Gophers backup quarterback Conor Rhoda is a redshirt junior this season, but he was honored before Saturday’s game as part of Senior Day, signaling the end of his time with the program.

Rhoda walked on with the Gophers out of Cretin-Derham Hall and was placed on scholarship this year. But according to people familiar with Rhoda’s situation, the coaches notified him that they couldn’t guarantee him a scholarship for next season.

Rhoda is on track to graduate this fall with a degree in business and marketing education. He plans to explore options to join another program as a graduate transfer, as he still has one year of eligibility remaining.

Rhoda has a strong arm, but he’s a pocket passer, and coach Tracy Claeys has made it clear he wants more mobility from his starting quarterbacks. With Mitch Leidner nearing the end of his Gophers career, dual-threat quarterbacks Seth Green and Demry Croft are expected to compete for the starting job next spring.

Other early departures

The Gophers honored 13 seniors before Saturday’s game, along with eight other players who are leaving the program after this season with eligibility remaining.

That list includes quarterback offensive linemen Chad Fahning, Matt Leidner and Luke Rasmussen, defensive lineman Julien Kafo, tight end Duke Anyanwu, linebacker Ray Dixon, wide receiver Mike Conway and kicker Andrew Harte.

All of those players will have their degree before next season starts. Last year, Gophers left tackle Ben Lauer made a similar decision to leave the program after graduating, even though he had a year of eligibility remaining.

Need a better showing than last season

I know it’s a whole new season. Shoot, it’s practically end of a whole new season. But I keep thinking about what a nightmare last year’s game against Northwestern was for the Gophers.

Minnesota lost 27-0 at Ryan Field, in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Northwestern went on to go 10-3, and the Gophers finished 6-7.

This year, the Gophers are having the better season, Northwestern has several experienced back from last year’s team. From that stifling defense, which held Minnesota to a season-low 173 yards, the Wildcats returned LB Anthony Walker, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, S Godwin Igwebuike.

Running back Justin Jackson is back, having surpassed 1,000 yards for a third consecutive season. Clayton Thorson has made huge strides as a sophomore quarterback, ranking third in the Big Ten in passing yards. And Austin Carr, a relative unknown last season, has blossomed into a star who leads the conference in every receiving category.

Throw in how well Northwestern has played of late, and I think the Gophers definitely have their work cut out for them on Senior Day.

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