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:  Super Bowl XLVII is Sunday in New Orleans, with the San Francisco 49ers meeting the Baltimore Ravens. Which team are you picking to win, and why?

-Dorr: I picked San Francisco and then looked to see what they say in Las Vegas. The oddsmakers have the 49ers as a 3 1/2-point favorite. I almost always want the NFC team to win but this time around I’d like to see Baltimore win.  I don’t really have a reason for why I picked San Francisco. I’m not sure which team has the best defense and I’m not sure which team has the best offense. What if Randy Moss plays a starring role? And two former Vikings are starting on Baltimore’s offensive line. I’ll be looking to see how they do.

-Marxhausen: When they talk about the differences between the two Harbaugh brothers, they describe them as two distinctly different styles of coaching. Say both brothers have a wall in front of them. Baltimore Ravens’ coach Jon Harbaugh will find eight different ways to get around the wall. On the other hand, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will run right through that wall. In this game I feel Jim Harbaugh will be able to run through Jon Harbaugh’s wall. I like the dual capability of Colin Kaepernick of running and passing the ball as well as San Francisco’s young defense. I am not completely sold on the Baltimore offense being able to dominate the game. It scored the bulk of its points off of turnovers and great field position and I don’t see the 49ers turning the ball over like the Patriots did in the AFC championship game.

-Larson:  Both teams run and throw the ball well. Both have defenses capable of locking down their opponents. Both are well coached. Both are riding momentum into the game. On paper it’s a pretty even match. I’m surprised by the 3 1/2 point spread favoring San Francisco but look for that to drop a point. Let’s make the running ability of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick the deciding factor that paves the way for a 24-20 49er victory.

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•Question:  Why has the Super Bowl remained such a huge event? Will you be attending a “Super Bowl party?”

-Dorr: I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal – good promotion, I suppose. I have been to one Super Bowl, and I used to watch the game religiously. But I don’t anymore. For me it depends on who’s playing. I’ve got something else going this Sunday and when that’s over I’ll turn the game on if it’s still going. I don’t plan on attending a Super Bowl party – it’s pretty hard to follow the game closely at those things.

-Marxhausen:  I have been asked to attend a few Super Bowl parties, but this year, I will be the one hosting the Super Bowl party instead of traveling to one. Football is one of the most popular sports in America and with the pre-game hoopla and build up surrounding the Super Bowl, it becomes more popular each time. It is not just the game that is exciting, but the commercials and halftime show make for a continuous level of entertainment for four hours. When you add the Super Bowl party into the mix, it makes for a joyous occasion.

-Larson:  I used to host a Super Bowl party or attend one the first 10 or 15 years of the event. You remember, when the Vikings at least got to the big game four times. My interest, like Luther’s, has faded over the years. That late-afternoon start isn’t good for me – I’d prefer a noon start, with a half-hour pre-game show. The game will likely once again draw good viewership numbers. I know folks who could care less about the game but will be intently watching for those high-priced Super Bowl commercials that will be talked about at work Monday morning, probably as much or more as the game itself.

By the way, Luther, did you get an invite to Logan’s party? Ours are probably in the mail.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team lost to Northwestern and Wisconsin last week to slip to a 3-4 Big Ten record. What happened and how much of the blame falls on coach Tubby Smith? Do you expect the team to bounce back and contend for a top three or four finish in the conference?

-Dorr: A few weeks ago when I picked the team to be 10-6 or 11-7 in conference play, a  diehard Minnesota fan took time to criticize me for being anti-Gophers. First, let me say I’m a huge Gopher basketball fan and have been for more than 55 years. Second, I’ve watched the team go in the tank under Tubby Smith the last few years when the Big Ten season begins and thus my pick for a 10- or 11-win season. Case in point: With 4:45 to go in the first half against Northwestern, Minnesota had a 27-19 lead and appeared ready to take over the game. Then, for some reason, the Gophers began casting up a bunch of three-point shots. And after taking a 34-27 lead early in the second half, they played horribly the rest of the way, scoring 12 points in the next 19 minutes after the 27-19 lead. Smith left Austin Hollins in the game after he got his fourth foul and a few seconds later he fouled out. Shame on Smith and shame on Hollins for defending a layup with 11 minutes left in the game. Then came the Wisconsin fiasco with no field goals in the last four minutes after having a lead. Rodney Williams, Joe Coleman and Hollins were 2 for 22. Minnesota struggles to put teams away. Williams, as has done the last couple years, absolutely disappears in some games, as he did last week. So many have called him a high draft pick for the NBA – I don’t see it. I’ve never been a big Tubby Smith fan and he gets some of the blame for the woeful performances. But so should the players. Maybe, just maybe, the talent level isn’t as high as we’ve been told. The headline in the StarTribune on Sunday was right on. It read “Same old, same old.” I’m hoping for the team to bounce back this week but not counting on it.

-Marxhausen: It was tough to see Minnesota lose to top teams like Michigan and Indiana when they put up tremendous efforts, but to not be able to bounce back against Northwestern and Wisconsin was not a good showing. The Gophers put up horrible offensive efforts against Northwestern and Wisconsin, scoring only 48 points and 44 points when their season average is 73.2 points a game. I do not completely blame Tubby Smith, but he is accountable and should take partial blame. After losing tough games, it is part of his responsibility to get his players back into the mentality of winning. I think the Gophers will be able to pull back up out of the middle of the standings, but they won’t be able to get to third or fourth.

-Larson:  The Gophers were advertised as having a lot of firepower, so they should be embarrassed when they score less than 55-60 points in a game. Last week’s losses didn’t surprise me but coach Tubby Smith’s public criticism of his team was surprising. I thought the team’s depth was better – bench points have been sparse. When things are going badly you look for your stars. Minnesota’s weren’t shining very brightly last week. I don’t see the Gophers finishing ahead of Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State or Wisconsin. So, that makes them a second-division team, with any hope of getting a top-eight regional seed resting  on a championship performance in the Big Ten Tournament.

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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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