I feel like I've been pretty...what's the word I'm looking for...patient? Accomodating? Tolerant? Yeah maybe tolerant's what I'm looking for. The Gophers aren't very good. Haven't been for awhile now. We've got a fantastic new coach and staff that are going to take us places. Like bowl games. Maybe even New Year's Day bowl games. Maybe even... no no no I can't go there. Won't go there. That's part of the whole "tempering expectations" thing I'm trying to do with Gopher football. Great coach, potentially great quarterback, solid linebackers, some talent along the O-line, a stable of halfway decent running backs, and at least two defensive back who could be called good. Or at least not terrible.
I'm excited for Gopher football because it's June and I'm ALWAYS excited for Gopher football. I mean really, if now isn't the time to be hopeful, then when? Exactly. This season, because of all the stuff I already mentioned, I'm especially excited, but I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm. Curb it, if you will (and I will!). I really think this could be a bowl team if things go right and well but I'm trying to abide by Jerry Kill's way of doing things that it's going to be a long, hard road to success and this team is still even trying to find that road (left! Left! no right! Crap it's around here somewhere) let alone traversing their way along it.
So fine. I've accepted that as much as I THINK this could be a bowl team in 2011, that because of some serious depth issues (and Jerry would say speed and strength and talent issues) and everybody learning a new everything the 2011 Gophers may only get a win or two more than the 2010 edition. But even that in itself would be progress.
I've accepted that as PERFECT a quarterback as MarQueis Gray is for Kill and OC Matt Limegrover's offense, that because of SO much returning QB talent around the conference, that Q isn't going to be on any preseason Big Ten teams.
I've also accepted that despite the talent that I THINK is on this roster, when someone like Phil Steele puts out FOUR preseason 2011 All-Big Ten teams that I shouldn't be surprised to see just three Gophers named. Three of them. For four teams. Total. Troy Stoudermire made first team as a kick returner. That's cool. Gary Tinsley was named third team as linebacker. Pretty good considering he didn't even leave spring ball with a starting job. He WAS Minnesota's best defender in 2010, and there's no way he doesn't make an impact in 2011, so I like that one.
Now for the big reveal...did Phil Steele, noted college football guru, have wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight as a first or second teamer? There's three receivers on each team, so I like his chances here...and he made...THIRD TEAM?!?!?
WHAT?!? SERIOUSLY? Really Phil Steele? REALLY? Not only is he third team, but he's not even first receiver mentioned, so that means' there's seven guys who are considered better than him? SEVEN?
Not a chance. No way. No how. I've been really trying hard to temper my expectations and not get too excited, but one thing I've been banking on is Da'Jon taking the Big Ten by storm, and for him, of all the guys on the roster, to get some preseason respect. But THIRD TEAM?
Let's take a look at this...
2010 stats for McKnight and the seven guys (in the order Mr. Steele had them) who are supposed to be better than Da'Jon in 2011 (#'s in bold are tops for returning players with minimum of 48 catches)...
Looking at the numbers tells you one thing for certain: there's a LOT of receiving talent coming back this year. When you add it to all the quarterbacks, the conference that's known for "3 yards and a cloud of dust" could put on an aerial show in 2011. And it's also hard to pinpoint THE best guy here, as you could make a case for just about everybody as a first-teamer- well except Keshawn Martin. What the hell is he doing here? Did Steele mistake him for teammate BJ Cunningham (20-611-12.2-8TD's)? Oh nope, there's Cunningham right behind McKnight on the third team. But Martin? First team punt returner and he certainly has some wheels, but I'm not sure how that automatically translates to 2nd team receiver all of a sudden.
Now that we've eliminated Martin, Da'Jon has the least catches and yards of the remaining guys, but the most TD's and a decent 15.6 YPC. And if you watched the Gophs at all in 2010, you know few if any of those 10 TD's were easy. McKnight made some spectacular catches in traffic that had Gopher fans (well at least me and Jermo) begging the question: why aren't we throwing to this guy more? I just can't see how you don't look at the physical specimen Da'Jon is (6'3 and almost 220), and watch his tape from 2010 and don't believe this is one of the three or four best receivers in the Big Ten in 2011? His TD's catches showed good hands and great body control, and with this size and speed, becoming the #1 receiver should lead to some big numbers.
I know what you're thinking: well sure if we're talking hypotheticals, couldn't everyone else ahead of him (except Martin obviously. Seriously Phil Steele, what the hell?) say the same thing? Well let's find out.
Damairo Belcher? A lot of catches last year, but his numbers say he's clearly a possession receiver, and his 4 measley TD's say he's not a redzone threat. Now take away his offense and quarterback last year (who led the B1G in passing yards), and you think he's automatically racking up 75+ catches again? Really? Even if he does, he'll be lucky to break 800 yards and still won't get in the endzone much.
Marvin McNutt? Some solid numbers (although he had one more game than Da'Jon because Iowa went to a bowl game while the Gophers, obviously, did not), and like McKnight should see a boost as Iowa's new #1 target. A definite 1st teamer.
Derek Moye? Like McNutt, good numbers but get's the bowl game bump. You also can't really give his projected 2011 stats a boost because he was PSU' #1 guy last year with the same QB's in the same offense. PSU's wideouts have historically not put up big numbers so while I expect Moye to be good, I'm not sure he improves much upon what he did in 2010.
Jeremy Ebert? If it's my list, this is the second guy, along with McNutt, who's a clear 1st teamer. Yes he gets the bowl game bump over McKnight, but he also played without starting QB Dan Persa for the last three games when the Wildcats had as much trouble moving the ball on offense as the Canucks had scoring on Tim Thomas. His production was already impressive and had he had Persa for the last three, they could have been even bigger. For 2011 I'd peg him as the most likely to have the biggest stats of any receiver in the B1G.
DeVier Posey? Puh-lease. He's missing the first five games, and when he gets back, who knows who's playing QB? He torched the Gophs for a big game, but then again who didn't against Minnesota's secondary last year? Oh that's right, Iowa didn't. Almost forgot that Iowa lost to Minnesota. Just thought I'd remind you in case you'd forgotten too. But otherwise, Posey was hit or miss despite playing in more games than Da'Jon and having his quarterback the entire season. Based on potential and what his recruiting rankings, yes, Posey should be a first or second team guy, but based on actual production and what OSU's season could look like? Not so much.
Finally, Roy Roundtree? This, ladies and gentlemen, is your darkhorse for the best receiver in the B1G in 2011. Last year he was playing in an offense that wasn't exactly receiver friendly, yet he posted very good numbers. He now moves to a more traditional offense with more normal (and deeper) routes (the kinds that made so many all-conference and future NFL draft picks out of past Michigan receivers), which should suit him just fine. Assuming Denard Robinson picks up the new offense ok, Roundtree could be in for a big year.
So there you have it. I can't say with authority that Da'Jon McKnight is the best receiver in the Big Ten, but I can certainly say he's much better than eighth. And I still want to know what Phil Steele was thinking with Keshawn Martin. But hey, at least Phil put Gopher TE Eric Lair on one of his four teams, right?