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About Steve Hartman

Digital Sales Manager at Rivertown Multimedia. Huge sports fan from basketball to tennis, golf to football and everything in between.

Prep FB Playoff Preview, 3rd-Ranked New Life VB, East Ridge Boys Soccer in State


Host Steve Hartman is joined by Bulletin sports editor Jace Frederick to break down the 7-seed Woodbury vs 2-seed East Ridge football matchup in the round of 32. Park looks to pull an upset as they visit Lakeville North for a playoff matchup with the 2-seed Panthers. New Life Academy is the top-ranked volleyball team in Section 4A thanks to a 26-game winning streak and overall record of 28-2. The East Ridge boys soccer team is the top seed in the state tournament as they take the field Wednesday versus Duluth East in Chisago Lakes.

Gophers almost pull a “Gopher”

For any Gopher football fan the homecoming game versus Purdue almost became another in a long list of “Same Old Gopher” moments. During the past 50 years the Minnesota football program has lost in impossible ways. They’ve been able to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

It seems as if every time fans get excited about this program and its direction an unimaginable loss occurs. It could be waiting for that breakout performance against a perennial power, see Michigan 2003. Or possibly the huge win versus your biggest rival who has now become a national power, Wisconsin 2005. Or perhaps it’s the strong start followed by a long losing streak, see 2008 and the 7-1 start.

Saturday, every fan clad in Maroon & Gold thought this game vs an awful Purdue team was that day. The statistics said Jerry Kill was 0-22 at Minnesota when trailing at halftime. However, this program seems to be turning a corner. My opinion is they could still lay an egg at Illinois this coming Saturday, but it’s doubtful. Purdue could be the wake-up call they needed. And losing their final 4 games to Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin wouldn’t surprise anyone.

Regardless, Kill has the Gophers winning games they lost in the past. For fans to truly get on board though, they have to beat Illinois and Iowa. Road losses to the Cornhuskers and Badgers are allowed, as is a home loss to the Buckeyes.

All fans really want is progress. Beating Iowa or Wisconsin (or BOTH!) and winning all the games you’re expected to would be just that and get you back-to-back 8-4 seasons. Progress.

Get Rid of Thursday Night Football

The carnage of the Packers 42-10 victory of the Ted-less Minnesota Vikings was hard to watch. Even Packer fans must have found other, more interesting things to do or watch. I mean, awful network shows like “Bad Judge” were on. I’m sure there was a bad singing reality show to watch too.

Unfortunately, this has become a trend. Thursday Night Football was awarded to CBS in 2014 with a bid of $275 million. So far CBS execs and NFL fans have been rewarded with an average margin of victory of 29 points. TWENTY-NINE points. No game has been closer than 20 points. Pretty soon fans will stop watching this horrendous excuse for pro football, where parity and intriguing match-ups are what keeps fans engaged. When the fans stop watching the ad revenue goes and the Thursday Night product disappears.

That would seem like the natural order of things. But I’m willing to bet NFL players make a stand and use the power of their CBA to stop this madness before the ad revenue goes. The NFL continues to tout its concern for “player safety” but unleashes the athletes without proper rest and recovery from brutal games on Sunday. Three days of rest to go pound your body again?! Seems ridiculous and it is.

Thankfully, the contract with CBS is only for a year. I can’t see the players standing for this abuse for another year. And since the product on the field is failing too, it SHOULD be an easy decision for the NFL. But will it work? Will they be reasonable, a large jump for them to make? My opinion is players are starting to mail it in on Thursday Night Football, hence the blowouts. Why risk a career or 1 game out of 16 when you’re not feeling anywhere close to 100%?

It’s not worth it to players. It’s not worth it for fans. But will the money still be worth it to the NFL?

 

Gophers FB: One Jug Down, Axe and Pig to Come?

Back on August 27th I previewed the Minnesota Golden Gophers non-conference football slate. I predicted an undefeated 4-0 start. Well, of course, the Gophers were dominated in Fort Worth by the TCU Horned Frogs, 30-7. My intention was to get a preview of their Big 10 schedule up before their conference opener at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor versus Michigan. However, life got in the way. So I’ll take that as a gimme. Here is my preview of the remaining Big 10 games for Minnesota as Jerry Kill & Co. look to improve the Gopher’s bowl game fortunes from 3rd tier to New Year’s Day.

- Just for fun let’s see how I did. I predicted the Gophers would score 132 points in non-conference games. They actually scored 108. Take away the TCU game and I was 7 pts off. Defensively they’ve given up 81 vs the 54 I predicted. Again, taking away my grandiose error in the TCU game and I was off by 14. Not bad for the my first ever predictions!

Sept 27 at Michigan – Going into the season I would have thought at win at TCU and loss at Michigan. The Gophers haven’t exactly had good luck in Ann Arbor through the years. I had Gophers 4-1 after the Michigan game and that’s where they stand. Who could have predicted as thorough a beat down as we saw last week. After losing 3 years ago 58-0, to now winning 30-14, Jerry Kill has shown progress, especially on defense.

Oct 11 vs Northwestern – Again, prior to last week, I would have said this is as close to a sure thing as is possible. But Northwestern took down undefeated Penn State in Happy Valley last weekend. That’s an impressive win for Pat Fitzgerald’s team, a team that was badly in need of a good win. However, Minnesota’s defense is 5th in the Big 10 in pts allowing just over 19 pts per game. Northwestern is 12th in Scoring Offense in the conference. If Minnesota can score 20 they win, and I think they will. Gophers win 27-17.

Oct 18th vs Purdue – The Boilermakers are terrible. No other way to say it. They rank in the bottom 5 of the Big 10 in almost every category. Specifically, their passing offense is abysmal. Against the improved and experienced Gophers secondary that doesn’t bode well. Minnesota will run over Purdue as well. The Boilermakers are giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground, and that came against two MAC teams, an FCS school and ND and Iowa. Those last two are understandable, but either way, an ugly season for Purdue only gets uglier. Gophers 38-14.

Oct 25th at Illinois – It will be strength against strength in this match-up. Illinois boasts the strongest passing attack in the Big 10. Again, Minnesota’s secondary will be tested. Road games in conference play are tricky, no matter the records. If Minnesota loses a game they “shouldn’t” I can see it being this one. However, the Gophers, even under Tim Brewster, found ways to win in Champaign, Ill. There’s a different feel around this Gophers team, and Illinois defense ranks last in the Big 10. Plus, in the only 2 real tests for the Illini, they lost by a combined score of 89-43. I see a higher scoring game, but Minnesota starts out conference play 4-0, maybe sneaking into the Top 25, 35-31.

Nov 8 vs Iowa – The bye week on Nov 1st will be extremely convenient and important to the Gophers. The final 4 conference games are brutal (as difficult as things can get in the awful Big 10). This starts a stretch vs Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. However, the bye week can help get the Gophers healthy in the 80th battle for Floyd of Rosedale against their neighbors to the south. Fans like myself were excited for last year’s match-up vs the Hawkeyes, only to be reminded of the their supremacy on the football field in recent years. These are two similar teams with similar strengths. The change of QB in Iowa City seemed to spark the team last week. This one is too close to call. I imagine Matt Limegrover will have the Gophers offense in better shape than they looked in 2013 at TCF Bank Stadium for this huge game. At the risk of being called a “homer”, I’ll take Minnesota to win 20-17 on a Ryan Santoso FG at the horn.

Nov 15 vs Ohio State – A lot can change between now and Nov 15th. If the Gophers remain at 1-loss they’ll have plenty of confidence coming in to this game. Ohio State’s JT Barrett, who replaced Braxton Miller, will have plenty of seasoning by this time and should be comfortable. Injuries aside, the Buckeyes are still a more talented team. However, they aren’t the most experienced or physical team seen in Columbus over the years. The Buckeyes’ defense has shown holes, specifically in its highly discussed loss to Virginia Tech (who the next week lost to Georgia Tech) and last week’s game vs Cincinatti. I don’t see how the Gophers can score with Ohio State though, even against a weaker than average rush defense. Gotta go with Ohio State here, Buckeyes win 34-24.

Nov 22 at Nebraska – Minnesota surprised their fans, and the nation, when they beat Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium last season. It had a similar feel to the Michigan game this year, taking down a national power experience a down year. But that Husker squad was much better than the 2014 Wolverines. Ameer Abdullah looks unstoppable on the ground. If you haven’t seen his game-winning catch and run vs McNeese St, check it out here. They have looked impressive recently, but face their toughest test Oct 4th at Michigan State. Nebraska is the lone undefeated team left in the Big 10 as of today, though I don’t expect that when they play Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. Huskers have revenge on their mind and win convincingly, 42-20.

Nov 29 at Wisconsin – This is the game every Gopher fan wants more than any other. It’s the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. It’s jealousy, envy, and all that goes with it. Wisconsin has what Minnesota wants, an established power in the nation’s most popular sport. Hockey is not that sport. The Badgers have obviously tilted this rivalry in their favor. This is the closest the two teams have been in talent and potential since 2005 when the Badgers blocked a punt with 38 seconds remaining and trailing 34-31. watch it here. OUCH I don’t see Minnesota going into Camp Randall and pulling off a win vs the Badgers. Their running game is too much. And just like the Iowa/Minnesota match-up, close games usually go the way of the home team. Wisconsin wins 28-24.

Gophers finish 8-4, a huge program builder to get back-to-back 8-win seasons, but the 2014 version has the tougher schedule with TCU on the non-conference slate. But wins versus Michigan and Iowa, trophy games, helps ease another loss to Wisconsin. A 6-game winning streak followed by a 3-game losing streak to end the year sounds right. Minnesota has to make hay against NW, PUR and ILL or it could be a tough Big 10 season.

Twins’ Gardenhire out; Who’ll be next?

It’s the end of an era in the Minnesota Twins organization. Ron Gardenhire, who took over for Tom Kelly following the 2001 season, has been let go, according to various sources around baseball but first reported by Jerry Crasnick. Gardy’s tenure included 6 division championships, but only 1 playoff series win (2002 vs the Oakland Athletics). Gardenhire couldn’t survive a 4th consecutive 90+ loss season, something only 2 managers had done previously, including Tom Kelly from 1997-2000.

No one wants to see Gardy go. He’s liked by most, if not all in the game. But the time had come, probably 2 years ago honestly. Based on his teams’ poor performance in the playoffs when he had talented players he probably didn’t have the long leash that Kelly had when his teams struggled. With Gardenhire out, I believe pitching coach Rick Anderson will also be let go.

Now that the move is made speculation will begin as to who will be the next manager of the Twins. Here is a short list off the top of my head.

Paul Molitor is #1 on my list. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, excellent with the bat, on the bases and in the field. He has the respect of the young kids, but the baseball knowledge to win games. If Molitor is the choice, keeping Tom Brunansky as hitting coach would be a must.

Ozzie Guillen is a pipe dream, but just goofy enough to work. We know he wants to manage again. Knowing the Pohlads’ loyalty and their mindset this will most likely not happen. The young Latin players could take nicely to a Latin manager though. Ownership will want to appease Arcia, Vargas, Berrios, Sano, Santana, etc. There could be other Latino managers available, but none as opposite a demeanor than Guillen.

Kirk Gibson was recently fired by the Arizona Diamondbacks after a .500 season. Most Twins fans would die for a .500 season at this point. But Gibson’s struggles with management may not sit well with any potential boss.

Doug Mientkiewicz is the Fort Myers Miracle manager, the Twins High Class A affiliate. He has earned plenty of praise from within the organization for his on-field performance, including a 2014 championship. His name draws interest as a former player who was a key cog in the resurrection of the Twins in the 2000s. But he played for many organizations and likely picked up different ideas and philosophies around baseball. He’s a long shot, but intriguing.

What are your thoughts on who will be the next manager of the Minnesota Twins?

Gophers QB Situation Falls on Kill

Glen Mason’s Minnesota Gophers football teams were built on a power-running game and play-action passing game. Asad Abdul-Khaliq was an option threat, but also had a good enough arm to keep defenses honest. Bryan Cupito was more of a pocket passer, but fit in well when Maroney, Barber and the offensive line was gashing defenses for over 300 yards on the ground. Adam Weber was a local kid with big expectations who was up and down as a Gopher, but certainly was good enough to make an NFL roster. Another QB recruited prior to Jerry Kill’s arrival in Dinkytown, MarQueis Gray, is playing TE for the Vikings today. It was Tim Brewster’s inability to settle on his role that limited Gray’s potential.

That brings us to today. Kill had some time with Gray and moved him to WR to let freshman Phillip Nelson start in 2012. Since then the Gophers have had nothing but unsettled, inconsistent play at the quarterback position. This is a problem because as most would agree, in today’s football landscape the QB is the most important position on the field. Granted, a “prized” recruit left the program. Nelson was supposed to have a big-time arm and decent talent. He was a good get for the Gophers at the time. But he lost favor in the coaches when current starter Mitch Leidner began to split time with him. It’s no wonder Nelson left. No other position got jerked around like this in FBS. So that left Kill with Leidner under center this year. A powerful runner, with little quickness and poor passing skills. And what if he got hurt? Well we found that out in the 3rd game of the season.

To his credit, Kill has shored up the U’s defense, something Mason could never do. He also appears to have improved the offensive line play and its depth. The offensive line is not near the Mason years (yet), but it’s improvement has brought back some elements of the power running game from the early 2000s. The only thing missing is adequate, not even average, QB play. In 4 years, Kill has yet to solidify a starter who can consistently complete the forward pass.

Last week vs an awful San Jose State team, instead of giving RS Freshman Chris Streveler the chance to learn, grow and develop some confidence at the position, the Gophers coaching staff decided to pull the chains back. Streveler was 1-7 for 7 yards vs the Spartans. That’s hideous, both in performance and in foresight. The Big Ten is awful, but Kill’s team will have to pass for more than 7 yards to win games. If they think Maroney, Barber, Setterstrom, Eslinger and Hamilton are walking through TCF Bank Stadium anytime soon the Gophers are sadly mistaken.

The current passing game is a joke, and blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the those who recruit and coach these players.

 

Packers Take Off, Vikings Fall Flat

So much negative news going on in the NFL this past week. I have many thoughts and opinions. At some point I’d like to take the time to post them here, but it would take me a while to digest my thoughts in an eloquent, coherent manner. You can find many other opinions that probably mirror mine. For now I’ll stick with the games that are played, despite my urge to resist watching organizations and leagues that appear to have their priorities mixed up.

Packers vs NYJ – As I predicted, the Packers lost at Seattle, but came home to win vs the NY Jets. It was closer than expected, due in part to some injuries. However, no NFL game is easy. The Jets came to play, but Rodgers to Nelson was too much. He picked them apart, Nelson had a career day and the defense did just enough to win. I’m still concerned about this defense. They Packers D gave up 146 yards on the ground, while Eddie Lacy continued his 2014 struggles with only 3.3 yds per carry for 43 total rushing yards, granted against another stout run defense. The Packers secondary did make some plays, including Tramon Williams’ 2nd quarter INT, and held Jets’ QB Geno Smith to only 50% completion percentage. It also should be noted that only the Jets can score a TD late in the 4th quarter, but call a timeout just before the play is run.

The Packers next head to Detroit for a match-up with the Lions. This will be an interesting game on a couple fronts. Detroit looked unstoppable in week 1, but awful in week 2. My guess is the Lions are somewhere in between those two performances. Green Bay’s passing offense and defense improved in week 2. I expect a shoot-out with Detroit, but the Packers win.

Vikings vs New England – The Adrian Peterson news hit the Vikings hard, but many of their problems were independent of Peterson’s game. QB Matt Cassel looked unsure and inaccurate, which is pretty much Cassel in a nutshell. He’s like my golf game, consistently inconsistent. Cordarrelle Patterson was taken out of the game, partly due to Norv Turner amazingly not using him in the run game, but also by the Patriots’ understanding of his inadequacies as a route runner. Belicheck’s defense never let Patterson get off the line clean and he had fits all afternoon in 1-on-1 battles with Logan Ryan. Great quote by Michael Hurley, CBS Boston, “I found it very telling that for as much hype as buffoons such as myself gave to Cordarrelle Patterson, Bill Belichick put Patterson duties on second-year corner Logan Ryan. That left Revis to stick like glue to Greg Jennings, and the play he made on the ball to pick up the interception was tremendous.” The Patriots offense didn’t do a lot, and Mike Zimmer’s defense actually played alright. New England’s blocked FG return for a TD was a back-breaker and resulted in a 10-point swing. They also returned an INT to the 1-yard line, so essentially 14 pts were not on the defense.

How many of the problems were game-planning with Peterson and then not having him? How much was LT Matt Kalil’s continued struggles? The Vikings don’t get a break next week at the loud Superdome and Drew Brees’ Saints. I fully expect the Vikings to lose this game, especially if the two Matts, Cassel and Kalil, don’t improve.The Vikings are 1-1, as expected in my season preview. 

So far, I’m 4-for-4 on my picks for the Vikings and Packers this season. Good start for the novice game picker.

East Ridge WR named Pioneer Press Athlete of the Week

East Ridge senior WR Kjetil Cline was named one of the Pioneer Press’ East Metro Athletes of the Week following his 5-catch, 121-yard performance in a 23-7 win over Cretin-Derham Hall.

Cline was one of the players featured in our East Ridge football preview. His Raptors are 2-0 heading into a Friday, September 12th match-up with Mahtomedi in Woodbury. Watch for the RiverTown Sports Roundup video blog on WoodburyBulletin.com and SWCBulletin.com later this week for a look at week 3 in Woodbury/Cottage Grove prep football.

McCarthy Decisions, Packers D concerning

Count me surprised by how aggressive and sharp the Seahawks looked on the NFL’s opening night. All that talk from Russell Wilson and Co. about not having a Super Bowl Hangover was spot on.

Still I thought the Packers would keep it close, and in the 1st half it appeared they might. But losing Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury was a huge blow to the Pack against a dominant Seattle defense. (RB Eddie Lacy’s concussion isn’t a good sign either. It’s his 2nd in 2 years.) Aaron Rodgers never had time to make plays downfield, especially once the Seahawks built a double-digit lead and thePackers running game became irrelevant.

But a couple things have me seriously concerned about Green Bay. Before you say anything, I fully realize Seattle is an outstanding team, especially defensively. That being said:

1. What was Mike McCarthy doing leaving Derek Sherrod on an island in the 2nd half after Bulaga went out? Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, knew that was a bad idea. It directly led to 2 pts on a Seattle safety after Michael Bennett flew past Sherrod and stripped Rodgers of the ball, not to mention the great field position on the ensuing free kick. But it also stopped the Packers from getting any kind of consistent drive going because any  progress was thwarted by a Seattle sack, usually blowing past an overmatched Sherrod. Why were the Packers not giving him any help? I’d sacrifice a back or TE from going out on a route to save Rodgers’ life and allow him at least the chance to find a receiver. Sorry, Derek, it’s NOT all about execution.

2. WARNING: Bold statement coming…..I don’t necessarily think Seattle’s offense is that good. They are probably top 10, but not top 5 (2013 they were 18th in yards/game and 8th in pts/game, with a handful of points coming from the defense). Wilson has almost no one to throw to outside of Percy Harvin – who looked FANTASTIC and had me flashing back to 2009. As their best receiver, he isn’t the most durable. If he gets hurt teams will gang up on Lynch, which GB should have been doing. But this Packers defense couldn’t stop someone named Robert Turbin, let alone Marshawn Lynch. Rookie safety HaHa Clinton-Dix made a couple feeble attempts at tackles, including this one, and dropped a difficult, yet catchable interception. Sam Shields looked good at times, but also get fooled on the read-option TD pass. Clay Matthews looked fast and played well. Free-agent Julius Peppers did ok, but was targeted in the run game and could become a liability vs elite rush offense.

Again, these problems may just be a factor of playing the best defense in the NFL and a really good QB, RB and Percy Harvin. But this was a bad defense last year and it didn’t look any better last night. On the other hand McCarthy, rightfully so, has a ton of belief in his quarterback. But he shouldn’t expect him figure out a way to buy more time when his offensive line is hurt, and full of back-ups.

Something needs to change. Luckily for the Packers, they have 10 days to adjust before they welcome in the New York Jets.