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Report: Gophers to Start Freshman QB Nelson vs. Badgers

Phil Miller of the Star Tribune reports Minnesota will sacrifice the redshirt year of Philip Nelson by starting him Saturday afternoon against Wisconsin.

Barring last minute changes, Jerry Kill will start a freshman QB on Saturday.
Barring last minute changes, Jerry Kill will start a freshman QB on Saturday.
Leon Halip

With MarQueis Gray still hobbled by a knee injury, Wisconsin fans spent the week reading up on his presumed backup, Max Shortell.

Turns out, we should've went a little further. According to Phil Miller of the Star Tribune, Minnesota will start freshman Philip Nelson instead of Shortell at quarterback. That's right -- Nelson gets his first start and loses his redshirt year, all in front of 80,000-plus rapid Badgers fans looking forward to claiming Paul Bunyan's Axe for the eighth straight year.

Nelson, who spent the week taking most of the snaps with Minnesota's first-team offense, will replace Max Shortell, who has been inconsistent in three starts. MarQueis Gray, the source said, remains hobbled by a sprained left ankle, and will play only at receiver, if at all.

Coach Jerry Kill has said for months that the Gophers preferred to keep Nelson on the sideline this season and let him learn the offense during a redshirt year. But Minnesota's two-game losing streak, and the offense's inability to score consistently, has apparently changed Kill's plans.

As Miller's report points out, this will be the second consecutive year Kill has thrust a freshman into his first career start in front of a raucous Big Ten crowd. Last year, Shortell made his first career start at Michigan while Gray sat out with a toe injury. Minnesota lost that game, 58-0.

The fun twist here, though, lies Nelson's Wisconsin roots. Nelson spent much of his childhood in Madison, as his dad, Pat, once played for the Badgers. Wisconsin also heavily heavily recruited Phillip, to the point where he actually held the Axe on a recruiting trip. But the Mankato West High graduate and Minnesota's 2011 Mr. Football ultimately chose the Gophers and likely expected to redshirt this season.