head coach given the ineptitude of this team.
3. The Vikings' offensive coaches don't know what they're doing.
Starting Freeman is the most logical decision, but if he's not ready to start, then it's tough to figure out why the Vikings wouldn't start Matt Cassel. Cassel has given the Vikings their best-quarterbacked game of the season, against Pittsburgh, and would give them their best chance to win on Sunday at Green Bay.
I can't think of a good reason for starting Ponder. Worse, the feeling in the Vikings' lockerroom is that starting Ponder is an embarrassment.
Frazier has done much to build trust and respect in the Vikings' lockerroom. He's sabotating his credibility by starting Ponder when everyone knows Ponder's career is effectively over in Minnesota.
For all of their problems, the Vikings have continued to play hard even as their season has slipped away. It's tough to put your body on the line when your bosses keep handling the most important position on the team so poorly.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd&Dubay to discuss this, the Wolves, the Wild, and the Gophers.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Win or lose next week, make the playoffs or not, the Vikings are overachivers this year, and the way they manhandled two of the league's best teams lends credence to Leslie Frazier's approach.
The Vikings manhandled the 49ers at home. They manhandled the Texans on the road.
When Christian Ponder doesn't lose the game for them, the Vikings tend to win.
They're 9-6 now, and one victory away from the playoffs, and winning with a style that seems sustainable and a young roster that seems capable of growth.
Ponder and the defense should get much of the credit for the victory. I think the coaching staff should get a game ball for this one. Chad Greenway said the game plan was to choke off the Texans' running game, which woulid hamper their ability to use play action and bootlegs. It worked.
While Andre Johnson caught passes in the middle of the field, he didn't hurt the Vikings' deep.
Offensively, Bill Musgrave designed another game plan that set Ponder up to succeed. He scripted easy throws early, and obviously encouraged Ponder to use his legs when appropriate. Ponder has looked like a much more confident quarterback the last two weeks, especially when on the move.
I know the Pagano-Arians pairing in Indianapolis will receive most of the coach of the year votes, and they have a great and emotional case. I think Leslie Frazier deserves consideration, it not a slew of first-place votes. This team looked hopeless last year, and he has this gorup of players playing with fire and cohesiveness.
As I've noted before this season, Frazier has also helped make this a class organization. I can't remember the last time I covered a winning Vikings team that was this much fun to be around.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 2:05 on Monday with Patrick Reusse, and on WJON in St. Cloud with Jay Caldwell at 7:15 a.m.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I wrote about Robert Griffin III, and the Vikings' view of him, for the Monday paper.
I could have written about Christian Ponder's struggles and Bill Musgraves' red-zone calls.
I've given Musgrave lots of credit this year for finding clever ways to run an offense dependent on Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. I've given him credit for helping Ponder look far improved from last year. But Musgrave has a flaw, and it's red-zone common sense.
Too often, as was the case on Sunday, he takes his best players off the field and goes away from his team's strengths near the goalline. Harvin and Peterson should be on the field, even if only as decoys. And Musgrave shouldn't abandon power running and quick hits to Harvin.
As for Ponder, he threw a lot of pitches that even Jim Joyce wouldn't have called strikes. He didn't blame the swirling wind in the stadium - Ponder isn't the kind of guy who makes excuses - but if it wasn't the wind, he merely had a lousy game.
Losing on the road to Washington is no shame, but it does increase the importance of the upcoming homestand. The Vikings will face Arizona and Tampa Bay in a five-day stretch. Sweep, and the Vikings are 6-2 at the break. Lose both, and they're 4-4 with the more difficult half of the schedule remaining.
One thing I marvel at when watching the Vikings live is how hard Harvin and Peterson run, and how often they're hurting when they go to the sideline. Both left, limping, at times on Sunday, and once Peterson went to the sideline shaking his head, then removing his helmet. I don't know if they can last the entire season taking the pounding they are required to take in this offense.
This team has to pray that Jerome Simpson can shake off his back problems. They need a downfield threat, especially when they fall behind. Simpson is the only player they have other than Harvin who can scare safeties.
-Mike Shanahan earned his 168th NFL victory, including playoffs. That ties him with Bud Grant for 14th on the all-time list.
-Griffin's 13 rushes was a career-high, and it came a week after he suffered a concussion.
-His 138 yards rushing marked a franchise record by a quarterback, breaking his record set in Week 2 of 84.
-The total was the fifth-most in a game by an NFL quarterback.
Haven't done Local Power Rankings for a while, so this week's ranking should look far different from the last.
We now have good teams in town. And promising teams. And interesting teams. Today's LPR, which ranks the local high-profile revenue sports based on current performance and promise:
1. Minnesota Lynx
Going for back-to-back. Sometimes I leave the Lynx out of the rankings because they seem to be in a different category. They play in a small league that is subsidized by NBA owners. But let's give the Lynx credit for making it to the Finals for the second straight year while playing an entertaining style.
2. Minnesota Vikings
I thought this team would win five or six games, and that this season would be about making sure they had the right quarterback and coach in place. I was half right.
This team could still stumble, of course, but it should no longer look at any game on the schedule as unwinnable, and the work Frazier and his staff did in their first full offseason together has yielded a smart, well-run team. Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave are far better at their jobs today than they were a year ago.
3. Gopher hockey
This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Lucia.
4. Gopher basketball
This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Smith.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
This might be the most entertaining and intriguing team in town, and if Ricky Rubio were healthy, this team might be playing for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As it is, the roster is vastly improved, Rick Adelman is getting to run his first full training camp, and I expect Kevin Love to find some way to improve on last year's remarkable performance.
6. Gopher football
Losing to Iowa on the road isn't shameful. This team still has a chance to go to a bowl, or at least establish that Jerry Kill has made improvements in his second season.
7. Minnesota Twins
I know, I know, they stink. They stunk in 2011 and they stunk again last year. But you can't accuse them of not making changes. In the last year, they've changed GMs, a handful of coaches, their head athletic trainer, their Triple-A manager and a few behind-the-scenes positions.
In Terry Ryan's first offseason of his second tenure, he hit home runs with Josh Willingham, Jared Burton and Ryan Doumit, and got good value out of Jamey Carroll. He hasn't fixed the biggest problem, which is pitching, but he's earned the benefit of the doubt.
8. Minnesota Wild
The easy thing to say is that the NHL can't afford a lockout, that they're damaging their product.
But is that the way the NHL works? Or will hockey fans always return to the rink?
I think the latter. So while the lockout isn't a good thing for anyone, let's not pretend that the X is going to be empty when the bickering ends.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey to talk Vikings and Twins moves. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
-Amazing what some people think they read and hear.
On Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn yesterday, I did not say I thought it was a good thing that Terry Ryan was firing people. I said it was proof that the perception that he's overly loyal to his employees is false, that he frequently makes moves, and that he's as loyal to people moving their way up through the organization as he is to the people who hold their current positions.
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