Minnesota's decision to remove the redshirt from quarterback Philip Nelson in Week 8 seemed to be as much about the future as the present.
Sure, the team lacked healthy bodies at the quarterback spot, but by throwing Nelson into the fire as a true freshman -- his first game came against rival Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium -- could pay dividends for Minnesota down the line. With MarQueis Gray playing his final game as a Gopher in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and Max Shortell transferring, Nelson appears to be the clear choice to start in 2013.
Or maybe not.
Nelson will have to fight to keep his starting job, with challenges likely from redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and incoming recruit Chris Streveler, who appears similar in talent to Nelson.
"One game will not make it," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Wednesday, Dec. 19, "because [Nelson] had one good game against Purdue and look at what happened. Just because you have one good game, there's a bigger factor to it."
Nelson passed for 246 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a Oct. 27 win against Purdue. But he had only 340 pass yards in Minnesota's final four games of the regular season with one touchdown pass and five interceptions. In the final two games, Nelson completed just 18 of 46 passes with five picks.
Both Nelson and Gray are practicing at quarterback in preparation for the bowl game. Streveler, a three-star prospect rated as the nation's 35th best dual-threat quarterback by ESPN Recruiting, is expected to enroll early at Minnesota and compete with Nelson and Leidner in the spring.
Streveler said Kill and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski told him he would be able to compete for the starting spot in the spring, and to just "see what happens." ...
"I've got a chip on my shoulder; I'm not going to lie about that," Streveler said. "One of my favorite stories is about Tom Brady and how everyone overlooked him and everything like that. I kind of use that to fuel me that people might be overlooking me, but I have confidence in my ability."
Nelson still should enter spring ball as the favorite to claim the top job -- he certainly can help his cause in the bowl game -- but the increased competition is certainly a good thing as Minnesota needs to build much better depth at all of its offensive positions, including quarterback.