Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Big Ten lines up Thursday and Friday night football for 2018

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The Big Ten is planning ahead to buckle down and try to make Thursday night and Friday night football a thing in the conference. After breaking the ice on Thursday and Friday night football in the 2017 season, the conference has officially moved five games on the 2018 conference schedule to Thursday and Friday nights.

Purdue will host Northwestern in the Big Ten season opener on Thursday, August 30, marking the second straight season the Big Ten will kick off the college football season with a Thursday night football game. Indiana hosted Ohio State in a Thursday night season opener this season. The opening week of the season will continue the following night with Michigan State hosting Utah State and Wisconsin hosting Western Kentucky on Friday, August 21, 2018. This will mark the second straight season Wisconsin will open the season at home on a Friday night in Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers hosted Utah State on Friday, September 1 this season.

The three games on Thursday and Friday night in the opening week of the 2018 season keeps the Big Ten on the primetime lineup on various TV partners between ESPN, FOX Sports, and the Big Ten Network, although the programming specifics will come later on. But the idea of adding games to Thursday and Friday nights has been designed to add programming to TV partners and add content across all partner networks as part of the latest contracts with ESPN and FOX, along with the Big Ten Network.

The Big Ten has moved two additional games Friday nights next season as well. Illinois will host Penn State on Friday, September 21, 2018. Minnesota will host Indiana on Friday, October 26, 2018.

P.J. Fleck wasn’t surprised Michigan State beat Michigan

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Minnesota is preparing to take on Michigan State this week, immediately after the Spartans pulled off a hard-fought road win against Michigan last week. The win by the Spartans seemed to catch many off guard considering last year’s struggles and the rise of the Wolverines under head coach Jim Harbaugh. But Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck wasn’t surprised at all.

Asked about the win by Michigan State last week, Fleck said he was not surprised at all by the Spartans victory in Michigan Stadium. Fleck went a step further to suggest it would be more shocking if Michigan managed to beat Michigan State instead.

“I think they beat them eight out of the last 10 times, so I don’t think you would be surprised at all,” Fleck said when asked if he was surprised by the result. “I think it almost be the other way, if Michigan beats Michigan State you should be surprised.”

Saturday’s 14-10 win was indeed Michigan State’s eighth win in the last 10 meetings with Michigan, so Fleck is well aware of the recent history between two Big Ten rivals. And Fleck’s remarks may have had dual purposes attached to them as well. On the one hand, Fleck is offering some praise for his next opponent by stressing his lack of surprise over the Spartans winning. On the other, by suggesting it was no surprise Michigan State won, he is taking a bit of a jab at Michigan as well.

Fleck coached Western Michigan to an undefeated regular season last year, but that largely was overshadowed by Michigan’s own run to an undefeated regular season until November. So he knows a thing or two about the state of college football in the state of Michigan. He also knows that anything that pecks away at Harbaugh and the Wolverines could bode well for him and his program at Minnesota. Fleck is known to find every possible recruiting angle he can use to his advantage, and chipping away at Michigan whenever the opportunity arises should be exploited by Fleck as he looks to build the Gophers into a Big Ten contender.

Fleck and Minnesota will get their chance to measure up against Michigan later this season. The Gophers visit Ann Arbor on November 4. Don’t be surprised if this comment is revisited in a few weeks.

Minnesota will be down four starters for Michigan State game

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An uphill climb for Minnesota has gotten exponentially steeper for P.J. Fleck‘s crew.

The head coach confirmed Monday that Minnesota will be down four starters for this Saturday’s game against surging Michigan State.  The secondary will be particularly hard hit as safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (hamstring) and cornerback Kiondre Thomas (leg) will be sidelined.

Additionally, wide receiver Phillip Howard (head) and offensive tackle Nick Connelly (leg) have already been ruled out as well.

Winfield sustained his injury in the Week 5 loss to Maryland and didn’t play in last Saturday’s loss to Purdue as well.  The other three starters suffered their respective injuries in the loss to the Boilermakers.

For the season, Howard’s six receptions for 62 yards are fifth and sixth, respectively, on the Gophers this season.

Middle Tennessee State without starting QB Brent Stockstill for Minnesota game

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One of the most productive and unheralded quarterbacks in the country won’t see the field in Week 3.

In Middle Tennessee State’s win over Syracuse on the road last weekend, Brent Stockstill sustained a shoulder injury.  The talented redshirt junior didn’t practice at all this week, leading to MTSU announcing shortly before kickoff that Stockstill will not play in today’s road game against Minnesota.

With Stockstill sidelined, the Blue Raiders will start John Urzua under center.  A redshirt sophomore, Urzua completed 78-of-131 pass attempts last season for 816 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

This season, Urzua hadn’t attempted a pass in the first two games before today.

The past two seasons, Stockstill passed for more than 7,200 yards and 61 touchdowns.  This season, he had 435 yards and four touchdowns through two games.

Nebraska AD issues statement saying no final decision made on ending Cornhuskers’ Black Friday games

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One of the most reliable traditions in the Midwest has been the combination of turkey leftovers and Nebraska football on Black Friday. The Cornhuskers have, after all, been ending their season the day after Thanksgiving as part of a tradition that dates back to 1990.

When the Big Ten released conference schedules for the 2020 and 2021 seasons earlier this week though, that was not the case for Nebraska and the team isn’t even ending the year with their traditional game against Iowa either (they’ll take on Minnesota starting in 2020). As one could expect, many fans were up in arms about the potential change and that prompted athletic director Shawn Eichorst to release a statement on Thursday afternoon.

“I want to clarify Nebraska’s position regarding the dates of our season-ending football games in 2020 and 2021 as announced earlier this week by the Big Ten Conference.  At this time no final decision has been made on what dates these two games will actually be played,” said Eichorst. “As in past years, the Big Ten releases opponent matchups and typically assigns these match-ups to Saturday.  That has been the case in the past when we agreed to move our season ending games against Iowa from Saturday to Friday.

“Moving forward we will do everything possible to maintain our tradition of playing games on the Friday after Thanksgiving. We look forward to playing Iowa on the Friday after Thanksgiving through 2019.”

So it seems like there’s still a little back-and-forth to come between the school and the Big Ten (and their TV partners, most importantly) as to those final dates three years from now. An official at the league office told the Omaha World-Herald that “four Big Ten West teams will rotate as one another’s final opponents every two years to create variety among divisional rivals” so the budding Iowa rivalry on Black Friday does appear to be concluding — at least temporarily — either way.