Gophers will give QB Cole Kramer his first career start in the Quick Lane Bowl vs. Bowling Green
Published 1:02 pm Monday, December 25, 2023
DETROIT — Cole Kramer took part in Minnesota’s senior day ceremony before the final home game, exchanging hugs with coach P.J. Fleck and his family members on the field at Huntington Bank Stadium and posing for pictures to mark his five years playing for the home-state program.
Kramer is planning a wedding with his fiancée, seeking a job in sales and packing for a move to Arizona, but that next phase of life has been on a hold for a few more weeks. Once starting quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis entered his name in the transfer portal after the regular season ended, Kramer was the only viable option remaining on the roster.
The career backup will make his first start at quarterback for Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl on Tuesday against Bowling Green.
“As a kid who grew up in Minnesota, that was my dream ever since I was little,” Kramer said. “So that was an obvious yes.”
When Fleck made the announcement to the team earlier this month, Kramer got a standing ovation.
“Guys were fired up for him because they know how hard he’s worked and he’s earned the opportunity to do it,” Fleck said.
Kramer, the cousin of former Gophers star defensive end Carter Coughlin, who currently plays in the NFL for the New York Giants, played at Eden Prairie High School in the Minneapolis suburbs before joining the Gophers. The bulk of his college experience came as a wildcat-style short-yardage specialist in 2021, with 36 rushing attempts for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Kaliakmanis stayed healthy all season, so Kramer took precious few snaps. He has 14 career pass attempts.
In the days since Kramer was appointed the starter, though, the Gophers have seen his command of the offense grow even further.
“Not to say he wasn’t confident prior to that,” Fleck said. “It’s different when you get the keys to the car.”
READY TO FACE THE BEST
“We’re just glad that we’re starting to be in position to be competitive against any team we play,” said fifth-year Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler, a former Michigan and Detroit Lions assistant. “The games we lost were to teams that won their conference or at least won 10 games.
“I love our culture, our kids and our coaches. We’ll have a chance to make a run at the MAC championship next year.”
The Gophers are 4-0 in bowl games under Fleck, carrying a six-game bowl winning streak that began in the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl under then-coach Tracy Claeys. Just as they did that season, the Gophers qualified for a bowl with a 5-7 record because of a nationwide shortage of six-win teams. They had the best Academic Progress Rate score among the five-win teams and, by NCAA rule, got the open spot.
The only FBS teams with better scores than Minnesota either had six wins or more (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Clemson, Alabama, Mississippi and Ohio State) or fewer than five wins (Cincinnati).
“Maybe on the field we didn’t have enough wins, but we talk about why these men are student-athletes, celebrating their success not only on the field but also in the classroom,” Fleck said. “We’re the example of that this year.”
SHORTHANDED IN THE BACKFIELD
Terion Stewart, who led the Falcons with 762 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, is out with a broken leg and Taron Keith, the team’s second-leading rusher and receiver, will not play in Detroit after entering the transfer portal.
“We’ll be down to our third, fourth and fifth running backs” said Loeffler, adding that injuries and the transfer portal also will leave Bowling Green short in the secondary.
The Falcons could even try all-MAC tight end Harold Fannin.
“He can do everything, lining up at tight end and as a hybrid receiver,” Loeffler said. “We might even hand him the ball.”
The Gophers are favored by 4 1/2 points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook odds. The Falcons were 31-point underdogs on Sept. 25, 2021, when they traveled to Minnesota and produced a 14-10 victory. The Gophers, who finished 9-4 that season, had three turnovers, seven penalties and just 241 total yards.
“We just couldn’t move the ball,” Fleck recalled recently. “They beat us at our own game, and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for that. Our players remember that.”