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Gophers Want Citrus Bowl on January 1

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December 5, 2014

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The Gophers athletic department will learn on Sunday what bowl destination the football team will have, and the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on January 1 in Orlando is the preferred site.

The Citrus is the highest-ranking bowl possibility for the Gophers based on their record and the complicated bowl agreements and factors involving the Big Ten Conference. When bowl invitations are extended, more than team records and conference finishes can be involved.  A disadvantage potentially influencing a Gophers bowl invitation is the fan base’s reputation for not following the team in large numbers to postseason games. That stigma will follow the program until attendance counts tell a different story.

Athletic department officials are excited about possible bowl destinations—even if the Citrus invitation doesn’t materialize.  The potential bowls for the Gophers are all in Florida or California.  Minnesota’s last seven bowl games have been in Arizona, Tennessee or Texas, so a change to either coast is welcome.

In addition to wondering about a bowl destination, some Gophers fans fret about head coach Jerry Kill leaving for another job.  Speculation has included the opening at Michigan—and until yesterday Nebraska, too, which just hired Oregon State coach Mike Riley.  Both schools are Big Ten rivals of Minnesota and history indicates it’s unlikely a league school will pursue another’s coach.  It’s been more than 35 years since that happened in the Big Ten.  The Big Ten promotes unity among its members and hiring away someone else’s coach would stir up resentment among a group with shared interests and values.

Jerry Kill

Jerry Kill

There are also coaching opportunities at schools outside the Big Ten including Kansas.  Kill denies interest, though, in going anywhere else. He addressed the feelings of he and his wife Rebecca on WCCO Radio’s Dave Lee program earlier this week.

“This is where Rebecca and I want to be, and we love it here,” Kill said.  “The big thing is, I hope the University wants me, and the commitment to where we want to go.  There’s a lot of things we gotta do.  We need to take those steps.”

Kill said to recruit “great players,” the Gophers need “good facilities” to effectively compete against other programs.  “I know our people are trying to get that done so I am looking forward to being here,” he said.

Kill, selected earlier this week as Big Ten Coach of the Year, has been campaigning for a new indoor football practice facility.  The Gophers facility that opened in 1985 is inferior to many others in college football.  Kill wants ground broken next year on a new facility that could cost about $25 million.  Such action will signal a commitment to football resources at Minnesota and that is important for Kill to see.

An athletic department spokesman said the new practice facility will be built “as fast as humanly possible.”  That’s not a commitment to next spring, although someone in authority may have told Kill awhile ago spring was a circle-it-time on the calendar.

The practice facility is part of a master plan to improve athletic facilities at Minnesota and is tied to a $190 million fundraising campaign.  Sources report progress continues to be made on the fundraising.  Major help from at least one local corporation and also a private source (reportedly $15 million) is said to be in place.

Earlier this year Land O’ Lakes made a $25 million commitment to support a wide range of University of Minnesota activities, but the centerpiece will be building the Intercollegiate Athletics Center for Excellence that will benefit over 700 student-athletes through academics and nutrition.

Sources indicate, though, that to reach $190 million the University will have to borrow money as part of the funding mix.  Kill won’t make final decisions on fundraising, but knowing the coach I believe eventually he could become restless regarding his job here if he doesn’t receive the resources he wants.

In a couple of years the Kansas State head coaching position is almost certain to open up.  Wildcats coach Bill Snyder is 75 years old.  Kill has roots in Kansas and grew up in Cheney, about 158 miles from Kansas State’s campus in Manhattan. Snyder is a great coach and one who will leave a lot of resources behind for his successor.

But remember this when speculating Kill will leave the Gophers: he is 53 years old and has overcome cancer and battled epilepsy.  Some schools looking for coaches will see the health history as a red flag.  Kill has suffered multiple seizures in four seasons as Gophers coach, although this year hasn’t been a problem.

The Gophers stood by Kill when fans and media suggested he wasn’t up to the job.  Kill remembers the loyalty of administrators at Minnesota and his many supporters in the community.  He is a good man with the right values.  He will be the Gophers coach for a long time if he believes football is important at the University.

Worth Noting

Kill’s battle with epilepsy has been an inspiration to his players.  Gophers senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said the players have experienced difficult times including the death of teammate Gary Tinsley in 2012 and Kill’s seizures on and off the field.

“You look at coach Kill’s overcoming epilepsy and living with that.  This program has been surrounded by people who are models of resiliency in fighting back against adversity,” Botticelli said.  “You don’t coach that.  That’s a mindset.  I think it’s been ingrained by the great people that we have in our program.”

Giovan Jenkins

Giovan Jenkins

The Gophers were 5-3 in the Big Ten this year, the program’s best conference record since 2003.  A major contributor to the success was senior running back David Cobb who gained 1,548 yards, a single season school record.  Washburn High School football coach Giovan Jenkins believes former Miller Jeff Jones will contend to replace Cobb as the starting running back next season.  “There aren’t too many people out there that are as good as him (Jones),” Jenkins told Sports Headliners.

Cobb’s skills include exceptional vision—being able to see tacklers and openings to gain yards.  “I think Jeff’s vision is equally as good as David Cobb’s,” Jenkins said.  “He’s a little bit quicker, I believe, in terms of his first couple steps.  He gets to full speed a little faster than Cobb. …Jeff has that ability to make the second guy miss when he’s running by the first guy.  The first guy is not really going to get him.”

Cobb runs with patience and Jenkins said that Jones will learn the skill.  “That’s coaching.  Jeff will have that when he gets coached by the coaching staff at the University of Minnesota.  That’s what a senior should be able to do, is wait until that thing (the hole) opens up and then hit it full speed.”

Jones isn’t academically eligible for football this semester but is off to a good start in the classroom during his first few months at Minnesota as a freshman.  Jenkins said Jones had a 3.2 GPA earlier in the semester and appears on track to be eligible for spring football.  If so, Jenkins is enthusiastic about what Jones can do.

“With him having an opportunity to run the ball next year, I don’t think there’s going to be much drop off in terms of production,” Jenkins said.  “He might not be a thousand yard guy because they still have (All-Big Ten tight end) Maxx Williams and some other options, but he’s definitely going to help out and relieve the pressure on everybody else on offense.”

The Western Carolina basketball team the Gophers play tonight at Williams Arena doesn’t have name recognition but the Catamounts only lost by six points to Alabama and 10 to Mississippi State, with both games on the road.  The Catamounts are 3-5 this season.

Andre Hollins

Andre Hollins

The Gophers, 5-2, most recently defeated Wake Forest, 84-69, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge series.  Minnesota guard Andre Hollins was impressive making seven of 10 three point shots and scoring 27 points in the road win.  Guard Carlos Morris was second in scoring with 15 points but had six turnovers.  Excessive fouling continues to be a problem for Minnesota and Wake Forest was shooting bonus free throws before 12 minutes had elapsed in the second half.  For the game the Demon Deacons had 31 foul attempts, but made only 18.

Defensive end Everson Griffen talking to Sports Headliners about the 5-7 Vikings:  “We have a good team here.  We’re a quarter away to being a great team each and every Sunday.  Our biggest thing is that we gotta clean up our mistakes and quit beating ourselves.”

Adam Thielen received a game ball for blocking a punt and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown last Sunday in the Vikings win over the Panthers.  Thielen, who had never blocked a punt before, said he it’s the third game ball he’s received as a Viking.  He is the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Vikings defensive end Brian Robison caused a stir in the locker room earlier this week when he appeared without his signature ponytail.  Robison started growing the ponytail in 2009 but tired of the excess hair and decided to have it cut.  He donated his hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to disadvantaged children.

Kevin McHale, in town tonight coaching his Rockets against the Timberwolves, still has a home in North Oaks.

Bloomington native and University of Minnesota graduate Brian Dutcher joked that his job title at San Diego State should be changed after the school extended head coach Steve Fisher’s contract through 2018.  “The head coach still in waiting” is Dutcher’s new description of his job status.  His official title is associate head coach/head coach in waiting.  Dutcher is Fisher’s top assistant and it’s been known for years he will eventually become head coach.  He will be 58 if Fisher, now 69, coaches until 2018.  Brian’s dad, Jim Dutcher, resigned from the Gophers job when he was 53.

Torri Hunter probably should have tutor attached to his job title with the Twins.  The 39-year-old free agent signed a one-year $10.5 million contract this week.  He could contribute with his bat and outfield work but it seems likely he will also mentor the organization’s brightest prospects like Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano  and Kennys Vargas.

Hunter hit 17 home runs with 83 RBI last season for the Tigers.  Those totals would have ranked third and first for the Twins in 2014.

Augsburg junior quarterback Ayrton Scott is featured in this week’s Sports Illustrated magazine as part of its “Faces in the Crowd” section that spotlights the athletic accomplishments of amateur athletes.  Scott made news with his performance in Augsburg’s 62-61, two-overtime win at No. 18-ranked Bethel on November 15.  He completed 28 of 41 passes for a school-record 563 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing 18 times for 67 yards.  His school and MIAC record 630 yards of total offense were the most by an NCAA Division III player this season, with his 563 passing yards third-best.

Hamline will sponsor varsity women’s lacrosse starting in 2016.  The Pipers will join Augsburg as the second Minnesota D-III school to offer women’s lacrosse.  A head coach will be hired by Hamline and the team will practice and play games at Klas Field.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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