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Start Watching Gophers QB Roster

 

An offseason storyline to follow with the University of Minnesota football program is whether the quarterback roster remains unchanged between now and kickoff next summer against Ohio State in the Gophers’ first game of the 2021 season.

Minnesota will have five scholarship quarterbacks on next season’s roster unless one or more transfer, or (unlikely) give up football. That’s a high total for a major college football program, and the most in memory for the Gophers.

Tanner Morgan

The quarterback scholarship parade is led by Tanner Morgan who started and played every minute at the position this fall. He will be a redshirt junior in 2021 with more than two seasons of starting experience. The other scholarship quarterbacks for next year are: Zack Annexstad, redshirt sophomore; Jacob Clark, redshirt freshman; Cole Kramer, redshirt freshman, and Athan Kaliakmanis, freshman. The QB depth even includes non-scholarship players at the position.

No one is questioning the loyalty of the five scholarship quarterbacks to the Gophers but they all want to compete in games as collegians. With plenty of eligibility remaining, Annexstad, Clark and Kramer might be contemplating their futures now. Morgan is the established starter and Kaliakmanis hasn’t even suited up for his first practice, so those two are all but certain to be Gophers in 2021.

As a walk-on, Annexstad was the Minnesota starter at the beginning of the 2018 season and stayed at No. 1 for seven games. Injuries set him back in late 2018 and all of 2019. A scholarship player for awhile now, he hasn’t seen game action for two seasons. He wanted so much to be a Gopher, the former Mankato West QB reportedly turned down other major college offers, but could a place like North Dakota State interest him now? The powerhouse Bison will have opportunities at QB next year and beyond.

Clark came to Minnesota as a four-star recruit from Texas and Rivals ranked him the No. 13 pro style passer in the class of 2019. The Dallas Morning News, in a June 2018 story, reported Clark had 16 college offers including California, Iowa, TCU and Purdue. It is surprising that Clark, Annexstad and Kramer didn’t receive even a minute of playing time this fall despite opportunities for a reserve quarterback in one-sided games. If Clark enters the NCAA football transfer portal, he will draw immediate interest from major programs.

If anyone is taking bets on Annexstad, Clark or Kramer moving on, the latter seems least likely to change schools. The former Eden Prairie quarterback has the moxie of a winner and the quality hasn’t gone unnoticed at the U. His affection for the school is genuine, having grown up influenced by relatives who are prominent former Gophers including Carter Coughlin and Tom Moe. Kramer played briefly in three games as a true freshman in 2019.

None of the quarterbacks, by the way, need to move on to other schools because of academic challenges at Minnesota. Annexstad, Clark and Kramer were all honored as Academic All-Big Ten players in 2020. Morgan earned the designation in 2018 and 2019.

With the Gophers coming off a challenging and disappointing 3-4 season in 2020, head coach P.J. Fleck could voice a public challenge to all players that every position is open for competition during spring football practices. That could be done at quarterback without sending the message the coaching staff doesn’t want Morgan to be the starter. An effective message is that offseason competition is an asset for all concerned, pushing individuals and the team to improve. That kind of communication influences players including reserve quarterbacks.

Morgan’s passing regressed in 2020 after making second team All-Big Ten in 2019. He had too many throws off target including a killer interception in the end zone against Wisconsin that cost Minnesota the game and the return of Paul Bunyan’s Axe. To be fair, though, he didn’t quite have the same quality of receivers this fall as he did in 2019, and the Gophers played with a reshuffled offensive line that could be ineffective in pass protection.  He was also working with a new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in Mike Sanford Jr.

The coaches know they have a special asset in Morgan who is an exceptional and experienced game manager who can consistently throw with accuracy (school record 18 consecutive games with a touchdown pass between 2018 and 2020). He is a eye-catching 17-7 as Minnesota’s starting quarterback. He turns 22 years old in April and as a “geezer” could finish his career at the U as a five-year starter!

Worth Noting

Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim was named Third Team All-America by the Associated Press today. He led the Big Ten in rushing attempts (201), rushing yards (1,076), rushing yards per game (153.7), rushing touchdowns (15), scoring (90), points per game (12.9) and all-purpose yards per game (168.4). He was third in the nation in rushing yards per game, fourth in points per game, fifth in rushing touchdowns, sixth in all-purpose yards per game and eighth in rushing yards.

George Paton, the Vikings assistant GM, is a regular on the annual SI.com list of potential NFL general managers. He made the latest rankings published last Friday and his name is rumored for a position with the Chicago Bears front office, while finishing up his 14th year with the Vikings.

Words of praise last week from Andrew Simon writing on Mlb.com about the Twins’ Byron Buxton: “Buxton finished with a stellar 124 OPS+ over 135 plate appearances but how he got there was…unorthodox. This was pretty much the definition of ‘all or nothing.’ Buxton struck out 36 times against his two walks, and 13 of his 33 hits were homers.

“Never before had a player posted an OBP below .280 and a slugging percentage above .550 in a season with at least 100 PA. Buxton also set a record by having 35% of his total times reaching base safely come via the home run ball.”

The Gophers’ men’s basketball team is ranked No. 21 in today’s Associated Press poll. It’s the first time the Gophers have been nationally ranked since Dec. 10, 2017. Nine Big Ten teams are ranked in the AP’s top 25 including No. 17 Michigan State who the Gophers play tonight at home.

Dick Jonckowski

Former Gophers basketball public address announcer Dick Jonckowski has cancer, with more specifics to be known this week after meeting with his oncologist. Several years ago he beat stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

St. Thomas men’s basketball coach John Tauer posted these appreciative words on Facebook last week about wife Chancey Anderson Tauer and her battle with breast cancer: “…conclusion of 8 grueling months of chemo, surgery, and radiation, all while supporting and inspiring her family, and pouring her heart into her passion, Prodeo Academy.”

Award winning singer John Legend, uncle of Gophers wide receiver Mike Brown-Stephens, turns 42 today.

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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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