this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
As the article notes, Jeff Hecklinski is their passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Pretty cool that Roundtree is starting off a coaching career this young.
Reports of Mark May's demise were premature. He has now moved to the ABC studio coverage with John Saunders. The new ESPN Saturday studio trio is Adnan Virk, Danny Kanell, and Joey Galloway. That is terrible. College Football Final will now be hosted by Joe Tessitore, but they have not named any replacements yet for May and Lou Holtz. As reported earlier, Rece Davis now takes over College Gameday replacing Chris Fowler.
adidas has really been pushing the fishnet-look on their jerseys.
This is the absolute worst.
It's been on the news (I don't see it here yet) that Brady has offered up a settlement. No response from Goodell's camp, not that I would expect a statement.
Given that there is a threat for legal action should the suspension not be reduced, I would think this "olive branch" might be accepted.
Given the rules on the books regarding penalties for this infraction ($25,000 fine to the team), Tom should not be fined/suspended.
What say you?
In an article by Frank Schwab at Yahoo sports, it looks like the other NFL owners are pushing Goodell to maintain Brady's original suspension. The first line of his article says it all:
"Jealousy can cause people to act irrationally, and that apparently holds true for NFL owners as well."
Some stories never die. I am glad mainstream sports writers are also sick of this kangaroo court.
Edit: I probably should also link to the original ESPN article, but try to avoid sending traffic to the Worldwide Leader whenever possible.
Disclaimer: My previews of Big 10 teams are based on viewing of 2014 games of said teams plus extensive reading of local and national previews of that team. I might be wrong in my assessment any one team or any specific unit of that team. But that's clearly doubtful. (!!) No, on a serious note I enjoy people who comment who live locally to these teams or is an opposing fan - helps us get a better perspective so if you are one feel free to add to the discussion.
I also write this with the assumption Jake Rudock is the starting QB as the matrix of possibilities is too great trying to predict things with Shane Morris as a start.
Minnesota is a program that has turned it around under the Jerry Kill regime but in some corners of the universe the hype machine is a bit too high from this set of eyes; especially considering the offensive production lost to graduation. In Cowherd's terms I'd like to be a short seller of Minnesota Gophers football in 2015 while stuffing them in my 401k as a long term investment 12 months from now once the price cools down. Jerry Kill has very much installed a Jim Tressel / Mark Dantonio (until last year) blueprint of tough defense + running offense + special teams.
Minnesota ran 77 percent of the time on standard downs; only Army, Navy, New Mexico, Air Force, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, and (by decimal points) Boston College ran more. On that list, everybody but BC runs an option offense, and BC did in a way, too.
Along those lines Vegas has set the Gophers over/under at a sterling 5.5 wins this year. Not exactly the stuff of Big 10 West champions. Of course that is not the end all but let's hold our horses a bit on the ascent of Gophers football - it looks a lot like what people thought of Northwestern 3 years ago. That doesn't mean Minnesota is not a tough out, especially at home, where Michigan (a horrid road team in the Brady Hoke era) must travel.
Minnesota must replace a ton of offensive production, and has some challenges in the front 7 on defense while offering a sterling secondary.
After a 7-2 start, including one of the darkest days on an Ann Arbor football field in recent memory, the Gophers faded a bit down the stretch losing 3 of their last 4 including a bowl. While most might remember wins vs Michigan and Nebraska and a competitive game vs OSU (and trouncing of Iowa) this is still a team that lost to Illinois midseason and beat powerhouse Purdue by 1 point... at home. That said, this is Minnesota and an 8-5 (5-3) year is considered a big success especially at this stage in the Jerry Kill era.
This was accomplished behind a sufficiently efficient offense (S&P+/FEI in the 40s to 50) and decent defense that nearly mirrored UM's advanced stats (40ish in S&P/FEI). What surprised me about the offense when I delved into the advanced stats was there was a good balance between the rush offense and pash offense as offered by S&P+. Meanwhile the NCAA stats tell a completely different story (NCAA stats are based on nothing but total yards) - rush offense = 28, pass offense = 119th. So we can infer the passing game was somewhat efficient if extremely conservative.
To have a good running game you need a good OL. To that end, Minnesota's ranked 19th in Adjusted Line Yards per Football Outsiders. For comparison BYU was 18th, UM was 50th, OSU was 2nd, Michigan State was 28th, and Wisconsin was 12th. So a solid top 20 unit nationally.
Mitch Leidner was ... not a great QB. He completed 51.5% for 1800 yards at 7.6 yds per attempt. He had 11 TD and 8 INT. One third of those yards went to TE star Maxx Williams who had 36 catches, resulting in 8 of Leidner's 11 TDs. David Cobb in most conferences would have been a superlative running back but 2014 was a vintage year for Big 10 running backs (well not in Ann Arbor or Happy Valley but a lot of other places). His 1600+ yards and 5.2 per carry average would make UM fans salivate and yearn for "the old days". Leidner contributed another 450 yards of his own and back up QB Chris Streveler was the 3rd leading rusher at 235 yards. Those 3 had 83% of rushing yards.
Hopes are high this year for the Gophers in a weakened West, especially with the coaching turnover at Nebraska and Iowa being Iowa. But despite a solid coaching staff and a good secondary (maybe the best in the Big 10?) it is difficult to see Minnesota as a team that just "reloads". This is not Wisconsin where you replace one 1600 yard rusher with another. Will they find an adequate RB? Probably. Will he be David Cobb? Doubtful. So that is 57% of their rushing yards they must replace.
Cobb rushed 24 times per game; only Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Boise State's Jay Ajayi took more handoffs.
The passing game? It might have been efficient but that was mostly a TE situation. That TE is now in the NFL. Actual WRs generally had 300 yard seasons which is nearly 200 yards less than a Darboh type. And unless their QB improves his completion % from "coin flip" to something nearer to upper 50%s it is hard to see even a middle tier passing offense.
Long story short - a lot of offense production needs to be replaced based on 2 NFL players leaving. Can Kill's staff create new NFL players? Probably. Good staffs do that. Is it going to happen overnight? Doubtful based on how Minnesota recruits and what the backups did last year. A typical Minn class will have all 3 stars in it. I think these big production losses are a top reason Vegas is so dour on Minnesota's win total in 2015.
Minnesota opens the year on the same night as Michigan (Thursday) with a nationally televised game v TCU. That one was very ugly last year and with the new players Minnesota needs to break in and the offensive firepower of Boykin & Co that could be a bad outcome that takes a lot of air out of the Minnesota balloon. A tricky road trip to a decent Colorado State squad looms next and 0-2 is not completely out of the question.
After 2 bad MAC opponents Minnesota heads into Big 10 play with many of their tough games at home including Nebraska, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But must go to the Horseshoe and Kinnick Stadium (which plays difficult). Trips to Northwestern and an improving (IMO) Purdue loom. So I just named 7 of their 8 Big 10 games - it's not an easy gauntlet and other than maybe Purdue I can't say Minnesota is clearly better than any of those teams. They may be similar to many of those teams but that means a lot of coin flip games. So your 5.5 total begins to make sense; even if you like the over Minnesota most likely takes a step back this year and could be a 6 or 7 win team (4-4ish in the conference).
As always here is Bill Connelly's excellent in depth analysis.
As outlined above there are a lot of questions on a unit that returns 6 starters. Maybe there are answers. This won't exactly be last year's Minnesota offense as they are installing a no huddle quick strike offense in the off season. Short passing looks like it will be an emphasis.
Gophers fans are high on 2014 four star RB Jeff Jones who was ineligible last year. Now keep in mind Gophers fans are not used to four stars so any four star will excite them. Jones is the only composite 4 star I found in the 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 classes. Jones apparently did a solid job this spring and this is a team with a solid OL to run behind. Berkley Edwards, Rodney Smith, and Rodrick Williams are also in the running back group and it certainly could be a position by committee situation this year ala UM.
The WR corps are challenged - the leading receiver had 16 catches for 300ish yards. Without a bad a$$ TE someone is going to need to step up, especially if the running game needs time to gel. Minn fans are looking to four redshirt freshmen to provide some answers in the passing game.
The OL should remain above average. All conference guard Zac Epping is gone as is Minnesota's center but good OL coaches develop replacements and Minnesota's OL coach (Matt Limegrover) is well thought of.
Here is a nice piece by SB Nation Study Hall on how Minnesota is trying to replicate MSU's "break don't bend" defensive style with their own quirks. It just continues to emphasize how important great corners and smart safeties are to making an aggressive defense work.
Like many other teams today such as the nearby Spartans of Michigan State or the Hokies down in Virginia, Minnesota embraces what could be called a "break don't bend" defensive approach.
The Gophers played surprisingly good run defense last year despite featuring "wide-9" defensive end play and a freshman nose tackle because they had two very good cornerbacks that could play press or off man coverage and a free safety that could also play man coverage on deep routes.
One of the Gophers' favorite coverages for maximizing their three coverage specialists is a variety of cover 4, or "quarters," coverage that asks the nickel and boundary safety to be the run-force defenders. Many teams will use this coverage, but Minnesota will often play their free safety as shallow as they can get away with in order to take away the favorite constraint play of the spread offense, the bubble screen
Minnesota's defense revolves around a senior laden defensive backfield, headlined by star CB Eric Murray (projected as a 2nd/3rd round draft choice). Briean Boddy-Calhoun mans the other corner (5 INT) and is all Big 10. Two experienced safeties - Damarius Travis and Antonio Johnson - patrol the center of the field. This should be the Big 10's best secondary.
The front 7 has more question. The unit only ranked 9th in sacks last year. Minnesota's star MLB Damien Wilson is gone. The front 4 will grow around NT (and true sophomore) Steven Richardson who people are very high on after a top notch freshman year. Defensive end Hank Ekpe is getting some hype - apparently he had very severe sinus issues last year that limited him.
Generally Minnesota had a solid rush defense but its pass rush deficiences offset some of the strength of that top end secondary.
Minnesota Special Teams
Senior punter Peter Mortell is All Big 10 - 45.2 average. Nice. Kicker Ryan Santoso made 12/18 last year as a true freshman but 9/10 inside the 40. Only 2/6 in the 40-49 range - that should improve with experience. They had the 2nd best kickoff return game last year and 5th best punt return game - obviously a point of emphasis.
(take these matchups with more of a grain of salt than usual because once you get past the month of September teams grow and evolve - well at least well coached teams. Both these teams should be better in October than September as they both now have good staffs)
UM rush off v Minn rush def - Adv: Wash. UM needs to prove it has a run game and Minn has a decent front 7 even if their top LB is gone. Tons of unknowns and mysteries - we'll know better by late October who has what.
UM pass off v Minn pass def - Adv: Minn. While I like Rudock, the lack of UM WRs is the main issue I see in this matchup. The ability to get separation vs a pair of potential NFL CBs could be a big issue and while Rudock can overcome that to some degree it's difficult to not give Minn the advantage, although lack of pass rush could expose their secondary if UM's OL holds up. It is also worth nothing the Minnesota game was Rudock's worse of 2014 at Iowa (10/19, 89 yards, 1 INT).
Minn rush off v UM rush def - Adv: UM. Last year this was supposed to be strength on strength. It ended up not being so as Minn rushed for over 200 yards with 183 coming from Cobb and a nasty 5.7 ypc average. UM did a good job on Leidner - or if you are a pessimist, Leidner barely had to run as he only had 6 carries which will include sack yards. UM usually did quite well vs average to below average rush offenses in 2014 but struggled against units who specialize in the run. Fast forward a year and UM should still have a solid rush defense but Cobb is gone. Minn should continue to have a good OL but needs to show a back so slight edge to UM here.
Minn pass off v UM pass def - Adv: UM. This was weakness on weakness last year and Leidner was very efficient going 14/22 (63.6%) well above his year average of 51.5%. 7.6 yards per attempt was right in line with season average. Half his completions were to Cobb and Williams - again he needs to find replacements. With Lewis back, Peppers hopefully doing his thing, Wilson with 1 more year of experience and Lyons being decent this should be to UM's advantage especially if a pass rush can be generated.
Both teams have issues and both teams have good staffs but on paper UM has more talent - potentially a lot more talent. This game is on Halloween so unlike the version of Michigan for a decade I expect this vintage to improve as the year goes by. And I expect the same from Minnesota - that's what good staffs do.
I do expect Minnesota to have a solution at RB by then but will it be anywhere near Cobb's production? I don't know if Minnesota will have a solution in the passing game. Hopefully UM has answers in their running game by then because Rudock could be challenged - this Minnesota team terrorized Rudock last year although their front 7 might not be as good. On the other side of the ball UM's rush defense needs to be about it, not talk about it when facing good rushing offenses.
We all have road game PTSD due to the Brady Hoke era so facing any .500ish or better team on the road is a challenge until we prove otherwise. Both teams have a bye coming into the week with UM coming off a battle with MSU and Minn v Nebraska. This feels like a slog it out M00Nish type game where defenses may dominate. Upside surprise is UM's OL has improved by then and we find a running back or two ready to tear through Minnesota so we don't need to rely so much on the passing game. Also this should be a big game for Butt to exploit Minnesota's aggressive scheme.