Gophers taking off ‘like a house on fire’10/30/2013
The front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year? A guy from Clay Center, Kansas. A guy who coached under Glen Mason at the University of Kansas but never actually played for him. A guy who had to leave Lawrence and move back home because he couldn’t afford to continue to attend KU, so instead wound up graduating from nearby Kansas State.
Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Tracy Claeys.
A set of three coaches are unbeaten in Big Ten play right now: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, and… Tracy Claeys.
Yes, Tracy Claeys, the Minnesota defensive coordinator, the Gophers’ acting/interim coach and, at the moment, 2-0 in charge of the S.S. Goldy.
With head coach Jerry Kill out on an indefinite leave of absence because of recurring epileptic seizures, Claeys has spearheaded the day-to-day management and prep work for the program, as well as taken the baton on the sidelines. When the arrangement was announced, Minnesota was 4-2 overall, 0-2 in the B1G, and earmarked to fall just short of bowl eligibility.
Instead, Team Claeys has taken off like a house on fire. Several houses, actually.
The Gophs dominated an injury-riddled Northwestern team on the road, hanging on for a 20-17 victory two weeks ago, but the real eyebrow-raiser was what followed. Minnesota came home and knocked off Nebraska, 34-23, last Saturday — the program’s first victory over the Cornhuskers since Murray Warmath did the deed in 1960.
The Gophs even out Nebraska-ed Nebraska, outrushing the visitors by a count of 271-189. The win snapped a 16-game losing streak in the series, a skid in which the average score was Big Red 40, Little Maroon 9.
Suddenly, fan-friendly Huskers football coach Bo Pelini, Mr. Warmth, has his backside squarely on the hot seat again. Suddenly, the Gophs are bowl-eligible with a month yet to play and thinking big with a visit to 3-4 Indiana up next this weekend.
And with a game against 4-3 Penn State up after that, it’s not too crazy to picture the Goldies at 8-2 overall, 4-2 in the conference heading into a Nov. 23 showdown against rival Wisconsin.
Tracy Freaking Claeys. It’s been that kind of year in The Land of Delaney, hasn’t it?
Claeys has been quick to diffuse the praise, insisting that he’s just a caretaker, running everything the way Kill would. The Gophers’ boss has reportedly even made a point to address the team before games, at halftime, and afterward.
But it’s a strange deal, isn’t it? The less he’s around, the better Minny plays.
“The way that (Kill) can inspire us without even being down here,” cornerback Shane Vereen told the Associated Press, “it’s unbelievable.”
Not this year, Shane. This year, in this Big Ten, it’s the most totally, utterly believable thing of all.
THE BIG EIGHT
Ranking the best eight teams in the Big 12 and Big Ten, one through eight.
TEAM (RECORD) / UP NEXT
1. Ohio State (7-0) / at Purdue
2. Baylor (7-0) / Idle, vs. Oklahoma, Nov. 7
3. Wisconsin (5-2) / at Iowa
4. Oklahoma (7-1) / Idle, at Baylor, Nov. 7
5. Michigan State (7-1) / vs. Michigan
6. Texas Tech (7-1) / vs. Oklahoma State
7. Oklahoma State (6-1) / at Texas Tech
8. Michigan (6-1) / at Michigan State
ONE MAN’S RUNNING HEISMAN BALLOT
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Three touchdown passes in the first quarter against North Carolina State and 292 passing yards in 2.5 quarters of action. And the Hurricanes are up next …
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: After eight games and 225 passing attempts, the big Hawaiian has yet to throw a pick. And the Ducks have yet to break a sweat.
3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: Posted his two “worst” games in the state of Kansas — and still accounted for eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing) in those two games. Oh, yeah, and the Bears won by a combined score of 94-39.
SET YOUR TIVO
The games you won’t want to miss.
1. Michigan at Michigan State, ABC, 2:30 p.m.: ‘Little Brother’ has won four of the last five meetings. Sparty could really firm up an inside track to the Big Ten title game with a win here.
2. Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, FOX, 6 p.m.: Revenge much? Tech has dropped the last two tilts in the series by a combined score of 125-27.
3. Miami (Fla.) at Florida State, ABC, 7 p.m.: Can Winston do enough to swing the Heisman voters? Can the Seminoles do enough to swing the computers back around to their camp?
THE HOT SEAT: CHARLIE WEIS, KANSAS
The good news: KU somehow forced Baylor into a 3-and-out on the Bears’ first possession last weekend down at Memorial Stadium. And then, well, reality set in: Baylor racked up 743 yards, 59 points, forced a gazillion missed tackles, and handed the Jayhawks their 25th straight Big 12 loss. Like Art Briles, Weis has a reputation for being something of an offensive wizard. Unlike Briles, his teams in Lawrence haven’t shown so much as an iota of that reputation. KU’s offense surrendered two sacks, nine tackles for loss and fumbled three times against the Bears, sending an already sparse crowd home early. “We never really could protect the defense early in the game by having our offense stay on the field,” Weis told reporters after the game. More salt for the wounds: The Jayhawks (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big 12) now have to try to get healthy at Texas (Nov. 2) and at Oklahoma State (Nov. 9). In Lawrence, hoops can’t get here quickly enough. CV
Sean Keeler is a columnist/blogger with FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports. In 2011, the Iowa native was named one of the Top 10 sports columnists in the nation by the Associated Press Sports Editors. You can read him at www.FoxSportsKansasCity.com and at www.FoxSportsMidwest.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@seankeeler) and through his Tumblr blog: seankeeler.tumblr.com.