Nelson announces he will transfer

Mitch Leidner is now the odds-on favorite to call the shots next season.

Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson avoids a tackle on Saturday Oct. 26 versus Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium.

Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson avoids a tackle on Saturday Oct. 26 versus Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium.

Dane Mizutani

It seems Mitch Leidner received an early birthday present this year from Philip Nelson in the form of the keys to the Gophers football program.

Nelson announced Jan. 16 his decision to transfer from the University of Minnesota to another program for next season.

Talks of a potential quarterback controversy heading into the offseason ignited after the Gophers’ 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Dec. 27 Texas Bowl.

Backup Leidner vastly outperformed the starting quarterback, completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing for 205 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Nelson — who looked out of sorts all game against the Orange.

It’s unknown where Nelson will transfer. But wherever he ends up, he’ll have two more years of eligibility because he hasn’t yet used his redshirt — though NCAA rules require him to sit out a year after transferring.

Nelson started nine games during the 2013 season and recorded 1,306 passing yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for six touchdowns in Minnesota’s run-heavy offense.

His high-volume rushing stats played a role in his decision to leave the Gophers.

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

The Gophers averaged just 148.1 passing yards per game in 2013 — 115th in the nation. In contrast, Minnesota rushed for 195.2 yards per contest — good for 37th in the nation.

Nelson did not return multiple calls the Minnesota Daily made in attempt to reach him for more information.

The Minnesota Daily also reached out to Leidner, who said he wasn’t allowed to comment on the situation.

“Philip is a terrific young man, and I wish him all the best as he continues his education and football career elsewhere,” head coach Jerry Kill said in a statement the Gophers football program released on Twitter. “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 is the second quarterback to transfer in the Kill era.

Max Shortell left the program during the 2012 offseason after two seasons with the Gophers. Shortell, who now plays at Jacksonville State, was also more of a pocket passer by trade — the opposite of the run-heavy, read-option offense Minnesota runs.

Leidner will undoubtedly enter the offseason as the favorite to start next season.

He started four games last season, and nuances in his game seem to fit Minnesota’s attack more than Nelson’s game did.

Leidner finished with 102 rushing attempts to Nelson’s 93 in 2013 and recorded seven rushing touchdowns.

While Leidner is likely the favorite to start next season, other quarterbacks who could challenge him for the spot are redshirt freshman Chris Streveler and incoming freshman Dimonic McKinzy.