Ask the Sportswriters

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.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings lost at Green Bay 23-14 Sunday in Green Bay to drop to a 6-6 record. The Vikings wasted a 210-yard rushing day by back Adrian Peterson, which included an 82-yard scoring run, the longest of his NFL career. Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder had a miserable day, completing 12 of 25 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. He threw two big interceptions. 1. What are your overall thoughts on the game? 2. Should coach Leslie Frazier have benched Ponder, either late in the first half or the second half? 3. Ponder has not looked competent for several games, so is it time to give Joe Webb a look?

-Dorr: I didn’t get a chance to watch the game until the fourth quarter,  so it’s difficult to comment on the game. But here’s what I saw then. Minnesota trailed 20-14 and still had a chance to win the game. But the Packers went on an 11-minute, 18-play drive (longest in the NFL this season) that included four straight third-down conversions and ended with a field goal and a nine-point lead with four minutes to go. And then placekicker Walsh missed a field goal – that and the long drive ended Minnesota’s chances. Here’s my question: Did anybody really think Minnesota was going to go into Green Bay, after a 38-14 thrashing of the Packers by the New York Giants a week before, and come home with a win? I sure didn’t. Ponder may have played poorly (like I said, I saw only the final period) but there was lots of blame to go around. Commentator Troy Aikman, the former Dallas quarterback, mentioned that Minnesota receivers weren’t getting any separation from defenders. And I heard there was a stupid penalty that took away a Minnesota interception. And Percy Harvin was again missing in action. When the Vikings made their final cuts I wrote that I was disturbed that they had let veteran Sage Rosenfels (lifetime completion percentage of 63) go. If you had him on Sunday, or the week before in Chicago, I could see pulling Ponder and putting in Rosenfels. Why would you bench Ponder late in the first half? The Vikings were leading. Right or wrong (and I’ve never been impressed with Leslie Frazier), it sounds as though Ponder will remain the starter. I don’t think Joe Webb is the answer but maybe he’s worth a try if things go poorly Sunday against Chicago.

-Marxhausen: From a Viking fan’s perspective, it is hard to watch such a tough loss against a divisional opponent. The Vikings, led by Adrian Peterson, played their hearts out to try and secure this victory, only to lose through inadequate quarterback play. Peterson bounced off many tacklers and pumped his legs to outrun even the speediest secondary players. If I were in Frazier’s position I would not have benched Ponder even though he gave up two key turnovers in the second half deep in Green Bay territory. Ponder studied the Packers and was the best equipped of the quarterbacks, even if he has been inconsistent under duress. Joe Webb has plenty of capabilities as a quarterback and should be considered to start this week against the Chicago Bears. Ponder looks more comfortable at home where he has gone 5-1, but that doesn’t mean his inconsistent play won’t continue Sunday against Chicago at Mall of America Field.

-Larson:  It is a compliment to Adrian Peterson that he so far has maintained a positive attitude with so much ineptness around him. The Minnesota defense wilted when it mattered most when Green Bay went on that long drive in the second half. We’ve seen that many times in the past. Why is Ponder making so many dumb decisions while so many young quarterbacks in the league are thriving? A below average group of receivers isn’t helping but still, in his second season, Ponder should be showing more savvy.

As Luther points out, it would’ve been shocking had the Vikings won in Green Bay. As things turned out they did have a shot. Ponder should remain the starter the rest of the way and a decision on his future made when the season is over.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota football team (6-6) has received a bid to meet Texas Tech (7-5) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston Friday evening, Dec. 28. The last time the Gophers faced Texas Tech was in the 2006 Insight Bowl. Minnesota led that game 38-7 in the third quarter but the Red Raiders rallied and won 44-41 in overtime, the largest comeback in bowl history. Glen Mason was fired as Gopher coach the next day. Are you excited the Gophers are going to a bowl game?

-Dorr: I’ll watch the game, as I did the 2006 Insight Bowl. I was disappointed in the way Mason handled that game, especially by not taking any time off the clock to slow down the Texas Tech offense. But I didn’t think he should be fired.  I have no idea what kind of team Texas Tech has but it has played a tough schedule and is 7-5. Tech gave up an average of 48 points a game in losses to Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, all of them ranked except Baylor. They also beat ranked West Virginia, 49-14, and a ranked TCU team. It looks as though it will be an upset if Minnesota wins.

-Marxhausen:  Excited is a bit of an understatement in the eyes of any Gophers fan. Six years ago the Gophers blew what was to be an almost guaranteed victory, but faltered and showed their incompetence in complete detail. Looking at the losses that Texas Tech has suffered this season, there are many tough and ranked challenges that they fell too. Texas Tech’s five losses are No. 17 Oklahoma, No. 3 Kansas St., No. 23 Texas, No. 24 Oklahoma State and Baylor in a key Big 12. Minnesota’s six losses all came against conference opponents with most being none too close. I feel the scoring will be opposite of what happened six years ago, but without the heroic comeback that the Raiders accomplished.

-Larson:  I’m so pumped up about the Meineke Car Care Bowl I don’t know if I can continue writing. Twelve of the 68 teams advancing to bowl games will march onto the field with 6-6 records. One, Georgia Tech, will take a 6-7 mark into the Sun Bowl. Oh, how we reward mediocrity. But, because I love college football, I’ll be watching part or all of most of the games. Video tape recorders (VCRs) are the greatest achievement of this age of technology. Forget elaborate cell phones, iPads, iPods, etc. They can’t touch a banged up 1986 VCR. And, when that one goes I can replace it for 50 bucks!

The Gophers’ 6-6 season reflects what caliber team they are – average at best. They appear to be over-matched against a good Texas Tech team. But, maybe the Red Raiders won’t take Minnesota seriously. An over-confident TT team is Minnesota’s best hope. It will be interesting to see how many Gopher fans make the trek to Houston. Unless airfare, lodging and tickets are free, there won’t be many students.

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•Question:  Maryland and Rutgers were admitted into the Big Ten Conference last week, boosting membership to 14 schools. 1. What do you think of the expansion? 2. Insiders say the Big Ten will eventually add two more schools. It was predicted a year ago that college football would end up with four 16-team super conferences. Excluding Notre Dame, what schools would you like to see be numbers 15 and 16 in the Big Ten?

-Dorr: I think it’s horrible. But then I was very disappointed in 1993 when Penn State joined the league, and also when Nebraska was admitted. You could call me a traditionalist. Thus, seeing the old Big Ten go out the window, isn’t something I’ve enjoyed. It’s the oldest conference in the country and was primarily in the Midwest. Now it’s all over the map and the tradition has been lost. Expansion of the Big Ten is in the category of the BCS football thing for me – neither is something I like. It’s all about money and has led to things like games at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The traditions are gone. I don’t even know who is being considered to make the Big Ten a 16-team league and I can’t think of any schools I would like to see the league accept. Hey, the Big Ten Network will make even more money.  But I care less and less about the Big Ten as it keeps expanding.

-Marxhausen:  I don’t mind the idea of an expansion, but there is something to be said about moving the conference all the way out to the East Coast. I always assumed that Pennsylvania was the farthest the conference was going to expand with the options of going south open. There will be a benefit with Big Ten having a presence in the east as it could attract more talent to the conference. I am not quite sure if the Big Ten should be named the Big Ten anymore. Maybe it should look at a possible new name. Northern Illinois has proven to be a worthy opponent as they have made the Orange Bowl and has built a reputable defense and rushing attack. It also helps in a geographical aspect. The other could be a team out east like Syracuse. And there are rumors about Oklahoma looking to exit the Big 12 where it is under the shadow of Texas. Oklahoma would help expand the television aspect of the Big Ten and the Sooners would have a chance to dominate again with different competition.

-Larson:  I could somewhat understand when Penn State and more recently Nebraska were taken in by the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers (schools with perhaps the ugliest helmets in college football) don’t make sense, but everyone is doing it. Stories about schools hopping from one conference to another have become commonplace. It appears the Big Ten, Southeast, Big 12 and Pacific Coast conferences will become the 16-team super alignments. On his WCCO radio program last Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman blurted out that Georgia and North Carolina would become the latest additions to the Big Ten. My picks a week ago were Iowa State and Louisville but then Louisville announced it was moving from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Logan’s suggestion of Northern Illinois might work. Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill could then continue to take partial credit for any success the Huskies might have. Here’s a stunner! How about a West Coast presence such as Oregon State or Oregon for the Big Ten? As the scrambling continues, look for the NCAA to step in at some point and determine what the alignments should be for those super conferences, if it’s not too busy counting its money.

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•Question:  Last week the Minnesota Twins traded veteran outfielder Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for 6-foot-9 pitching prospect Alex Meyer who was 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA in Class A last season. Meyer, who has a fast ball in the mid-90s, struck out 139 in 129 innings. It’s projected he needs at least one more season, maybe two, to be ready for majors. What did you think of the deal?

-Dorr: I think the trade shows that the Minnesota Twins have few players they can get anything for in a trade. Span was somewhat marketable but all you could get was a pitcher who has never pitched above Class A, albeit a pitcher who shows promise. Who else do the Twins have to trade that would bring a decent pitcher? Span was a decent player but at least now we won’t have Span and Ben Revere in the same outfield. Revere’s on-base percentage isn’t very good and he’s going to have to do a better job of getting on base, something Span did better than him. I’m looking forward to what the Twins will do as far as signing free-agent pitchers.

-Marxhausen: The Twins are not looking to win immediately as they have decided to wave the option of keeping a talented Denard Span and instead obtain a young prospect. The Twins are looking to the future and not the immediate present. The team has had trouble finding talent to shine in the past few years and needs a new outlook. They are looking to trade and draft young prospects in order to become a contender in a few years. I like Meyer’s 6-9 frame and early reputation but a lot of work needs to be done before he is pitching to major league players.

-Larson:  A note to Terry Ryan, Twins general manager: Terry, most Twins fans are hoping that after two agonizing, miserable, depressing seasons you would be working on improving the team for NEXT year, not 2014 or 2015. So far, your lack of movement has assured  the team will lose 90-plus games for a third year in a row. Fans aren’t buying this “build for the future” garbage when they see other teams building for next season. In this age of free agency, fans, paying higher and higher prices to attend games, are concerned about 2013, not 2014 or 2018 or 2020.

These quotes in writer John Shipley’s story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week should really get fans enthused for 2013. “We’re going to make reasonable baseball decisions,” said Ryan. “I don’t think we’ll be compelled to spend a lot of money without the legitimate chance of getting a good return on it. If (fans) are expecting that, they’re probably going to be disappointed. I’ll give innings to guys we have and try to build a good future before I just waste money (on a free agent).”

Trading Ben Revere would’ve been a better move, but he’s making far LESS money than Span and Washington probably didn’t want him. Revere gives the Twins a center fielder who is fast and….well, I guess fast is it. Revere’s strike zone at the plate has been anything in front, behind and either side of the plate. But, he’s fast.

As far as Meyer is concerned, I read somewhere that he is ranked the 50th best minor league prospect. Span should have been worth a player ranked in the top 10 or 15. Meyer has credentials, for sure. But, the list of players who never fulfilled their potential is a long one, much longer than the list of players who did.

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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 editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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