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Michigan game becomes program-definer for Minnesota Gophers

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Saturday we may have seen the final nail in the coffin for Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, but it also spoke volumes for the Minnesota Gophers football program. In fact, the past few games for the Little Brown Jug have represented what both of these teams have become over the last two years.

Last season’s game may have been a lopsided 42-13 win for the Wolverines, taking the Little Brown Jug for the sixth year in a row, but these two teams have gone in very different directions since that time.

Minnesota is 5-2 in Big Ten play since that loss, one where it dealt with a head coach who didn’t make the trip at the last-minute with a seizure. Packed in that 5-2 record are wins over Nebraska, Penn State and now Michigan once again.

Michigan has gone 2-6 since that time, including the loss this past weekend. In fact, the Wolverines are the owners of a three-game losing streak in Big Ten play.

Further, adding to the problem for the Wolverines is the fact that the only wins in the Big Ten in the past nine games have come against Indiana and Northwestern.

Oh, and did we mention that this is the first time in the 135-year history of Michigan football that they’ve lost three games before October?

If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the state of these two programs, what will?

Ironically, it wasn’t Jerry Kill or Brady Hoke or anyone playing in either of the last two games between that put what those two games meant in to proper perspective. Instead it was Gophers’ head coach Jerry Kill’s wife that gave us all the prospective needed.

https://twitter.com/MVofDT/status/516644441344335873

The Gophers have won all but Pau Bunyan’s Axe under Kill, having lifted Floyd of Rosedale and now the Little Brown Jug.

Don’t be shocked to see Kill’s Gophers find a way to win that trophy sooner than later. Kill’s teams have gone from bad to respectable to now a team that other coaches in the Big Ten don’t want to face:

https://twitter.com/MVofDT/status/516642848087605248

Talk about two teams having gone in different directions in just a year’s time, huh?

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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Gophers Football

Gophers finally grab the Axe, manage to make big statement in the process

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It’s been 14 agonizingly long years, but the streak has finally come to an end and the Minnesota Gophers have taken possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe. 

To make the win even sweeter, Minnesota became bowl eligible as they chopped down the goalposts at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 1994. 

It is time to revel and celebrate for sure. As head coach P.J. Fleck stated after the game, “this is for the state of Minnesota.” 

But, this win was more of a statement than just ending a streak. How Minnesota beat the Badgers told a tale of a team ready to compete at a very high level. 

Much has been made of the growing pains of a young Gophers team. On Saturday, that team finally put it together for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game. 

There was a punt return for a touchdown and three made field goals from the special teams. Minnesota’s defense held Jonathan Taylor out of the end zone, forced three interceptions and a fumble out of Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the offense took those four turnovers and capitalized on them to the tune of 24 points. 

The Gophers defense played so well on Saturday and really throughout the final few weeks of the season that interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi had the interim tag removed after the game according to Fleck. 

Minnesota didn’t win on a miracle or a fluke play. The Gophers were the better team on the day. That’s important to remember. 

So is the fact that this young team will now have 15 more practices and chances to get better because of this win.. Given the youth of this team, those moments are invaluable. 

The experience of getting back to a bowl game will also help. Every chance to be competitive matters. 

But now the bigger questions will be asked. Can the Gophers use this win as a game-changer for this program in general? Is this the defining moment of the Fleck era or a fleeting moment of glory? 

Only time will answer those questions, but it is hard not to be positive about this program after getting the biggest albatross removed from around the neck of the Gophers program.  

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Football

Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut

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Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod. 

But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State. 

Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long. 

Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.

Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well. 

Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.

Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team. 

Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward. 

Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder. 

While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago. 

As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start. 

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Gophers Hockey

Don Lucia steps down from Gophers hockey program

Long-time Gophers head man steps down just a few days after his team misses out on NCAA tournament.

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One of the most decorated coaches in the last two decades of college hockey is stepping down, as the University of Minnesota announced the departure of men’s hockey head coach Don Lucia.

“I want to thank Mark Dienhart for giving me a tremendous opportunity 19 years ago,” Lucia said in a statement. “I came to Minnesota because of the tradition, and I hoped to add to the tradition when I left. I am proud of the 14 banners that have been added to the rafters of 3M Arena at Mariucci.

“I am forever grateful to all the coaches, staff and most importantly the players who have worked so hard to accomplish this over the years.

“Most importantly to me, we did it the right way. Our players all graduate and have always represented themselves to the high standards of Gopher Hockey on and off the ice. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to be the head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota.”

Lucia put up 14 banners to the rafters in Mariucci Arena, including eight regular season conference titles, four tournament titles, five Frozen Four appearances and two NCAA national championships.

Minnesota won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004, just four and five years in to Lucia taking over the program.

However, in recent years the Gophers have had increasing struggles as a program.

This past season was perhaps the most disappointing, as Lucia’s Gophers were just 19-17-2 overall and finished fifth in the Big Ten conference. Minnesota was left out of the NCAA tournament thanks to that mediocre record and one of the craziest scenarios in college hockey history.

Minnesota needed just one or two of six conference finals to go their way and they were likely in. The Gophers wanted to see Air Force, Boston University, Michigan Tech, Princeton, Denver and Notre Dame win their respective conference crowns.

Instead, all six of the results went exactly the other way and Minnesota was left out of the tournament thanks to the needs for other at-large bids to be handed out.

Lucia’s team went from winning six conference titles in a row to finishing fifth in the Big Ten. That could have played a part in Coyle’s decision and discussion with Lucia following the end of the season.

Signs pointed to something happening as late as yesterday, with Lucia skirting around the issue when asked by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“We’ve had a lot of talks, let’s put it that way — just over the last couple years,” Lucia said.

“I don’t plan on coaching when I’m 70, I can promise you that,” the 59-year-old Lucia continued. “We’ll talk. We’ll see what’s best for where he’s at and where I’m at. We’re on the same page right now, and I think we’ll continue to be that way.”

Change had to come for a very proud program, and Lucia stepping aside rather being flat-out relieved of duties was the right thing to do for all parties involved.

Thus ends a 19-year career at the helm of the Gophers and a 31-year career as a college hockey head coach.

While the ending was a slide down the national stage, Lucia brought plenty of glory and plenty to love about Gophers hockey. His legacy is a big one and his presence is going to be hard to fill on the bench and in the Gophers hockey community.

It will be interesting to see where the search by Coyle goes, because this hire has the potential to make or break the future of this program.

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Football

Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires

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Mother Nature could wreak havoc on college football this upcoming weekend, but the majority of the news has been focused on an impending hurricane barring down on Florida.

A look out West and things are just as dangerous and deadly, as wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington. That could present a big problem for the Minnesota Gophers game on Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers and Nebraska’s visit to the Oregon Ducks.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites sources within the Pac-12 saying that the game time may be moved or the game moved all together.

While the fire isn’t the problem, it is the air quality in the Eugene area that is. Oregon has already had to move practice closer to the Pacific Coast and the air in Eugene appears to be a major issue.

The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast.

The good news is that the smoke cleared enough a day later for the Ducks to return to practice in Eugene. But, there is reason to believe the game could still be an issue as smoke is expected to return.

The smoke is supposed to return at some point. But we just don’t know when. … There are too many variables for us to look that far ahead of time.”

Yes, that means we won’t know about the status of Nebraska-Oregon until Saturday itself.

Meanwhile, things don’t look as precarious for the Gophers matchup, but that doesn’t mean change would be out of the question.

“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.

Once again, it appears things are going to be in a wait-and-see mode in Corvallis as well.

It hasn’t affected Minnesota all that much, as they are more worried about playing at game that would kick at 9pm in Minneapolis if it were being played at home.

Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked this week about making sure players are staying up later as the week goes on to adjust their bodies. That’s especially important as practices are taking place first thing in the morning this season.

Either way, both of these programs are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and that may be the biggest hurdle to get over when prepping for Week 2.

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