First, some context is necessary: Multiple media sources have reported the suspensions are in connection to an alleged sexual assault and that four of the players served three-game suspensions earlier this season for an unspecified violation of team rules. The Hennepin County attorney’s office declined on Oct. 3 to press charges, citing insufficient evidence, and the four were reinstated the following day. “The police have cleared you and found that you were telling the truth. The prosecutor’s office has cleared you and found you were telling the truth. And the judge has cleared you, and this group (UM Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action) comes in and says they were all wrong," said Ray Buford Sr., one of the players' fathers and a police officer, to the Star Tribune.
The suspended Minnesota players: defensive backs KiAnte Hardin, Antoine Winfield Jr, Antonio Shenault, Ray Buford, and Dior Johnson; back up quarterbacks Seth Green and Mark Williams; running backs Kobe McCrary and Carlton Djam; and defensive end Tameron Johnson.
From a football perspective, the situation looks to significantly impact the Gopher defense in the Holiday Bowl vs. the Cougars, specifically the secondary.
If the suspensions continue through the bowl game (something not yet known) Minnesota would be without one of its starting safeties in Winfield, plus a starting cornerback in Hardin, as well as key reserve corners Shenault and Buford.
Winfield has started eight games this year and ranks fourth on the team with 52 tackles, and has one interception. Hardin has started seven games and has 39 tackles with two picks. Shenault has started five games this year and has posted 32 tackles, while Buford has 16 tackles. Hardin is also the Gophers’ starting punt and kick returner on the most recent Minnesota depth chart.
On the offensive side of the ball, the only significant loss appears to be third-string running back Kobe McCrary, who has 242 rushing yards and three touchdowns this year.
A Holiday Bowl joint press conference is scheduled later today in San Diego featuring Mike Leach and Gophers head man Tracy Claeys.
Minnesota student-athletes are allowed to appeal university suspensions, but it’s unclear if the players would receive a hearing before the Holiday Bowl.
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