Thursday, September 6, 2018

More Young Talent and the New Redshirt Rule Should Help Minnesota Gophers Football in 2018

The 2017 season- aka Year Zero/Season 1 of the PJ Fleck Era- wasn't much fun. The Gophers struggled to a 5-7 season, and to be honest, looking at what was left of the roster by the end of the year, it was almost surprising their record wasn't worse. The team lacked both depth and experienced talent (and at some positions, both), so when things went wrong and/or guys got hurt, Minnesota just didn't have any answers.

The 2018 season is off to a good start with a 48-10 thumping of former Sun Belt Conference (do they allow Aggievision in FCS?)  member New Mexico State. The Gophers may have hopefully/maybe/finally found a quarterback, the offense in general looked much improved, and the defense was solid. Of course, the Aggies might be the worst team Minnesota plays all year, and the Fresno State Bulldogs squad they face this Saturday should be much better. The question this week, and for most of the weeks going forward, is how will this still very young Gophers squad fare against better competition?

While you never want to overreact to week 1 results, something that showed up in the game tape is Minnesota at the very least looks more talented- and deeper- than last year's squad. That in itself should give hope to Gophers fans that while we should expect some struggles and bumps in the road this season (including possibly this Saturday!), at least the talent on the roster (and the new redshirt rule) should give the coaching staff more options and solutions to fix problems than they had a year ago. Last season the only two position groups the Gophs had both depth AND talent at were linebacker and running back. Seriously, that's it. Everywhere else they either had some talent (much of it very young and inexperienced) but zero quality depth or other places, like oh I don't know say QUARTERBACK, they had neither talent nor depth.

Minnesota's QB combination of senior Conor Rhoda and RS Soph Demry Croft was one of the worst in college football last season. Rhoda was a walk-on who, unlike our current starter, just wasn't cut out to be a B1G starting QB. Effort was never a question but two different coaching staffs discovered they were pretty limited with what they could do with him under center (or would it behind center since everyone is out of the shotgun now?). With Croft, talent was never the issue, but availability certainly was. He couldn't get on the field with the Claeys' staff, and last season he couldn't stay out of Fleck's doghouse, and transferred in the off-season.

Neither of this season's QB's on the two deep will be All-B1G this season, but either should be an upgrade on what the Gophs had last year. Annexstad looked more comfortable and confident in his reads and throws than any Minnesota QB since Adam Weber. As a true frosh it's going to get a lot more difficult and the learning curve will be steep- don't surprised to see more possessions like we saw in the first quarter where they have trouble moving the ball- but he showed the tools and the attitude to make improvements and adjustments as the season goes on. Backup Tanner Morgan is only a RS frosh but has been learning and absorbing the offense for more than a year and should at least be productive if he has to play. Again, neither will be world beaters this year, but their talent should allow the offense to do more of what they want to do compared to last season.

Another part of the passing game woes in 2017 were a total lack of receiving options. Tyler Johnson had a breakout year but that was pretty much it. They desperately needed a talented vet like Rashad Still or a host of juniors to step up and make plays but none of them did. All of them barely saw the field and, like Croft, transferred out in the off-season. The rest of the guys were just SO young and inexperienced they couldn't do much to scare defenses. Once Johnson went out late in the year he took the passing game with him.

This season the two deep is still pretty young but we saw already in the NMSU game they should be much improved. Johnson remains an All-B1G caliber wideout and he'll be the bellcow of the passing game. But it was encouraging to see more guys than just him make plays- true frosh Rashod Bateman is the kind of wideout that we haven't had here since...I don't even know. He's a true blue-chip talent that's starting from day 1 and should only get better as the season progresses. Both Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas looked good coming back from injuries, Philip Howard was solid last year as a RS frosh and should contribute this year, and Seth Green remains an intriguing guy at "pass catcher". Tight ends remain a total wildcard, but considering how little they got out of the position last year and how much better the receiver talent and depth looks to be this season, that's a position they can figure out as they go.

The third big issue with both the passing game and offense in general from a season ago was the depth and talent on the offensive line. Wait, check that- that's generally been an issue for this program since Glen Mason was fired in 2006, but last year was especially difficult. The starting 5 they trotted out in week 1 and that two deep in general to start the year wasn't bad, but by November they were struggling just to put a starting five on the field, let alone fill out a depth chart.

As mentioned, health and talent on the O-line have been an issue for this program under multiple coaching staffs for far too long, but there's at least potential for this season to be the year it changes. And not just because of an uptick in recruiting better O-linemen; the NCAA's new rule allowing players to play up to 4 games in a season and not have it count as a year of eligibility will help every school with depth or injury issues at every position, but it would seem to be especially helpful for the Gophers and their O-line. Last season the staff rightfully did everything possible to keep the redshirt on true frosh behemouth Blaise Andries, which took some kind of combination of hope and luck as by year end Andries was often the 7th or 8th O-linemen on the depth chart. It worked as he'll have four years of eligibility to play.

This year, at least availability of able bodies won't be an issue- if the Gophers run into injury issues yet again, they'll be able to rotate in a deep stable of true freshmen without hurting their eligibility. It's never ideal to play true freshmen- especially on the line- but if the situation requires them only to dress or even take a few snaps for a few games (as was the case last year when they couldn't do it), they'll be able to.

That said, the quality and talent available SHOULD be better too. The left side has three experienced starters in seniors Donnell Greene (T) and Jared Weyler (C), and RS soph Connor Olson (G). Behind them are seasoned juniors Quinn Oseland and Bronson Dovich. The right side...ok yeah they get REALLY young really fast: Starting RT Sam Schlueter played in 10 games and started the final six last year as a freshman and the aforementioned Andries has been shifted inside to start at guard. Behind them, as well as at center, it's nothing but true and redshirt freshmen.

Sure, that's not ideal, but if the recruiting rankings are to be believed they should be a talent upgrade on some of the guys they've had to throw into the mix in desperation in years past. Two especially intriguing options are the IMG kids G Curtis Dunlap (6'5 and 370 pounds!) and T Daniel Faalele (roughly 700 feet tall and weighing 3 tons). It may be more of a question of when not if those two receive more and more regular playing time, but here's at least hoping the line gets better health luck than past years so they can play Dunlap, Faalele and any of the other younger because they're ready, not because they have to.

Ok this got wordier than I planned, so on defense, let's just say the same things apply. Minnesota won't be better at DT than last season but at least they'll potentially have more depth, and they returned everybody at DE. The LB's continue to be the strength of the team, and while the depth behind them are senior Julian Huff then a bunch of freshmen, again that new redshirt rule can help with any potential depth issues. The secondary... let's just hope everybody stays healthy.

The week one demolishing of NMSU was great and fun and SO needed for this fan base. And while there's going to be struggles in the week to come, that week one win showed us that the staff should have more talented options- and hopefully solutions- to combat the issues that will inevitably rise with a young team. At the very least if Minnesota runs into injury issues again this season, they'll have more able and ready bodies available, which will hopefully lead to an improved year 1/season 2 under PJ Fleck.

SKI-U-MAH and #RTB. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

AnnexSTATS!

Hola, amigos. Two posts in a week is the current record for 2018 posting volume. Setting the over at most posts in a week for the season at 2.5. If you win, you’ll get a third or fourth post that week. It’s like free methadone day at the clinic around here. Or a Badger press conference where Jeff Potrykus is your only inquisitor.


Monday, August 20, 2018

BuckyWorld


I tried again for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Okay, Bernard, so the player announces he’s leaving when he finds out charges are going to be filed.”
“Right.”
 “And athletic department policy basically says no action is to be taken by the school before charges are filed, yes?”
“That’s the policy,” he nodded.
“Doesn’t that kind of look like maybe the school is pushing the player out to keep the program clean and free of having to conduct any investigation of their own?”
“It doesn’t look like anything at all to me,” he said.
I shook my head, “You keep saying that. What does that even mean?”
“The policy was written a long time ago. Most of the time, criminal investigations don’t lead to charges so the school doesn’t take any action until those charges are made. It’s done to protect the players. That’s the policy.”

“I’m totally on board with protecting the players, sure; but are you comfortable with the school basically absolving themselves of any responsibility here? It’s like allowing someone to quit before a company fires him for embezzling funds or something.”

“The policy was written a long time ago,” he responded.

“What does that have to do with anything? You’re a member of the media. Shouldn’t you be asking about this or at least whether this policy still makes sense?”

His looked up at me, his eyes growing distant. “These passive inquiries have passive ends.”

With a bang, the door to the room swung open. Anthony Hopkins strode in, a red windbreaker tightly wrapped around his torso like a sausage casing. “Bernard, freeze all motor functions.” Bernard went limp.

I backed quickly away from Bernard and Anthony Hopkins and pressed myself against the wall. “What the shit, man?!” I yelled, incredulous.

“Please, call me Barry,” Anthony Hopkins said, smiling.

“What the fuck did you do to him? And why are you here? And why are you wearing a Wisconsin jacket?”

“Oh, Bernard is quite well. He serves a purpose. But he is not equipped to answer the questions you posed to him. They fall,” he paused, looking down and putting a hand on Bernard’s unmoving shoulder, “outside of his narrative.”

“His what?” I stammered out, my mind reeling from what I was seeing.

“His narrative,” Anthony Hopkins/Barry said looking back at me with a subtle, knowing grin. He folded his arms and began walking around the room. “You see, everyone here has a role to play. Coaches, players, equipment managers, trainers, professors, parents, fans. And the local media. Especially the local media. They are how we tell our story. Through them we can emotionally connect with the fans, foster a strong sense of pride and  ensure our reputation remains positive with the state and the broader college football community. So you’ll understand that we can’t leave something of that import to chance.”

“I…I’m not sure I follow,” I whispered as my head involuntarily ticced.

Anthony Hopkins/Barry turned and gestured at the still-motionless Bernard, “Bernard, analysis mode.”

Bernard sat up in his chair, straight as a pencil. “What in…” I breathed, trying harder to push myself through the wall and away from whatever was happening.

Anthony Hopkins/Barry continued, “Bernard, what is your narrative.”

“To first, do no harm to the program. To tell the story of athletics in a positive way. To ask questions in a way that facilitates the best possible outcome for the program. To encourage goodwill with media consumers vis-à-vis the program.”

“Good, thank you, Bernard” Anthony Hopkins/Barry said. Looking back at me, he went on, “We created Bernard and his peers in the local media to remove the obstacle that media has created for other programs. It is mutually beneficial: we get uniformly positive coverage with no questions asked when there is an ethical or legal issue; they get to sell more advertising and subscriptions by leveraging our successful brand.”

My brain was melting down. “You…You created him?! Like, he’s not real?! And neither is anyone else in the media?!”

“Oh, just the local meda, my friend. The national media doesn’t have the resources or interest to ask too many questions. With our local media telling our story, the national media only need pop in when they need a feel-good piece on hardworking, plucky Midwesterners. You see, we give the people what they’re looking for. People here want a winner. One that punches above its weight. Too much digging around jeopardizes that. Tell me, who loses in this situation?”

“Oh, I don’t know! The people! The truth! Humanity if your robot army decides to stop writing puff pieces and take over the world!” I shouted.

Anthony Hopkins/Barry laughed, “But what is the truth, my fellow? The truth may be objective were we to know everything. But we cannot. So the truth we accept is that which is told to us, which is entirely subjective. And, really, if everyone remains happy and well paid, does it matter whether the subjective truth is given to you by a human being or our friend Bernard, here?”

“It’s unethical and these robots are an abomination to natural law!” I growled.

“Are you happy with the Twin Cities media?” Anthony Hopkins/Barry asked rhetorically. “I suspect not. They do everything our local media doesn’t, by investigating, asking questions and reporting every misstep by your program, large or small. They, the media, certainly benefit, but do the people of Minnesota? The program certainly doesn’t. No, I think our version of the truth is much better for everyone involved. And things like Bernard are the best way for us to achieve that truth. Anyway, come now, it’s time to get you home.”

I felt a sharp pain in my leg, looked down and saw a small dart stuck in me. “What? No!” I groaned.

I immediately started feeling dizzy and things began to go dark. “Barry,” I croaked. “Please, tell me. Is Reusse a robot?”

Anthony Hopkins/Barry laughed, “No, friend, no he’s not. Reusse is a shitposter.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Practice Report | 8/4/18


The roster turnover Fleck has accomplished in just a year and a half looks absurd on paper. How can
anyone expect a team this young, 127th out of 130 in experience, expect to compete anytime soon?
Well... go to practice. I’ve been going to practices since Time Brewster took over so have seen a number
of roster changes now; nothing compares to this. I’ve bought in to past hype, hook line and sinker.
I’ve finally adopted a prove it attitude before I start predicting imminent B1G Titles, but physically,
this Gophers team is different. This is easily the biggest, fastest, strongest roster I’ve seen. They have
a lot to prove on the field, but this team has a very high ceiling for years to come. But enough about
vague state of the program messages though, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

QB - Zack Annexstad. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you know his story. Story aside, I’m
pulling for this kid to get the job. His arm talent is great. Pocket presence a very welcome upgrade from
what we’ve seen, and he has a bit more size and speed than Morgan that make him a bit more of a run
threat. All of that said, Morgan is currently likely 1A to Annexstad’s 1B. This is a battle I expect to go into
the season as both guys looked good in practice today. If, god forbid, both guys go down, this is going to
be a very long year. The walk ons behind these two look like, well, walk ons.

Running Back - Rodney Smith appears like he will be a much bigger threat in the pass game this year.
I was very impressed with his routes and hands at today’s practice and wouldn’t be surprised to see him
mixed in on the outside every now and then. Behind him, it seems to be a two back race between Mo
Ibrahim and Nolan Edmonds. Edmonds was a bit smaller than I expected him to be at 5’11” 200lbs but
he very much looks ready to play. He and Mo split time with the 2s today and I wouldn’t be surprised to
see both in the rotation this fall but would love to see Edmonds redshirt while playing the 4 games
allowed with the new redshirt rules. Of the other backs the only one to stand out was Femi-Cole who’s
size and physique are as impressive as ever. I don’t foresee him being a factor this fall though as his
pad level has always been problematic.

TE - Oh boy oh boy. Seth Green. This guy is going to be a dude. He reminds me a lot of Marqueis Gray
physically; he has similar size and athleticism. We didn’t see a ton of the TEs today but I expect Green
to be a threat in the passing game and by the time he’s done at the U I think he gets drafted as a TE.
Outside of Green I thought Kieft looked good in Pass Pro and Paulson solid as a Receiving threat.
Nate Bursch strikes me as a likely transfer candidate. His feet are just too slow for the B1G in my
opinion.

WR - When I say the sky is the ceiling for these guys I’m not only referring to their potential but also
how high some of these guys can jump. Roshod Bateman is absolutely a day 1 player, he has it all.
Ty Johnson has improved off of a season where he was our only threat. Chris Autman-Bell will be a
threat this year and can do it all. We saw flashes of what Demetrious Douglas can do last year and he
is now healthy and could start in the slot. Outside of these 4 there’s a bit of a gap. Manns is hurt but
could very well factor in on the inside. Other than him it’s wide open. I’ve been a fan of Morse in the
past but he looked rough today. Harry Van Dyne needs some time still in my opinion. Brock Annexstad
had some solid plays but I don’t know if he has the athleticism to earn time. Fleck’s WMU teams spread
the ball around but some guys are going to have to step up outside of TJ, Bateman, Bell, & Douglas
for that to be true for this team.

OL - I’m going to start with a disclaimer here: the team was not in full pads today so it’s tough to judge
this group. That said, this may remain a relative weakness for another year. We know Greene and
Weyler are good while Olson has shown some flashes. This likely leaves the right side of the line open
for competition. Today, there were a lot of coachable moments on the OL, especially on the right side.
What that means is really not something that can be known at this point. My guess for RG would be
Andries with Falaale at RT but that may not come to fruition week one as both guys are young and have
a lot to learn. Expect some growing pains here as young guys learn.

DL - So umm yeah, the reason Kill, Claeys, & Sawvel were moving to a 3-4 wasn’t because you can’t
recruit DLs to MN; it was because they couldn’t. This is the most physically impressive DL group we
have had in years. I’m not yet sold on OJ Smith being a run stuffing god but he is definitely in better
shape this fall than last. Elijah Teague is a man and I expect him to play this fall. Osezi Otomewo is the
real deal and I can’t wait to see him on the field this fall. Winston Delattiboudre (not that hard to spell Mr
“Alphabet Soup”) looks ready to go and looks to be a leader on the sidelines. Jerry Gibson looks
ready to put his athleticism to work finally. Hickox, Riegelspieger, Umlor, Robinson, and Silver all
look the part but Mayan and Abi really stood out physically, especially for their age.

LB - I’m going to include Coughlin in this group as I’m hoping he can spend more time at LB than DE.
If he can do this, the best unit on the team will be even better. The unit isn’t perfect though as no LB
really looked good in pass protection today. This is particularly apparent with Barber but is noticeable
even with more athletic guys like Martin and Cashman. I’m hoping Smith can make this impact minimal
via scheme as none of these guys are going to be elite 1-1 with a WR or RB. Outside of the names we
know I was blown away with Oliver and Rush’s size as true freshman. I didn’t see Mariano which I am
Sori about.

DB - I’m about as worried about DB as I am OL. There are some known pieces like on OL with Winfield
and Huff but there are some guys who haven’t shown their worth yet like Shenault, Williamson, &
Thomas. The freshman safeties looked like deer in headlights today as Aune and CJ Smith struggled
and Sapp was in and out with an orange jersey. Terrell Smith looked solid and I expect he won’t redshirt
if he can keep it up but overall this unit has a lot of questions to overcome for the Goohers to beat pass
happy teams like Fresno, Purdue, and Indiana.

Special Teams - Didn’t see enough to talk about anyone.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Non-Gopher Topic: Breaking Down Ryan Redington's Victory in the 2018 Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

Each year I volunteer, with members of my family, at the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Northern Minnesota. My cousin is the coordinator for the Sawbill Checkpoint. In addition to helping work the checkpoint, I enjoy following the race and sort of “armchair mushing” the strategies.

This year’s Marathon was roughly ~370 miles and began with 10 mushers. Each team can begin the race with 14 dogs. The ten teams included 8 very experienced and strong mushers, along with two first timers.

Nathan Schroeder and Ryan Anderson have combined to win the previous 7 Beargrease Marathon’s (4 for Nathan, 3 for Ryan), with Ryan Anderson being the defending champ. Blake Freking and Keith Aili are also past Beargrease Champions. Perennial contenders Colleen Wallin and Denis Tremblay were in the mix, along with up and coming North Shore musher Matt Schmidt and last year’s Runner Up, Ryan Redington who is originally from Alaska, but currently lives in the UP of Michigan.

Two rookies rounded out the field of ten. Kevin Mathis of Iowa, and Blair Braverman of Michigan. Both had competed in, and completed the Beargrease Mid-Distance race (roughly 150 miles) in the past.

Unfortunately the two rookies ended up scratching from the race. Kevin scratched before the midway point after a rough start. There was word that his team got in a bit of a tussle before the start of the race, which lead to some early trouble.

Blair had a steady race, but ultimately ended up scratching about three-quarters into the race. I think there were two reasons Blair struggled and neither was in her control. One, the Beargrease trail is difficult. That is an absolute fact and as such, rookie mushers often don't fare well. Second, in comparison to the 8 other teams on the trail, it would be very difficult for a rookie team and musher to keep up.

In many years, with more teams on the trail, often consisting of other rookies or mushers running younger/puppy teams, Blair would have likely been in the mix in the second half of the pack, but that was not the case this year with a relatively small field of competitors. 

A note on the difficulty of the race. The Beargrease trail winds from Duluth up the North Shore of Lake Superior, then back down. While the race doesn’t have some of the long climbs and descents that the long famous races of Alaska have, or other races in the Western Lower 48 states, what makes Beargrease so difficult is the number of short steep hills, often in rapid succession.  There are a lot of quick ups and downs, which is both unusual and unfamiliar for most dog teams. Mushers from Alaska have commented on how difficult the trail is, saying things like “the hills just keep on coming.”

There are a total of 8 checkpoints between the start and finish of the Beargrease Marathon and teams must take at least 30 hours of rest in those checkpoints throughout the race.

There are two mandatory rest spots: 8 hours at Grand Portage (the halfway point of the race) and 4 hours at Highway 2 (the final checkpoint before the finish of the race), meaning teams must take 18 hours of rest throughout the other 6 checkpoints, averaging out to 3 hours/checkpoint.

There are basically two strategies to winning a distance dogsled race. Go faster than all of the other teams, or take less rest than all of the other teams. Obviously it’s slightly more complicated than that, and mushers have to assess the strengths and condition of their teams, but in general, those are the main winning strategies.

With Beargrease having a mandatory amount of rest, the strategy of cutting rest isn’t really available. Sub strategies exist. For example, some teams may rest early in the race, conserving their team's energy for later in the race. Some may take less rest early so that they can get ahead of their competition, perhaps causing them to make a mistake or deviate from their race plan due to being behind. There are no doubt countless other ways of thinking about it, but I am not a musher myself, so this is just my observation.

Regardless of the strategy, for the Beargrease Marathon, one thing is consistent: the top teams will have taken exactly 30 hours of rest (plus their time differential from the start of the race), and not a second more.

This year, Freking & Tremblay essentially “blew through” (stopped only for a couple of minutes) the first checkpoint at Finland, stopping only to give their dogs a snack, then moved on to tackle the run to the Sawbill checkpoint. Redington took a longer, but still short, 1 hour break. Those three mushers arrived at Sawbill 1-2-3 as expected, followed steadily by the other 5 seasoned competitors.

The next two checkpoints at Sawbill and Trail Center are where Ryan Redington essentially called his shot. First, he left the Sawbill checkpoint about 45 minutes before any other team, meaning he took shorter rest than anticipated, and then he posted the fastest time (5 hours, 1 minute, 8 seconds) to make the run. Other competitors were close in run time, but Redington did it on less rest.

At this point, the wisdom was that yes, Redington was out in front, but he was well behind other competitors in amount of rest taken. The concern at this point becomes burning out your team. If you go too fast and/or with too little rest, dog teams can shut down and refuse to run.

Next, continuing the trend, Redington took the least amount of rest at Trail Center, then posted the 2nd fastest run time to the halfway point at Grand Portage. He had taken about two hours less rest than the other competitors, but was running as fast as anyone, and still had a strong team of 11 dogs.

The other 7 main competitors stayed pretty bunched up behind Redington, seemingly employing a similar strategy to each other. They arrived to Grand Portage within 30 minutes of each other, but about 3 hours after Redington.

The race plan that these 7 mushers were employing had been a winning one in the past, but Redington had essentially turned that on its ear.

After an 8 hour & 18 minute rest (the mandatory 8 hour rest plus his time differential from the start of the race) at Grand Portage, Redington hit the trail on the way to Skyport. This is where, in my opinion, Redington really won the race. Leaving 3 hours ahead of his competitors, he made the 53 mile run 20 minutes faster than the next fastest team. He then left Skyport just an hour after his closest competition, who at that point of the race was Ryan Anderson, arrived to the checkpoint.

He was still 90 minutes behind the other teams in rest, but the speeds he was posting and just the psychology of the first place team already leaving a checkpoint shortly after you have arrived, may have been demoralizing for the other teams. 

If it wasn't already, it was now Redington's race to lose.

This is probably a good time to mention that Redington comes from a lineage of mushing royalty. Redington’s grandfather, Joe Redington Sr was one of the founders of the Iditarod in the early 70’s, and his entire family are dog people. Ryan himself won the Junior Iditarod in 1999, has competed in 9 Iditarod’s, completing the race five times with a personal best finish of 14th in 2017.

At 35 years old, Redington literally has a lifetime of experience with dog mushing.

The run from Skyport to Sawbill was more of the same. Redington posted the fasted time, besting Anderson by about 12 minutes and still posting an average speed of over 9mph, while other teams were closer to 8.5mph and under.

Redington took a relatively short rest at Sawbill of about 2 hours, which lead to him being able to take over 3 hours rest at Finland. None of the other mushers would have this luxury. 

All that was left for Redington was the run to Highway 2, his mandatory 4 hour rest at the race's final checkpoint, then the 35 mile run to the finish at Billy’s Bar in Duluth. As it turns out, that was a run that he was able to leave for nearly 2 and a half hours before his closest competitor, which was defending champ Ryan Anderson. Continuing the trend, Redington did the final stretch 24 minutes faster than Anderson.

This was a bit of a statement race, in my opinion, for Redington. He shot out of the gate in 2017’s Beargrease like a streak of fire, but his team speed suffered late in the race. Presumably his team burnt out on the hills because he ended up finishing the race with just 7 dogs. This year his strategy was similar, but perhaps a bit more conservative early. Additionally, his team was likely better conditioned to maintain the pace.

[UPDATE: Redington confirmed in the Duluth News Tribune that he was indeed more conservative early, and that his team had more training this year than last.]

It’s possible that Redington’s win this year was a Beargrease record. Unfortunately, due to snow and trail conditions over the years, the Beargrease route has undergone several changes, so maintaining any kind of official record isn’t really possible. But from a pure time standpoint, Redington’s finish (32 hours, 20 minutes of trail time) is 40 minutes faster than Nathan Schroeder’s record from 2016.

With Redington now residing in the UP of Michigan, it’s possible he will become a perennial competitor in the Beargrease Marathon. While other mushers continue to improve and push their teams, if Redington is going to be a yearly foe, teams are clearly going to need to step up their speed. A daunting task.

The stranglehold that Anderson and Schroeder had on the Beargrease Championship is over for the moment, but those two aren’t going anywhere and are fierce competitors who will continue to improve.

Keith Aili is a wild card who always puts together fast teams, and Denis Tremblay and Colleen Wallin have shown steady improvement for many years.

Matt Schmidt and his wife Erin Altemus have built a very good team. They share the family mushing duties and are just getting started in competitive races.

Blake Freking and his steady team of Siberian Huskies is always in the mix, particularly any year that the temperatures are especially cold.

Next for Redington is the 2018 Iditarod. There’s really no corollary between Beargrease performance and Iditarod performance, as far as I can tell, but Redington's team appears to be in top shape.

In a typical year the Iditarod begins in Willow, Alaska and ends in Nome, but last year’s Iditarod was run on a non-traditional route between Fairbanks and Nome due to a lack of snow on the traditional trail. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate that the Fairbanks route is faster, as the first half of the race is run primarily on flat, frozen rivers.


There is no doubt Redington has a strong team that is built for speed, even on short rest, and his strong finish on last year’s flatter Iditarod trail is evidence of that. It will be interesting to see how he and his athletes are able to handle the traditional Iditarod trail after an impressive Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon victory.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Minnesota Gopher Football: Looking ahead to 2018- TE and O-line

Here's part two of SGH's look ahead to 2018 for Gopher Football (If you missed it here's part one on the skill positions)...

TIGHT END

GONE: Brandon Lingen, Nate Wozniak (graduated)
RETURNING: Colton Beebee, Bryce Witham (RS Jr), Ko Kieft (RS Soph), Jake Paulson, Clayton Witherspoon (RS Fr)
NEW: Brevyn Spann-Ford (Fr)

This is the position group that is by far the biggest question mark on the team. Thankfully, unlike the previous staff who played roughly seven tight ends in every formation, this staff usually/ideally only needs one, so it's not as big of a deal. But Lingen and Wozniak basically were the tight end depth chart last year as Kieft is the only returning TE on the roster with a collegiate catch (and he has TWO!).

Kieft and Witham (who only played 4 games last year due to season ending injury) likely open spring camp as the leaders for the starting job, but by no means are they the favorites. Beebee played almost entirely on special teams last year despite the injury to Witham, and is likely a blocking TE for short-yardage situations at 270 pounds. Witherspoon is a walk-on from Eden Prairie who redshirted last year.

The two intriguing names to watch are Paulson and incoming true frosh Spann-Ford. Paulson is a big dude listed at 260 pounds and based on his high school scouting reports is a good athlete who moves well for a big guy, and should provide the pass catching and route-running abilities this staff wants at the position. He was a consensus 3 star out of Louisville, KY (you better damn well be pronouncing it LUH-ville as the good lord intended) whose offer list included his home town Cardinals as well as P5 schools Illinois Pitt, and Purdue as well as 2017 undefeated national champs UCF (at least in their own minds).

Spann-Ford is the best athlete of the bunch, and oh by the way is also 6'7 and 245 (and while he'll be a football-only guy at The U he's apparently gotten real interest for hoops from D1 programs). If had enrolled early there was a real chance of him starting as a true freshman but because he doesn't get here until fall camp, barring a complete tire fire from everybody else this spring, he'll likely be too far behind everybody else to even get on the two deep by the opener vs New Mexico State (if this game isn't available on Aggie Vision we're all rioting).

It's likely his chances to play early will depend as much on how the other guys do this spring as how well he plays in fall camp. If the coaches find a couple of guys they like then it makes it pretty easy to redshirt Spann-Ford then unleash him on the B1G in 2019. But make no mistake, the kid is a talen and the Gophers got an absolute steal here. Because he committed so early (back in June) to a school like Minnesota, the recruiting hype and his offer list never really took off. While he did get offers from a few P5 schools in Iowa State, Mizzou and West Virginia with Sparty showing some serious interest, had he kept his recruitment open and/or played at a Metro school instead of up in St Cloud and/or in a larger football recruiting state, his offer list would have been substantial.

He has the size and athleticism coaches dream about for the position, especially in a spread offense. With such a young team at every position and expectations relatively low for the season, IF Spann-Ford shows he's ready to contribute now the opportunity could very well be there for him to get on the field ASAP.

OFFENSIVE LINE

GONE: Vincent Calhoun, Garrison Wright (grad), Nick Connelly (retired last Oct due to injury)
RETURNING: Donnell Greene, Jared Weyler (RS Sr), Bronson Dovich, Quinn Oseland, (RS Jr), Ben Davis (Jr), Conor Olson, Sam Schlueter (RS Soph), Blais Andries, Nathan Bursch, Eric Rousemiller, Axel Ruschmeyer, Kyle Sassack, John Michael Schmitz (RS Fr)
NEW: Jason Dickson (JUCO Jr), Austin Beier, Nathan Boe, Curtis Dunlap Jr, Daniel Faalele, Grant Norton, Jack York (Fr)

Over the last 10 years, the only position group the Gophers have been arguably worse at recruiting and developing than quarterback is the offensive line. Which is all the more frustrating when you consider the previous staffs were supposed to be operating some variation of a power run offense. Per Gophersports.com since 2006 (the last of the Mason "glory" years) Minnesota has only had one All-B1G first or second team o-lineman: both were Zac Epping in 2014 as he was 1st team media and 2nd team coaches. And that's it. How many o-linemen from this power run B1G school have been drafted since 2006, you ask? Zero. None. Zilch. Nada.

While I will go to my grave believing firing Glen Mason at the end of the 2006 season was the right decision (and that hiring Timmy Brewster was the 1000% wrong decision), I will admit Mase was incredible at developing an O-line. The Gophers have been trying- and failing- to replicate his success ever since. Hopefully (and this site IS Still Got Hope after all), this is the year we get back to recruiting and developing real offensive lines.

When Fleck inherited this team a year ago he had six (!!!) healthy offensive linemen for spring camp, and was down to four by the time he could even think about a spring game. The game 1 depth chart had 9 actual players plus a true freshman they hoped to not play (Andries) on the o-line, and was down to 6 or 7 healthy non-true frosh linemen by seasons end. Faced with this kind of attrition there wasn't much even a wizard like line coach Ed Warinner could do. So he and Fleck attacked that problem in recruiting with not only quantity but quality (all seven incoming recruits were rated at least 3 stars per 247), and with a year of development for all the returning guys under Warinner, this group has a chance to take a BIG step forward in 2018.

Let's stop here to recognize how important Warinner is to this team: Fleck gets a lot of hype for being an ace recruiter and rightfully so, but Warinner should get the bulk of the credit for reeling in the best O-line class Minnesota has had in the internet recruiting era. He's one of the best o-line coaches in the country as he was named Coach Scoop's Offensive line Coach of the Year twice in 2012 and 2014. But he's also a hell of a recruiter as Rivals named him one of the top 25 recruiters in the country back in 2014. Sure, he was at Ohio State then and while you might think the Buckeyes recruit themselves, his consistency in not just recruiting top high school linemen year after year but turning them into very good college players who go on to get drafted in the pros cannot be overstated.

You better believe that kind of track record was a big reason the Gophers landed some of the line talent they did in this class, the kind of blue chippers we never dreamed of getting here before. The O-line has a real chance to make the biggest strides of any position group on the team in 2018, and if they can do that, it's going to make breaking in a new quarterback a far easier task. It's not going out on much of a limb to say the biggest key to a much improved 2018 season for the Gophers isn't so much who plays quarterback or which receivers emerge, but whether Warinner can mold his o-line into the kind of group we haven't had since the Mason years.

Thanks to yet another season of a ridiculous run of injuries for the offensive line, for the first time in a long time the Gophers should have not only five actual guys for a second string that have some experience and talent, but could go three deep at some spots as well. I know, I know, what a concept!

Let's start with what we know: Greene, Olson, and Weyler should be opening day starters at tackle, guard and center respectively. Greene has a legit chance this season to end the All-B1G and undrafted drought for Gopher linemen. He's everything you'd want in a left tackle with size (6'7 320), strength and athleticism. IF he can turn into the dominant LT many are predicting, that would go a long ways to solving the offensive line woes we've had in recent/every season. Olson started all 12 games last year with the first six at guard, then shifted to center for the last six after Weyler went down for the year due to injury. He's rock solid and will be back at guard full-time. After starting eight games as a guard in 2016, Weyler seamlessly shifted to center last season and looked good before he got hurt. All signs are that he'll be back to full health and ready to go.

The battles for the other guard and tackle spots should be fascinating, and filled with guys with talent and/or experience. Let's start at tackle: there will be at least four guys battling for this job (I'm not ruling out a fifth from Australia who is roughly the size of Australia but we'll get to that). Last year's week one starter at RT Connelly unfortunately had to retire mid-season due to injuries, which threw now RS Soph Schlueter into the fire as he started the final five games of the year.

He likely starts spring camp atop the depth chart but is really going to have to fight to keep that job. The coaches not wanting to play Andries last year had nothing to do with talent and everything to do with the conventional wisdom of not playing true freshmen on the line if at all possible. "Blaise of Glory" Andries was the top recruit in Minnesota a year ago, a consensus high 3 star recruit and a top 30 tackle in the entire country. The kid is a stud and it's likely only a matter of time before he starts at one of the tackle spots.

But whether the future is now for Andries depends not just on beating out Schlueter but also Dickson. A transfer from Diablo Valley JC in California he comes in as a high 3 star recruit who had big boy offers from a bunch of P5 schools including Arizona St, Colorado, TCU, Texas Tech and UCLA. Were I a betting man (and if they actually had on Gopher football positional competitions) my money would be on Dickson to grab the RT job.

Another RS frosh to keep an eye on is Sassack, a three star commit out of Michigan a year ago.

The wild card in the RT competition is Faalele (pronounced Fa-ah-lay-lay), an enormous, athletic and very raw high three star prospect originally from Australia. You've probably read Andy Staples excellent piece on him in SI from last spring but if you haven't, do yourself a favor and go read it right now. I remember reading that story last year and never in a million years did I think he'd land in Minnesota. And yet here we are. Discovered by a recruiter from the University of Hawaii a couple of years ago, Faalele decided to move to Melbourne, Australia to Florida and attend IMG Academy with no experience playing football. He practiced with the team in 2016 and last year as a high school senior was his first time ever playing in a football game.

To say he's raw is an understatement but my god his potential is basically limitless. Donnell Greene is a massive human being by any measure at 6'7 and 320 pounds, yet at 6'9 and 400 pounds Faalele is two inches taller and EIGHTY POUNDS HEAVIER! That is insane. And what's more, if you've seen a picture of him or watched his O-line-porn highlight videos, he doesn't look like a 400 pounder should. When I think of a 400 pound football player I think of former NFL defensive tackle Gilbert Brown, like somebody who ate every pie at Bakers Square and then decided to just eat the building too. Yet Faalele looks more like an oversized linebacker.

Usually you want to redshirt incoming freshmen offensive linemen because they're just not big enough or strong enough yet, but obviously that's not the issue for Faalele. He'll likely test as one of the strongest players on the team, and is a good athlete too. No, for the big Aussie the issue is reps and technique because he's so new to the game. As we've outlined already, the Gophers have plenty of depth and talent at tackle that they can afford to redshirt Faalele this year then unleash his world-destroying abilities upon the B1G in 2019.

And yet... I can't help but wonder what if he's just too good to keep off the field? He's an early enrollee so he'll be here for spring ball. What if he just destroys the Gopher defense in practice? What if he ragdolls the upper classmen defensive linemen play after play and drill after drill? Faalele truly is a special talent, the kind we just don't get at Minnesota (especially on the line). His offer list included everybody who is anybody in college football (including the two schools who just played in the National Championship). I'm not saying it's probable he could jump into the tackle rotation by this fall, but it's certainly possible.

Which finally brings us to who starts at the other guard spot opposite Conor Olson. Oseland or Dovich will begin the spring atop the depth chart as they're the only two outside of Olson and Weyler with any experience. Oseland started two games last season, one at guard vs Middle Tennessee and the other at RT vs Nebraska. Dovich was a reserve guard and center all of last season.

While both could take major strides this spring and look like a quality starter, the guy to watch here is the true frosh- and Faalele's high school teammate- Curtis Dunlap Jr. A consensus four star and blue chip recruit (His offer list was basically everybody- Georgia, FSU, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, USC... you get the idea), 247 had him as a top 200 overall recruit and the #6 guard in the entire country. Dunlap is almost as big as Faalele at a listed 368 pounds and is just an absolute monster. Originally a U of Florida commit, he reopened his recruiting in early December when the Gators changed coaching staffs and the Gophers pounced.

We mentioned Faalele is the kind of recruit we just don't see here, but so is Dunlap, and perhaps even more so: like the big Aussie strength will not be an issue for him, but he was also as three year starter at IMG and played tackle and center as well as guard. If there's ever been a day one starter on the offensive line as a true freshman, this is it. He's surprisingly athletic and mobile for a guy of his size and his talent and ability is as high as anybody's on the team at any position. He's also enrolling early so will be here for spring ball, so if he looks even close to ready he could (should?) be the starter by the season opener.

Bursch, a converted high school tight end, could also be in the mix at guard. Davis, a junior, plus Rousemiller and Ruschmeyer are all walk-ons who redshirted last year so...sure?

Backup center could be Dovich if/when he doesn't win the starting guard spot, but don't rule out RS frosh Schmitz either. A consensus three star recruit a year ago from Illinois by all the recruiting services, Scout had him rated as the #1 center in the Midwest. I THINK the other four incoming freshmen linemen will all red shirt but we shall see.

So to close, here's the best guess at your two deep:

LT Greene (Sr)
    Andries (RS Fr) OR Faalele (Fr)

LG Dunlap (Fr)
     Oseland (Rs Jr)

C   Weyler (Sr)
     Schmitz (RS Fr)

RG Olson (RS Soph)
     Dovich (RS Jr)

RT  Dickson (Jr)
     Schlueter (RS Soph)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Looking Ahead to Gopher Football 2018: Skill Positions

For Gopher football fans, normally early January is a time for recruiting rumors and wondering which MAC-level recruits will sign on the first Wednesday in February. But this year, with a new coaching staff and a new early December signing date, the Gophers have already locked up 26 commitments in a very un-MAC-level class (as of today it's the 30th best class in the country per 247) and are already focusing on the class of 2019.

Coach Fleck has tried to lower expectations for 2018 as much as possible, but just looking over the potential roster for next season there's plenty for Gopher fans to be excited about and give us hope 2018 will be better than last season. Today we'll focus on the offense and save defense for another day (considering I write like twice a year that will probably be in July but anyways).

The offense in 2017 was...not good. Bad even. Downright bad. Unwatchable by the end of the year. A lot of that can be attributed to poor quarterback play, lack of offensive line depth due to injuries, poor quarterback play, a young, inexperienced and injured group of receivers, and let's not forget poor quarterback play. The run offense was good again (isn't it always?) ranking 45th in the country in S&P+ but the passing offense was ranked 113th and the overall offense was 120. Of course if you watched the games you probably could have guessed that.

For 2018 we're getting younger (just a ton of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores all over the roster) but should have better depth, more experience AND-potentially- more talent. On offense, this may/could/should/hopefully lead to a better offense, and by better offense I mean we might have finally found a quarterback.

QUARTERBACK

GONE: Conor Rhoda (graduated), Demry Croft (transfer)
RETURNING: Tanner Morgan (RS frosh), Seth Green (RS Soph)
NEW: Vic Viramontes (JUCO Soph), Nick Annexstad (fresh)

As our own MV detailed a couple of months ago on this very site, developing a QB is kinda sorta important for team success and the Gophers have been awful at this for more than a decade. Last year was no exception as Coach Fleck was not able to turn a "gold mine" of quarterbacking talent left behind by the previous staff into anything even remotely resembling a functional starting quarterback.

With Rhoda graduated and Croft transferred, there will be a new starting quarterback for 2018, and if it's anyone other than JUCO transfer Vic Viramontes, we may be in for a long 2018. While he's not a guaranteed star the Flow-a-licious Viramontes has all the tools to be a quality starter from the get-go, and what's more, unlike most JUCO transfers, he has three years of eligibility left instead of two. The top rated JUCO dual-threat QB in this class was also the California Community College Offensive Player of the Year with 1868 yards and 22 TD's through the air and just for fun another 1346 yards and 21 TDs (!!!!) on the ground.

While his passing may be further behind his ability to run the football at the moment, Viramontes should be the most accomplished passer the Gophers have had since Adam Weber (I know that's not saying much but still). He'll have the entire spring and summer to get to know OC Kirk Ciarrocca's offense, which hopefully means by the time the season rolls around the Gopher offense looks more like it did when Ciarrocca ran it at WMU than the dumpster fire that was last season.

After a redshirt season expect Morgan to be the backup. A consensus 3 star prospect out of Kentucky, he's more a classic drop-back passer than true dual threat, but should be athletic enough to keep defenses honest on the read-option when need be. While I'm not sure how ready he'd be to lead the offense right now he could be a legitimate starter down the road.

Annexstad passed up full-ride offers from legitimate schools (Cincy and Pitt) to be a preferred walk-on at Minnesota. If he doesn't earn a full scholarship, the IMG Academy product should at least be added to the school payroll as a recruiting coordinator after his masterful job helping to reel in a couple of giant (both figuratively and literally) teammates and recruits along the offensive line.

As a prospect he's very intruiging- I do not follow recruiting very closely but I do not understand how Annexstad wasn't more heavily recruited. Anyone? I would love an answer. As a 6'3 three star prospect he beat out a legit 4 star prospect at a Florida powerhouse program and helped lead them to an undefeated season. I get it if he's at some backwater school, but IMG? Anyway, while it makes no sense his addition is definitely Minnesota's gain and it'll be interesting to watch his development.

And that's basically your QB depth chart. I am waiting for the announcement that Seth Green is either switching positions or transferring, and am surprised it hasn't happened already.

RUNNING BACK

GONE: Kobe McCrary
RETURNING: Shannon Brooks (Sr), Rodney Smith (Sr), Jonathan Femi-Cole (RS Jr), Mohamed Ibrahim (RS Fr), Dominik London (RS Fr)
NEW: Nolan Edmonds (fr), Bryce Williams (fr)

This remains the one position the Gophers seem to churn out good players no matter the coaching staff, the scheme or the recruiting rankings, and this season should be no different. Smith is a stud (977 rushing last year and also returned a kickoff for a TD) and should be one of the B1G's best backs. If Brooks is healthy and can stay healthy it's as good a 1-2 punch as you'll find in the conference. McCrary was fantastic subbing for the oft-injured Brooks, and the big fella will be missed as a punishing complement to Smith.

If Brooks struggles to stay healthy again in 2018 it opens the door for Edmonds, considered one of the top 25 backs in the country by 247. Femi-Cole is Canadian so therefore obviously awesome, while Ibrahim and London were both 3 star recruits who redshirted last year. The battle for the third spot will be likely be Edmonds vs Femi-Cole but maybe one of the redshirt frosh's pop. Expect Williams to redshirt.

WIDE RECEIVER

GONE:  Eric Carter (grad), Melvin Holland Jr (transfer), Hunter Register (transfer), Rashad Still (transfer)
RETURNING: Will Reger (Sr), Tyler Johnson (Jr), Matt Morse (Jr),  Phillip Howard (RS Soph), Mark Williams (RS Soph), Drew Hmielewski (RS Soph), Clay Geary (RS Soph), Demetrius Douglas (Soph), Chris Autman-Bell (RS Fr), Harry Van Dyne (RS Frosh),
NEW: Paul Gossage (Jr- transfer from Eastern Ill), Yale Van Dyne (RS Soph- walk-on transfer from Iowa. Seriously), Rashod Bateman, (Fr), Erik Gibson (Fr), Jornell Mans (Fr)

Did I forget anybody? Holy moly that's a lot of bodies at wide receiver, and as you can probably tell, it includes very few upperclassmen. And yet, this is a position group that should get you very excited. With all due respect to the guys who left, the Gophers lost very little. Carter and Still were expected to be big contributors last year yet had 6 catches combined. That is not a typo. We had hoped Holland and Register would finally live up to their recruiting hype yet neither had a single catch all season. See ya and thanks for everything gentlemen.

What returns is a lot of youth with plenty of potential but also some production and experience. Now if we can just keep everybody healthy they could take a big step forward. It starts with Johnson, who will enter the season as one of the B1G's best; he basically WAS the passing offense before injuries slowed him and eventually ended his season. Back healthy he could/should have a monster 2018: the question will be who can step up around him? Thankfully there are a ton of interesting- and dare I say talented- candidates.

Besides Johnson there's only three other upperclassmen on the roster: I don't know what to expect of Reger or Morse as both played sparingly last year. Morse was a special teams guy while Reger started the last game vs Wisconsin because by that point it was that or start pulling people out of the stands to play wideout. Gossage was a name I had not heard of before writing this post but he was apparently solid at 1-AA Eastern Illinois before transferring here. At 6'3 he's a name to keep an eye on.

After those three it's all sophomores and freshmen but it's a pretty fun group: Autman-Bell was apparently pushing for immediate playing time in spring and fall camp before a preseason injury ended his season before it started. Douglas played a big role as a slot receiver before- wait for it- injuries ended his season too. Due to those injuries Williams and Howard both got better as the season went on and got more and more playing time. Howard tied for third in catches last year with...11. For the whole season. If that doesn't sum up last year's offensive problems I don't know what does. That's not a knock on him, just that our third leading receiver only had 11 damn catches in 12 games.

The other returning guys either didn't play much or redshirted. Your guess is as good as mine if anyone from that group can break out so we'll see. The Van Dyne brothers sound like the Winklevoss twins or sinister brothers from a prep school movie who are out to get our hero because he's from the wrong side of the tracks/steals their girl/stole the idea for Facebook and won't give them credit for it etc etc. But this couldn't be further from the truth as they are in fact fine, upstanding brothers from Kansas who are just here to help the Gophers achieve our #ROWSBOWL dream of 2019 thank you very much. And sure, the older one made one terrible mistake by going to Iowa but quickly realized it and got the hell out of there so let's not hold that against him, ok?

I am trying to temper my expectations for Bateman as, well, you're probably aware of Minnesota's rich tradition of extremely productive 4 star wide receiver recruits hahahaha just kidding. 4 star/high profile receivers have flamed out in spectacular fashion here so much so that if Bateman just stays on campus for three years it should be considered a major accomplishment, regardless of whether he actually plays.

That said...he should play, or at least will be given every opportunity. Bateman had a huge senior high school season which resulted in 247 bumping him from a 3 to 4 star prospect, and by December he received actual offers from actual helmet schools (or fake offers if you're a certain Nebraska troll) like Georgia, Tennessee, A&M and Va Tech. Watching his highlight film is enough to warm your soul on even the coldest of the January nights and give you dreams of division titles, Rose Bowls and beyond.

So as I said I'm TRYING to temper expectations for him but am struggling mightily. But isn't that what January is all about? Manns and Gibson are solid 3 star prospects who probably redshirt if we can ever keep everybody healthy.

OK so this got wordy, so we'll save the o-line and tight ends for another day.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

PJ (You're a Fine Coach)

Sung to the tune of "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass


PJ (You're a Fine Coach)

There's a coach in a Midwest town
And some fans wish that he’d calm down
Lonely tweeters with nothing good to say
Just don’t like PJ Fleck

There’s a whole group that just where frowns
And they work puttin’ PJ down
They say "PJ, just run your boat aground"
Just constant groans and whines

But others say "PJ, you're a fine coach" (you're a fine coach)
"We just loved your recruiting spree" (such a fine coach)
"Yeah this class is pretty good… make it three!"
(dooda-dit-dooda), (dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit)

Some think PJ is a little vein
But he’s just hyper, he can’t turn off his brain
They say Coach Claeys could have done the same
I just spit my water out

Fleck recruits every single day
Even when his boat is underway
And he doesn’t need a nap midday
The next class is on its way

Mark Coyle said " PJ, you're a fine coach" (you're a fine coach)
"With your tactics, I agree" (such a fine coach)
"Handing you this extension gives me glee"
(dooda-dit-dooda), (dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit)

Yeah, recruiting is just one good thing
No issues in dormatories
He’s turning boys into good young men
“Go to class, it’s mandatory”
But he won’t let them take shortcuts, and he’s got a real plan
Some fans just take longer to understand
(dooda-dit-dooda), (dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit)

A ‘crootin’ class with no letdowns
PJ walks the streets of Dinkytown
No thoughts of a coach who’s not around
He’s forging his own way

He hopes to hear "PJ, you're a fine coach" (you're a fine coach)
"Now we want some winning sprees" (such a fine girl)
“Hope you can make the haters change their disbelief"

(dooda-dit-dooda), (dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For The Folks Who Don’t Chase Recruiting News Like it’s a Drug

If you’re like me, you follow Gopher recruiting news closely enough to have a general idea of how well things are going overall. You know the names of the top recruits, but some of the other names you’ll wait until signing day to learn more about. And you don’t tweet at recruits.

But for you, the most important thing is this: will the talent level on the field be increased by this recruiting class?

MV is clearly the charts and graphs guy around here, and you should absolutely go back and read yesterday's piece: PJ Fleck's 2018 Recruiting Class is Minnesota's Best.

But today, I’d like to give you three bullet points, that you, casual Gopher fan who doesn’t tweet at recruits, can use in daily conversation to show those around you that you know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to Golden Gopher recruiting.

**Important Note: These comments are valid as of Tuesday evening, December 19, 2017. Things could still change before the ink is on the Letters of Intent, but as of now, I hold these truths to be self-evident, or sumsuch.

#1: Recruiting Absolutely Matters

In October our friend Frothy wrote a piece on this very website (which is still FREE) that “highlighted” the top 25 Gopher recruits since the beginning of the internet recruiting era. I’m not going to reinvent it here, but you should look at the list. It's an amazing read if for nothing other than the "Holy crap, I remember that name! What happened to that guy... OMG..." moments.

Last month the Ghost of MV produced some #content. As shocking as the news was that a ghost could produce material of such quality, what was not shocking was the conclusion of the article: the Gophers lose more than they win against teams who have a better base of talent.

I'll be honest, I didn't realize our dearth of talent in recruiting was so sustained. Yes, Jerry Kill and his staff did a very good job of bringing kids in and coaching them above their star ranking, but at the nd of the day, lack of talent loses.

The numbers prove that teams with better talent, from a recruiting rankings standpoint, beat the Gophers more often than not. The real upshot here is that recruiting absolutely matters, and that is why what PJ Fleck and his staff have done with this class is so important.

Increasing the level of the talent pool at Minnesota is how the Gophers are going to get better.

#2: This Class Moves the Needle

If you take another look at Frothy’s top 25 recruits in the internet recruiting era again, you’ll see that it is littered with 2008 & 2009 recruits. These happened to be Brewster’s first years of full recruiting and 14 of the players on the pre-2018 top 25 list are from those classes.

This is where I remind you that Brewster's prowess as a recruiter was absolutely never in question. Tim Brewster was, and continues to be, one of the top recruiters in the nation. This point is not up for discussion. Joel Maturi was right that Minnesota needed a coach that could increase our recruiting profile, what he forgot is that someone has to coach those kids once they are on campus.

Of the 14 players in those two classes, I’d argue that only five contributed in any meaningful way: Traye Simmons, Keanon Cooper, MarQueis Gray, Ra'Shede Hageman & Michael Carter. Carter is maybe a stretch since he only had one real season on the field, but the fact that we have to stretch to find a fifth player who contributed out of 14 recruits is telling.

This is where I remind you that Tim Brewster was not a good Head Football Coach.

If you reshuffle the deck to include the current verbal commitments to the 2018 Gopher football recruiting class, four recruits would join the top 25: Curtis Dunlap (#6), Rashod Bateman (#17), Daniel Faalele (#20), and Victor Viramontes (#23).

Adding these players to the list pushes the previous bottom four off the list, including three 2009 recruits (Kerry Lewis, Bryant Allen, Hassan Limpscomb), leaving four recruits from that class in the Top 25.

The top 3 classes, ranked by total Top 25 Gopher recruits, after reshuffling to include the 2018 class, in the internet recruiting age are:

1. 2008 - 7 recruits
2. tie: 2009 - 4 recruits
          2018 - 4 recruits

I think it's fair to say that 2008 was an outlier from a recruiting standpoint, and as we know much of that class, along with the 2009 class, didn't pan out (as you'll hear more about below) and thus didn't move the needle for the program.

We know the reason for this is because while the recruiting ability was there for Brewster and his staff, the coaching and teaching part was not.

The difference with PJ Fleck's staff is two-fold. #1: They can coach, they have a plan, and they have a path to execute that plan. #2: PJ Fleck has done this before and he's done it with greater obstacles that he has at Minnesota.

(Editor's Note: Special thanks to Mr Frothy Gopher who helped me round out this piece by writing the following...)

#3: Pump Ya Fist Today, but Watch for Attrition

Top to bottom, this is the best recruiting class in the modern era; but we could have said the same thing in 2008 and 2009. The dagger in those years was attrition. Guys either never showed up to campus or left after a year or two because they never saw the field.

I mean, Clint Brewster is in our top ten recruits ever, and the most offense he's generated is through inflating the rankings of every Michigan commitment over at 247.

It's easy to be happy about this class, but check in on who's on the roster when conference play starts next year. The prevailing trope is that Minnesota's only shot at landing high-end players is by taking dudes with marginal academics or, uh, social skills. Thus, the risk of spectacularly flaming out is pretty high.

It feels like Fleck's class is pretty solid in that regard: a lot of high-character guys who will be coaches on the field and in life. But retaining the top-end talent from the 2017 and 2018 classes will largely dictate whether #2019itty.