Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck told me this week he would eventually release more information on the discipline that is keeping some players on the sidelines while the team prepares for the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26.
Fleck said Wednesday "a starter or starters" would ultimately miss the game in Detroit. But Fleck is waiting to disclose further information because he views it as a matter between the Gophers and their student-athletes, not a public discussion.
Fleck was disappointed that signing day Wednesday was overshadowed by talk of suspensions, but he was happy to have inked the 33rd best recruiting class, according to 247sports.com, in the nation.
He said that more important than the rankings was the fact that they filled out thin spots on the roster.
“I am really happy with it,” Fleck said. “We hit a bunch of needs. We needed defensive linemen, we needed secondary members, and across the board at every position I thought we did a very good job of identifying the right people to be able to come into this program and be able to do what we need them to do.”
Fleck said that the 13 extra practices before the bowl and time spent together as a team should help get the team into a great place heading into next season. He also said to expect some roster changes against a Georgia Tech team that runs a triple-option offense unlike any they have seen this season.
“There will be some changes even just based on propelling ourselves to next year,” Fleck said. “Curtis Dunlap Jr. on the offensive line you’re going to see him a little bit more. We’ll be playing eight freshman on offense and that is one of those things that’s going to help us down the road. And hopefully help us on the bowl game, as well.”
Getting back to recruiting, Fleck said that getting junior college players like Kelvin Clemmons, the cornerback out of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, is a plus but not something he wants to rely on going forward.
"We got a few [JUCO players]," he said. "I like to be able to make this a developmental program where we’re from the beginning with high school student-athletes all the way through their senior year and develop them. But we did sign a few junior college players.
"As we continue to go forward we kept two, three scholarships to be able to have the opportunity to possibly sign a grad transfer or keep it open for more high school student-athletes, as well."
What is the strongest part of this class?
"Them as a whole, their closeness, I’m not going to say just a position because it’s them as a whole," Fleck said. "They have gotten to know each other the past year and they are a tight knit group. They talk to each other all the time, and I think that is a really, really strong connection that you want your recruiting class to have."
Yes, this year overall was a positive one for Fleck. After having the most wins of any first year coach in Gophers history in 2017, Fleck followed that up with the first road win over Wisconsin in Madison since 1994, a victory that secured a bowl game.
What are Fleck's goals for the 2019 season?
"The goal for next season is to be better today than we were yesterday and be better tomorrow than we were today," he said.
Does he think that the win over Wisconsin and reaching a bowl game helped recruiting?
"Of course, any time you have a really historic win or big wins or rivalry wins, I think it helps you," he said. "But I think you know student-athletes or young men look at two different ways, they want to either help you go get that trophy back or be a part of the trophy and the tradition of continuing to win. I think it helps, but I think just because you win a game kids don’t necessarily look at that as much as they used to look at that."
When it comes to not having senior starters like Blake Cashman and Donnell Greene, Fleck said he's excited for their future and understands their decisions.
"[Cashman] is a tremendous football player, he has performed a lot for the University of Minnesota, as well as Donnell Greene," Fleck said. "We wish them both all the best in the National Football League."
So what does Fleck expect from Georgia Tech, who are 5 1/2 point favorites?
"They have a very unique style, very good ACC team, beat a lot of good teams this year," he said. "They produce a lot of challenges for you in terms of the triple option. They make you change almost your entire defensive scheme. It’s just different. We’ve been cutting in practicing, wearing shin guards in practice, doing everything we can through our scout teams to simulate Georgia Tech’s offense."