Gophers safety Craig McDonald granted eligibility for rest of this season

The NCAA has granted eligibility to Gophers defensive back Craig McDonald for the rest of the 2023 season, the Pioneer Press learned on Monday.

The Minneapolis native was initially denied the chance to play this season because he had transferred twice in his college career. From Minnehaha Academy, he started at Iowa State in 2020-21 and used his one allowed opportunity to transfer without sitting out a season when he went to Auburn for 2022.

McDonald, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound safety/nickel back, is now expected to make his debut when Minnesota (2-2) plays Louisiana (3-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

“We are excited for the young man,” head coach P.J. Fleck told the Pioneer Press. “This is not a win or something like that. This is just about being happy for the kid that he has the opportunity, doing all the right things and all the right steps. That is why the rule is in place.”

When the NCAA initially denied McDonald’s waiver earlier this season, the U filed an appeal on McDonald’s behalf, feeling McDonald had a compelling case to play right away. The NCAA told the Gophers late last week that McDonald would be eligible to play for the rest of the season, but the news came too close to the Northwestern game for him to suit up in Evanston, Ill., meaning he would miss the opening one-third of the season while waiting for a decision.

“I’m really proud of Craig and our administration for staying patient,” Fleck said.

Fleck credited the U’s “administration, our compliance office, (football general manager) Gerrit Chernoff — everybody involved in taking exactly why the rule is in place and having all the data of why (McDonald’s) case fit that rule.”

The NCAA took heat from North Carolina officials earlier this month for denying the two-transfer appeal of talented receiver Tez Walker. The Tar Heels were very critical of the NCAA’s process, and the NCAA replied with a statement that the school’s comments put its volunteers’ safety in peril.

Meanwhile, the Gophers did not express frustration as they waited weeks for a decision on McDonald.

“We understand the NCAA has a lot of policies they have to go through,” Fleck said Monday. “And they are dealing with an awful lot. We understood the patience part was going to be a big piece of that.”

McDonald, who has three years of eligibility remaining, played only two games at Auburn last season, but had 41 tackles and two interceptions playing in all 13 games for Iowa State in 2021. He played four games for the Cyclones in 2020 before redshirting the rest of his true freshman year.

“He hasn’t played football for a while,” Fleck said. “So now we’ve got to get him back playing football, game football/ So excited for him though.”


Gophers running back Darius Taylor won his third consecutive Big Ten freshman of the week honors Monday.

The true freshman rushed for 198 yards on 31 carries and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 37-34 loss at Northwestern. But Taylor left the Northwestern game with an undisclosed injury.

“No injury update,” Fleck said. “I’ll have that for you two (hours) before … game time” with the Big Ten’s new policy of releasing status reports.

Despite having only three yards in the season opener, Taylor leads the nation with a 133-yard rushing per game average. He has 530 yards on the season, which is second in the country behind Notre Dame’s Auric Estime, who has played in five games.


The Gophers will play Michigan at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 7 on NBC, the U shared Monday. Four of Minnesota’s opening six games will be played in the evenings. And the new national TV partner comes with the Big Ten’s new media rights contract.

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