It’s unlikely tomorrow night’s opening game at TCF Bank Stadium against Eastern Illinois will sellout.
Minnesota’s opening game on August 29 last year against UNLV at TCF drew 44,217 fans. Tomorrow night’s game—unless there is a huge walkup ticket sale—likely will have similar attendance. Eastern Illinois isn’t a strong box office attraction and the Gophers face entertainment competition from the State Fair on a weekday night.
The total number of Gophers season football tickets has increased slightly from last season. As of Monday, the Gophers had sold 5,043 student season tickets compared with 4,175 on the same date a year ago. School hasn’t started yet at the University of Minnesota and more student season tickets will be sold. An additional 800 student season tickets were sold last year after August 25, bringing the 2013 total to 4,975.
The overall season tickets total as of Monday was 33,385—a bit more than the final 2013 total of 33,284. The nonstudent season tickets total is expected to be between 28,000 and 29,000. The 5,043 student number includes many tickets sold as part of packages that includes admission to basketball and hockey games.
With the addition of extra seats at the west end of the stadium, capacity has increased from 50,805 to 52,525. The potential for setting single game attendance records is in play for high demand games against Iowa on November 8 and Ohio State November 15.
Jerry Kill’s fourth season as Gophers head coach begins tomorrow night. He will tell you there’s no question who his No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks are—Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler.
No doubt Kill wants to see that one-two order continue through a 12-game season and a bowl win. He made it clear to the team months ago that Leidner, the redshirt sophomore from Lakeville South, was the starter. “There is no question Chris Streveler is our No. 2,” Kill said last Saturday.
Either injuries or lack of production have often had the Gophers and fans wondering what to expect from the starting quarterback. The Gophers used four different starters at quarterback during the last three seasons. MarQueis Gray had 10 starts and Max Shortell two in 2011. Those players started three games each in 2012 and Philip Nelson had seven starts. Last year Nelson started nine games and Leidner four.
Can someone play the whole season as the No. 1 guy at the most important position on the team? Leidner is the only quarterback on the roster with gameday experience. Unless he flops—or is injured—he is a heavy favorite to be the starter all year.
Expect the Gophers to design and use their offense to keep Leidner healthy and on the field. That is so much easier said than done, though. The 6-4, 237-pound Leidner is not shy about running and although his legs won’t be the primary weapon in the offense, the Gophers will need rushing productivity from him in the more difficult games including road tests at Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Leidner threw only three touchdown passes last season while completing 55.1 percent of his passes. His passing is likely to be improved and that’s a must for the Gophers who had just 12 touchdown receptions last season and were among the most unproductive passing teams in the country.
Streveler, a redshirt freshman, isn’t the equal of Leidner as a passer. Streveler looks like an athlete playing quarterback, and a teammate said the Illinois native’s greatest strength “definitely” is his running.
Leidner believes he is ready for a productive year leading an offense that includes Doak Walker Award candidate and running back David Cobb (1,202 yards last year), and a group of potential big play receivers. The experience of playing last season and all the preparation during the offseason made it easy for Leidner to answer the question whether there is any comparison with who he is now as a quarterback versus a year ago. “Nah, it’s not comparable at all, I don’t think. It’s a different mindset.”
That might be another way of saying the Gophers are ready to stop the quarterback carousel.
Eastern Illinois is ranked No. 11 in the country in the FCS coaches poll. Historically, EIU has five wins over FBS programs like the Gophers including a 40-19 victory last year at San Diego State.
Kill predicted the Panthers will be ready to play and said this is a “bowl game” for the EIU program.
Panthers running backs Shepard Little and Taylor Duncan are the top returning FCS rushing twosome. Little had 1,551 yards last season while Duncan had 988 despite missing two games.
The Panthers are expected to play two quarterbacks including Andrew Manley who was the starter after spring practice. He is a transfer from New Mexico State and threw three touchdown passes for the Aggies when they beat the Gophers in 2011 at TCF Bank Stadium. The other quarterback is Jalen Whitlow, a transfer from Kentucky who started 15 games during the last two seasons for the Wildcats.
Near the top of any list for most anticipated Gopher debuts will be that of redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards. Fans have heard a lot about his speed and he is the second fastest player on the roster. His roommate, sophomore defensive back Jalen Myrick, is faster.
No Gophers unit is expected to be better in performance and depth than the secondary. Minnesota has six defensive backs who have started a combined 59 games led by Cedric Thompson with 19, Derrick Wells, 16 and Eric Murray, 13.
Last season the Gophers excelled against four of the best receivers in the Big Ten—Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Jeremy Gallon, Michigan; Cody Latimer, Indiana; and Allen Robinson, Penn State. The group had 4,982 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns. Against Minnesota they totaled 224 yards (4.4 percent of season output) and two touchdowns (6.4 percent of their production).
Kill’s 53rd birthday was last Sunday. His three-year record at Minnesota is 17-21 overall, but during the last two seasons he is 14-12. In their previous 26 games prior to the 2012 and 2013 seasons the Gophers were 6-20.
The Vikings, 3-0, play their final preseason game tomorrow night in Nashville against the Titans, 2-1. The last year the Vikings were undefeated in preseason was 2001, winning all four games. The regular season didn’t go so well, though, with a 5-11 record, and Mike Tice replaced Dennis Green as head coach for game No. 16.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the team on Monday Matt Cassel will be the starting quarterback. What stood out, prompting the decision?
“Well, Matt did not do anything to lose the job this preseason. I think he’s played great,” Zimmer said. “The team has a lot of confidence in him. They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence.
“I had to think about the whole football team, it wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. I’ve said this before, it’s not always the best player at (any position)…it’s how everything works together, and at this stage where we are at right now I feel like that’s the best thing to do.
“I told (rookie) Teddy (Bridgewater) that I’m so happy that he’s here with us. I’m glad he’s the guy we picked…and Teddy will be still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come.”
Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne will speak at the September 11 CORES luncheon at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. Nanne, who left the North Stars in 1991 after serving as team president, has been honored many times for his playing and administrative career including induction into multiple halls of fame. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans. Reservations (by September 8) for the lunch and program can be made by contacting Jim Dotseth, email@example.com.
Twins rookie Kennys Vargas had one hit in last night’s 2-1 loss against the Royals. He has hit safely in 20 of 24 career Twins games. In his last 10 games the DH-first baseman is batting .395 with two home runs and 11 RBI.
Mike Zimmer was named the Vikings ninth head coach last winter. Fans and media are still getting acquainted with Zimmer who after 20 years of being an NFL assistant became a head coach for the first time. In an exclusive interview, Sports Headliners asked him to fill in the blanks on various football and personal topics—some not too serious—to better understand who he is.
Football is the best game in the world because: “It teaches discipline, (and) toughness, and there’s such a team aspect of things.”
What I’ve already learned about Adrian Peterson is: “That he cares a lot about this football team and the franchise. Besides being a great running back, he’s a good person.”
Better know this about former NFL coach Bill Parcells: (Laughs). “That he is going to have a sharp stick and poke you with it—that he does it because he cares about you and wants you to be the very best that you can be.”
The most difficult time in my life was: “When my wife (Vikki) passed away (October 8, 2009, after 27 years of marriage).”
How I got offensive coordinator Norv Turner to come and work for me was: “Begging and pleading, and a few phone conversations. …I think he saw how we played defense and I saw how he played offense, and I thought it would be a good mix, and I think he did too.”
When people compare me to Bud Grant I think: (Laughs). “I think, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I am kind of speechless. But I haven’t coached a (regular season) game yet so we should temper those thoughts, I think.”
If I want one thing on my tombstone it is: “Honesty.”
What amazes me about you guys in the media is: (Laughs). “Honestly, I have a lot of respect for the people in the media. I really do. Sometimes I get a kick out of how they can ask a question looking for the answer that they want (me) to give.”
I will promise Vikings fans this: “That I will do my very best every single day. Work as hard as I can to bring a championship to Minnesota.”
The perfect vacation for me is: “I am not a big vacation guy but I do like to hang out at my ranch (43 acres in northern Kentucky)—shoot guns, go hunting, things like that.”
My very first words to the team after being hired were: “I believe it was what kind of people and players that I was looking for…and what kind of things we’re not looking for.”
My best advice to No. 3 quarterback Christian Ponder is: “Hang in there. Keep fighting. Keep your head up, chest out, (and) good things will happen.”
Vikings fans will learn this about rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater: “That he is humble, caring. He’s obviously talented but he’s a guy that I think they’ll be proud to have as a quarterback some day.”
Here’s what I think about superstition: “I think I have it (laughs). But it’s not always a good thing.”
What’s an example? “I have a prayer that…I’ve used for the last three or four years that I read numerous times before the game. Just read it to myself. It’s about (the) game plan, (and) playing with great unity and effort, and smart. Things like that.”
My good luck charms are: “My kids (daughters Corri and Marki, and son Adam). They’re always helping me staying positive, and seeing the good things.”
If I could invite a few people—including historical figures and anyone alive today—to a dinner party I would include: “(General) George Patton, probably Michael Jordan. …Parcells would probably be one, although I would put him at the other end of the table. No, I am not joking on that one. Some of the great coaches—Don Shula—(and) I know they (Vikings fans) don’t want me to say (Packers Vince) Lombardi but him too.”
There’s nothing better to eat than: “Mexican, Tex-Mex especially. Anything with pico de gallo on it. Queso. Chicken I love. …”
My early impression of Minnesota as a place to live is: “My earliest impression was very cold. When I got here it was January 15th. But you know the people have been great. The area with all the lakes and the waterfowl and the clear blue skies—it‘s pretty neat.”
Were you discouraged by the January winter welcome? “Well, I was caught off guard a little bit. I didn’t expect it to be 18 below when I was driving into work, but we have heaters.”
It sounds like the Timberwolves will introduce some new players at the State Fair next Tuesday. Owner Glen Taylor told Sports Headliners during a telephone interview he’s been asked by his NBA club to keep the day open and appear at the Wolves’ State Fair location.
“I don’t have (details) exactly what is going to happen, but I have held Tuesday open…(in) anticipation of going up to the State Fair and being involved in some kind of an announcement we would hold over there,” he said yesterday from Mankato.
Media reports have speculated the Wolves will trade All-Star power forward Kevin Love to the Cavs tomorrow, or soon thereafter. The Cavs’ Andrew Wiggins, the overall No. 1 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, will be eligible under NBA rules to be traded tomorrow—30 days after he signed his rookie contract.
Wiggins, a small forward, is regarded as an extraordinary athlete who must prove his basketball skills. The Wolves may also receive Cavs’ power forward Anthony Bennett and a future No. 1 draft choice, according to media reports circulating for weeks.
Taylor said his club hopes to “be in position to get things done” on Saturday. “That would be my preference, that we just get it done as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re going to look at possibly doing a three-team trade.”
Taylor said basketball president of operations and coach Flip Saunders has talked to the Cavs and also to the 76ers. The 76ers have a veteran power forward in Thaddeus Young who might be coming to the Wolves. “I did not know Thaddeus Young myself,” Taylor said. “I just only watched him on TV, so I called some players and talked to them about him, and I’ve only gotten really kind of…glowing reports back as to the type of person (he is)—a hard worker. I look forward to meeting him and getting to know him too.”
It seems likely the Wolves will deal away more players besides Love but Taylor didn’t offer names. The remaining roster after the trade or trades will include a core of promising players who have yet to reach their 23rd birthdays. Taylor said he and Saunders are excited about the potential and he didn’t sound discouraged about reorganizing his team yet again—a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2004.
“Probably, if you really kind of look at our starters, we could sort of almost start the same team as we did last year with Thaddeus Young replacing—if that trade goes through—Kevin,” said Taylor who has owned the team since 1995. “But then what is so interesting would be the second five guys that you would have on your team who all probably have the potential of being starters at some time.”
Taylor is talking about a second unit with Gorgui Dieng, 24, at center, with forwards Bennett and Wiggins, who are 21 and 19, and guards Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine, 21 and 19. “You have five kids who were drafted really high with high potential all coming off the bench…with the potential of working into starting lineups,” Taylor said.
Those athletic players would complement point guard Ricky Rubio, the team’s passing whiz who turns 23 in October. Taylor offered Rubio a four-year contract extension earlier this summer but nothing is happening now in negotiations.
The Wolves signed Love to a four-year extension in 2012 instead of a five year deal—a decision that has played a role in the anticipated departure of the 25-year-old who is one of the best players in the world. Taylor said “I am not going to say to you I absolutely won’t change” regarding eventually offering Rubio a five-year contract.
After visiting all 14 Big Ten Conference football camps, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo said on Wednesday night the Gophers, Illinois and Rutgers are the league’s most improved teams. The Gophers are receiving praise from BTN commentators for building quality offensive and defensive lines.
Cordarrelle Patterson, who tied an NFL kickoff return record with a 109-yard touchdown last year, might return a kick tomorrow night for the Vikings in their preseason game with the Chiefs in Kansas City. Special teams coach Mike Priefer said he hopes so but the decision whether to use Patterson in that role is up to head coach Mike Zimmer.
What makes Patterson so effective? “Size, speed, strength,” Priefer said. “He’s got great quickness and, like a lot of the great returners in this league, he’s got great vision. I’ve coached some guys that have the size and speed before, and didn’t have good vision. They just kind of ran into blocks and stuff, but he has an innate ability to see things right before they happen and he’s very good at that.”
Defensive tackle Shariff Floyd could become a starter for the Vikings in his second season. Going into tomorrow night’s third preseason, game defensive coordinator George Edwards will continue to evaluate Floyd.
“We were really pleased last week, he got some pressure up inside,” Edwards said. “Did a good job of pushing the pocket, those kinds of things. He’s been pretty consistent in his run stuff, but last week was the first time he really got good as far as pushing the pocket inside as far as the pass rush.”
Phil Hughes, the winning pitcher for the Twins in their game against the Indians yesterday at Target Field, has won four consecutive games and is now 14-8. In those four games he is 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA.
Rookie DH and first baseman Kennys Vargas hit his fourth home run yesterday. He has only played in 19 games for the Twins but has 17 RBI.