There’s a lot of excitement around many college football teams as the season starts this week. Everybody has potential, and with a new four-team playoff system established, there will be a true and undeniable national champion at the end of the year. The University of Minnesota is one of several teams to open its regular season Thursday night.
For the first time under coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota has made significant progress. Last season, the Gophers doubled their Big Ten victory total of the previous two years. Their eight wins were the most the program had in a decade.
The Gophers open their fall camp on Friday, and there’s plenty of excitement around the program as it continues to make strides in Kill’s fourth season. Here are the top six things to watch this season.
He just lived to make others feel good. That’s the way most describe Gopher great Bob McNamara. The legendary halfback and fundraiser died Sunday. He was considered one of the best football players to come through the University of Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota football program announced Tuesday its practice schedule for the upcoming fall camp before its season-opening game on Aug. 28.
The Chicago Bears selected Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey and traded up in the fourth round to pick Minnesota safety Brock Vereen on Saturday. Carey was chosen with the 17th pick of the fourth round, 117th overall, and Vereen was 131st.
The Atlanta Falcons bolstered their pass rush by picking Minnesota defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday. Hageman, the fifth pick of the second round, joins a defense that ranked last in third-down efficiency, second-worst against the run and third-fewest in sacks.
Ra’shede Hageman was a star at Minneapolis’ Washburn High School in two sports: football and basketball. His story includes life in foster homes before being adopted. He’s grown into a man ready for the NFL. “I’m thankful but, you know, I’m always remaining hungry. I’m just, you know, getting a step ahead of my competition, but I’m always humble,” Hageman said.
Minnesota has given football coach Jerry Kill a raise and another year on his contract. The university announced Saturday that Kill’s deal was extended through the 2018 season and that he’ll make $2.1 million in 2014, a big spike from his previous salary of $1.2 million. That was the lowest in the Big Ten. Athletic director Norwood Teague had promised for months the contract would be restructured.
There will be a Minnesotan on the field during Sunday’s Super Bowl. Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker grew up in Cold Spring, and played for the Gophers. On Thursday afternoon, hundreds of people filled the Rocori High School gymnasium for “Eric Decker Day.” Those on hand included preschoolers, teenagers, grownups and family – including Eric’s grandma, Bernice Decker.
Devin Gardner threw a 24-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Devin Funchess late in the first half and No. 19 Michigan pulled away to rout Minnesota 42-13 on Saturday. The Wolverines (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) relied on their running game to take pressure off the turnover-prone Gardner. He didn’t throw an interception for the first time since making his first start as a quarterback last year at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2) were without coach Jerry Kill for an entire game for the first time because of his epilepsy. He had a seizure Saturday morning, when he planned to travel to Michigan to coach in the game, and remained home to rest in Minnesota.
Jake Rudock threw for one touchdown and ran for another and Iowa beat Minnesota on both sides of the ball in a 23-7 victory on Saturday. Mark Weisman rushed for 147 yards on 24 carries, and Mike Meyer made three of his four field goal attempts to help the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0) start the Big Ten with a bang. After losing their opener to Northern Illinois, they’ve outscored their last two opponents 82-10. Senior linebackers Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens led a stifling effort on defense, including interceptions by Kirksey and Morris of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson. Nelson hadn’t played in two weeks because of an injury, but he started ahead of Mitch Leidner for the Gophers (4-1, 0-1).
Minnesota starting cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that will keep him out for the rest of the season. Boddy-Calhoun was hurt last week at New Mexico State. Coach Jerry Kill revealed the injury on Tuesday. He said he expected Boddy-Calhoun to qualify for a medical redshirt from the NCAA, which would give him two more years of eligibility.
Philip Nelson was a gifted quarterback from Mankato West, where he was turning heads in the Big Ten. He committed to Minnesota, and in his sophomore season he’s progressing like he did in high school. “It’s a lot like high school when it comes to each year you play, it slows down noticeably, and that’s where I’m at right now. It’s taken a step slower for me, and I think as an offense we all feel the same way,” Nelson said.
Matt Spaeth is part of the group working at Larry Fitzgerald’s camp. Sit with him and you realize that the young man now has some years in this game. “It’s been a whirlwind to think this is year seven for me. I was just talking to somebody else, I don’t want to say this, but I’m coming up on 30 and to think I’ll be 30 playing in the NFL is just amazing. It’s been a dream come true,” Spaeth said.