Elliot Mann's Blog

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Questions remain regarding Kill’s health, let’s focus on the right ones

Jerry Kill suffered another seizure Saturday. Odds are if you’re reading this post, you’re already well aware of this development. In our age of #narratives and speculation-based storylines, the armchair doctors began spouting their diagnosis soon after he was taken away from the field. Among the TAKES, some opined that Kill’s seizures were negatively impacting Minnesota’s future recruiting efforts. 

Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN contended that since the University of Minnesota spokespeople said it was a situation they were ready and prepared to deal with and were not made available for additional comment, reporters should begin calling recruits to see if they think it is a big deal. He wasn’t alone in making that jump. 

Yes, minutes after watching emergency responders take Kill from the field by stretcher, the discussion moved from, “Are we sure this job isn’t, like, literally, killing Jerry Kill? Are we sure he should keep doing this?" to "WE’RE LOSING ALL OF THE RECRUITS BECAUSE OF THE SEIZURE THING, MAN," which for some people was probably, "They won’t answer my questions and I have a deadline to hit so now I’m going to start grasping at straws."

This is by no means meant as a takedown of Zulgad; I mention him by name only because we spoke about this subject on Twitter. A handful of media members and several more non-media members made similar assertions; certainly the University of Minnesota didn’t help assuage these concerns by issuing a brief statement and declining to answer questions. But I say gasp at straws because if University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague would have taken questions Sunday afternoon, would the topic of how these seizures are impacting recruiting even have been broached? 

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Filed under Minnesota Golden Gophers Football minnesota gopher football Minnesota Gophers football Minnesota University of Minnesota Jerry Kill

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College Football’s National Signing Day: Overhyped, kind of stupid, creepy as hell, but absolutely important

image

Photo credit: Jesse Johnson / US Presswire
When last place might not matter: Here’s why college football’s National Signing Day’s rankings matter and where they might be wrong

1. On Jan. 25, a high school senior named Nate Andrews from Fairhope, Ala., decided to attend Florida State University, where he would also play Division I football. Previously, he verbally committed to Minnesota, but as teenagers are wont to do, he changed his mind. Andrews hadn’t put ink to paper and even if he had, that might not have mattered. One teenage recruit this year tattooed the Auburn logo on his forearm, before ultimately deciding to rescind his commitment to attend Alabama.

It happens. According to the Andrews’s high school football coach, Andrews decided to pick Tallahassee because it was a bit closer to home and he also struck up a good relationship with FSU’s defensive coordinator, who had previously coached defensive backs at Alabama. Good enough reasons – not to mention that Florida State has a more prestigious football program than Minnesota. The change was met with frustration from the Twitter feeds and message boards relevant to Minnesota college football, but many expected Andrews to switch schools, particularly after he attracted some late interest from Alabama.

Two themes emerged from Florida State and Minnesota fans though. Gopher fans bemoaned the idea that their coach couldn’t bring in talented recruits; Florida State fans cried that their coach was bringing in too many untalented recruits. Mr. Andrews was, at the exact same time, seen as either the one who got away or the one who shouldn’t have been invited.

College football recruiting can be kind of stupid at times.

2. Meanwhile, as Mr. Andrews made his collegiate decision, another teenager named Reggie Spearman debated what school would be best for his future. In August, the linebacker prospect picked Illinois, but as he continued to visit other schools, he wasn’t so sure anymore about attending school in Champaign, Ill. Schools started swarming. Iowa offered him a scholarship, as did Minnesota, Purdue, Syracuse, Indiana and seven other schools.

When asked about his recruitment, Spearman once said, “I’m still committed to Illinois but Iowa really opened up things and I am really just undecided.” He visited a few of the schools, each place jockeying position on Rivals’s recruiting pages.

When it came time to make a decision, Spearman took out a Syracuse hat, but then dropped it and picked up an Iowa Hawkeyes cap and put it on his head. Again, that’s pretty standard in recruiting. That isn’t the disgusting part. That came from Spearman’s Twitter feed, when he retweeted the messages he received from adult men trying to convince him to attend their favorite university.

A sampling of the messages he received after choosing Iowa (everything sic):
- “lmao this dude pathetic. you are a goddamn joke son.”
- “LOL..U picked 3 losers…good luck with that.”
- “HAHAHA.. Are you delusional? Good luck. You can’t even beat Iowa State.”

There are pages more of similar stuff, although most of it is congratulatory by now.

Keep in mind, Mr. Andrews and Mr. Spearman are three-star recruits; that is, they are not considered to be among the top tier, five-star players who command the most attention. That’s when the crazy gets turned up to 11. Five-star defensive end recruit Chris Jones of Houston received death threats from fans of Ole Miss and Mississippi State when he was rumored to be picking between the schools.

Again, grown men are harassing 17 and 18-year-olds over the Internet about what college the teens should attend – to the point where they are threatening bodily harm. If reading that doesn’t give make your eyebrows and nose scrunch together – and it should – try this. Take the phrase “17-year-old boy” out of the above sentence and place “17-year-old girl” in its place.

Several writers – Spencer Hall and Adam Kramer, for example — have written about the inherent creepiness of college football recruiting, but it’s worth repeating. SB Nation’s Black Heart Gold Pants even labels all recruiting posts “Caring Is Creepy.”

Again, 17- and 18-year-olds are being hounded by grown men who they have never met in person or even talked to on the phone. They are being repeatedly told that they should attend STATE U and when these teens decide a school that isn’t Johnny Crazyperson’s favorite, the crazies let their freak flag fly.

I bristle when people compare professional sports to slavery, but I’ve much more troubled when I overhear people brashly yelling about college football recruiting like this: “Yeah, we got that boy coming to town! Locked him up!” This insanity is not evidence of how competitive college football is. It’s evidence of how many crazy people like college football.

College football recruiting is nearly always creepy.

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Filed under Minnesota Golden Gophers Minnesota Minnesota Golden Gopher football Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Jerry Kill National Signing Day college football College Football Recruiting Minnesota Gophers Football Outsiders

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Bielema’s exit sparks question marks: Why did he go and who will take his place?

Bret Bielema: Bielema Face

Bielema Face photo credit: My telephone during the 2012 Rose Bowl, when Bret Bielema watched Russell Wilson spike the ball with no time remaining.

1. Only days after qualifying for a third straight Rose Bowl, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has decided to trade “On Wisconsin” for “Woo Pig Sooie.”

Bielema officially announced the move at a press conference on Wednesday; Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports first reported the move a day earlier.

In trading Madison, Wis., for Fayetteville, Ark., Bielema throws himself into the thunderdome that is the SEC West. Instead of going to the Big Ten Championship by default, instead of competing with Ohio State and a Penn State program about to be nailed with scholarship and bowl restrictions, Bielema will line up across the sidelines from Nick Saban and Les Miles at least once a year. Instead of trying to contain Braxton Miller for two more years, he will need to dream up ways to stop Johnny Manziel for another three. And instead of complaining about SEC recruiting tactics, Bielema finds himself in the heart of those off-season, living room battles.

The Arkansas job represents a modest annual pay bump, from the $2.5 million he earned this year at Wisconsin to a reported $3.2 million, according to the of Kurt Voigt of the Associated Press.

2. Still, why leave? Some have surmised that Bielema reached the ceiling of the Wisconsin program, that he wanted to pursue the challenge of leading the Razorbacks to a championship. He said as much to ESPN during his first press conference as Razorback head coach. Others guessed that he was frustrated watching his assistants leave for better paid jobs; he also mentioned that in those same interviews. Another theory is that if Bielema truly wants to chase a national championship, Arkansas has a better shot than Wisconsin.

But let’s consider what Bielema is trading.

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Filed under wisconsin badgers Bret Bielema Arkansas Razorbacks cfb Minnesota Golden Gophers Football

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Gophers nab running back Berkely Edwards, how does he fit into 2013’s plans?

Berkely Edwards, Minnesota Gophers, running back

Photo credit: Joseph Tobianski / AnnArbor.com

Jerry Kill has landed his first running back for next year’s recruiting class, as Rivals’s Gopher Illustrated has reported that Michigan running back Berkely Edwards has committed to the maroon and gold. What can we expect from him?

Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan Wolverine and NFL receiver Braylon, rates as a three-star prospect according to both Rivals and Scout. The experts from Rivals, ESPN and Scout have scouted Edwards to be on the high end of three stars; Edwards’s scout grade of 77 ranks on the high end of ESPN’s “good prospects” range.

For perspective, rare, amazing prospects rank 100-90, and 89-80 is for outstanding prospects. Issac Hayes, Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald all ranked 80 last year, while KJ Maye received a 76. 

The high school senior currently measures 5-foot-9, 190 pounds and reportedly received a scholarship offer from California, among several other non-automatic qualifier schools. Iowa had been rumored to be interested in him, but apparently decided that they didn’t want to seal the young man’s fate in crushing knee injuries, questionable drug-related arrests and the general wrath of the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God. (Iowa reportedly recently pulled its offer.)  

In talking on Twitter with GopherIllustrated’s Matt O’Connell and The Daily Gopher’s MV, Edwards’s speed should get him on the field during his freshman season, as should the fact that the Gophers aren’t exactly talent rich at the position. 

Donnell Kirkwood wrapped up a productive 2012 campaign, one that admittedly overshot my meager expectations for him. But while Kirkwood’s 4.26 yards per carry and 848 yards were a pleasant surprise, the play of James Gillum was a complete letdown. After totaling 14 carries in the season opener against UNLV, Gillum only had a carry in three other games, and never toted the rock more than five times when he did.

True freshman Rodrick Williams, Jr, “Nugget,” was a nice surprise, too, but at 5-foot, 11-inches and 228 pounds, he’s meant to run into people more than run away from them.

Enter Edwards, the speed back that can hopefully add another weapon to the Gopher offense. After watching some of his 2012 game film, the hope is that he can replicate what Chad Spann did for Kill and Co. at Northern Illinois. 

Kirkwood, Williams and Gillum are not to blame for the team’s offensive struggles, though. The offensive line again battled injuries last year and the passing game was awful. Nationally, the Gophers ranked 108th out of 124 teams in passing yards per game. On third down, the Gophers’ quarterbacks had the third-worst completion percentage.

When teams can manhandle your patchwork offensive line — filled with the second and third names on the depth chart – and can also all but ignore your passing game, there isn’t much to suggest that your running backs are going to have a huge amount of success. If Edwards is successful running the ball in 2013, a large reason will be an offensive line receiving large contributions from upperclassmen for the first time in two years. If injuries continue to press younger linemen into duty earlier than desired, we can expect more of the same struggles up front.

While Edwards certainly shouldn’t be expected to be a program changer, he certainly brings a level of speed that the Gophers backfield has lacked during the last two years. Rivals ranks him as an all-around back, one who can play on third down and catch some passes out of the backfield. An ability to catch passes hasn’t figured much into the Kill-Limegrover system for running backs though, at least dating back to 2008. The highest reception total in five years for a running back in the Kill-Limegrover offense was 11, by Kyle Skarb in 2009. In 2012, Donnell Kirkwood led running backs with seven catches; in most screen plays, KJ Maye was used instead. He caught 11 passes on the year.

But again, Edwards’s speed is something that the program simply hasn’t had in several years and with relatively little running back depth of value currently on the roster, we should expect Edwards to figure squarely into the Gophers’ plans when the team begins fall camp.

Filed under Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Minnesota Berkely Edwards Recruiting 2012 cfb Minnesota Gophers Jerry Kill

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Non-Gambler’s Big Ten Picks: Week 11 - Why a Minnesota-Illinois tickle fight is Jerry Kill’s most important game

Photo credit: Marlin Levison, Star TribuneLines from VegasInsider.com, broadcast information is courtesy of AwfulAnnouncing.com. Home team is in ALL CAPS. Originally posted at FringeBowlTeamBlog.com

Minnesota (-3) over ILLINOIS // 2:30 p.m., BTN, Eric Collins, Derek Rackley, Jon Jansen.

In a Little Brown Jug game that was poorly played by both teams, only dismal offensive execution and staggeringly foolish coaching decisions on the part of the Gophers ensured that the Jug would remain a “traveling” college football trophy in name only.

This week, Coach Jerry Kill and his team do not have the luxury of low expectations, of fans shrugging off a loss with “well, they were supposed to lose anyway” apathy that comes with playing conference powerhouses like Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Illinois is awful this year.

That ineptitude is good for the Gophers, but it also means that they can’t decide to get cute with fake field goals and punts that have been about as surprising to opponents as ringing someone’s doorbell on Halloween. The Gophers can’t get away with giving up 40-yard touchdowns on third down or failing to muster points from drives that start in opponent territory. Above all, Minnesota has a chance to wrap their hands upon bowl eligibility; and this Saturday, they are favored to do so.

* * * * *

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Filed under Non-Gambler's B1G picks Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Minnesota Gophers Jerry Kill Illinois Fighting Illini

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Non-Gambler’s Big Ten Picks: Week 10 The Battle for the Jug another step in Nelson’s maturation

Image courtesy of the University of Minnesota. Lines provided by VegasInsider.com. Broadcast information courtesy of AwfulAnnouncing.com. This was originally posted at FringeBowlTeamBlog.com.

Michigan (-12) over MINNESOTA // 11 a.m., BTN, Kevin Kugler, Chris Martin, Jon Jansen.

I would have loved to start this post recalling the last time the Gophers beat Michigan in Minnesota, but I don’t remember it at all. This is mostly because it was five years before my birth.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers haven’t beat Michigan at home since 1977.

The Gophers have come close, obviously, but we don’t need to rehash those ghosts here. Plus, I’ve already ruined my day before writing about them. To get a sense of how lopsided things have been, perform a Google image search for “Little Brown Jug Minnesota Gophers.” I would love nothing more than to see Minnesota stun the Wolverines and return the Little Brown Jug back to the 612 area code for this first time in three and a half decades. I would love to restart this once storied rivalry with a surprise turd in the punch bowl at Denard Robinson’s Big Ten farewell party.

We just aren’t there yet.

So far this week, a lot of attention has been given to an injured nerve in Robinson’s throwing arm, which he injured last week in the first half against Nebraska. As will happen with a player who is currently accounting for 75 percent of a team’s entire offense (!*), Michigan sputtered without him and lost to Nebraska.

* - Just a second. I need to repeat that again. Robinson has accounted for 2,265 yards of offense this year, or 75 percent of Michigan’s 3,025 yards of total offense. If anyone thinks that Michigan is just going to seamlessly transition to a new quarterback next year — who isn’t named Devin Gardner — who isn’t running a wide-open, quarterback run-heavy scheme, I’ve got a Gophers practice facility to sell you.

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Filed under Philip Nelson Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Minnesota Gophers Minnesota Golden Gophers Little Brown Jug Michigan Wolverines

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Non-Gambler’s Big Ten Picks: Week 9 - The Philip Nelson Era begins

Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire 

Lines are from VegasInsider.com, broadcast information courtesy of AwfulAnnouncing.com. This was originally posted at FringeBowlTeamBlog.com.

Purdue (-3) over MINNESOTA // 2:30 p.m., BTN, Eric Collins, Derek Rackley, J Leman.

I wonder if there was a time last Saturday when Philip Nelson thought to himself, “Holy shit. I’m going to be the Gophers’ starting quarterback for the next four years.” I don’t mean in the way that all recruits probably think they will one day star at their respective schools, but in the intense, literal sense that he was already getting drilled to the turf while taking snaps for Minnesota against the Wisconsin Badgers in Camp Randall.

A 19-year-old who passed up the last five months of high school to enroll at college early was handed the keys to Jerry Kill’s offense, and to a smaller extent, entire program. In my freshman year of college, I was collecting noise violations in my college dorm like they were pull tabs. Nelson was trying to thread a football through two defenders in front of 60,000 hostile Wisconsin fans and trying to salvage what is left of a once somewhat promising season for the Golden Gophers.

Left with a senior run-first quarterback hobbled by a high ankle sprain and a dinged-up sophomore backup QB who was ineffective in two games that were thought to be winnable, head coach Jerry Kill had no other option than burn Nelson’s redshirt and turnover the program a few months earlier than expected. It wasn’t a “He Needs to Save the Program” moment, where Kill was trying to save himself from getting axed midseason, but just the best decision to win any games left on the schedule.

The reality is this: MarQueis Gray is too hurt to perform. Shortell isn’t a long-term starting quarterback, at least not at this point as a true sophomore. Nelson, however, is the long-term option at quarterback. Pulling a redshirt halfway through a season is never easy, but look at what has unfolded through injuries for the Gophers. This isn’t an ideal situation. Ideally, the Gophers would have beaten either Iowa or Northwestern and set themselves up for a possible bowl game later this year. Now, they need to upset Purdue and beat Illinois on the road.

Philip Nelson, true freshman or not, gives the Gophers the best chance to do that. It’s now the beginning of his era as a signal-caller, something even Gray conceded to the Pioneer Press after the Badger game.

"He’s the leader of this offense now," Gray said. "He has got the keys to the car. So just being out there encouraging him is the best thing I can do. … He’s going to be a great quarterback for us."

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Filed under Philip Nelson Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Minnesota Gophers Non-Gambler's B1G picks

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The Non-Gambler’s Week 8 Big Ten Picks: How the Gophers can bring the Axe home

Silky Johnson, Hate Week, Badgers suck, Gophers

Home teams are listed in BOLD. Lines taken from VegasInsider.com and broadcast information courtesy of AwfulAnnouncing.comThis was originally posted at FringeBowlTeamBlog.com.

Minnesota, 4-2, 0-2 in Big Ten, (+17.5) over WISCONSIN, 5-2, 2-1 // 11 a.m., ESPNU, Tom Hart, John Congemi.

Last year, Nick Toon, Russell Wilson and the bulk of the Wisconsin Badgers paraded around TCF Bank Stadium with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, eventually running to the end zone where they pretended to chop down the goal post in front of the Pride of Minnesota.

Most of the fans had already exited out the stadium, choosing not to punish themselves further by watching the Wisconsin players celebrate. I stayed until the Badgers went into the locker room, I wish Jerry Kill would have kept this team on the field, too. I wish those players would have watched one of their rivals galavanting across the field, swinging around a trophy that the Gophers last held when the team’s current seniors were in seventh grade. (Eighth grade if they had a redshirt year.)

Last week, I sat on the couch with my newborn son and we watched his first Gopher football game. I should qualify that. At the time he was all of four days old and he really can’t see much of anything, so saying, “We sat down to watch the game” is painting the scene with a bit of Rockwell-ian brush, as if we had some moment that we will both remember for the rest of our lives. In reality, I held him while he slept, cried a bit and eventually pooped in his pants. He will hold no memory of the Gophers fumbling the opening kickoff, giving up 77 yards in the first quarter to Venric Mark and, well, collectively pooping their own pants on their way to loss against Northwestern. (In my son’s defense, at least he was wearing a diaper.)

In consecutive weeks, the Gophers have lost seemingly winnable games, all but flushing down the toilet any hopes of a fringe bowl game at the end of the year. As much as the Gopher defense couldn’t stop Venric Mark, the Wildcats only scored 21 points. As many times as the offense handed the ball back to Northwestern – here, you take it, we don’t really want to score anyway – the Gophers nearly had a chance to tie up the game with a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, at least until an off-target pass merged with a receiver who fell down on a rain-soaked turf.

Jerry Kill was supposed to win these games by putting a team on the field that minimized mistakes and overachieved. In 18 games, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s still far too early to call his tenure a failure, but the Gophers will likely be double digit underdogs in every remaining game this year except one.*

This Saturday is not that game. The Maroon and Gold are 17.5-point underdogs.

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Filed under Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Minnesota Gophers Wisconsin Badgers Bucky Non-Gambler's B1G picks Big Ten Football