Gophers coach Tracy Claeys likes the way the regular-season schedule finishes with two home games against Illinois and Wisconsin, in the elements, at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Especially late November,” Claeys said. “That’s why they built it, and they didn’t put a dome on it for a reason. We need a little home-field advantage, and our crowd has been great all year.”
The Gophers sold out their 52,525-seat stadium for the first four home games, against TCU, Kent State, Ohio and Nebraska. They drew 50,789 on Halloween night against Michigan.
The attendance could dip for Saturday’s game against Illinois. Weather.com forecasts clear skies and 27 degrees (17 degrees with the wind) for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
“Our kids have played in some tough weather,” Illinois coach Bill Cubit said.
Claeys told KFAN (100.3-FM) on Thursday that defensive tackle Steven Richardson could return from his calf injury to play Saturday.
Richardson has missed the past two games but still ranks second on the team with eight tackles for a loss. Claeys said Richardson would be a game-time decision, as he’ll be trying to come back from a strained muscle in cold conditions.
If Richardson plays, it might be sparingly, but there is hope he’ll be even healthier for next week’s game against Wisconsin.
The team’s injury report, released Thursday night, listed Richardson as questionable, with running back Rodney Smith (ankle) and wide receiver Eric Carter (concussion) both probable. Claeys has said he doesn’t expect any other injured players back this week.
Claeys told KFAN he likes Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s idea for an annual Big Ten/SEC football challenge. Claeys said he’d like to rotate it with other Power Five conferences, too.
The Big Ten will move to a nine-game conference schedule next season, with some teams playing four home Big Ten games and others playing five. The Gophers get four home conference games in 2016 and five in 2017.
Claeys said he’d rather see a 10-game conference schedule with an equal number of home and road games. He also voiced his disagreement with the Big Ten’s suggested guideline of doing away with FCS opponents in future years.
“The only reason I say that is we’ve coached at that level,” Claeys told KFAN. “And there’s a lot of kids who play football at that level and get their school paid for, and if they wipe that out, you’re going to eliminate a lot of football programs. They just don’t have the money to do it themselves, and so I think there should be one game on your schedule where you can do that.”
The Gophers didn’t play any FCS opponents this year, but have Indiana State from the former Division I-AA tier for next season. From all indications, the Gophers intend to keep that game scheduled with the Sycamores.