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Minnesota Gophers Football Preview: Looking at the 2015 Defense

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How have the Minnesota Gophers gone from doormats to challengers for a division crown in just four years time? By doing the classic Big Ten things — have a powerful running game and playing some stout defense.

While the Gophers defensive group has never been loaded with stars that national pundits or fans would talk about on a daily basis, there has never been a lack of quality thanks to good coaching and talent evaluation.

Now the Gophers are upping the ante after nearly winning the Big Ten West division title last season. That means the defense also needs to step its game up. With two big named players gone, can the expectations be met by reality in 2015?

Let’s take a look at the 2015 Gophers defense.

 

Defensive Line:

With Theiren Cockran back, Minnesota’s defensive line has a chance to be really good. Last season, Cockran tied for the lead on the team with 4.0 sacks and had 7.0 tackles for loss. This season he’ll be leaned on more to be a force in the backfield thanks to departures elsewhere, and we fully expect him to increase those key stats for a defensive end.

Now the trick will be finding a partner on the opposite side to help Cockran out. There are two likely candidates to fill that role in Hendrick Ekpe and Gaelin Elmore, both sophomores on this team. My bet is Elmore, who has shown explosiveness and is being groomed as the likely replacement for Cockran.

Inside, the Gophers appear stout up the middle again with Steven Richardson back after a promising freshman season as a starter. He had 23 total tackles, 2.0 sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss while deferring to others most of the season. That won’t happen in 2015, and he could be a great help to keeping extra offensive linemen off of the ends.

Stepping up to fill the other defensive tackle position should be Robert Ndondo-Lay, who played well in a backup role last season. His experience over the last three years should be a valuable asset to a group that is getting younger behind the expected starters.

 

Linebackers:

There’s no doubt that Minnesota is going to miss Damien Wilson, who led the team in tackles and sacks among other statistical categories. However, the Gophers will maintain a good level of consistency at the position this season with De’Vondre Campbell and Jack Lynn back in starting roles.

Nov 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (26) attempts to tackle Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) in the first half at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (26) attempts to tackle Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) in the first half at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Campbell was impressive, and very underrated based off what we saw last season. With Wilson gone, Campbell’s numbers should take a good jump up the stat sheet. However, his 75 tackles were good for third on the team last season already.

Who replaces Wilson is the big question mark heading in to fall camp. Some have penciled in sophomore Everett Williams and it appears that is a good choice from what we saw during spring ball. He commands the middle of the field well and attacks with good abandon as well.  Williams will have to fight off senior Alex Keith, but if spring was an indication, Williams is the better option now and for the long-term at the position.

Depth is there overall at the position as well, and that makes this the better of the two parts of the defensive front seven.

 

Secondary:

Minnesota’s biggest strength at a single position on the team comes in the secondary. Not only do they return arguably the most productive cornerback, but they also return three of four starters and all three are seniors as well.

Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a bona fide star and should be in line for national respect and awards following the season. At least if he keeps up with the production he had last season, where he racked up 51 tackles, five interceptions and nine passes broken up.

Across from him is senior Eric Murray, and that tandem could be the No. 1 cornerback tandem in the Big Ten. He had 69 tackles, one interception and seven passes broken up while playing a smaller role thanks to Cedric Thompson’s abilities all over the field. That won’t be necessary this season with Thompson off to the NFL.

Minnesota will have to count on Damarius Travis, who has starting experience under his belt to lead things in the absence of Thompson now. Overall, that trio is one of the best the Big Ten has to offer and is really the reason Minnesota can compete with just about anyone on any given day (just not TCU).

The question mark here comes if anything happens to the starters, as Minnesota is thin on experience and contributions behind this group. All three returning starters have been pretty healthy in their careers, so Minnesota must hold out hope that happens again or there could be some trouble.

 

Question(s) Still to Answer in Fall Camp:

— Can a Second Pass-Rushing Option Develop?

For all the success that Minnesota has had defensively, few will cower in fear at its overall pass rush. There has always been one good option, but a second has never really emerged just yet. If it changes in 2015 look to sophomore Gaelin Elmore to be that guy. He’s got a great motor, plays well in space and does good work with his hands and long arms. The issue is he’s green, but game experience is likely to help a naturally gifted player.

 

Our Projected Starters:

DE: Theiren Cockran, Sr.
DT: Robert Ndondo-Lay, Sr.
DT: Steven Richardson, So.
DE: Gaelin Elmore, So.
LB: De’Vondre Campbell, Sr.
LB: Everett Williams, So.
LB: Jack Lynn, Jr.
CB: Eric Murray, Sr.
FS: Antonio Johnson, Sr.
SS: Demarius Travis, Sr.
CB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Sr.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Buckeyes Hockey

2017 NCAA Hockey Tournament: A Big Ten Primer

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The creation of the Big Ten hockey conference shook collegiate hockey to its core. Some believed the league would be too top-heavy and others believed it would ultimately kill the sport.

If the 2016-17 season has taught us anything, it is that it appears Big Ten hockey is alive and well. Three teams are in the 2017 NCAA tournament, including the once upstart Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State earned their way in thanks to a victory in the Big Ten tournament finale, one that PSU didn’t necessarily have to win to get in, but one that made their tournament appearance a lock.

As the tournament draws near, let’s take a look at the details for the three Big Ten teams in the tournament.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Seed: No. 1 seed in Northeast Regional (No. 4 overall seed)
1st Round Matchup: vs. Notre Dame
When: Saturday, March 25; 3:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Cornell and UMass Lowell
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 3:30p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

You would think the Big Ten regular season champion would get some more love. However, off to New Hampshire are the Gophers. No matter, because there isn’t a more dedicated group of hockey fans in the country (sorry, not sorry, North Dakota). There’s also the fact that Minnesota is the last of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. You aren’t going to get your choice of places to play in that scenario.

That said, the Gophers are also in the second-most loaded regional in the tournament. Blue blood names like Notre Dame and Cornell is bad enough, but UMass Lowell are quickly becoming a powerhouse and a mainstay in the NCAA tournament over the past 6-7 years.

Getting out of this group likely makes the winner a favorite to take home the national championship.

As for the Gophers’ chances, well they haven’t seen any of the teams in its regional yet this season. They are 7-4-1 against fellow NCAA tournament teams though, while first round opponent Notre Dame is just 7-6-1 and come out of the equally loaded Hockey East. However, the Golden Domers come in to the tournament having gone 5-1-2 over the last 11 games of the regular season before dropping a game to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semi-finals.

It will also be a matchup of future Big Ten teams, and one that will likely come down style of play. Minnesota and Notre Dame are both averaging over three goals a game and come in with top 25 defenses as well. Something is going to have to give and it could be the most intriguing of the first round matchups in this year’s tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Seed: No. 4 in West Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (25-6-7 overall record)
When: Friday, March 24; 6:30p.m.
Where: Fargo, North Dakota; Scheels Arena
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Boston University vs. North Dakota
Regional Championship: Saturday, March 25, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU/watchESPN

When you are one of the last at-large bids, draws like Ohio State got are what will happen. Being unable to play in Cincinnati was a big blow, but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice for the selection committee.

As a result, the Buckeyes are off to the hostile confines in Fargo, where they must face UMD. Get past that and there’s a likely date with home-state UND in the following round. To say the deck is stacked against the Buckeyes in this regional isn’t an understatement.

Minnesota-Duluth is battle-tested this season, winning a rough NCHC tournament title and coming in at No. 3 in the latest USCHO.com national poll. Oh, and that NCHC title? It came over fellow West regional squad North Dakota.

Ohio State loves to bang and loves to score goals, but this is going to be a tough regional to get through. In fact, it is arguably the toughest quartet to predict a winner out of.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Seed: No. 3 seed in Midwest Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 2 seed Union
When: Saturday, March 25; 4:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPN3

Other Teams in Regional: Denver and Michigan Tech
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 6p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

Penn State didn’t need the Big Ten tournament title win, but it got it. Sure, it took two games of double-overtime to achieve it, but here are the Nittany Lions as Big Ten title holders in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Unfortunately it will happen in a regional with the No. 1 overall seed and against a team that historically hasn’t been kind to the Nittany Lions. Union is 4-0-0 all-time against Penn State, but they haven’t met since the 2013-14 season.

Let’s just say the Nittany Lions are no longer a building program like they were back then, while Union is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since winning the national championship that same season.

Penn State comes in to this tournament as one of the best offensive teams in the country. The team is tied for second nationally, averaging 3.97 goals per game. Defensively the team is just 22nd and gives up 2.68 goals per game as well. Union features a Hoby Baker Award finalist in Mike Vecchione, and he too can score — notching 29 goals alone this season.

Doubting the upstarts has been a bad idea most of this season, but this is one of the harshest spots the Nittany Lions could find themselves in. Can they make a run like they did last weekend and rep the Big Ten in Chicago for the Frozen Four? That certainly will be interesting.

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Badgers Basketball

2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special

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The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?

Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.

So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.

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Minnesota and P.J. Fleck’s First Order Of Business: A New Slogan

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“Row The Boat” is sooooo 2016. And with the hiring of P.J. Fleck as the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ new head man, it’s time to usher in the sparkle and shine for the new year.

Fleck has gone on record to state that Row The Boat will continue on with Ski-U-Mah in the Twin Cities, but we here at Talking10 couldn’t help but ponder what a new slogan could be now that the man who loves to get his oars in the water, has now backed the U-Haul up to Minneapolis.

So, without further delay, and without further whimsical nonsense, Andy Coppens, Dave Fitzgerald, Phil Harrison and Philip Rossman-Reich provide you with some corny, edge of craftiness potential slogans for the marriage between P.J. Fleck and Minnesota:

Defend The Bank-

Yep, they play in TCF Bank Stadium so…

Protect The Bank-

Again, the Gophers play in TCF Bank Stadium. Rinse and repeat.

Shovel The Snow-

Lest you forget, it’s COLD in the Twin Cities. They get a lot of snow.

Chip The Ice-

See above and add water.

Grind The Axe-

Made especially for you Badger fans.

Chuck The Wood-

Gophers aren’t wood chucks, but close enough, eh? You betcha.

Build The Dam-

Okay, okay, Gophers aren’t Beavers, but neither are wood chucks.

Dig The Hole-

Now we have the right rodent. Sounds imposing doesn’t it?

Shop The Mall-

This might be more for Fleck’s wife Heather, for the many trips to the Mall of America there in the suburb of Bloomington.

Go.Pher.It-

Sometimes it just works …

Win, Don’t Cha Know-

It’s not Canada, but pretty close. That Fargo accent has to rub off somewhere right?

Hot Dish, MMMMMM Bacon-

Literally everything is better with bacon, even big-time college football.

Secure The Trophies-

They certainly play for enough of them in Minneapolis, so why not?

Protect The Jugs-

You can figure this one out.

Clip The Mullet-

Minnesota loves hockey with its football. Hockey players love mullets. Fleck’s style is business up front, but party in back in the post game, so it all fits.

Drain The Lake-

It’s not Donald Trump draining the swamp in Washington, but Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes and its looking for a new direction.

Hit The Bull’s Eye-

Minnesota is home to mega-department store Target where you can waste hours looking at nothing, yet everything.

Walk The Skyway-

Have you ever been to Minneapolis in the winter? It’s a God-send to have the connected walkways in the air going from building to building so you don’t freeze your Gopher hiney in the brutal winters.

 

Okay, if we had the energy of Philip John Fleck, maybe we’d keep right on going. We don’t, and you’ve likely spent ten minutes of your time you’ll never get back. But hey, we had fun with it, and we hope you did too.

What do you think? Should Fleck implement one of these? Got one that you think would fit that we missed? Feel free to comment on Twitter to @BuckeyeFitzy @AndyOnFootball @RiseNU or @PhilHarrisonCFB

 

 

 

 

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P.J. Fleck’s got plenty of challenges ahead of him in building Gophers program

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A sea change is afoot in Minneapolis, as P.J. Fleck has been announced as the head coach of the Minnesota Gophers football program. Given he was at the top of the list for the administration and fans, excited is the word of the day.

However, once the initial excitement fades away the reality of the Gophers’ situation will settle in. That reality? A locker room that is a mess and players who feel hurt by the administration and the university at large.

Fleck comes in as a man with a reputation as a program builder and a man with plenty of motivational techniques in his arsenal. That’s the good news here, as Fleck faces a challenge that just about no nine-win team will face heading in to the 2017 season.

The reality is he needs to start over on and off the field. Minnesota’s offense was stagnant at best, its defense just okay and its culture clearly a mess. Fleck addressed that need for cultural change head on in his first press conference.

“I am more than football,” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Our kids will be more than football. What does that mean. We are going to serve and give as much as can. In the new era of Gopher football it is not about us. We’re going to connect people to Gopher football who don’t even like football. … Our players will have incredible, elite actions every single day. When you watch Gophers football from this point on, it will be different.”

He is going to have to change things in the locker room first and foremost. He is going to have to change the moral culture within this group of players, while also building a program within his image on the recruiting trail too.

At least the opening moments of his tenure have been full of the right words. Actions however will speak louder, and judging by his actions at Western Michigan, there’s little doubt that his actions more than back up the words spoken.

Those needed changes aren’t always immediate though, and the question in Minneapolis has to be just how quickly Fleck can get this group of players to buy in to what he is selling.

We’ll know more when Fleck announces his staff, but perhaps the best bit of news is that Fleck will get to work with a clean slate in terms of what is around him on the field. There will have to be a new quarterback with Mitch Leidner graduated, meaning Fleck can mold the offense in his image quickly rather than slowly.

This team also has plenty of experience returning from that 9-4 team, meaning he won’t be working with a completely bare cupboard either. But, are those returning players ready for what Fleck and Co. will bring and expect from its players?

Spring football is going to go a long way towards telling us all the answers. For now, we saw a coach who understood what he was walking in to and that is half the battle of getting a program to believe in you going forward.

 

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