Football outside? You know you love it!

I have to admit that it just seems right that the Minnesota Vikings will honor their 50th anniversary team with a setting more like the one most of the players in franchise history played in. Of course, that’s ignoring the fact that, to steal a line from the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” it will be “butt cold” outside.

TCF

Crews are already working to clear the snow off of TCF Bank Stadium's field. Associated Press photo via the Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Vikings will host the first-place – I sure love saying that – Chicago Bears on Monday night at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It was determined on Tuesday that the Metrodome will not be ready to host the team’s home final.

There are so many storylines to follow this week. Will the NFL get a waiver to allow alcohol to be sold at the on-campus stadium that doesn’t allow the sale of it? How can the Vikings handle the fact that the Metrodome seats about 13,000 more people than TCF? Who gets left out in the cold, so to speak?

It’s been a drama-filled season for the Vikings, and once again Brett Favre is in the mix too. Interim coach Leslie Frazier actually said Tuesday that he might play on Monday.

Vikings win, and Brewster canned

Sunday’s slate of NFL games couldn’t have worked out better for the Minnesota Vikings. Then, after watching all three of the other NFC North teams lose during the noon games, the Vikings defeated the Dallas Cowboys in a battle of 1-3 teams that have fallen well short of expectations.

Brett Favre

Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre posted his best QB rating of the season Sunday. Associated Press photo

But Sunday’s win puts the Vikings just a game back in the loss column from the first-place Chicago Bears, who lost at home to Seattle. The Green Bay Packers sit in second place after dropping an overtime decision to Miami at Lambeau Field.

All week long we heard about Brett Favre and the off-the-field “sexting” allegations. But hardcore Vikings fans were probably more consumed with the elbow tendinitis that Favre was battling. He was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, though most everybody believed he was going to start for the 290th consecutive time.

Favre was more game manager and less gunslinger on Sunday, going an efficient 14-for-19 passing for 118 yards and a touchdown for a tidy 106.9 quarterback rating.

Percy Harvin, in particular, looked pretty explosive.

But a lot of the credit should go to the defense and special teams. UND hockey beat writer Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald pointed out on a social networking site that all four of the Vikings touchdowns came when they started the possession in Dallas territory. And the now healthy E.J. Henderson had two interceptions to help the cause.

All told, a solid win for the Vikes, with a big prime-time game against Green Bay looming next week.

Brewster bites the dust

I’m sure there will be no shortage of opinion pieces written about Tim Brewster, who was fired as the University of Minnesota football coach Sunday. Brewster’s Gophers were on a six-game losing streak, and his career mark at Minnesota is just 15-30. AP sports writer Jon Krawczynski notes that he was 0-10 in trophy games. Yeesh!

Columnists turned into sharks upon hearing the news. Blood was in the water. I wrote something for Monday’s papers, taking a North Dakota/South Dakota angle to the dismissal. The Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse gives his take, too.

Not very often do college football coaches get fired in midseason. But ultimately, it had to be done. And as Minnesota AD Joel Maturi pointed out, with two home games ahead, it probably had to be done now for the sake of the fan base. Attendance in the second season of TCF Bank Stadium has been disappointing, especially in the student section. This is a business, after all.

The Gophers – notably Maturi – took a chance on Brewster after parting ways with Glen Mason prior to the 2007 season. Brewster had never been a head coach in college or the professional ranks. But he had a track record as a recruiter. That track record just didn’t convert to victories.

So, what next? Check out this column from Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press, who mentions Houston’s Kevin Sumlin as a possible replacement.

Brewster survives another day

Despite reports Friday that University of Minnesota football head coach Tim Brewster would be fired if the Gophers lost Saturday to Purdue – and they did lose Saturday – it appears Brewster remains employed by the university.

Tim Brewster

Minnesota football head coach Tim Brewster sports a 15-30 career record. Associated Press photo

Having said that, I’m not surprised at all that the Gophers would wait a day before making an announcement like that if they do plan to do something immediately. I would expect them to make a move Sunday, after AD Joel Maturi – who is also on the hot seat – has had a chance to sit down with Brewster.

I know this may surprise some people for me to say what I’m about to say, but I hope even if the Gophers do fire Brewster that they let him finish out the season if he chooses to do so. I think if you’re a player on this team, you still deserve to be put in the best position to win.

Granted, with Brewster as head coach, it’s not a great position. But I’m not really sure what good it does the players to promote one of the coordinators to interim coach, only to probably watch that coordinator get let go after the season when a new coach is hired.

But for the sake of the fan base, it might not hurt – if you plan to let Brewster go after the season anyway – to make an announcement soon. I think the fans are ready. I’m sure the boosters are ready.

Weekly NFL picks: Week 6

I’m 11-9 makes picks vs. the spread this season. So let’s keep it going. Here’s five for this week:

Houston by 3 ½ over Kansas City. Chiefs

New England by 3 over Baltimore. Patriots

Philadelphia by 3 over Atlanta. Falcons

New Orleans by 6 ½ over Tampa Bay. Saints

Tennessee by 3 over Jacksonville. Titans

What are the Gophers supposed to be about?

The University of Minnesota football team dropped to 0-4 at home this season, which hasn’t happened since 1983. But despite that, the last few years have provided a pretty similar story line.

Adam Weber

Minnesota QB Adam Weber hasn't developed the way many had hoped, but how many different offensive coordinators has he had? Associated Press photo

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski is one of this country’s brilliant sports writers. Everyone knows I’m a big fan of his, and I consider his appearance on “Sports Talk” to be one of my favorite moments in that show’s brief life.

One of the many great points that Posnanski has made over the years that has stuck with me was about the Kansas City Royals. I’m not sure if I can find the link, but you can read all of Posnanski’s work here.

Posnanski said one of the problems with the Royals is that they’re not about anything. If a small-market team is to survive, it must be about something. The Oakland A’s were about “Moneyball” which worked for awhile. The Minnesota Twins are about strike-throwing pitchers and reliable defense. The Royals a year or two ago said they were going to be about on-base percentage, but then proceeded to add such great OBP gems as Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Kendall. At one point they had four of the eight or nine worst OBPs in the majors in their starting lineup.

Anyway, back to the Gophers. One of their many problems is their offense from year to year seems to have no direction. Under Glen Mason, it was obvious that the offense was about big, talented offensive lineman with dynamic running backs who could run the football. Move the chains.

The Gophers this year appear to be heading back to those days, but only after having different pass-happy stretches that at one time included the spread offense.

It’s one thing to tailor your offense to the personnel you have. But the problem is it never seems to work, and it just leaves the team going nowhere. How many different coordinators has Adam Weber played for as Minnesota QB?

Can you blame Tim Brewster for that? Probably not. Coordinators come and go, and despite the Gophers lack of success, people keep wanting to take them away.

I just think the Gophers need to establish some sort of continuity. Hindsight is 20-20, but they should have stuck with the Mason formula.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking my call for continuity means I think Brewster should say. That isn’t so. I think they need continuity, but I’m not sure if where there at right now is a proper starting point.

Strange Brew, and some NFL picks

I heard “Gopher Nation” referenced during the Big Ten Network’s broadcast of the Minnesota-South Dakota football game Saturday. Is there much left to “Gopher Nation”? And if so, how much more can those people take?

Tim Brewster

Despite a recent contract extension, Tim Brewster's seat is getting hot. Associated Press photo

The Gophers suffered another embarrassment against an area Football Championship Subdivision school, losing to the Coyotes 41-38 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Minnesota’s offense moved the ball pretty well, but a Big Ten offense was supported by the quality of defense that would have a tough time competing in the Dakota Athletic Conference routinely. The Gophers simply couldn’t stop USD’s screens and bootlegs. Pretty pathetic showing.

Oddly, Minnesota extended the contract of football coach Tim Brewster prior to the season. But combining a loss like this to a near-loss to South Dakota State last season and an actual loss to North Dakota State three years ago, and you wonder how much longer Gophers brass will sit back and watch this.

Would you fire Brewster now, after the season, or not at all? I’m in the camp of letting a coach finish out a season, because there just aren’t enough games in a college football season to turn things around in the middle of the year with a new coach. Then again, I never would have extended Brewster’s contract, so what do I know?

And for what I hope will be a weekly feature, here’s a few NFL picks against the spread (my pick is in bold):

  • Giants by 7 against Carolina. Giants
  • Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh EVEN. Steelers
  • Seattle by 1 vs. San Francisco. 49ers
  • Green Bay vs. Philadelphia EVEN. Packers
  • Dallas by 3 vs. Washington. Cowboys

Weber finds himself battling for starting job

With his fourth offensive coordinator since coming to the University of Minnesota, soon-to-be senior quarterback Adam Weber has always been kept busy picking up a new offense.

But this time, Weber finds himself battling for a starting job.

MarQueis Gray, who saw some time last season in option plays, is one of the other QBs in competition against Weber.

No doubt it’s been tough for Weber to get acclimated to any offense. But it’s hard to ignore the statistical regression at the QB position last season.

Finally, on an unrelated note, I saw the Seattle Mariners had some new commercials. Here’s one with Ken Griffey Jr. pulling a prank on Ichiro:

 

Let’s turn back the clock a little bit:

Weeding through Signing Day bytes

National Signing Day can be a headline writer’s worst nightmare. It’s the same story every year. Or is it?

Of course, every year a head football coach applauds his class. But can anything be taken from that level of applause. Does "the best class ever" mean it is, and simply an "excellent" class is actually a bad one? Can every year really be the best class the coach has ever had?

I’m guessing a coach’s quotes on Signing Day are about as predictable as a Republican’s view on any health care proposal from across the aisle. Or a Democrat’s view of a Republican’s health care proposal. It works both ways, of course, to make sure nothing ever gets accomplished.

I’m going to use a couple of local examples.

First, North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl:

2007 – "It’s difficult to rank classes but in my mind, this is the best class hands down."

2008 – "Since I’ve been the head coach, my personal assessment is it’s the most talented class that we’ve signed."

2009 – Labeled class as "good to excellent."

2010 – "I think it’s always dangerous as a coach to start pounding your chest saying what a great class this is. By gosh, I’m looking you guys straight in the eye, this is a heck of a class."

It’s impossible to refute such claims. Those classes could have been the best, whether or not they eventually did or didn’t develop. I have to admit that Bohl’s quotes aren’t quite as entertaining as my next example.

No surprise, there are some real gems from Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster:

2008 – "I just can’t say enough about the job the staff did. I think they proved they are the best recruiting staff in America."

2009 – "I think it’s an outstanding group of players who are going to help us as we move forward in our quest to win a championship here at Minnesota." Regarding his efforts to land a number of in-state kids that year, Brewster added, "I truly believe – and I stated this from Day 1 – the core and the fiber of our football team must be representative of the state of Minnesota."

2010 – "This is a very solid class from top to bottom."

I’m not picking on these coaches. You’ll find these types of quotes from every major coach in America.

Brewster’s quotes are hilarious, especially the one from 2008. Best recruiting staff in America? Really?

And in 2009, the Minnesota quote was in response to his staff landing 5 of the top 10 rated kids in the state. Apparently, that wasn’t an emphasis this year, as he landed three Minnesota kids. Or the job just didn’t get done, which led to him merely referring to it as a "solid class."

Plus, it’s always fun to hear Brewster speak of championships. Not sure if he meant Big Ten or BCS in that quote, but even a conference title is so far from my mind when I watch that team squeak past South Dakota State.

Gophers in need of a chef

When Bill Parcells left the New England Patriots because he felt he didn’t have enough input in personnel decisions, he uttered the phrase, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for the groceries."

Well, that’s not a problem in college football. A head coach can find that player he wants and works as hard as he can to convince him to come to his program. He’s the man when it comes to personnel.

The University of Minnesota elected to give "the man" Tim Brewster a contract extension. The two sides agreed to terms Friday, which will keep Brewster under contract through 2013.

Brewster hasn’t done much in his time at the helm of the Gophers. He’s just 6-18 in three seasons in the Big Ten and 14-24 overall. He’s led Minnesota to two Insight Bowl apperances, both ending in losses. It’s basically the equivalent of a basketball program losing in the first round of the NIT or WNIT.

He needed a nail-biting win over South Dakota State just to get bowl eligible last season. Funny how he doesn’t want to play the Dakota schools, yet he depends on victories against them just to land in third-rate bowl games.

What attracted the Gophers to Brewster to begin with was his reputation as a recruiter. This is what he brought to the table.

And his recruiting classes have often ranked pretty well by sites like Rivals.com, especially when you consider the meager records he has posted. Try going into a kid’s house and convincing him to play for a team with the resume the Gophers had last year!

But what good is recruiting if it can’t be developed into anything useful on the field. Untapped talent is just that.

Minnesota doesn’t need someone to shop for the groceries. It needs someone to take those groceries and make a three-course meal out of them. Dinty Moore Beef Stew simply won’t suffice.

Meaningless bowl season begins

With the New Mexico Bowl under way, the way-too-long college football bowl season begins.

Tipping things off in Albuquerque are Wyoming and Fresno State, two teams that flat out don’t like each other. You can throw out the record books when these teams hook up.

Sadly, college football’s bowl system is much like the NBA and NHL, where all you need is a .500 record to guarantee yourself a spot in the postseason.

That’s why I prefer MLB, the NFL and college basketball. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, 65 teams make the men’s basketball tournament every season. But isn’t there something like 300 teams in Division I basketball? Top 20 percent get in? That’s not too bad. Though the NCAA is thinking of expanding the field to 96 teams, which would be a huge mistake and something I can touch on a future blog.

Growing up, I was a much bigger baseball and football fan than any other sport. So maybe I just grew up thinking being 6-6 or 7-5 shouldn’t mean a berth in a playoff game. But as long as college football can profit off such games, they will exist.

But look at the University of Minnesota football team. How bad can a team play down the stretch and still make a bowl game?

The Gophers’ final six games:

  • Shut out by Penn State
  • Lose to Ohio State by 31
  • Beat Michigan State by 8
  • Lose to a very poor Illinois team by 3
  • Barely beat FCS school South Dakota State by 3 without scoring an offensive TD
  • Shut out by Iowa

Or how about Wyoming? Not to pick on the school, because I know the Cowboys are enjoying a nice turnaround after going five years without a bowl game. But here’s a team that’s 6-6 and was shut out three times this season. If not for a one point win against Colorado State at the end of the season, this team’s 5-7 and not even bowl eligible.

It simply comes down to this: In some sports, just making the postseason is an accomplishment. In others, it’s a rite of passage for simply being, at the very least, mediocre.

Have the Gophers hit bottom yet?

Quarterback Adam Weber seems to be regressing. The running game is non-existent. Jedd Fisch‘s play-calling couldn’t be less creative.

But the question is, has the University of Minnesota football hit rock bottom yet?

Gophers fans have to be concerned that this program maybe, just maybe, could be in worse shape next season.

The announcers during Saturday’s ESPN broadcast made a good point as the Gophers were on their way to a 12-0 defeat at the hands of Iowa. One of them said that the Gophers defense – which was supposed to be a weakness – appears to be the team’s strength.

The defense did the job Saturday, but the offense again came up short despite numerous chances to score.

The problem the Gophers will face next season is that their entire defensive front seven – all seven of them! – are seniors. This was the last regular-season game for all of them.

Granted, one should assume Weber will show a little improvement next season. But you can’t really do that either because he seems to be getting worse as the seasons pass, not better.

The point that head coach Tim Brewster made again prior to the South Dakota State game last week, how he sees no recruiting benefit in playing the Dakota I-AA schools, doesn’t really make much sense.

You think recruits aren’t impressed by beating SDSU? Think about next season, when you have to bring this team into TCF Bank Stadium and host games against Ohio State, Penn State and USC. Beating lower-level schools might not draw them into signing, but getting pummeled at home by the big boys on national TV is far more damaging.