On Sunday, after Christian Ponder wasted a solid first half performance against Seattle by completely melting down with an embarrassing second-half sequence that got him benched, I wrote what many assumed, that the Ponder era had finally come to a merciful end.
Ponder’s a good guy who tries hard, but it was almost sad to watch him come to the realization himself, right there on the field in Seattle, that, “You know, maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m just not good enough to do this.”
It wasn’t just the bad throws — we’d seen them before. It was the almost comic surrealness of that pick six, coming just moments after he’d thrown one terrible interception. It almost happened in slow motion. It was like God had directly intervened, reaching down and steering Ponder’s feeble toss right to the Seattle defender as if to say, ‘OK, this has gone on long enough.’
Matt Cassell entered the game (and was notably similar to Ponder in ineffectiveness), and we all assumed that Josh Freeman would be given the last six games (or at least the next two or three, depending on how things went) to audition for a future NFL job, either with the Vikings or someone else.
Of note from my Sunday piece was this sentence: "While Frazier has shown a hard-to-understand loyalty to Ponder all season, I’m very confident that Frazier knows now he can’t send him back out there after such a sad and complete breakdown."
On Wednesday Leslie Frazier announced that Ponder will be back under center, remaining the starting QB, with, presumably, Cassell the No. 2 and Freeman the (possibly inactive) No. 3.
My immediate reaction was complete disbelief, but after a few minutes to mull it over, I think I have an idea of how we got to where we are.
Namely, this is about Leslie Frazier trying to either save his job as Vikings head coach, or pull together a strong enough finish with the Vikings to help him land on his feet after he gets fired.
The Vikings are 2-8. Right now I think it’s extremely unlikely Frazier returns as coach next year, but what if he were to rally the team to a strong finish? What if they get to 6-10? Would that late surge be enough for him to keep his job? Not if I were in charge of the decision, but perhaps for someone else.
They play the Packers this week. In Lambeau. With Aaron Rodgers out. While the absence of Green Bay’s MVP QB would certainly cheapen it, a win over in Green Bay is a win in Green Bay, and it would certainly be a big deal for Frazier.
People talk about playing for draft picks and losing intentionally, but that is a deeply flawed and mostly impractical concept.
It’s fine for fans to root for their teams to lose because they want a high pick, but expecting teams to *not* try to win for draft positioning is completely unreasonable.
Why would Leslie Frazier have any interest in that? If the Vikings go 3-13 he’s getting fired anyway, and won’t be around for the draft. So why would he tank for a higher pick? He wants to prove he’s the kind of guy who can keep the ship afloat through rough waters.
Jared Allen and others are playing for a contract. Guys like Erin Henderson, John Carlson and Jerome Simpson are playing to prove they can be starters in the NFL. Many others are playing merely to prove they belong in the league at all. Expecting them to ‘tank’ so the team can have a higher pick in the draft is anathema to everything that got them to where they are in the first place.
And that’s why Christian Ponder is starting Sunday. As bad as he’s been, it’s very possible — likely, even — that he does actually give the Vikings the best chance to win of all their QBs. Frazier doesn’t want to get fired. If he thought Cassell or Freeman were better, I’m pretty sure he’d make the move. Even Adrian Peterson came out this week in defense (sort of) of Ponder, agreeing that he gave the team the best chance to win.
People, really. They’re at practice. We’re not. If they all agree that Ponder is the best guy for the job, that should tell you a lot about Cassell and Freeman. And while I wouldn’t be starting Ponder at this point, I don’t think it makes a whole hell of a lot of difference. I really don’t care who they start at QB, this is a bad team any way you look at it.
I still don’t understand why they brought Freeman in if they’re not going to play him, though. I suspect he was brought in against Frazier’s wishes, despite what has been said publicly.
The ‘good news’, I guess, is that even if Ponder does indeed give the team their ‘best chance to win’, he still gives them a pretty good chance of losing. I’m not exactly worried that Ponder is going to rally the team to a 7-9 finish, and if he does, great, I’ll enjoy watching it happen. They’re still going to get another QB in the draft, and the idea that they absolutely have to have a pick in the top five, or that getting the top pick guarantees anything, is ignorant. Aaron Rodgers was taken 24th. Russell Wilson was taken in the third round.
It’s not about what pick you have, it’s about the front office’s ability to find the right guy. Obviously Viking fans have reason to be highly skeptical of that, too, but that’s a separate issue.
I still think the Vikings have to give Freeman a look, and soon, and unless Ponder is really good over the next game or two, I expect it’ll happen.
Then again, maybe not. It’s hard to guess what a team is going to do at quarterback when they don’t seem to have any idea themselves.
On Sunday, after Christian Ponder wasted a solid first half performance against Seattle by completely melting down with an embarrassing second-half sequence that got him benched, I wrote what many assumed, that the Ponder era had finally come to a merciful end.
The NSIC will release it’s All-Conference team today. It will consist of a first and second team, plus honorable mentions, for both the North and South Divisions.
Lots and lots of players will be honored. In fact, if you’re a starter, you’ve got about a 50% chance of being so honored.
That’s all fine and good, but it does cheapen the phrase ‘all-conference’ to some degree.
To combat this, I last year introduced my NSIC ‘All-Pro Team’, so named not because these guys are pro’s, obviously, but in reference to the NFL All-Pro team, which has always been much more exclusive than the Pro Bowl or other such awards.
There are 27 players on the team — one for each position including kicker, punter and returner, and allowing for an extra RB/WR on offense and an extra DL/LB on defense because obviously different teams run different schemes.
Obviously I saw USF and Augie more than any other team, and saw the South more than the North, although I picked just two Augie guys and no one from USF, after the Cougars dominated by All-Pro team last year. As was the case last year, I didn’t pick a center, two guards, etc. for offensive line, or split hairs with the D-line and secondary. I just picked five O-linemen, four D-linemen and four DBs.
Individual stats, team record, and my own personal observations all played into the selections. Feel free to call me an idiot in the comments.
Jon Wolf, Minnesota State - 1,719 yards passing and 15 touchdowns passing, 1,047 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing
The NSIC is always a loaded league at the QB position and likely always will be. Last year choosing one as the league’s best was very difficult and this year was no different.
St. Cloud’s Philip Klaphake was my pick last year, and as a Harlon Hill finalist, he’d make a good pick this time around as well.
Jake Hodge or Moorhead, Craig Bagnell of Mary, Jack Nelson of Winona, Cole Jaeschke of Upper Iowa, Klaphake and SMSU’s Charlie Kern all averaged more than 250 yards per game and all threw at least 23 touchdown passes. But none of them are my pick.
Mankato’s Wolf was one of the league’s best all around athletes in leading the Mavs to a second straight perfect season, and while he didn’t put up the gaudy passing stats it wasn’t for lack of ability. The 6-4 senior led the league in passer rating, was second in completion percentage (63.4), and threw only one interception. One. Threw it in the first game of the season, too.
Oh, and the guy can jump.
Tyler Tonderum, SMSU - 1,979 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, 32 catches for 274 yards and 1 touchdown
Chris Smith, Upper Iowa - 1,706 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing, 11 catches for 82 yards receiving
No brainers, here, as both players surpassed the single-season NSIC rushing record that Winona’s Rayon Simmons set just last year.
Tonderum had his coming out party by rushing for 343 yards against Moorhead and ran for over 100 yards in all but two of the Mustangs’ games, leading them to their best-ever season at the Division II level at 7-4, and a berth in the Mineral Water Bowl.
Smith helped the Peacocks to their first-ever winning season in Division II, surpassing 200 yards in a game four times.
Anthony Dean, SMSU - 46 catches for 931 yards and 17 touchdowns
Nick Jolliffe, Mary - 64 catches for 843 yards and 15 touchdowns
Adam Jiskra, MSU-Moorhead - 67 catches for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns
Wayne Peters led the league in catches and Carrington Hanna still might be the best pure wide receiver in the league, but having spent half the season at quarterback I couldn’t, in good faith, pick Hanna for the team, as much as I wanted to, as he finished with just 491 yards and three touchdowns on 44 catches. It just would’ve been too much of a stretch.
Dean, Jolliffe and Jiskra all have numbers that speak for themselves, and the work of all three helped for a much improved season for their teams.
Lucas Hefty, Upper Iowa - 65 catches for 846 yards and 10 touchdowns
Another easy one. Cody Condon of SMSU, Austin Vanhove of USF and Connor Doherty of Northern all had nice seasons — the latter two were their teams’ leading receivers — but Hefty put up wide receiver numbers. No other tight end was close.
Tom Olson, Minnesota Duluth
Brandon Puffer, SMSU
Josh Meeker, Minnesota State
Andrew Essman, Minnesota State
Casey Beck, Upper Iowa
You could almost take any of SMSU’s five linemen, as all are seniors and they paved the way for the league’s No. 1 offense. Same deal for Mankato, whose interior play on both sides of the ball is silly good. Beck led an underrated Peacock line, while Olson was the captain of yet another dominant Bulldog front.
Chris Schaudt, Minnesota State - 40 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks
Jake Lee, Augustana - 42 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks
Josh Gordon, Minnesota State - 40 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks
John Oyloe, Mary - 54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks
Schaudt and Gordon were the leading men on the most dominant unit in the league. MSU held opponents to 14.5 points and 269 yards per game, including just 64 rushing yards per game. They held Tyler Tondrum to 61 yards on 19 carries, they held Chris Smith to 34 yards on 6 carries.
Lee wore down a little bit down the stretch, as the toll of the Viking defense needing to carry their team beat him up, but for most of the season he was the most consistent and reliable player on the most underrate defense in the South.
Oyloe is a repeat selection who followed up one good season with another.
SMSU’s AJ Page put up crazy numbers for a defensive end, and while he’s obviously a good player, I wasn’t comfortable taking a guy from one of the league’s worst defenses. Big tackling numbers often come from being on a defense that can’t get off the field.
Also hard to pass up were Bo Putrah of St. Cloud State and Concordia’s Zach Moore, who managed seven sacks despite being the most feared (and consequently most double-teamed) pass rusher in the league.
Grant Singer, Mary - 118 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries
Troy Guptill, Mary - 78 tackles, 21.5 for loss, 12.5 sacks
Colby Ring, Minnesota Duluth - 55 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions
Tyler Henderson, Minnesota State - 64 tackles, 6 for loss, 2.5 sacks
Singer should be named the North’s defensive player of the year. Great pass rusher and run stopper with the speed to cover.
Guptill, a former Philip standout who apparently snuck under the radar of South Dakota schools, led the league in sacks and tackles for loss as part of the most underrated defense in the NSIC.
Ring had another excellent season captaining the Bulldogs excellent defense, while Henderson emerged as the leading tackler on the No. 1 defense in the league as a sophomore.
Jack Moro, St. Cloud State - 7 interceptions, 75 tackles, 1 blocked kick, 1 touchdown
Thomas Vanasek, Augustana - 74 tackles, 1 interception
Nathan Hancock, Minnesota State - 43 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 touchdown
Tevin Kellum, Minnesota Crookston - 88 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 7 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
A year after picking off an incredible 11 passes, Moro proved it was no fluke by picking off seven more. Vanasek is a physical presence who can make plays against the run and the pass, while Hancock was second in the league in interceptions (though I almost disqualified him when I saw his hair in the above photo).
Kellum is probably the surprise choice, but I saw him play each of the last three years and was impressed with him each time. It can’t be easy to toil away for a Golden Eagles team that considers consecutive two-wins seasons to be a significant breakthrough, but Kellum packed a lunch. He had 15 tackles and an interception this year in the game I covered against USF.
Sam Brockshus, Minnesota State - 60/61 XP, 14-18 FGs, 102 points
He was the wrong choice by the league’s coaches last year (USF’s Braden Wieking was better), but he’s a no-brainer this year, leading the league in points, field goals, field goal percentage and PAT percentage.
Zach Pulkinen, Bemidji State - 42.5 yards per punt, 15 punts inside 20
One of the league’s busiest punters was also the best, ranking second in the league in punting average and first in net average, as the Beavers allowed just 199 yards in returns on his 66 kicks.
Dennis Carter, Minnesota State
With two punt returns for touchdowns, Carter gets the nod over USF’s Wes Smith.
Most Valuable Player
Jon Wolf, Minnesota State
Last year I went with Schaudt, stressing value over production, as I consider MVP to mean something different than ‘player of the year’.
Schaudt wouldn’t really be a bad pick this year, either, nor would a few other players on the MSU defense, as their second straight undefeated season was once again predicated on their ability to dominate the trenches with their D-line.
Klaphake would be an obvious choice, too, and I you could make a strong case for Moorhead’s Hodge, Winona’s Nelson and USF’s Hanna. You have to wonde what the Cougars would’ve done this year without Hanna to guide two freshman QBs, then fill in for them when they went down.
But really, it comes down to Tonderum and Wolf, and I have to go with Wolf. Tonderum was at least slowed down a couple times, notably against MSU-Mankato, and even to some degree this week at Augie.
Nobody stopped Wolf. You could say that’s in part because he had great teammates around him, but Tonderum had Kern and Dean to keep opposing defenses honest, too.
Coach of the Year
Cory Sauter, SMSU
Aaron Keen led MSU to another undefeated season, but, not to take anything away from that, he was kind of supposed to, with so many players back from last year’s undefeated team.
That doesn’t mean his job was easy or that he’s undeserving of the award.
Concordia’s Ryan Williams and Moorhead’s Steve Laqua led their teams to three-win improvements but still had losing seasons, but for me it’s between Sauter and Upper Iowa’s Tom Shea.
Shea led the Peacocks to the biggest turnaround, going from 2-9 to 6-5, while Sauter led the Mustangs from 4-7 to 7-4.
But to me, SMSU’s turnaround was more surprising, given that the Mustangs had to replace so much. They lost two excellent senior running backs in Gannon Moore and Warren Matthews, and a pretty good QB in Tyler Peschong.
In Saturday’s win at Augie, the Mustangs went for it on 4th down four times. They converted all four, including a big one late where they called a quick pass with Tonderum in the backfield and everyone expecting a run.
"Ballsy call," admitted Augie coach Jerry Olszewski.
"We wanted to play to win, we weren’t going to play not to lose," Sauter said.
Good enough for me.
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There have been several ‘this looks like the end’ moments for Christian Ponder over the last calendar year or so.
While his first two seasons were very much up and down, there were enough ups to be at least sort of optimistic that things would be better this season, particularly with the addition of wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson.
"He’s never gonna be Aaron Rodgers," went the thinking, “but he was half-decent last year with no receivers, he can’t help but be a little better this year, right?”
Somehow, however, Ponder has been worse with an improved receiving corps.
Ponder had a few random moments of competence early in the season (but far too many ‘what was that’ moments), played well in the win over Washington last week, and was pretty good through the first half of Sunday’s loss to Seattle.
But in the second half, we saw what, finally, has to be the definitive end to the Christian Ponder era in Minnesota.
A bad interception to a linebacker on an attempted dump-off over the middle, and, as soon as they get the ball back, a pick-six on a throw that would’ve embarrassed your average JV high school QB.
At that point I actually felt bad for Ponder, because it was hard not to get the sense that his spirit had finally been broken. He wasn’t just rattled, he was knocked out. Confidence? Gone.
Leslie Frazier gave him the mercy hook and replaced him with Matt Cassell (who promptly threw an INT), and while Frazier has shown a hard-to-understand loyalty to Ponder all season, I’m very confident that Frazier knows now he can’t send him back out there after such a sad and complete breakdown.
What the Vikings have done at QB this year and how they’ve handled Ponder — and Cassell, and Josh Freeman — hasn’t made much sense at any point.
Kicking the tires on Freeman was a perfectly understandable move, but throwing him into the starting lineup when there was no way he was ready (something a non-expert like me predicted would be the case when they announced him as the starter), was a bad misfire that cost the Vikings a winnable game and embarrassed them on national TV.
It probably made more sense at that point to go back to Cassell — the only Viking QB to win a game at that point — but Ponder was given his job back. To be fair, he played better, and I think the real reason Frazier gave him the job back was because he was the guy his teammates wanted to go to battle with. They saw Ponder’s effort (the one thing I’d argue you could never question about him) and declared that he was the guy they wanted to lead them — at least, that was what we heard publicly from a few guys.
OK, fine. And again, Ponder’s performance in the Thursday night win over Washington was impressive and entertaining. He played his butt off, sacrificing his body and getting the team its first home win of the season.
But those moments have been very few and very far between. Whatever progress Ponder has shown has been minimal. He’s a great athlete, he’s smart, he’s tough, and he lays it all on the line.
He’s also inaccurate, makes too many bad decisions, severely lacks pocket presence and has questionable arm strength. And after Sunday’s second half debacle has clearly lost whatever confidence he might have had left.
Now’s the time to give Freeman a look. Cassell (who wasn’t good in relief of Ponder on Sunday) is not the answer, and while Freeman almost certainly isn’t, either, the Vikings have nothing to lose and no other choice but to see if the once-promising Buccaneer has anything left to contribute.
Ponder could still have a career in the NFL going forward — as a backup. Maybe after 4-5 years on the bench behind a Drew Brees or Tom Brady he’d be better-equipped for another shot at starting, following a similar career path to guys like Steve Beuerlein and Rich Gannon.
But the Vikings need to move on.
They gave Ponder every opportunity to prove he could be a starting NFL quarterback. And Ponder gave everything he had to try and be the QB of the present and future that this franchise so desperately needs.
He just wasn’t good enough.
I should probably pick Southwest Minnesota State to beat Augustana on Saturday. The Mustangs, after all, have more to play for, as a win could earn them a Mineral Water Bowl berth, assuming St. Cloud State isn’t left out of the top six of the embarrassing Super Region 3 rankings.
At 6-4, SMSU has already clinched what is just the 9th winning season in program history, and running back Tyler Tonderum was just this week announced as a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee.
But I still think Augie is gonna win.
Though the Vikings have clinched their second straight losing season at 4-6, they’ve also quietly gone 4-1 at home.
They’ve also beaten SMSU in 15 consecutive meetings. They lost the first two meetings, in 1990 and 1991, and have won every one since, most by blowout.
Most coaches will tell you that previous seasons have nothing to do with the present, but I’m not sure I buy that. Confidence — or lack of it — can be a powerful thing. Not saying the Mustangs won’t be confident going into this game. They will and they should be. They have the best, most balanced offense in the league, and while their defense has struggled, they’re going up against the second-worst offense (yardage-wise) in the league.
But my hunch is that Augie’s offense will fare better against the SMSU defense than the Mustang offense will against the Viking ‘D’, as Jake Dickert’s unit has gone up against most of the top offenses in the NSIC so far this year and held up pretty well. They held St. Cloud State to 24 points, Winona to 28, USF to 27, MSU-Mankato to 20, all on the road. In their last two home games, against Upper Iowa and Concordia, they nearly posted shutouts.
A Mustang win obviously won’t be a surprise, in fact, most people will probably view an Augie win as an upset. But even though the Vikings no longer have nothing to play for other than pride, I don’t see them going through the motions.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Mustangs 24
One thing I’ve learned in 10 years of covering football is that the difference between a winning season and a losing one is a big deal to the players on that team. It’s just one outcome, but 6-5 feels a lot better than 5-6.
USF enters their season finale at Wayne State with a 5-5 record, and not only are they motivated to get that winning season, there’s some outside pressure to do so, as the Cougars have posted 19 straight winning seasons. Fans and alums obviously don’t want that streak to end.
Considering Wayne State is just 2-8 on the season, it’s easy to assume USF won’t have much trouble, but the Wildcats are better than their record, and the Cougars will be without star running back Nephi Garcia.
I expect Matt Young to take most of the snaps at QB, although I made a brief stop at practice Wednesday and was a little surprised to see Carrington Hanna still running plays under center, so I guess they’ll both see some action.
My guess is USF gets it done and finishes 6-5, and while extending their streak of winning seasons to 20 will be important to them, it will be hard for them not to look back at close losses to Upper Iowa, Mary, Winona and wonder what might have been.
Prediction: Cougars 31, Wildcats 23
Terry, Mick and I break down the biggest sporting event in South Dakota (right?), the USD/SDSU football game in this week’s episode of SportsWeb Live. I subbed as host for Stu Whitney, who is, as far as we know, doing well in his recovery from a heart attack.
USD leads the all-time series 50-49-7, but it’s been 16 years since the Coyotes have beaten the Jackrabbits on the DakotaDome turf.
The Jacks are 6-4 and the Yotes are 4-6, though they’re tied in the Mo. Valley standings at 3-3.
I love everything about this story.
That the coach promised to reward his players, and honored their (perfectly reasonable) request.
That the coach stuck to his guns when the school threatened him with his (volunteer) job.
That Hooters picked up the tab, treated the kids like superstars, then made a donation to the school (good PR, sure, but still).
I wish more youth sports teams were coached by guys like Randy Burbach.
With one week to go, the NSIC race and playoff picture is taking shape.
MSU-Mankato, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, can clinch the conference crown with a win over Upper Iowa. I wouldn’t completely rule out the Peacocks in that one, but it’s pretty close to a slam dunk.
Assuming the Mavs get it done, can they win it all? Absolutely they can. They came close last year, losing in the semis to Valdosta State, who went on to win the national championship.
It was well known going into the season that MSU had almost everyone back from that team, so it’s no surprise that the Mavs have rolled through the conference undefeated, running their streak of consecutive NSIC wins to 21 and ascending to the No. 1 ranking in the Division II polls.
They have three running backs that could start for most any team in Connor Thomas, Andy Pfeiffer and Chad Zastrow, and yet QB Jon Wolf is their leading rusher. Wolf hasn’t thrown much, but that’s clearly because he doesn’t have to, not because he can’t. In Saturday’s 52-17 bombing of USF, Wolf was 12-for-14 for 198 yards. In the first half, working against a difficult wind, he was 8-for-8. Wolf has thrown just one interception on the season.
The Mavs offensive line is big, physical and dominant and their D-line might be even better. When you always win the battle at the LOS you always win games, especially when you have the kind of talent the Mavs do at the skill positions.
On top of all that, this team has a ton of confidence. Whereas last year’s season was played under the cloud of the Todd Hoffner controversy (they obviously rallied through the adversity, but still), this season has been free of the off-field distractions, leading to a narrowed focus.
"We all talk about going 1-0 each week but I love the way our guys have really taken that approach seriously," coach Aaron Keen said after the win over USF. "They’re not thinking about the playoffs. They were thinking about beating Sioux Falls this week, and now we’ll turn our focus to a very good Upper Iowa team. If you can get your kids to really believe in the process and stay in the moment you can have success and our kids really believe in it."
Still, they’re aware of what they’re capable of. The run they made last year proved they’re as good as the best teams in the country, and they know they’ve only gotten better since.
"We got a taste of it last year," said Wolf. "This year we feel like we can make it back and finish the deal."
As for the rest of the NSIC, there’s still plenty of stuff to shake out in the season’s final week.
UMD and St. Cloud State are both 9-1, and both will likely finish 10-1, as Duluth visits Northern State and St. Cloud hosts Moorhead.
Duluth would punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win, as they sit 4th in the latest regional rankings. SCSU, however, is just 7th, having dropped three spots in a week despite winning. Only the top 6 get in. There’s still a good chance they get back in if someone else loses, but it’d be nice if two-loss teams could get into the playoffs (or at least have a shot). For one-loss teams to be on the bubble is distressing.
It’s pointless for me to even get into the secret inner workings of the regional rankings, but I can at least repeat, as I have ad nauseum since last year, that putting four conferences in one region (especially when two of them are the NSIC and MIAA) is a bad deal for everyone when the playoff field only includes 24 teams. If SCSU finishes the season 10-1 and doesn’t get in it’ll be a chilling notice to the rest of the teams in the region: Lose one game and risk having your playoff hopes dashed.
There’s no way to spin that as a positive. Yes, you could argue it means that only the cream of the crop are in the postseason, and yes, you could argue it makes the regular season that much more important. But it also means an overwhelming majority of the teams in the nation will feel like the second half of their season is meaningless, which could lead to some bad, boring football. Remember, this isn’t like Division I-A where there’s a hundred Bowl games to shoot for, or I-AA where teams can still get in the playoffs with three and sometimes even four losses.
Sometimes teams get off to slow starts or don’t find themselves until late in the season. Sometimes teams have injuries early that they recover from late. When the playoffs are this exclusionary (not to mention not necessarily weighted fairly due to regional alignment), there’s bound to be teams capable of winning a national championship who don’t even get to come to the dance, not to mention all the other good teams who essentially have their dreams die as soon as they lose their second game of the season. That sucks, and it needs to be addressed.
Of course, the NSIC and MIAA do have that little consolation game, the Mineral Water Bowl, which pits the top non-playoff teams from the respective leagues against one another.
Obviously that will be St. Cloud if they don’t get in the playoffs, and it would be a bitter consolation for them, considering how high expectations were entering the season. But if the Huskies do get in, the Mineral Water Bowl could end up being a nice epilogue to the season for someone.
Right now Winona State, Upper Iowa, and SMSU are all tied at 6-4. SMSU visits Augie, UIU hosts MSU-Mankato, and Winona visits Concordia.
I don’t like UIU’s chances to beat the Mavs, so they’re out. I’m fairly certain Winona will take care of Concordia, but I assume they’d still need Augie to beat SMSU, because the Mustangs won the head to head with the Warriors.
If they all lose and all finish 6-5, I don’t know who would get the nod. USF and Mary can also finish 6-5, but USF has lost to UIU and Winona, Mary has lost to UIU, SMSU has lost to USF and….well, I’ll let someone else figure it out if that scenario develops.
In the meantime, I’ll just point out, as the beat writer for Augie and USF, what a missed opportunity they had as far as the MWB.
The Vikings are 4-6, but the overtime loss to Minot State, the 10-7 home loss to Wayne State and last week’s 28-24 loss to Winona are all games they could’ve won. They could be 6-4 or even 7-3, and very much alive for the MWB. Coming off a losing season and in their first year under a new coach, it would’ve been a nice way to go out.
Same deal for USF. The Cougars got pounded by Duluth and Mankato, but their other three losses came by a combined 14 points. They could legitimately be 8-2. I don’t know if I’d say they necessarily deserved to win any of those three, but let’s say they don’t waste all those chances early in the game at Upper Iowa. They’d be 6-4 right now, heading to Wayne State this Saturday still alive for a postseason game. Considering they graduated 25 seniors from last year, the MWB would also be a meaningful accomplishment for the Cougars.
Both USF and Augie were good enough to earn that extra game this year, but neither played well enough to get it.
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Jerry Kill has been through a lot.
Cancer. Epilepsy. The long hard life path of working his way up the coaching ranks from Division II, to Division I-AA, to Northern Illinois to the Big 10. The guy is a year younger than my dad and looks old enough to be his dad.
He was certainly not the first choice of the Minnesota Golden Gophers after they fired Tim Brewster (I wasn’t my wife’s first choice, either, Kill joked at his introductory press conference), and many, myself included, have wondered if he was in over his head as the coach of a Big Ten program. And that was before the epileptic seizures began to characterize his tenure at the U.
The Gophers haven’t taken on a particularly daunting schedule, and they’re not going to be playing for a national championship, or even a conference championship, this season.
But in a year that has seen Kill’s health become a public concern and led others to question whether he belongs in charge of the Gopher program, it’s got to be easy for anyone to root for the Gophers, let alone actual Gopher fans who have been starved for any kind of gridiron success.
With Saturday’s win over Penn State, the Gophers are 8-2. For this program, that’s a big deal. 8 wins is four more than Gophers fans can typically expect and two more than they can hope for. There’s still two games left, and while the Gophs will be underdogs in both, a 9-or-10 win regular season is still on the table.
Kill deserves a ton of credit (as does defensive coordinator, part-time acting coach Tracy Claeys), and he certainly deserved this moment.
* USF got drilled by a very impressive top-ranked MSU-Mankato team on Saturday. The most impressive play was MSU QB Jon Wolf leaping over USF defensive back Solomon St. Pierre. Here’s the video.
The No. 1 ranked team in the nation has played at Bob Young Field many times before.
Of course, it was the home team, the USF Cougars, and they were No. 1 in NAIA.
On Saturday, MSU-Mankato comes to the Bob as the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II, and the Cougars will be decided underdogs.
Minnesota State averages 269 rushing yards per game, and the Cougars just gave up 258 to Upper Iowa’s Chris Smith. Yes, USF put together two good defensive performances in previous weeks against Augie and Concordia, but when they had to go back to facing a great offense (UIU) they got torched again.
On the flip side, the MSU defense is holding opponents to 67 rushing yards per game, and only 2.2 yards per carry. They’ve given up just two rushing touchdowns. They held Tyler Tonderum to just 61 yards, and he’s averaged over 200 yards per game against everyone else.
This just isn’t a good matchup for USF in any facet of the game. I think the Cougars are too tough at home to just get blown out, but outside of some really crazy stuff happening I just don’t see how they can win this game.
Prediction: Mavericks 31, Cougars 17
Last year, on senior day, Augustana gave up 73 points and a then-NSIC record 782 yards to Winona State. Some people close to the program have told me this was the day that the decision was made to fire Mike Aldrich.
The defense the Vikings put on the field that day was broken down by injuries and forced to play some not-ready-for-college-football youngsters, but there’s no doubt that in short order Jake Dickert and company have put the Augie defense back together, and they’re now playing at a very high level.
High enough to beat Winona State in Winona? My guess is no.
The Warrior defense is bad — 14th in the conference — but Augie has gone up against a few other porous defenses this year and not exactly lit up the scoreboard. I just don’t think they can outscore Winona. The Warriors average 40 points and almost 500 yards per game, and while I expect the Vikings to keep them from reaching those benchmarks, I think the only way Augie wins this game is if their defense scores some points of their own to help the ‘O’. It could happen — an upset would not shock me — but I’ll take the hosts.
Prediction: Warriors 24, Vikings 17
Me and some friends played in a co-ed flag football league sponsored by the Canaries/Stampede this fall. You should’ve come with. It was a blast.
The plan was to have enough teams to play two games at once on the outfield grass of the Birdcage, but the Canaries, honestly, didn’t advertise the thing very well and only a few teams signed up, so we played one game at a time, every Thursday night for two months.
The fee was $250 for a 12-player roster, so roughly $20 a player.
It was 7-on-7, and rules stipulated two girls must be on the field at all times.
I’ll skip to the end and work my way back. We ran the table, undefeated in the regular season at 6-0, won our first playoff game handily, then lost in the championship 50-42. It was heartbreaking. No, really, it was. Recreational or not, when you’re competing for something and have a chance to win and don’t, it hurts. I was the QB for my team, and threw an INT on 4th and goal in the final minute, where a touchdown would likely have won the game for us. A week later I still haven’t gotten over it.
But back to the beginning.
My lady friend assembled the team, mostly with co-workers of hers, but some of whom were former college athletes.
USF basketball players Skyler Bloch and Matt Malloy, USF football players Kristian Porter, Braden Wieking and Jeremiah Oates, and former Augie basketball players Chelsea DeVille and Molly Hayes. I covered all of those players’ college careers in their entirety, and it was definitely fun to line up alongside them, even just for flag football.
I didn’t know how much I would play or where, but I did play quarterback in high school, and was willing to give it a shot.
Readers of this blog will remember that I played amateur baseball this summer after a one-year layoff, and “coming out of retirement” after just one year off was kind of stressful. In this case, I was picking up a football for the first time since 1997, 16 years ago, when I looked like this.
Even then, I spent almost all of my time on the bench; the last time I actually played full-time in a football game would’ve been my freshman year, in 1994, when I was the starting QB for the Washington freshman team.
I went out in the backyard to play catch with the lady friend once to try to get a feel for it, and while I was at least able to throw a spiral and hit a stationary target, it would be different trying to hit a moving target, throw deep, throw on the run, etc.
But, to make a long story short, it went pretty well. The one thing I could do in high school was throw the ball (reading the option, memorizing the playbook and seeing over the offensive line was another story) and I still had it. I threw a few INTs (at least one in every game save for one, and three in the championship game), but I lost track of touchdown passes at about 60.
There were times I actually wished it was tackle football, because as easy as it sometimes is to remember how much football practice sucks, I had honestly forgot how much fun playing the game can be. We didn’t call any plays or routes, mostly guys and gals just ran slants and comebacks until someone got open. I missed plenty of throws but made a lot of good ones, too.
A few times I connected with Malloy on a deep ball — not only can I throw the ball just about as far as Christian Ponder (read: 45 yards in the air), I had forgotten what an awesome feeling it is to just let it fly and hit a sprinting receiver in full stride for a touchdown.
It wasn’t real football, of course, but it felt like it a lot of the time, at least for a quarterback or a receiver. In the championship game, Oates, who was All-NSIC for USF last year at WR, lined up with one-on-one coverage, and we both noticed at the same time that our opponent’s deep safety wasn’t paying attention. We made eye contact, Oates took off on the snap, and I launched the ball as far as I could. He was too fast for my amr and had to slow up a bit for the throw, but caught it for an easy, length-of-the-field touchdown, and I admit, it was pretty cool to think, ‘Last year I was writing about this guy putting up huge numbers for USF, now I’m throwing him bombs for touchdowns’.
As the season progressed, a couple guys on the USF football and basketball teams were asking me about our season. Understandably, they seemed very surprised that I was playing with college athletes 10 years younger than me. I’m sure whoever told them about it was exaggerating, but still, it was obvious that me being able to play a somewhat competent quarterback in a flag football game was more impressive to them than anything I’d ever written.
I definitely gained an appreciation for the Brett Favres of the world, because even without contact I found that most weeks I could barely get out of the bed the morning after our games. And while I was kind of quick and shifty 16 years ago, I discovered that, at age 33, I can now only run in a straight line. There were several times I found myself sprinting for the end zone, knowing that one cutback inside would get me to paydirt, but after trying that once, my knees barked up at me, ‘Zim, you’re free to try that again, but we’re not coming with you if you do’.
Anyway, like I said, it was a ton of fun. Malloy and I admitted we would start looking forward to the Thursday games on Monday of every week. I even turned down a chance to cover the Wolves-Bucks game at the Pentagon because we had a game that night. I think we were all surprised at just how much we enjoyed playing. We didn’t want the season to end. And like I said, losing the championship really hurt. I wish I’d played better. It was hard not to feel like I let my team down, but I got the sense that we all felt that way.
My main reason for writing this is to encourage you to sign up next fall, because the Canaries say they’re going to do it again, and they want more teams. So do we.
I know there are other flag football leagues in town. I don’t know how much they cost or what the caliber of play is like.
All I can say is this league was perfect for what we were looking for. It was competitive to the extent that we all took it fairly seriously once the games started — we weren’t just out there goofing off. But it wasn’t too heated, either (most of the time). Sportsmanship and having fun was, for our team at least, as high a priority as winning. The fact that it’s a co-ed league is definitely a plus — it makes for a better atmosphere by keeping the meatheads in line and giving the games a more inclusive feel.
And Chelsea DeVille might have been the best player in the whole league.
So if you really miss football and want to play again in an environment that will feed your competitive hunger but not put you at risk of injury, get a team together for the Canaries flag football league. It was a blast. I’ll remind everyone for sign-up next fall. You’ll want to play.