Antoine Winfield Jr.

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Big Ten and SEC each land two Bronko Nagurski finalists

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The final list of players left in the running for the Bronko Nagurski Award for the 2019 season has been released by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club. Two players from the Big Ten and two from the SEC are joined by one player from the ACC.

Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Georgia safety J.R. Reed, Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr., and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young are the five finalists for the award for best defensive player in college football.

The winner for this year’s Nagurski Award will be announced at a banquet on Dec. 9. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is the keynote speaker for the banquet this year and former UCLA linebacker Jerry Robinson will be honored as this year’s Bronko Nagurski Legends Award winner.

Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen won the Nagurski Award last season. Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State all have had one player win the Naruski Award before. Champ Bailey won the award for Georgia in 1998. Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis won the award in 2006. Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers won the award in 2010. Auburn and Minnesota have never had a Bronko Nagurski Award winner and hope to add their first this season. Other past winners include Pitt’s Aaron Donald, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Boston College’s Luke Kuechley, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh, Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs, Michigan’s Charles Woodson, and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. The current head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats is the only two-time winner of the award, having done so in 1995 and 1996.

No. 17 Minnesota makes B1G statement in upset of No. 4 Penn State

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The No. 17 Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) didn’t buckle under the pressure of playing the most anticipated home game in program history in decades, if not just generations. Minnesota improved to 9-0 for the first time since going 13-0 in 1904 with a 31-26 victory against No. 4 Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten).

PJ Fleck came to Minnesota with his Row the Boat mentality, and it continues to pay dividends. Minnesota was the more effective offense from start to finish as Penn State’s defense played its worst game of the season. Penn State’s receivers couldn’t hold on to passes when Sean Clifford was able to get a good pass off, but the Gophers secondary continued to do their part to make sure Penn State couldn’t find big plays through the air, as the Gophers have done all season. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Tanner Morgan proved a connection with Rashod Bateman was one of the most reliable connections in the Big Ten, and Penn State couldn’t handle it. Bateman caught seven passes for 203 yards and a touchdown, with first downs on nearly all of his other receptions. Tyler Johnson also went for over 100 yards on seven receptions from Morgan, who ended his day with three touchdowns.

Minnesota’s touchdown drives were no fluke either. The Gophers scored two first-quarter touchdowns on a Penn State defense that had not allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season. Minnesota scored on drives of 95, 87, 61, and 75 yards, with two of those long touchdown drives coming off Penn State interceptions deep in the Minnesota end of the field. Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted Clifford twice inside the Minnesota 10-yard line (one on a deep pass over the middle of the opening drive of the game and the other when Penn State was near the red zone and about to kick a field goal at the very least).

After Penn State cut the Minnesota lead down to five points with a Journey Brown touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the defense had their best stop of the game, giving Penn State one last chance to steal the win. But Clifford was intercepted a third time, this time by Jordon Howden just inside the end zone.

The outcome of the game may not have a dramatic impact in how the Big Ten championship picture plays out, because Minnesota still would have had a lead in the division race and Penn State’s Big Ten East odds likely would still be determined by what happens in a few weeks at Ohio State had Penn State won this game, but there is no taking away from the importance of this game for both teams. For Minnesota, the Gophers are now one giant step closer to playing in their first Big Ten Championship Game. Minnesota will own a two-game lead on either Iowa or Wisconsin, depending on which team wins that head-to-head matchup this afternoon. Minnesota still has to play both Iowa and Wisconsin, but having a minimum of a two-game lead in the division race with just three games remaining is a wonderful spot for Fleck and his program to be sitting.

Penn State, fresh off their highest ranking in the CFB Playoff rankings, will take a fall out of the top four but will still get a chance to settle the division race with Ohio State in two weeks. A spot in the New Years Six lineup still remains a likely destination for the Nittany Lions, but there is some work to do in order to re-enter a playoff spot.

Penn State’s next game will be at home next week against Indiana. The Hoosiers, who will travel to Happy Valley with seven wins already this season (7-2), will be coming off a bye week.

Minnesota goes on the road next week to play at No. 18 Iowa. The Hawkeyes will be coming off a road game at Wisconsin, a critical game in the Big Ten West Division standings. Minnesota may be about to row their boats right on down to Indianapolis.

Golden upset in the making? No. 17 Minnesota leading No. 4 Penn State 24-13 at halftime

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Don’t let the rankings fool you, because it looks like Minnesota has been the team ranked fourth in the nation by the College Football Playoff selection committee after one half of play. No. 17 Minnesota has simply been dominant against No. 4 Penn State after 30 minutes and they reach halftime fired up with a 24-13 lead on the Nittany Lions.

The first three minutes of the game could not have gone much better for Minnesota. The Gophers forced the first turnover of the game when Antoine Winfield Jr. picked off a deep ball thrown up for grabs by Sean Clifford at the Minnesota five-yard line. Minnesota cashed in on the turnover in a big way with Tanner Morgan completed a 66-yard pass to a streaking Radhod Bateman, who had nothing but daylight in front of him after a late defender missed a tackle on the sideline. It was the first touchdown allowed by Penn State in the first quarter this season, and it was a big one.

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons did not start the game for the Nittany Lions. according to the update from the broadcast, Parsons missed the start of the game for what was described as a “behavioral modification issue.” Parsons got on the field on Penn State’s second defensive series. Even with Parsons back on the field, Minnesota’s offense was not intimidated. After Journey Brown ran for a game-tying 45-yard touchdown for Penn State, Minnesota’s offense drove 87 yards for a second touchdown in the first quarter. A bubble screen from Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell went 21 yards to regain the lead, 14-7.

Winfield picked off Clifford again in the second quarter to kill a promising drive for Penn State that was one play from settling for a field goal at worst. A big return on the interception gave the confident Gophers offense good field position, and a 38-yard touchdown reception by Tyler Johnson gave Minnesota a 21-10 lead midway through the second quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Penn State’s ensuing possession, Minnesota tacked on a field goal by Brock Walker to take a 14-point advantage, Penn State’s biggest deficit of the season.

Minnesota gets the ball to start the second half.

Minnesota indefinitely suspends 10 players

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File this story under news you don’t want your team to have before the bowl season. Minnesota has indefinitely suspended 10 players from team activities for violations of team rules. The extent of the violations was not revealed by the university due to privacy restrictions, but it did list which players have been suspended. Among the suspended players are starting safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and kick and punt returners KiAnte Hardin and Antonio Shenault.

Winfield, a freshman, is Minnesota’s fourth-leading tackler this season and he has the only interception returned for a touchdown by the Gophers this year (and 82-yard return against Maryland). Hardin tied for the team-high with two interceptions this season and he returned 10 kickoffs for 260 yards this season. Shenault only returned five punts this fall for a total of 32 yards.

Other players facing indefinite suspensions include freshman defensive backs Ray Buford and Dior Johnson, sophomore running back Carlton Djam, freshman quarterbacks Seth Green and Mark Williams, freshman defensive lineman Tamarion Johnson and junior running back Kobe McCrary. McCrary rushed 39 times in 12 games for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Djam appeared in just one game and carried the ball seven times for 33 yards.

For Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson, this is the second time they have faced a suspension this season at Minnesota. All four missed three games while a police investigation was ongoing for an alleged sexual assault incident that took place in early September. No charges were pressed and all four were reinstated by the program.

Because these are indefinite suspensions, it remains unknown for sure whether or not any of these players will be available for Minnesota’s upcoming bowl game. The Gophers are playing Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Diego.