Andy Greder / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Before it happened, Big Ten Network's color commentator Glen Mason called it "the play of the game." Afterward, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck raved about the main attribute in its execution. Minnesota was facing third-and-5 and looking to break a 10-10 tie in the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 21, against Illinois when running back Rodney Smith took an inside handoff and sliced his way upfield for seven yards. It set up Kobe McCrary's go-ahead touchdown run two plays later in the Gophers' 24-17 victory over the Illini at TCF Bank Stadium.
MINNEAPOLIS—With an increasingly strong running game and Gophers quarterback Demry Croft fresh off an interception against Illinois on Saturday, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck went right back to Croft on the next series in the fourth quarter. After making the switch from Conor Rhoda, the starter in the season's first six games, Fleck not only stuck with Croft, he came out throwing "because I believe in my quarterbacks." Two offensive plays later, the redshirt sophomore in his first collegiate start threw another pick.
MINNEAPOLIS — When Thomas Barber delivered crushing checks for the Robbinsdale Armstrong High School hockey team, his coach Dan Charleston would look apologetically at the other bench. "Thomas would hit guys so hard," Charleston recalled. "He hit a kid so hard one time that his forehead split open."
MINNEAPOLIS — Alex Reigelsperger was disappointed in his older brother's pick in rental cars for their long drive from Dayton, Ohio, to Minneapolis in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Oct. 14. Jesse Reigelsperger selected a practical Nissan Altima, instead of the sleeker Dodge Charger that Alex wanted. "Something with a little bit more speed to it," Alex lamented.
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has cautioned repeatedly that next year's football team will be younger than this year's — and that's after talking about how young this team is. A plethora of departures from the 2014 and '15 recruiting classes — which will combine to form next year's seniors and redshirt seniors — are a driving force behind Minnesota's youth remaining a central theme into 2018.
MINNEAPOLIS—If star safety Antoine Winfield Jr. can't recover from his hamstring injury this season, the Gophers will explore applying for a medical redshirt for him to gain an additional year of eligibility. Winfield, a sophomore, was carted off the practice field after initially hurting his left hamstring in preseason camp on Tuesday, Aug. 8. He returned to play in all three nonconference game before pulling the same hamstring in the first quarter of a 31-24 loss to Maryland on Saturday, Sept. 30.
MINNEAPOLIS—While Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck didn't name Demry Croft the starting quarterback after his resurgent fourth-quarter performance against Michigan State on Saturday, Oc.t 14, Croft has become the clear-cut choice to make his first collegiate start next week against Illinois. That is, if the redshirt sophomore from Rockford, Ill., continues to rebuild the trust he damaged during a three-week, two-game suspension for undisclosed reasons.
MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Fleck looks at the blueprints of former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and longtime Kansas State coach Bill Snyder as he begins building the Gophers in his image. While Alvarez and Snyder took their programs to some of the heights of college football, neither had immediate success. In Snyder's debut season in 1989, K-State went 0-10. In Alvarez's first season in 1990, the Badgers were 1-10 and 0-8 in the Big Ten.
MINNEAPOLIS — Brennan Armstrong accounted for nine touchdowns in a game at Shelby High School in 2014, yet the 14-year-old freshman quarterback didn't get much publicity for his performance. The local newspapers in north central Ohio and national outlets such as Deadspin, Fox Sports and the Sporting News all focused their coverage on the exorbitant final score — Tiffin Columbian 83, Shelby 82 — and how one of Armstrong's opposing running backs scored 10 touchdowns.
MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Sakal fought back tears when speaking to the Gophers football team last Saturday, Sept. 30. "I'm not an emotional person, but it really hit the core of me," said Sakal, the sole captain of the last Minnesota team to win a share of the Big Ten championship in 1967. Sakal addressed the Gophers as part of the team's Captains Breakfast, the first invitation he had received from the program in the 50 years since he played linebacker for co-conference champions.