Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times sports editor Gary Larson, former Princeton Union-Eagle editor and sports columnist Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Baltimore Ravens 29-26 in a thriller Sunday on a snowy day in Baltimore. There were five lead changes in the final two minutes and five seconds of the game, with the Ravens scoring the winning touchdown with four seconds left in the game. The Vikings dropped to 3-9-1. What are your thoughts on the game and the Vikings’ performance?
-Dorr: It was another of the same old thing, the defense collapsing in the final minutes and the Vikings losing. One of the media types in the Twin Cities made a big deal out of Matt Cassel, saying he obviously gives the team the best chance to win. Well, it was another loss, just like the three games that opened the season when the Vikings averaged 32 points a game, with Christian Ponder as the quarterback, and the defense gave up last-minute scores in losses to Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. If you throw in the loss to Dallas in the final minutes, there have been five games that have gotten away from the team in the final minutes. The record could be markedly different. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is making that draft choice look great and the recent play of Toby Gerhart has made it almost impossible for the Vikings to keep him as a back-up to Adrian Peterson. As in most games this season for the Vikings, there were some good things and some bad things. It seems as though the bad things usually outweigh the good things. For the record, I never wanted instant replay in any sport. People say, “Don’t you want to get it right?” My answer has been that there are occasions when they can’t get it right, even with instant replay. And the Gerhart fumble, which wasn’t reversed on Sunday, is a good example. I have no idea how the official couldn’t see enough to reverse that call.
-Marxhausen: I view this as one of the most embarrassing losses the Vikings have experienced. The last two minutes of the game were wild and one of the most horrible displays of defenses I have ever seen. The Vikings were on their way to victory twice in the last two minutes, only to give up another lead change to the former Super Bowl champions. The game was exciting and had everyone who stayed tuned to the channel on the edge of their seat. It was agonizing to see Adrian Peterson go down with an ankle injury and see him writhing on the ground in pain. The diagnosis came back negative for a tear, but at this point of the season, I think it’s best to have Peterson put away his cleats until next season. While the Vikings want to win and show that they are not as bad as their record would claim, they should tread softly going into the last three games. Give the players who haven’t been starting a bigger chance to show what they’ve got.
-Larson: Come on now, admit you “knew” the Vikings were going to lose in the final seconds. While the last four minutes were entertaining, the result was Minnesota’s ninth loss of the season. This team seems programmed to fall apart at the end of a game. That’s the sign of a bad team and poor coaching. It will be interesting to see if the owners do anything to change that.
-Johnson: For the third straight week the Vikings played a game of ups and downs. This past week against the Ravens was probably the best of them all. Before Adrian Peterson got injured, the Vikings struggled offensively. I believe this was because of the play calling. When Bill Musgraves, the offensive coordinator, throws the ball on first down and it’s incomplete, he has a tendency to run Peterson up the middle on second and 10. I’m not sure what his hopes are in doing this but an average outcome would be a three or four yard gain. So then you have third down and long with below average quarterbacks who struggle to put the ball into the air. The goal each and every series should be to avoid third down and long situations. After a blown call on a fumble by Toby Gerhart, the Vikings found their footing offensively by getting the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson. It brings back old memories of Randy Moss, seeing No. 84 running up and down the field. The Vikings will play an integral part of the playoff picture in their final three games. Maybe they can spoil one of these team’s playoff hopes.
•Question: The University of Minnesota football team (8-4) will face Syracuse (6-6) in the Texas Bowl Friday, Dec. 27, in Houston. Minnesota had been hoping to land a more prestigious bowl game but will be returning to Houston for the second year in a row. The Gophers lost to Texas Tech there last year. How thrilled are you about this match-up and how important is it for Minnesota to get its ninth victory of the season?
-Dorr: I’m just happy to see the team get to a bowl game. And it’s against a team the Gophers apparently have a chance to beat. Syracuse lost to Penn State and Northwestern, teams Minnesota beat, and gave up 48 points to Northwestern. Syracuse also gave up 49, 56 and 59 points in games it lost. I think Minnesota fans were hoping for a “better” bowl game but until the team shows that the improvement in the program is sustainable, that won’t happen. But if you compare what Minnesota’s defense did against Big Ten champ Michigan State to what Ohio State’s defense did against the Spartans, the Gophers don’t look too bad. It’s very important to get that ninth win for the program to take a step forward. A loss this time around would be a big disappointment.
-Marxhausen: Although the Gophers have two more wins than last season, they are going back to Houston for the same bowl game that has a different title this year. While last year it was the Meineke Car Care Bowl game it is now the Texas Bowl game. It looked like the Gophers were going to get matched up against Texas Tech once again but they landed Syracuse, which squeaked into bowl eligibility after beating Boston College in the last game of the season. Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill doesn’t see this as a slight but rather a positive experience. The importance of this bowl game is notching that ninth victory of the season. Since 1905, the Gophers have only won more than nine games once, in 2003 when then head coach Glen Mason went 10-3. A possible ninth win makes this bowl game important for the program.
-Larson: I doubt there’s a stampede in Houston to get tickets for this one. And, there’s likely not a lot of enthusiasm in Syracuse, either, following a dismal 6-6 season. But, the game is important for Minnesota. A loss would take much of the shine off a season in which the Gopher program took a step forward. The Gophers will be favored and coach Jerry Kill seems energized and will likely have his team ready to play. A victory would be something Minnesota could carry over to spring practice and the 2014 season. Right now, I like Minnesota’s chances. By the way, also on tap Dec. 27 are the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., and the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Have you heard of either of those?
-Johnson: By earning a more prestigious bowl game, we would be talking about having the BCS computerized system, NCAA Coaches, and writers select a more prestigious bowl for the Gophers. NOT the Gophers earning their way to a better bowl through winning playoff games. As I stated last week, I don’t care for the BCS system for Division I college football and would much rather prefer a playoff method. The bowl games are designed to make money, not to see which teams can come together and win games through a playoff system to reach a final championship bowl. None the less, I will certainly root the Gophers on to their ninth win of the season which would be the best since 2003. From what I’ve gathered about Syracuse, it is very similar to the Gophers in terms of strengths and weaknesses. It runs the ball better than it passes. Hopes are that Minnesota can win the turnover battle, control the ground game, and come up with a big play or two down the field to lead it to a victory.
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