The Golden Gophers have been something of an uncomfortable subject in these parts, at least as a talking point. Understand, this is the Northern Illinois perspective that motivates that feeling of awkward towards the University of Minnesota, and specifically their departing head coach Jerry Kill.
When Kill led our beloved Huskies, he did well. In a classic case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, NIU named Kill to replace the retiring Joe Novak after a disappointing 2007 season. Novak did many good things in Dekalb, but no one was writing home about what they did during that 2-10 season, which featured a 34-31 home loss to another directional Illinois school, Kill’s Salukis of Southern Illinois.
Kill went 23-16 in his three seasons leading the Huskies. He lost the Independence Bowl and the International Bowl in his first two seasons, and led the team to an 8-0 record in conference play before a devastating loss to Miami in the 2010 MAC Championship, which turned out to be his final game in the mid-major ranks. Were the Huskie faithful upset to be abandoned by their leader prior to the Idaho Potato Humanitarian Bowl? Sure.
Should they have been? Yeah, why not? No one, even a small school in rural Illinios wants to hear their program isn’t good enough for a man to finish what he started. Argue the flaws of the system, or the machine that is College Football as a business, if you will, but no matter how much I support the red and black, Minnesota is a better job than Northern Illinois.
NIU won their bowl game with an interim coach and ended up getting a huge win in the human resources department, poaching Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator Dave Doeren to replace Kill. So, it’s been “screw Minnesota” for the last six seasons, but the next guy did them dirtier.
Now, to be fair, Doeren was a staggering 23-4 in his two MAC Championship-winning seasons at NIU. His 2012 squad was and remains the only Mid-American Conference team to crash the high-major party, but that Orange Bowl berth against Florida State would be another contest the student athletes would take on without their full time head coach. Doeren would see plenty of Florida State in his next gig, with a guaranteed matchup against the ‘Noles in the ACC Atlantic Division. To date, he’s had little success with NC State in that regard, where’s he’s 0-for-2, with 2015 contest yet to be played.
As far as Kill is concerned, it was another “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” case with Minnesota, with Tim Brewster’s 2010 squad failing to achieve victory against the Huskies in Week 4 at home. Raise your hand if you recall anyone coaching the Gophers between Glen Mason and Kill. I suppose we can anticipate Kill having a role on the Big Ten Network in the near future.
Kill isn’t walking away because he cannot win, Minnesota is 29-29 with three bowl appearances since he’s taken over. He hasn’t lost his passion for a game that seems to have threatened to take his life, at least from where I sit. He’s choosing his remaining years over the game, and that’s admirable.
Going back to 2005, his heath issues have been among the world’s worst kept secrets. He had a seizure while leading SIU in 2005, and in 2010, he was treated for dehydration after a game at Northern. From 2011 to 2013, Coach Kill had four gameday seizures, promoting a 2-game leave of absence in 2013, but all seemed well when he returned to the Gophers sideline in 2014, where he seemed to have coached without incident.
Then, this week, he retired, citing health reasons. And, it was admirable. Poof; the animosity from NIU was gone. They felt bad for the guy. You might even say they were grateful for what he did for the Huskie football program and maybe even his mark on the game of College Football. This led me to wonder if we might want to let the Doeren thing become water under the bridge, but no such thing was happening.
“Oh no. NC State can still suck it!” And there you have it.
Whatever I Watched Last Night, It Wasn’t Good Football
I honestly don’t know how, in a vaccuum, I could watch a 3 OT College Football game with a dog in the fight, and come away unentertained or unimpressed, but Oregon and Arizona State did just that on Thursday night in Tempe. The Sun Devils ran 100+ plays on offense, but ignored their bread and butter for the most part, running the football. The ground game is also Oregon’s go-to, but they got away with not going to that well tonight, with a 61-55 road victory.
I prefer physical football, and I think we got that from Oregon’s Royce Freeman and ASU’s Kalen Ballage, who exploited your garden variety poor tackling we’ve become accustomed to in Pac-12 Country. The visiting Ducks didn’t seem to need physical as much, as they relied on explosive plays and defensive breakdowns, and the Sun Devils were happy to yield the latter of just enough occasions to prevent the Ducks from flying back to Eugene with a 4-4 record in a disappointing season.
Oregon’s problems aren’t new. Through this dominant run that seems to have come an end this season, they’ve never been fantastic on defense. It just hasn’t shown because the offense scoring 60 points per game, which masks a lot of defensive deficiencies. The code seems to have been cracked; pick them apart and don’t let them off the field on third down.
Another thing, Vernon Adams, for all he gives you, just isn’t Marcus Mariota. Say what you want about system quarterbacks, but Mariota would thrive in whatever system he played in. Ditto for Mark Helfrich. He isn’t Chip Kelly, and when the Ducks find their backs against the wall, they don’t have that guy on the sideline with the confidence to know they’ll overcome the adversity. It didn’t show so much in Year 1 with Helfrich, but it was there.
As for the Sun Devils, they have turned the corner as a program, but they’re not ready for prime time on a consistent basis. Give it up for Todd Graham, building this program into something better than anyone I’ve ever witnessed, a team that plays with pride and counts on its defense to win, but they’re missing too many pieces to get it done in 2015. It doesn’t mean he should be on a hot seat, but he has to keep the Arizona high school talent in state and in Tempe. There are plenty of good quarterbacks in this state, and he’s still still going with Mike Bercovici.
Don’t get me wrong, Berco plays with the heart of a lion, and we saw plenty of that on Thursday night, but they can’t take the next step without more talent at the most important position on the field. Now, we just have to see if this 4-4 start is a slide back to mediocrity or simply a down year for Graham and the program. For a great program, these should be the worst of times, but if we’re back to business as usual at ASU, those three consecutive 10-win seasons we saw from Graham to start his tenure with the Devils will soon be easily forgotten.
I want to take a minute to introduce some additions to our More Than A Fan family. B. George Young, Chase Holik, and Nick Brzezinski joined our staff this month. BG will offer a little bit of local flavor to people in my neck of the woods, as our Arizona columnist, so stay tuned to what’s happening in the World of Sports, here in the desert from Mr. Young. Chase joins us from Austin, Texas, where College Football is kind of a big deal; he’ll opine on what’s happening in the state of Texas and the Big 12. Nick’s column will debut next week, with a zany breakdown on everything from the weekend, and I sincerely hope you look forward to that at least half as much as I do.
Josh Flagner is a familiar name around here, or at least he should be, he launched the site and handed me the keys last month. He’s been around with his football picks, and he’ll continue to do that for rising TV star Jeff Nomina’s NFL Pick ‘Em Contest, but I’ve given Josh a new role. It will be similar to what BG is doing for my local market, but back in Cleveland. Yes, we do have a fantastic regional site for Cleveland sports at MTAF Cleveland, but I felt it was unfair to neglect my native land on an all-sports site, like our publication’s main page is.
That’s all for this week; I wish you all the best for a great weekend, as my two worlds collide at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland on Sunday, where the Cardinals visit the Browns for the first time since 2003.