Change is the name of the game in Minneapolis in 2017, especially when you talk about the Minnesota Gophers football program. With new head coach P.J. Fleck in charge, a lot is changing around the program.
That means new players getting chances and old ones getting new life as well.
As we continue our #GophersWeek here at talking10, it is time we look to specific players who could have a major impact on the 2017 season.
Let us look at five players who are likely to impact how this season goes.
Demry Croft, QB
After speaking to those in the know, it is clear the front-runner to win the quarterback job is redshirt freshman Demry Croft. When looking back at the spring game it is easy to see why too. He’s got the extra athleticism and perhaps the stronger arm in the QB1 battle.
That said, if Croft wins this job outright in fall camp, certainly the prospects for changing the explosiveness of the offense rest on his shoulders. It could be argued that the Gophers will only go as far as Croft is able to carry them.
Sure, Minnesota will have a really good rushing attack with the two-headed monster that is Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, but as we saw all of last season, that only takes you so far.
Rashad Still, WR
If quarterback is going to be key, you can bet the people who will do the pass-catching will be important too. When you look at the changing Gophers offense, Still provides the biggest chance at being able to stretch the field.
You don’t need to believe me, just watch this 60-yard touchdown reception in the spring game.
He comes in to this season having caught just 18 passes last season, but he did average 19.3 yards per reception for 349 yards of receiving offense. Not too shabby for a sophomore season. This year, Still will be expected to be the leader of the Gophers wide receiver group, especially with Drew Wolitarsky graduated.
While Wolitarsky was the No. 1 target, Still provided the most explosive plays in the passing game. Look for Croft and Still to be a huge factor in just how changed the offense will be in 2017.
Emmit Carpenter, K
When an offense stalls out, there’s nothing better than being able to rely on your kicker. One of the biggest helps to P.J. Fleck’s transition year will likely come from the leg of junior kicker Emmit Carpenter. Last season, as a sophomore, Carpenter connected on 91.7 percent of his field goal attempts (22 of 24) and was named the Big Ten’s official Kicker of the Year.
Putting his importance in other terms. His 22 made field goals accounted for 66 points and were nearly half of the 45 touchdowns scored by the Gophers last season.
Having an accurate kicker and one that is even more deadly from beyond 40 yards is vital to a team’s success in close games. Carpenter hit 10 of his 22 made field goals last season from 40 yards and beyond, including three from 40-plus yards against Indiana State and two 50-plus yard makes against Purdue.
There may not be a better single player in the Big Ten at his respective position on the Gophers than Carpenter.
Jonathan Celestin, LB
Minnesota’s offense seems to have gotten a lot of the attention this offseason, and rightfully so. However, the reality of the Kill and Claeys era was that it was a strong defensive effort that got them over the hurdle more often than not.
A lot of the talent that gave the Gophers a killer defense the past two seasons have graduated and/or are off to the NFL. Just look at cornerback where this list of players are gone —Eric Murray, Briean-Boddy Calhoun, Jalen Myrick and KiAnte Hardin.
In fact, just six starters return from last season and of that group Celestin is the leading returning tackler with 80 total in 2016. While defensive tackle Steven Richardson was a third-team All-Big Ten pick, Celestin hold the keys to success in 2017. He wasn’t a slouch last season, picking up honorable mention All-Big Ten honors at arguably the most loaded position group in the conference last season.
With the more aggressive nature of the defense this upcoming season, Celestin is going to be a very important piece to the puzzle. If his play continues to rise, look for the Gophers defense to lead the way once again in Minneapolis.
Donnell Greene, LT
With a new quarterback in place, his best friend is often the guy protecting his blindside. In the case of the 2017 Minnesota Gophers, that job will go to one of the two returning starters along the offensive line — former JUCO transfer Donnell Greene. Amazingly, Greene was one of just four healthy bodies for most of spring camp.
That means he was also one of the four players who basically played every rep of every scrimmage and practice scenario possible. It should mean an already good left tackle finished spring with even more experience and better technique.
He was part of a group that let up only 16 sacks all of last season, and with a mobile quarterback and plans to get in space more that number could stay the same or similar this season.
Minnesota gets Big Ten off to bright start in bowl season
It’s the one time of the year where almost every fan of a team in the Big Ten can come together — bowl season. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats and no tide is higher than taking a strong narrative in to an offseason.
The Minnesota Gophers got things started on Wednesday and the “Row the Boat” crew started things off well with a 34-10 demolition of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Bowl season also seems to provide a glimpse forward from time to time, and in the case of the Gophers they continued to see progression in the run game.
Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim set a career high with 224 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns in the win.
That led to no need to test the arm of freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan, who threw just 13 passes on the day. He connected on seven of them for 132 yards and a pair of scores as well.
Star receiver Tyler Johnson caught both of those touchdown passes, including the final score of the game with 6:19 to play in the final quarter.
Overall, this game hit all the marks for the plan to be “elite” at Minnesota.
The Gophers defense had been a sore spot for most of the 2018 season and just like they did in the regular season finale against Wisconsin, they showed up big time.
Minnesota allowed just 283 yards of total offense to Georgia Tech, including just 206 yards on 44 carries for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets went just 4 of 14 on third down in the game as well.
It all added up to a very positive performance for the Gophers and a nice start to what could be a very difficult bowl season for the Big Ten.
The cautionary tale may be reading too much in to a big win on the scoreboard. After all, Georgia Tech is in the process of a major transition away from the triple-option offense as Paul Johnson was removed as head coach following the regular season.
Still, the details suggest this is a Gophers program heading in the right direction at the very least. Dare we say it was an “elite” win for a program needing momentum going in to this offseason?
It certainly was a nice way to start things off if you want the Big Ten to do well this bowl season.
Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut
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.
Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires
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.
talking10 Power Poll: Surprises galore in Week 1 poll
We’re back…after a long offseason, the staff is finally back to watching football, crunching numbers and giving you our opinions on all things Big Ten football.
It also means our weekly staff Power Poll is back as well.
This season we’ve got five staff members voting every week. That includes the following names:
Andy Coppens – @AndyOnFootball
Phil Harrison – @PhilHarrisonCFB
Philip Rossmann-Reich – @RiseNU
Dave Fitzgerald – @BuckeyeFitzy
Zach Worthington – @Worthyton
Normally the opening week of the season provides little in the way of knowledge, but that certainly wasn’t the case in 2017. Dare we say the first week of action for the Big Ten was highly entertaining?
You can say that, and we did over at the #B1GRewind Show.
But, how did all of that excitement shake out when it came time to vote? Let’s take a look at the official poll for Week 1:
Let’s just say things were a bit wackier than usual, huh?
- Only three teams lost this week, yet it was a winner, Illinois, coming up dead last and it wasn’t even close. The Illini’s unimpressive three-point win was also our winner for “Disappointment of the Week” on the #B1GRewind show…so perhaps their last place finish in the power poll this week was really warranted. It also appears that hanging tough with ranked teams meant a lot to our voters.
- While the rest of the college football world is in love with Ohio State…our staff is much more in love with the Nittany Lions…well not “much more” but they won out with three first place votes and OSU falling outside the top two in one voters mind.
- It appears there is going to be an interesting battle for the middle of the pack over the next few weeks. Michigan State was No. 7 in this poll, but had just a three-point lead on No. 10 Nebraska. Let’s just say the next few weeks should shake out the middle a bit more.
- Speaking of close fights…the battle between Michigan and Wisconsin for the third spot should be an interesting one indeed. Can Wisconsin’s offense keep up the high-scoring and keep UW ahead or will Michigan’s exciting youth movement grow up fast enough to challenge for the top of the East division and thus our poll as well?