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Updated: January 16th, 2014 4:10pm
Gophers starting quarterback Philip Nelson opts to transfer

Gophers starting quarterback Philip Nelson opts to transfer

by Nate Sandell and Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com
Email | Twitter

The Minnesota Gophers' outlook at quarterback has received a dramatic alternation.

Two-year Gophers starting quarterback Philip Nelson has decided to transfer.

After initial reports surfaced, coach Jerry Kill and the Gophers responded with an official announcement of Nelson's transfer.

"Philip is a terrific young man, and I wish him all the best as he continues his education and football career elsewhere," Kill said in a statement. "I want to thank Philip for the contributions he made to our football program both on and off the field, and I will do anything I can to help him both now and in the future."

Nelson, who took over as the Gophers' top quarterback for the final seven games of his freshman season in 2012, was jostled in and out of the starting role at times in 2013. He stayed largely at the top of the Gophers' depth chart, though he split time with then-redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner.

In a statement to the Star Tribune, Nelson said: "I want to thank Coach Kill for the opportunity to play football at the University of Minnesota. I have the utmost respect for Coach Kill and what he's done for this program. I also want to reach out to all the great Minnesota fans that supported the football program and say thank you. Your effort makes a difference.

"For me, I am looking to play in a system that centers more around the pass game which utilizes my skill sets. I am excited to go out and meet with programs that match up with my talents."

Nelson's decision to transfer casts a wave of uncertainty over the Gophers' quarterback situation heading into spring practice and the 2014 season. While many were expecting there to be an ongoing quarterback debate between Nelson and Leidner, all of a sudden Leidner is being thrust into the spotlight.

Nelson ends his career with Minnesota with a 50 percent completion rate (169-of-338) for 2179 yards. He ran for 364 yards in 2013 (584 in his Gophers career), while Leidner surpassed that with 407 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Leidner played in 10 of the Gophers' 13 games in his first season, starting four times. Although there were glimmers of potential, neither Nelson nor Leidner fully emerged as Minnesota's clear-cut No. 1 quarterback. Leidner completed only five percent more of his passes than Nelson, finishing 43-of-78 (55.1 percent) for 619 yards.

When Nelson struggled early in the Gophers' eventual loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, Leidner came in and did enough to awaken a lackluster offense to make a second half run (11-of-22, 205 yards passing, 24 yards rushing on 13 carries). The Gophers' rally ultimately fell short, but the game served as indication that the outlook at quarterback would remain hazy heading into the offseason.

From almost the get-go, Leidner expressed his confidence that he could excel as the Gophers' top quarterback. Leidner now has that opportunity, with the position wide open for the taking.

There is building intrigue surrounding who will compete with Leidner at quarterback. When true freshman third-team QB Chris Streveler injured his hand early in the season, fellow freshman Conor Rhoda took over the primary scout team QB duties. He remained in that spot for the remainder of the year, with Streveler not returning to practice until the season's final weeks.

Rhoda, in similar fashion as Leidner the year before him, received high praise from Kill and the coaching staff for his scout team work throughout the season.

A key question entering spring practice will be how do Rhoda and Streveler fit into the QB picture.

Incoming recruit Dimonic McKinzy, a 6-foot, 213-pound quarterback out of Wyandotte High School in Kansas, is enrolling at Minnesota for the upcoming spring semester and will be eligible to work out throughout spring ball. It remains to be seen where McKinzy will fall in the QB competition.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
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