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Thursday, July 28, 2011
Big Ten media days: One good thing

By Adam Rittenberg

Illinois: Illinois coach Ron Zook considered turning Craig Wilson into a defensive tackle two years ago, but his offensive coaches talked him out of it. Zook regrets not making the move then, but he still believes there's time for the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Wilson, now a senior, to be an impact defensive player and will start him at defensive tackle this season. "He's got to learn to play the position, but he's a big load," Zook said. "He can hunker down in there and help you in the middle there."

Indiana: Kevin Wilson is giving his Indiana players a totally clean slate heading into the fall. He purposely hasn't watched any snaps from the 2010 season. "If you're a police officer trying to catch me, you're going to have to chase me a while because I'm not looking in the rearview mirror," Wilson said. While past shortcomings won't hurt IU players, they must prove themselves to Wilson, particularly the quarterbacks. "You have to earn the position," he said.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes must replace three defensive linemen selected in April's NFL draft, an exodus of stars coach Kirk Ferentz doesn't expect to see happen again soon. Iowa's departures actually should increase the number of players in the D-line rotation this fall. While veterans Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns can be penciled into the lineup, Iowa will feature more variety up front. "Might be a little bit more by committee than it was the last two years," Ferentz said. "We'll find a way."

Michigan: Quarterback Denard Robinson won't be stepping completely out of his comfort zone this fall. After excelling in the spread offense, Robinson will be operating a new scheme but not an entirely different one. "We were smart enough to have elements of what he does well from the past in the spread in our offense," coach Brady Hoke said. Hoke added that having a pro-style offense better prepares Michigan's defense -- which faces the offense daily in practice -- for a physical conference like the Big Ten.

Michigan State: The next step for Michigan State's program is obvious to coach Mark Dantonio. He knows the Spartans have to become consistently elite with their line play. The offensive line is a focal point, as Michigan State must replace three starters to block for arguably the league's deepest group of running backs. "When we have lost to Iowa, couldn't run it, when we lost to Ohio State, couldn't run it, when we lost to Alabama, couldn't run it," Dantonio said. "That really is the difference-maker."

Minnesota: There's no doubt about the Gophers' centerpiece entering the season. Quarterback MarQueis Gray has made a significant impression on first-year coach Jerry Kill, who thinks Gray could be "scary" had he logged more snaps at quarterbacks the past two seasons. Although Kill says Gray's passing ability is better than many think, the junior's variety of skills jumps out to the coach. "Our big key is how we are going to utilize his talents at quarterback," Kill said.

Nebraska: Bo Pelini was a gracious guest in his first trip to the Big Ten preseason party. The Nebraska coach, who played safety at Ohio State, gushed about the Big Ten's tradition and integrity and called it a model conference for college sports. "Maybe I'm a little bit biased because I played in this conference, grew up in the area," Pelini said, "but I think you see the other conferences strive to be what the Big Ten is. That's why it's so great to be going into our first year."

Northwestern: Having a healthy Dan Persa back at quarterback gives Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald plenty of optimism in his offense for the upcoming season, but he's also confident because wide receiver Jeremy Ebert is returning. Ebert led the Big Ten in receiving last season with 953 yards and a 73.3-yard average per game. He also caught 62 passes for eight touchdowns. "Jeremy Ebert, I believe, is if not the top wide receiver, he's in that conversation in this conference," Fitzgerald said. "I'm just expecting big things from him."

Ohio State: Star center Mike Brewster and his teammates are trying to embrace the adversity they've faced in recent months. Brewster reiterated the Buckeyes will enter the season "much more pissed off" and determined to prove that despite a unique set of hurdles, the Big Ten hierarchy won't change. "We've been Big Ten champs six years in a row, beat Michigan seven times in a row," Brewster said. "We don't want to be the team to break that."

Penn State: Joe Paterno looked much better Thursday than his shaky media days appearance a year ago, and the 84-year-old is feeling better, too. After breaking his leg during the 2006 season, injuring his hip before the 2008 season and dealing with an illness in the spring of 2010, Paterno's health is strong. "I'm back to doing a lot of things I used to do, walking a lot more," Paterno said. "I've been watching what I eat. I feel good. I enjoyed this spring, have a lot more enthusiasm."

Purdue: Carson Wiggs is the only Big Ten specialist appearing at media days, mainly because of his prodigious right leg. He owns the four longest field goals in Purdue history (59 yards, 55, 53 and 52) and hits "world record field goals on a regular basis in practice," coach Danny Hope said. But Wiggs is more than just a strong leg. "If he was a little bit bigger, wasn't such a good kicker, we'd probably move him to linebacker," Hope said. "He's a heck of a football player."

Wisconsin: At least one Big Ten team will miss Terrelle Pryor this season. A week after Wisconsin defeated Ohio State last October, Pryor said the Buckeyes would beat the Badgers nine out of 10 times they played. "There wasn't any question about who won that football game," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said Thursday. "The only bad part about Terrelle leaving is he kind of claimed the week after that it was a fluke. … To me, we really wanted to play that game against him. Unfortunately we won't."