Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: What are your thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings-Washington Redskins game?
-Dorr: Let’s face it: If Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder hadn’t gotten hurt, the Vikings likely wouldn’t have won the game. Then, we wouldn’t have had to listen to the guy on the postgame radio show crying about the Vikings now missing out on drafting Andrew Luck, who he deems a sure fit for stardom. And there are lots of others who feel the same. Meanwhile, the Vikings now have to consider Joe Webb seriously as a quarterback candidate. You can’t discount the way he has played recently in relief of Ponder. Some say Saturday’s performance was against a bad team, the Redskins. The week before last that team beat the division-leading New York Giants.. The bad news from Saturday’s game is the injury to Adrian Peterson. He may never again be what he has been. And don’t tell me he shouldn’t have been playing. He played the week before, it wasn’t an ankle injury this time, and he’s the kind of guy that wants to play. You might find fault with Leslie Frazier but not for playing Peterson.
-Marxhausen: I know a win is always positive, but do the Vikings really need to win when it will only hurt their draft selection? The Indianapolis Colts overcame the Houston Texans last week, making the possibility of Minnesota receiving the No. 1 pick even larger. But then, that possibility was lost with the Viking victory. The St. Louis Rams losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers locked them into the No. 2 spot. Joe Webb looked smooth against the Redskins defense as he accounted for three touchdowns, with two through the air. The loss of Adrian Peterson could prove problematic in the long run if he does not fully recover from the two torn ligaments in his knee. It was refreshing to see that the Vikings could make it through the game without turning the ball over.
-Larson: It was nice to see the Vikings play with some enthusiasm and I’m in favor of a team playing to win, rather than tanking it to move up in the draft. A season-long story continued, though. Whenever the Vikings made a great, or good play, it was often followed by a breakdown. If he isn’t the quarterback of the future, the Vikings need to find a way to keep Joe Webb on the field.
The big story of the game was the injury to Adrian Peterson. Can the Vikings afford to keep the running back position open for Peterson’s possible return, or do they immediately look for a replacement via the draft or free agency? Toby Gerhart had a big day but many of his long runs are runs that Peterson would have scored on.
•Question: The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team was scheduled to open Big Ten Conference play Tuesday night at Illinois. The Gophers tipped North Dakota State 63-59 in their final non-conference game and head into conference play with a 12-1 record. Prior to the start of the season many analysts felt the Gophers would compete for a top-four position in the Big Ten, but star big man Trevor Mbakwe suffered a season-ending injury early on, leaving Minnesota without one of the conference’s top players. What will be the keys for the Gophers and what kind of season do you foresee for the team?
-Dorr: I thought the headline in the StarTribune last Friday morning was perfect. It read: “12-1 and still a mystery.” The team has struggled mightily against inferior opponents but still managed to win. For example, the Gophers trailed 14-2 against NDSU and then were down 19-9 12 minutes into the game. Then they took a nine-point lead in the second half and gave it up before winning, despite a 39-28 disadvantage on the boards against a much smaller team. For Minnesota to do well in the Big Ten both Ralph Sampson and Rodney Williams, who have been consistently inconsistent at Minnesota, have to have stellar seasons. If they don’t play better in the Big Ten than they have in the past, don’t expect much from the Gophers.
-Marxhausen: The Gophers have done everything well up to this point. Losing Mbakwe was the last thing the Gophers wanted, but now is the time for the potential in the team’s players to emerge as talent. The problem with losing such a premier player is the lack of leadership on the court. He was their go-to guy in the post area. I see the Gophers not being very successful given the circumstances. The Big Ten is going to be a competitive conference all season, with six teams currently ranked in the top 25. The best option is to force the development of younger players sharing the ball on offense instead of zeroing in on one player.
-Larson: As Luther points out, the players most needed to compensate for the loss of Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams, have been very inconsistent in the past and it’s hard to believe that will change during the Big Ten season. Game in and game out, the Gophers are likely to take a beating inside against Big Ten teams.
•Question: Take a stab at what the Gophers’ Big Ten record will be. And, do you see this team making the NCAA playoffs?
-Dorr: If the Gophers go 9-9 in the Big Ten that would give then 21 wins and a berth in the NCAA. But can they go 9-9? I have absolutely no idea. The non-conference schedule gave us very little idea about how Minnesota will do against teams of Big Ten caliber. Right now, with the information we have from the first 13 games, I don’t see how the team can win half of its conference games. Minnesota ranks 28th among Division I teams in assists and 14th in field goal percentage. That’s pretty good. But they’re 212th in rebounding and if that keeps up they’ll have no chance in the Big Ten. The nine home games include Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana. How many of those games can the Gophers win and how many can they win on the road?
-Marxhausen: I see Minnesota not doing very well in the Big Ten with the competition that will constantly be testing the Gophers. I see a Big Ten record of 7-11, give or take a game, depending on the Gophers’ health throughout the rest of the season. Losing a player early on for the rest of the season does not leave much room for error or breathing room. If the Gophers lose another key player like Ralph Sampson III, nothing but losing streaks would be in the foreseeable future.
-Larson: Like most other Division I teams, the Gophers padded their non-conference schedule, hoping to get a good start on the 20 victories usually needed to get into the NCAA Tournament. That strategy soured as the team sputtered and was fortunate to get a dozen victories. Give the Gophers a 7-11 Big Ten record.
•Question: Starting at No. 5 and working your way to No. 1, what were the top five national sports stories in 2011?
-Dorr: No. 5 is the NBA lockout, which cost the league 20 percent of its games. No. 4 is the football mess at Ohio State where Jim Tressel quit as coach. Now the school, despite the hiring of big-time coach Urban Meyer, has some more NCAA sanctions, including not being able to play in a bowl game next year. No. 3 is the Green Bay Packers winning three road games on the way to a Super Bowl victory, despite many injuries. No. 2 is the St. Louis Cardinals, 10 1/2 games behind in late August, winning the World Series in Tony LaRussa’s final year as manager. No. 1, sadly, is the Penn State story that found veteran coach Joe Paterno being fired and former assistant Jerry Sandusky being accused of sexual improprieties. The story might be the biggest of 2012 if Sandusky is guilty of all he’s been accused of.
-Marxhausen: 5. Buckeyes Cheat – One of the most prominent football programs with one of the most beloved coaches became tainted with the NCAA sanctions against multiple players and eventual firing of the coach. 4. Cardinals Soar – The St. Louis Cardinals are part of one of the most exciting World Series in a long time, taking the series in seven games. After the win, manager Tony La Russa retires from his legendary post and Pujols soars to LA for the next 10 years. 3. Packers roll – The Packers have been the hottest team in 2011. Not only do they have a Super Bowl, title, but they also finish the year 19-1. 2. Everyone Locked Out- Not only just the NFL, but the NBA had threats of lockout this season. The “billionaires” vs. “millionaires” campaign went across two professional sports leagues 1. Penn State – The travesty surrounding the Penn State campus and the downfall of one of NCAA’s most elite coaches, Joe Paterno.
-Larson: The Ohio State football woes is No. 5. Coach Jim Tressel had always appeared to have been squeaky clean. No. 4 is the NFL and NBA lockouts. At No. 3, put the Dallas Mavericks’ surge to the NBA Playoff championship, locking it in alongside the Miami Heat’s failure to win the first of a promised long string of playoff titles. The Packers’ ride through the NFL playoffs and subsequent Super Bowl crown is No. 2.
At No. 1, is the Penn State child sex abuse scandal and its repercussions.
•Question: Starting at No. 5 and working your way to No. 1, what were the top five Minnesota sports stories in 2011?
-Dorr: No. 5 would be the collective failure of the professional teams and most of the University of Minnesota’s major teams. Nobody, except the Minnesota Lynx, performed very well. No. 4 would be the slide by the Minnesota Vikings to near the bottom of the NFL. No. 3 would be former Gopher golfer Tom Lehman winning the player of the year award on the Champions Tour. No. 2, in a close battle with No. 1, would be the Minnesota Twins losing 99 games and being one of the worst teams in baseball. No. 1 goes to the Minnesota Lynx for winning the WNBA championship after years and years of mediocrity.
-Marxhausen: 5. Trevor Mbakwe’s injury has diminished the hopes of the Gophers’ men’s basketball team and the potential success this season. 4. Ricky Rubio finally signing with the Timberwolves after two years of playing basketball in Spain after being drafted in the first round by the Timberwolves. 3. The Vikings. A lot buzz surround the whole team all year with the potential loss of the Vikings in the future, the acquisition and release of quarterback Donovan McNabb and the eventual injury of Adrian Peterson. 2. Jim Thome breaking the 600 home run mark at Comerica Park. 1. Minnesota Lynx. Anytime a home town favorite wins a championship it deserves to be No. 1. Maya Moore and the Lynx brought home the first championship to Minnesota in over 20 years.
-Larson: At No. 5 is the continuing debate on a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Will a financing package ever be completed? If so, will the site be in Arden Hills? A new location in Minneapolis? The current Metrodome site? The Oscar Anderson farm just northwest of Milaca (which I’d prefer)? If a new stadium isn’t built, will the Vikings high tail it to Los Angeles? No. 4 was the debut of University of Minnesota Football Coach Jerry Kill. His first year hardly yielded spectacular results but it wasn’t expected to and next season should tell us more about athletic director Joel Maturi’s selection of Kill. Will three-year-old TCF Bank Stadium prove to be a Gopher sports centerpiece or a white elephant where the largest crowds are those attending rock concerts? The success of the football program will determine that.
No. 3 is the collapse of the Minnesota Vikings. Ownership sold fans on the idea that the team could make a bid for the playoffs, especially if a crafty veteran quarterback like Donovan McNabb was brought in to spark the offense. It didn’t happen. No. 2 is the even worse collapse of the Minnesota Twins. Like the Vikings, Twins brass sold fans on the idea that all the pieces for a title run were in place. It didn’t happen and even veteran manager Ron Gardenhire looked perplexed at the end of a 99-loss season. No. 1 is unanimous with the sportswriters. The success of the Minnesota Lynx was the best and No. 1 “feel good” story for Minnesota sports fans.
•Question: Who would you name national sports person of the Year?
-Dorr: I’d have to take Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers who took his team to the Super Bowl title. He has ascended to being perhaps the top quarterback in the NFL this season and that solidifies the choice, to go along with his Super Bowl victory.
-Marxhausen: I would go with coach Mike Krzyzewski and his success with the Duke University. men’s basketball program Coach K surpassed Bob Knight’s 902 wins on the all-time list for NCAA basketball. He has done wondrous things with his program and has done more for the NCAA than anybody. His four NCAA championships and numerous professional players are proof enough that he is one of the best at what he does.
-Larson: As usual, there are a lot of good candidates. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, St. Louis (now Los Angeles Angels) slugger Albert Pujols, big Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, pitcher Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, utility infielder Nick Punto of the St, Louis Cardinals, well, maybe not Punto, who’s now a member of the Boston Red Sox. The pick here is NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who unseated Jimmy Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
•Question: Who would you name Minnesota sports person of the Year?
-Dorr: You could make a case for Lindsay Whalen helping lead the Lynx to the WNBA title. And Lindsey Vonn is the best woman skier ever from the United States. But I’ll take Minnesota native Tom Lehman for being the first person ever to be named player of the year on all three professional golf tours. Back in 1991, when he was about ready to quit professional golf, he was named player of the year on the Hogan Tour (now called Nationwide Tour). In 1996 when he won the British Open and was ranked as the No. 1 player in the world for awhile, he was player of the year on the PGA Tour. And this year he won three events on the Champions Tour and was its player of the year.
-Marxhausen: I believe when a milestone as remarkable as the 600 home run club is reached, it deserves recognition. Jim Thome, who played much of the 2011 season with the Twins before being traded has never been cited for steroid or other performance-enhancing drug use and is considered one of the bright spots during the steroid era. He joins Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. in the club (Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth are 700 club).
-Larson: Remember when the answer to this question would likely have been Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau? This year, the choice is former Hutchinson High School and Minnesota Gopher standout Lindsay Whalen, who provide the leadership that guided the Minnesota Lynx to their championship.
Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.