National Football Magazine: U ‘Dangerous’
When it comes to offseason college football predictions, some things never seem to change like forecasts Alabama and Clemson will play for the national championship, or Ohio State will again wear the Big Ten crown. But there is variable and contrary chatter during the winter and spring including about the Golden Gophers program.
In early January Sporting News placed Minnesota No. 25 in a (how could you be earlier?) rankings of America’s best college teams for 2019. This week a few web searches of more recent top 25 national rankings produced no such good news for Gophers fans.
Sporting News’ post-spring practice listing of April 29 had Nebraska No. 25, Northwestern 24th and Wisconsin 21st but didn’t include the Gophers in the rankings. Pro Football Focus and Athlon came out with top 25 rankings Tuesday, but again Goldy was absent.
My research did discover a “nugget” that will please Gopher optimists. Athlon’s college football magazine, now on newsstands, includes an article by algorithm specialist Bill Connelly. He includes Minnesota among six national “Teams on the Rise” after deciphering data such as efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. He references the Gophers’ lack of consistency last season (Minnesota played in only two of 13 games decided by a touchdown or less) but concludes his write-up with these words: “This team will be dangerous.”
Read most anybody who offers a detailed preview on the Gophers, including Connelly, and be prepared to hear about inconsistency, including at the quarterback position last season. The Gophers played two freshmen there last year, Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan. Athlon includes Minnesota in a two-page spread titled “QB Battles” and predicts Annexstad will win the job because he is “the better pure passer.”
Both Athlon and Street & Smith’s college football magazines forecast the Gophers will finish fifth in the Big Ten’s seven-team West Division—perhaps the most unpredictable division in the country. The two publications say Nebraska will win what is expected to be a close race to play for the Big Ten championship against Ohio State from the East Division.
Street & Smith’s predicts Purdue will finish second in the West, while Athlon has the Boilermakers sixth behind Minnesota. S&M sees Iowa finishing sixth, while Athlon projects the Hawkeyes placing second in the Big Ten. (More evidence of how crystal balling varies and changes during the offseason.)
The Gophers, after an awful early season Big Ten performance, closed fast in 2018 by impressively winning two of their final three league games. Then they soundly defeated (34-10) a capable Georgia Tech team in the Quick Lane Bowl to finish 7-6 overall, 3-6 in conference games.
Among the most inexperienced teams in the country last year, the Gophers are loaded with key returnees on both offense and defense. There is also more talent to work with than Minnesota coaches have been accustomed to having. The quality of the finish last season is countered, though, by the poor performance earlier in the season, and the contrasting results have forced college football authorities to be a bit inconsistent and cautious in their outlooks about the Gophers.
Both magazines have Minnesota senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson on their regionally produced covers. S&M tabs JD Spielman, the Eden Prairie alum, former lacrosse player, and speedy receiver and returner for Nebraska, as the Big Ten’s best athlete. Athlon includes the Gophers’ Carter Coughlin, another Eden Prairie alum, on the line of its third-team All-American defense.
Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck likes to recruit players with ties to the program like Coughlin whose dad and grandfather played for Minnesota. Maybe he will take a look at Gracen Bell, a tight end at Lee’s Summit North in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He is the grandson of legendary Gophers lineman Bobby Bell, a two-time All-American and perhaps the greatest player in University of Minnesota history.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt are drawing praise this month for commencement speeches at their alma maters, Michigan State and Wisconsin respectively.
If new Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas wants the inside word on Ricky Rubio, he can probably get it from Jazz boss Dennis Lindsey. Rosas and Lindsey worked together with the Rockets before being hired to work for the Wolves and Jazz respectively.
Rubio is a free agent who the Wolves traded to the Jazz in 2017 and it seems possible he could end up back in Minneapolis. His name is being conjectured with multiple NBA destinations, and the Wolves might like to replace the point guard he was traded for, Jeff Teague.
It doesn’t hurt the fan popularity of the successful Gophers softball team that 10 of the 14 players on the roster are Minnesota natives. Among the Minnesotans is pitcher Sydney Smith, who joined the Gophers after transferring from LSU, Minnesota’s opponent starting Friday at 4 p.m. in Minneapolis for a NCAA Super Regional matchup. Smith, who while pitching at Maple Grove High School was 54-1, figures to offer some insights to her coaches about the Tigers who will be in a town for the best of three series.
All-session chair backs for the Super Regional at Sage Cowles Stadium are priced at $40, with bench seating at $35 and $30. Standing room is also $30. ESPN2 televises Friday’s game.
Ex-Pioneer Press sportswriter Gregg Wong and former Washburn High School three-sports star Gerry Clark play in the Tzatskees band Saturday night June 1 at the Eagles Club in southeast Minneapolis.