Good afternoon, college football fans. Welcome to my first live chat as Gophers football beat writer for the Star Tribune. Looking forward to the season. So let's the this party started!
First question goes to Lee, and thanks for asking.
My background is that I've been at the Star Tribune for nearly 18 years and until this summer, I was a sports copy editor/layout editor. One of my main duties was coordinating and producing our Sunday college football coverage, and a lot of that included the Gophers. But I do have a writing background, too. I covered Penn State football (1991-94) at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., and the last college football game I covered was the Rose Bowl between and undefeated Penn State team and Oregon following the 1994 season. ... I also covered the Gophers in 1990 for the Minnesota Daily. ... I have Upper Midwest roots -- grew up in South Dakota and have spent most of my life in Minnesota.
As for how the Gophers QB situation will play out, I think we'll know a lot more in the nonconference season. P.J. Fleck can use these three games as a bit of an audition between Rhoda and Croft. And what works in the Gophers' favor is that their bye week is between the last nonconference game -- Middle Tennessee -- and the Big Ten opener against Maryland. Fleck could use that extra week to settle on one starter and get him prepared. ... As for Seth Green, he appears to be the No. 3 QB, with freshman Tanner Morgan a good possibility to redshirt.
Interesting question. I believe the players have mostly moved on from last year. When asked about it, they've been complimentary of the previous coaching staff, and I haven't heard any criticism. They have pointed out the differences in energy between Fleck and Claeys, but not in a negative way. I think the players who had problems with Fleck are the ones who chose to leave.
Hmm, I'm not an expert on any means on crowd size, but I would guess they announced crowd will be around 40,000. There obviously are tickets available, but let's face it, the University of Buffalo doesn't move the needle much as a nonconference opponent. If the U wanted a bigger crowd, they should've scheduled a better opponent.
I gotta answer this one. No remorse. Bird was trespassing on the field. :)
P.J. Fleck has said that both QBs will run the same offense, but I would have to think that they would play to each QB's strength. I would expect that they'd want to get Croft out in space at times. I will say this, Rhoda did have some nice option runs during a couple of the open practices.
The concern the coaches have about the offensive line depth has a lot to do with injuries. They were down to four healthy O-linemen at times during spring practice. Everybody is back now, but it's difficult to go through a whole season unscathed along the line. Injuries happen in a collision sport.
When people hear spread offense, they often think a pass-happy attack. But at Western Michigan, this offense ran a lot more than it passed, especially last year during that 13-1 season. Western ran about 45 times a game to 27 passes. ... Here, I expect the run game to be stressed with Smith and Brooks while the QBs gain experience. ... As for the wider gaps, it can work both ways. It is easier to burst through a hole when there's less traffic, but tighter splits can help against interior pressure from the defense.
Very good question, and I would agree that because of the popularity of the pro teams, the Gophers can get lost in the shuffle. We have a lot of options in the Twin Cities to spend our entertainment dollars, and winning big is the best way for a program like the Gophers to overcome that. Having lived in State College for about five years, I experienced how Penn State was the only game in town and how everything revolved around that football program. ... Also, I think fans in pro markets tend to judge the college team the same way they judge pro teams -- if you don't win titles, it's often considered a failure. College football is different. A team can have a great season even if it doesn't win the national title.
The biggest question mark I have is how the Gophers do against a big, mobile QB like Buffalo's Tyree Jackson. Will Minnesota's depth at linebacker contain that QB? Also, I'm looking forward to seeing Buffalo's best offensive lineman, center James O'Hagan, go up against Gophers DT Steven Richardson.
I see a lot of people who want predictions, and I'll give it a whirl.
I'm pegging the Gophers at 7-5 or 8-4, which is a bit more optimistic than the Las Vegas over/under of 6.5, I believe. ... I expect them to be 3-0 in the nonconference season, although that Middle Tennessee game could be more difficult that most people think. I expect them to beat Maryland and Purdue, while Michigan State is a swing game that I think they win. I chalk up Illinois as a win, but then we come to the final five games: at Iowa, at Michigan, vs. Nebraska, at Northwestern, vs. Wisconsin. If they win one of those, we're talking 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten. If not, 7-5 and 4-5.
Not as well as the beat writer who shall not be named. :)
Having both Rodney and Shannon in that backfield will be fun to watch, won't it? I like the way their styles complement each other, though Shannon does bring a more physical element. Neither would be fun to tackle. ... One of the funniest moments of Media Day was when Rodney said how he's improved and stays healthy by knowing when to hit the ground when there's no more yardage to gain. When Shannon was asked if he used that approach, he chuckled and said, "I like contact.''
The status of Chris Autman-Bell will be interesting to see. He's listed as a backup to Eric Carter in an "or'' situation with Melvin Holland Jr. Fleck was really high on Autman-Bell early in training camp before the injury, but he won't play him unless completely healthy. Fleck says he's like to redshirt every freshman if he could, but he might need Autman-Bell. It's a story that will play out over the next couple weeks. ... As for the two-QB system, as I said before, I'd guess he settles on one for the Big Ten opener.
My guess, because he's a senior, is Conor Rhoda. I'll either be right or wrong. ... Or maybe Fleck and Ciarrocca will surprise us and have Rodney running the Wildcat with Shannon in the backfield. :)
I know the offense will be different and I think it will be better. I like the young wideouts -- Tyler Johnson, Demetrius Douglas -- and they're stacked at running back. I agree that it'll be tough to match the defense they had last year. Might be some growing pains.
I'm not sure I'd say that Claeys was set up, but new athletic directors usually like to hire their own football coach, so I'd imagine getting his own guy was a big factor. And I think Mark Coyle wanted more of a high-energy type of coach to sell the program. That's certainly the type of person he hired.
Last week, Fleck announced they're staying on their current sideline as of now. Will that change in the future? I wouldn't be surprised, because he feels that sideline is better for the team. I'm not sure if it's tabled until next year or if it could change, say, later this season when the weather turns cold.
That really depends on who you ask. I think there's a lot of fans who are enjoying the energy that Fleck brings. And their are others who see the catchphrases and think this is Brewster all over again. I think things will play out somewhere in the middle. If Fleck wins, people won't worry much about his style.
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Fans have seen the turnaround at places like Wisconsin and Iowa and even Northwestern. Getting it turned at Minnesota won't be easy, but it seems to be getting closer. They were a win over Wisconsin from going to the Big Ten title game in 2014, and getting to that position sometime in next few years shouldn't be ruled out. As for long-term high success, coaching stability would go a long way to achieving that.
I'd like to thank everybody for participating in this live chat. You came with a lot of great questions. Have fun with the opener tonight and enjoy the season.