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Minnesota’s been rowing through recruiting pickups this weekend

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It seems that Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck has been busy this weekend making his recruiting pitches. Sunday was quite a busy day for the Gophers recruiting news with the addition of a quartet of three-star recruits to help pad the defensive depth for the program.

Defensive tackle Deangelo Griffin, safety T.J. Robinson, and linebackers Donald Willis and James Gordon IV all committed to the Gophers for the Class of 2019. All are considered three-star players by recruiting services and should help add some depth to the Minnesota roster. Robinson, Griffin, and Gordon shared their announcements on Twitter, with the appropriate photos of them posing with Fleck and an oar.

Perhaps even more promising for Fleck is from where these recruits are coming. Willis is from Ohio. Gordon and Robinson are from Florida. Griffin is from Georgia. For Minnesota, the need to build some recruiting pipelines in football-talent rich states like these is essential because the Gophers simply cannot rely heavily on in-state talent if the quality of the roster is to improve.

Minnesota is coming off a 5-7 season in Fleck’s Big Ten debut. It was the first season without a bowl trip for the Gophers since 2011.

Minnesota stops spring game to award scholarship to walk-on

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When it comes to viral videos in sports, two things may never get old. The first are the videos of soldiers surprising their families at a game. The second is when a college athlete is surprised with a scholarship in front of his teammates. On Thursday night, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck took the opportunity during the spring game to let one player, defensive lineman Sam Renner, get his moment to remember for as long as lives.

The Gophers moved their spring game up to Thursday due to inclement weather heading their way. Whether that played a role in the surprise announcement is unknown, but Fleck stopped the spring game for the very special announcement. The moment occurred shortly after the start of the second quarter when Fleck called for a video replay following a turnover in the game. Of course, this ended up just being the break in the action Fleck was counting on having in order to pull off the surprise, as a video on the scoreboard made the announcement to the team and fans in attendance. The entire team gathered around Renner to celebrate the milestone.

Renner is an Academic All-Big Ten player and a two-time Dean’s List student at Minnesota. he is set to graduate this spring in just three years.

The scholarship announcement was packaged together for a video on Minnesota’s YouTube channel afterward.

Fleck always has a knack for the surprise scholarship, form his time at Western Michigan and now at Minnesota. It never gets old.

No. 5 Wisconsin blanks Minnesota, 31-0, to complete 12-0 regular season

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No. 5 Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) put the finishing touches on an undefeated regular season in blowout fashion, defeating Minnesota (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten) on the road by a score of 31-0. Say what you might about the level of competition Minnesota has faced this season, but the Badgers have done everything asked of them to be in the College Football Playoff discussion, and they may be one win shy of reaching the playoff for the first time in school history.

Wisconsin had a straightforward approach to beating Minnesota fueled by steady defense and a good running game. Jonathan Taylor rushed 20 times for 149 yards and a score in the big win to continue a dominant freshman season. Alex Hornibrook passed for 151 yards and three touchdowns for an efficient afternoon when needed.

All that stands in the way for the Badgers now is Ohio State and the selection committee. A win against the Buckeyes to string together a 13-0 record with a Big Ten championship capped by a win against a top 10 team feels like it should be enough on its own to be rewarded with inclusion in the College Football Playoff. And with the top two teams in the nation losing this weekend, it still remains a guessing game how the selection committee will evaluate the situation. Nothing should be considered a given, but if Wisconsin is the last undefeated power conference team standing at the end of the season, then that should be enough if the Badgers can pull it off.

Wisconsin will play Ohio State next week in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Minnesota’s season is now done with a 5-7 record, bringing the first season under P.J. Fleck to a close. There were some positives at times, but the Gophers have plenty of rowing to do to take steps forward in the Big Ten West pecking order and to give Wisconsin a decent run.

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.

P.J. Fleck given game ball after becoming first Gophers coach to win debut since 1986

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While much of the attention on the Thursday night slate was focused on Ohio State’s second half resurgence at Indiana or Mason Rudolph‘s dazzling aerial display against Tulsa, you may have somehow missed the coaching debut of on P.J. Fleck at his new job last night.Fleck and Minnesota may not have played a perfect game, but it was good enough to go 1-0 to start the season after Minnesota got by Buffalo.

Fleck and Minnesota may not have played a perfect game, but it was good enough to go 1-0 to start the season after Minnesota got by Buffalo.

After the game, Fleck was awarded the game ball in honor of his first win with the school. As noted by USA Today, Fleck became the first Minnesota head coach to win his coaching debut with the program since John Gutekunst led the Gophers to a 31-7 victory over Bowling Green in 1986 (they then lost 63-0 the following week against No. 1 Oklahoma, and 24-20 the next week against Pacific). So it’s been a long time coming for a Minnesota coach to get off to his new job with a 1-0 start. And for that, the milestone was deserving of the game ball, handed to Fleck by Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle.

“I was very honored,” Fleck said afterward. “But that game ball was not for me. That game ball was for our players. That game ball was for our boosters. That game ball was for our fans, our student section, 10,000 strong are chanting ‘row the boat.’ … That’s for everybody who believed in what we’re doing, not that it’s guaranteed to happen right now or this year. But that’s for that vision, and I just appreciated it and accepted it on behalf of everybody.”

Fleck’s next goal will to become the first Minnesota head coach to start his tenure with the Gophers with a 2-0 record since Murray Warmath started the 1954 season with four consecutive wins. Next up for Minnesota will be a road trip to Oregon State next Saturday.