<
>

Minnesota's 'All-Century' team: Best lineup since 2000

With less than a week left until we can really start talking about the upcoming season -- Big Ten media days -- we’re scrambling for some actual football discussion. So, to borrow an idea from our pals at the Pac-12 blog, we’re putting together the “All-Century” teams for every Big Ten school.

These are the top lineups each team could field consisting of players who have played since 2000. Next up is Minnesota.

OFFENSE

QB Adam Weber: Thanks in part to his strong arm and a stranglehold on the job that produced 50 career starts, Weber rewrote the passing record book with the Golden Gophers -- in some cases claiming the top spot by huge margins.

RB Laurence Maroney: The bruising rusher finished his career No. 2 all time in yardage and scored 32 times before moving on to the NFL.

RB Marion Barber III: A dynamic weapon in a loaded backfield, Barber finished behind Maroney in yardage but topped him with 35 career rushing touchdowns.

WR Eric Decker: Owner of two of Minnesota’s top-three individual receiving seasons, Decker left school with the all-time lead in both catches and yardage before embarking on a successful NFL career.

WR Ron Johnson: Decker knocked this playmaker from the top of a few lists after Johnson was already gone, but his 31 touchdowns still hold up as the most scoring grabs the Gophers have ever received from an individual.

TE Matt Spaeth: The Mackey Award winner in 2006 hauled in 109 receptions during his career, giving him the edge at a position that has seen no shortage of talent since the turn of the century.

OL Greg Eslinger: A truly gifted lineman at the point of attack, Eslinger was a double-award winner in 2005 by claiming both the Outland and Rimington trophies.

OL Mark Setterstrom: A physical guard, he earned some All-America honors and played a crucial role up front in paving the way for the talented tailbacks and the rushing game.

OL Zac Epping: Left his mark by earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014, a tribute to his nasty blocking as part of an old-school team that leaned heavily on a powerful running game.

OL Rian Melander: He twice was given recognition as one of the best linemen in the Big Ten, including a first-team all-conference selection in 2004.

OL Joe Quinn: Handled the dirty work on the interior but still did enough to stand out as a second-team All-Big Ten honoree in 2003.

DEFENSE

DL Willie VanDeSteeg: Developed into a force to be reckoned with in the trenches, twice finishing a season with a double-digit sack total and leaving school as the all-time leader in tackles for loss.

DL Ra’Shede Hageman: What he might have lacked in flashy individual statistics, Hageman more than made up for by occupying blockers and forcing offenses to account for him on every snap.

DL Karon Riley: Minnesota’s all-time leader in sacks with 29 -- and he only needed two seasons to do it. Both of those campaigns ended with first-team All-Big Ten honors.

DL Theiren Cockran: Emerged as a wrecking ball with 7.5 sacks in 2013, and while his production slowed as the amount of double teams increased, he still had 15.5 in his career.

LB Lee Campbell: Perhaps somewhat overlooked in terms of recognition outside the program, within Campbell was twice honored as the team’s defensive MVP, piling up 199 tackles in 2008 and 2009.

LB Damien Wilson: The All-Big Ten performer was a tackling machine during his final campaign with the Gophers, setting the tone for a hard-nosed defense with 119 total hits.

LB De’Vondre Campbell: Another perhaps undervalued linebacker, the relentless, athletic defender tallied 208 tackles -- 16 of them for a loss.

DB Eric Murray: Don’t be fooled by the lack of interceptions on his resume. Murray was the ideal lockdown cornerback, shutting down his half of the field and allowing Minnesota to build a defense around his ability.

DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun: The other half of a terrific tandem in the secondary, Boddy-Calhoun had an uncanny knack for coming up with crucial plays at just the right time, wrapping up his career with 10 interceptions and two touchdowns.

DB Willie Middlebrooks: Even while dealing with injuries, Middlebrooks was respected enough to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors during a shortened final season before being selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

DB Brock Vereen: A first-team all-conference pick by the coaches, Vereen’s presence patrolling the secondary was hard to ignore with the Gophers.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Dan Nystrom: The most productive kicker the program has had, Nystrom also ranks among Minnesota’s most accurate with a percentage that rates No. 3 in school history.

P Peter Mortell: As talented with his strong, consistent leg as he was entertaining off the field, Mortell might also go down as the school’s preeminent holder on place kicks.

KR/PR Troy Stoudermire: Never gave Minnesota any reason to take away his spot returning kickoffs for three seasons -- the three most productive in terms of yardage in school history from 2008 to 2010.