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Quick Lane Bowl Preview: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

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When: Mon. Dec. 28; 5p.m. ET
Where: Detroit, MI; Ford Field (65,000)
TV: ESPN2
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Minnesota won 30-10 (Sept. 26, 1987)
Line: Minnesota -6.5

1 Burning Question: What Will Change For Gophers? 

Minnesota had a lot of change happen this season, including a shock retirement of head coach Jerry Kill and interim head coach Tracy Claeys getting the full-time gig. He made changes this offseason, firing long-time offensive coordinator Matt Limegrower and this will be the first time we see the Gophers since that change.

With plenty of practice and film time to work on things, will the stagnant and stale Gophers offense look any different for this game? Not having a new offensive coordinator in place may mean same old, same old for a Gophers offense that was less than explosive in 2015. Claeys promoted Rob Reeves to offensive coordinator for the game only, so this could be his audition for the permanent role if things change too.

Let’s see if the Quick Lane bowl prep makes a difference in adding a wrinkle or two to what Minnesota does.

2 Reasons to Actually Watch:

— Mitch Leidner’s passing: The Gophers quarterback struggled a bit this season, but exploded in the passing game as the season went on. In fact, the Gophers QB passed for over 200 yards in five of eight Big Ten games this season, including a pair of 300-yard efforts. Some of his struggles have come from a nagging foot injury, and he’ll have surgery after this game. It may not always look pretty from Leidner, but his progression in the passing game will be something to watch in this contest.

— Drama, drama, drama: If you want close games, this could be a good place to look. CMU had eight of their games decided by a touchdown or less and Minnesota had six of those such games. Given the lack of running done by either team in 2015, look for this one to be close by the nature of inconsistent pass games.

3 Key Players:

— Jesse Kroll, CMU WR: Kroll is as dangerous a weapon on the outside as the Chippewas have to offer. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch and led the team with 59 receptions. If the Chips are going to steal this game away, look for Kroll’s matchup with a good Gopher secondary to be in his favor.

— Shannon Brooks, Minnesota RB: While it took awhile, there arguably wasn’t a better redshirt freshman running back in the Big Ten than Brooks was by the end of the season. He provided a ray of light to a horrific Gophers rushing game. He had just 104 carries, but led the team with 644 yards, seven touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. CMU’s defense wasn’t exactly amazing against the run and that could mean a chance for Brooks to continue to break out.

—Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota CB: The Chips threw the ball 465 times this season, and that was by design folks. It means the Gophers secondary will be tested and senior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun needs to be up the task. He was up to it most of the season, tying for the team lead with three interceptions and second with four pass break ups. Look for opportunities to exist for the senior to make a big impact in his final game.

4 Crazy Stats:

— 2-2: That is Central Michigan’s record in bowl games played at Ford Field. It won one Motor City Bowl (1-2 overall) and also took home the 2012 Little Caesar’s Bowl. Could it be an advantage to this school having played there more recently than the Gophers?

— 5: Not only is that the number of wins for the Gophers so far this season, but it also the number of AP Top 20-ranked teams (at the time they played) on the season. Minnesota has played No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 TCU, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Northwestern. Central Michigan is not that level in any respect.

— 66-19: That is the record of the seven teams Minnesota has lost to this season. Incredibly, should Michigan and Wisconsin win their bowl games, the Gophers would’ve faced six teams to win 10 games on the season. Perhaps that 5-7 overall record is a bit deceiving given that kind of insane schedule?

— 8: That is the number of 3rd-and-long conversions that have gone for over 20 yards on the season for CMU. It’s significant as the Chips had just two of those such plays happen in those situations. Overall CMU is 44 percent on 3rd down conversions, so look out if they are forced to pin their ears back and gain big chunks of yards on third down.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Minnesota 31-17 (88-25 overall; 56-55 ATS)
Dave: Minnesota 21-10 (92-21 overall; 61-49 ATS)
Greg: Central Michigan 27-23 (86-27 overall; 67-43 ATS)
Matt: Minnesota 28-20 (91-22 overall; 65-45 ATS)
Phil: Minnesota 24-17 (42-17 overall; 23-33 ATS) *joined in Week 5

6 Pack Suggestion (Because Beer and Bowl Games Are Your Best Friend): Surly Furious, Surly Brewing Co.

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It’s bad enough we are subjected to MACtion vs. the Big Ten to start the season, now you’ve got to sit through it to end the season too? Sure it is a bowl game to help you get through the time off from work, but watching this one could feel like work at times. Why not make yourself feel good by drinking one of the best beers on the face of this earth in the face of this potentially crap contest? Grabbing a 4-pack of Surly Furious and drinking a beer considered “world-class” by Beer Advocate can never be a bad thing.

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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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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