Road Games May Not Slow Vikings
A Wednesday notes column written during a week when the Upper Midwest could be in entertainment panic mode because the Vikings have a bye on the schedule Sunday.
The Vikings play four of their next five games on the road but that may not result in a bumpy ride. Two years ago Mike Zimmer’s team had a six-game stretch with four games away from home, and the Vikings were undefeated on the road. That team finished the season with an 11-5 record including five road wins and three losses.
The 2015 Vikings won the NFC North and this year’s team, with a 6-2 record now, appears headed toward another division championship. Zimmer has a veteran roster that should be comfortable playing on the road and won’t face a for-sure superior team in a five-game schedule that has Minnesota at Washington, home against the L.A. Rams and then at Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina.
Those five teams are a combined 20-16 this season in the parity-heavy NFL. In the latest ESPN.com NFL power rankings, the Vikings are No. 5, with the Rams No. 8, Carolina No. 12, Atlanta No. 13, Detroit No. 15 and Washington No. 18. Minnesota’s biggest worry, per ESPN, is sub quarterback Case Keenum remains somewhat untested after six-plus games.
What’s your guess as to the Vikings’ record after their December 10 game at Carolina? What will the record be at season’s end? What is an acceptable season and postseason?
Zimmer answering a question about trusting kicker Kai Forbath who has made 95.5 percent of his field goal attempts but just 75 percent of extra points: “Well, I’m probably not as jump off the wagon as you guys (media) are. You guys wanted me to get rid of him after he missed the extra point in the second game, or something. He’s done a really good job of kicking field goals accurately.
“He’s a good kid. He works hard. I think there’s a good rapport between [Kevin] McDermott, the holder [Ryan Quigley] and him. So yes, I feel comfortable with him.”
The Gophers’ P.J. Fleck could soon see his name mentioned in speculation about the many head coaching openings anticipated in major college football. Fleck’s contract with the University of Minnesota states neither he nor a representative can “seek, negotiate or accept other full-time employment” without first providing at least 48 hours written notice to the Gopher athletic director.
Drawing a lot of interest because of openings will be Iowa State second-year head coach Matt Campbell who at 37 is one year older than Fleck. The two coached against each other in the Mid-American Conference and both were born on November 29. Campbell was named Iowa State coach on November 29, 2015.
When the Gophers lost to Iowa last Saturday it ensured another year when Minnesota would not sweep its rivalry games against the Hawkeyes, Badgers and Wolverines. The 1967 season was the last that Minnesota captured Floyd of Rosedale, Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the Little Brown Jug.
Injuries have reshuffled the Gophers’ offensive line, but after last weekend Minnesota had allowed only eight sacks this year (tied for 11th in the nation, first in the Big Ten), and 27 tackles for loss (tied for 5th nationally, first in Big Ten).
Bleacher Report ranked the Gophers Richard Pitino No. 1 in an article last week about “up-and-coming college basketball coaches to watch in 2017-2018.” Candidates had to meet two criteria: not be older than 40, and have fewer than 100 career wins.
Pitino’s 2017-2018 Gophers are a popular top 25 preseason pick, with Minnesota fans hoping the Gophers will be playing for the Big Ten title on February 25 at Purdue in the last game of the regular season. The Associated Press preseason poll out today ranked the Gophers No. 15, with second ranked Michigan State the only Big Ten team higher in the poll that has Duke No. 1.
Pitino has reportedly offered a scholarship to Hopkins junior power forward Zeke Nnjai. While Nnjai is a talented and coveted recruit, Gopher fans might wonder if this is an acknowledgement it’s unlikely Minnesota can also land Rochester John Marshall superstar power forward Matthew Hurt in its 2019 recruiting class.
It will be interesting to see if Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer or the Gophers Eric Schierhorn win the 2018 Mike Richter Award given annually to college hockey’s best Division 1 goalie. Bitzer and Schierhorn were recognized respectively Monday and Tuesday as players of the week in the WCHA and Big Ten. Bitzer, a senior from Moorhead, has 18 career shutouts. Schierhorn, a junior from Anchorage, has started every game since his freshman season, with his total of 83 total leading all NCAA goalies and ranking seventh in NCAA history.
Hard to see Twins center fielder Byron Buxton not being among the American League’s Gold Glove winners when award announcements are made next Tuesday.
The Big Ten reported Tuesday that based on average home attendance for volleyball, the league has four of the nation’s top five programs. Nebraska leads the country averaging 7,907 fans, Wisconsin is third with 5,969, Minnesota is fourth at 4,880 and Penn State is fifth at 3,428. The Gopher volleyball program has the potential to be a moneymaker for the athletic department.
The Minnesota Blue Ox (12-1-1), a junior team in the U.S. Premier Hockey League owned by Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, will play the Minnesota Moose (11-3), as part of a hockey fundraiser at Isanti County Arena next Monday. The junior game follows the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum Women’s Face-Off Classic between Bemidji State and UMD game that begins at 6 p.m.
Proceeds from both games will benefit Matt Olson, the hockey player from Isanti who suffered a serious neck injury in 2016 while playing for a team in the USPHL. Tickets for the doubleheader are $5 for students and $10 for adults, and are available at the arena beginning at 5 p.m. November 6.