Big Ten: Air Force Falcons
Michigan's schedule will put its new coach and his players to the test that fall.
The Wolverines announced Friday that they'll face Air Force in the 2012 home opener, to be played on Sept. 8 at Michigan Stadium. It represents a one-game scheduling agreement between the schools.
Michigan opens the 2012 season Sept. 1 against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, and also will visit Notre Dame on Sept. 22. Air Force, which has won 34 games in the past four seasons, adds to a nonconference slate that Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon describes as "among the toughest in college football."
No arguments here.
Michigan and Air Force have played only once before, as the Falcons visited Ann Arbor for the 1964 season opener and lost to the Wolverines 24-7.
Like most of you, I love it when teams challenge themselves out of conference. Although Michigan's overall schedule is extremely challenging -- the Wolverines also visit both Nebraska and Ohio State -- Hoke's squad can earn a lot of credibility with a strong performance.
Michigan is still looking for one final nonconference game to be played at home on Sept. 15 or Sept. 29.
Here's Michigan's current 2012 slate:
Sept. 1: vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 8: Air Force
Sept. 22: at Notre Dame
Oct. 6: at Purdue
Oct. 13: Illinois
Oct. 20: Michigan State
Oct. 27: at Nebraska
Nov. 3: at Minnesota
Nov. 10: Northwestern
Nov. 17: Iowa
Nov. 24: at Ohio State
Off schedule: Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
TCF Bank Stadium features all the bells and whistles: A football-shaped locker room that measures 60 yards by 25 yards; the third-largest scoreboard in college football, 37 private suites, 350 LCD televisions, a 20,000-square foot club room.
|AP Photo/Jim Mone|
|TCF Bank Stadium is the first new stadium in the Big Ten since 1960.|
But for Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker, some of the stadium's most basic features mean the most.
"It’s nice to finally see Minnesota lettering on the field and also in the stands," Decker said. "It’s a place we can finally call home."
Beginning Saturday night against Air Force (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET), Minnesota will no longer be a tenant in a multipurpose stadium occupied by a pro baseball and a pro football team. TCF Bank Stadium belongs to the Gophers.
Football is back on campus and back outdoors for the first time since 1981.
It's the first new stadium in the Big Ten since 1960 and just the second on-campus facility built by a BCS school since 1998 (Stanford is the other). The stadium has increased enthusiasm for Gophers football, which fell short of expectations for most of its run in the Metrodome.
"You can tell now with school starting that the student body is getting excited about football and Saturday game days," said Decker, a native of Cold Spring, Minn., who will have 15 to 20 family members and friends at the game. "People come up and ask for tickets and it’s like, ‘It’s already sold out. I can’t help you out there.'
"It seems like a lot more people are getting involved and want to be there."
Decker and his teammates expect to feed off the crowd Saturday night, but they've been challenged to maintain their focus until kickoff. Air Force is hardly a pushover, and Minnesota has many more distractions this week than most.
Head coach Tim Brewster limited media access to players and showed them plenty of Air Force tape -- the Falcons won their opener 72-0 -- to keep the focus where it needs to be. The team has practiced and scrimmaged in the stadium throughout the preseason and will hold one more workout there this week to get comfortable.
"We know that this is a special occasion for everybody, and we’ve got to make this game extra special," Decker said. "With the preparation, we’ll be able to see that excitement on game day and kind of use that 12th man for us. Hopefully, we get things going the right way and keep that excitement all game long."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
For the most part, BCS teams structure their nonconference schedules to satisfy two objectives: revenue and a better overall record. There are several marquee nonleague matchups in the Big Ten this season, but teams generally want to get through the slate unscathed. Still, they should be wary of danger games.
These are the types of matchups that Big Ten teams should win, but aren't guaranteed to do so. Big Ten teams have struggled against supposedly inferior foes in recent years, dropping games, among others, to Duke, Western Michigan, Iowa State and, yes, Appalachian State.
Let's take a look at five games wrapped in caution tape for Big Ten teams this fall.
Western Michigan at Michigan, Sept. 5
Michigan's recent struggles in season openers have been well documented, and the young Wolverines face another test against Western Michigan. The New York Times sees the matchup as a dead heat, ranking the Broncos at No. 56 nationally, one spot ahead of Michigan. Still, this will always be viewed as a game Michigan should win. Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller will test a Wolverines defense adjusting to a new system.
Air Force at Minnesota, Sept. 12
The adrenaline will be flowing for Minnesota players as they open their new on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, under the lights. But Tim Brewster's team should be very concerned about Air Force, which tests a team's discipline much more than most non-BCS foes. If Minnesota lacks the necessary focus, Air Force will take advantage and potentially ruin a big night in Minneapolis.
Central Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 12
Despite its recent rise under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Central Michigan still lacks a marquee win over a Big Ten team. The Chippewas try to get it against Michigan State, which shouldn't overlook this matchup. Dan LeFevour will be one of the best quarterbacks the Spartans face all season, and a strong secondary will be tested by the four-year starter. If LeFevour and the Chippewas offense start strong, they'll put pressure on Michigan State quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, one of whom will be facing his first major test as a starter.
Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19
Both teams are coming off bowl victories, but Iowa returns more key contributors and has the home-field edge. Mike Stoops will have his Wildcats team ready as he returns to Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes should be the favorite. Iowa's struggles in recent years have come early in the season, and this could be a trap game before a huge trip to Penn State. With the running game a bit of a mystery, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will need to be sharp.
Wisconsin at Hawaii, Dec. 5
It would be a big mistake to view this as a trip to paradise. Just ask Northwestern. In 2004, the Wildcats were bowl eligible at 6-5 went they went out to "The Rock," as Hawaii calls its home, and lost to fall out of the postseason picture. Wisconsin should be playing for bowl position when it makes the long trip over the Pacific, and the Badgers can't afford to slip up. Hawaii always plays extremely well at home and strange things tend to happen at Aloha Stadium, so the Badgers should definitely beware.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Now it's time to get more specific and look at the nonconference schedules for each Big Ten team. The Big Ten has taken a lot of heat for softening its nonleague slates, though other BCS conferences, namely the SEC, are also guilty of the practice.
Here's how they stack up, from toughest to easiest.
1. ILLINOIS -- vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Illinois State, at Cincinnati, Fresno State
It's not just the opponents that make the slate tough, but also unusual dates of the games. Illinois must finish with two tough nonleague foes in late November and early December, when a bowl berth likely will be on the line. The Illini have lost their last five games against Missouri in St. Louis.
2. PURDUE -- Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame
First-year head coach Danny Hope has his work cut out for him early on this fall. Oregon is the toughest nonconference road game for a Big Ten team this season, and Notre Dame has been pegged as a BCS bowl contender (jury's still out for me) and lit up the Boilermakers' defense last year in South Bend. Northern Illinois also could be a very tough game for Purdue.
3. MINNESOTA -- at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State
Arguably no Big Ten team has a tougher opening stretch than the Gophers. Sure, Syracuse is down, but Doug Marrone's first game and the possible debut of Greg Paulus at quarterback should get the Carrier Dome cranked. Air Force and especially Cal provide major tests at the new TCF Bank stadium.
4. OHIO STATE -- Navy, USC, vs. Toledo (at Cleveland), New Mexico State
The USC factor simply can't be overlooked on what is otherwise a soft slate for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's matchup with USC once again serves as the league's premier nonconference matchup and a chance for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten to gain some redemption. Navy is never an easy game, especially in the opener.
5. IOWA -- Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas StateThe Hawkeyes are consistently solid in scheduling, and this slate shouldn't generate too many complaints. If you're going to play an FCS team, Northern Iowa is a darn good one. Mike Stoops returns to Iowa City with an Arizona team coming off of a bowl victory in 2008. Iowa shouldn't have much trouble going 4-0 -- rival Iowa State remains a disaster -- but the competition isn't terrible.
6. MICHIGAN STATE -- Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan
The Spartans' slate isn't as challenging as it was last season, but a trip to what should be an improved Notre Dame team could be tough. Michigan State has won three straight against the Irish, who crumbled on offense last year in East Lansing. Two tough MAC opponents with talented quarterbacks (Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour) should test Michigan State's defense.
7. INDIANA -- Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia
The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to play two true nonconference road games, which stands for something even though both Akron and Virginia have struggled recently. Western Michigan also provides a big test in Week 2 for a Hoosiers defense hoping to turn a corner behind Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton and Matt Mayberry.
8. MICHIGAN -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State
Michigan doesn't deserve to be ranked this high, but the Wolverines' schedule looks like a gauntlet compared to the sorry slates belonging to some other Big Ten teams. Western Michigan presents a sizable challenge in the opener, as Greg Robinson's defense faces off against Hiller. A transitioning Michigan offense might need to keep pace on the scoreboard. Notre Dame also will test the Wolverines with its high-powered passing attack.
9. WISCONSIN -- Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii
Soft scheduling has been a hot topic in Badger Nation, and this year's rundown won't do much to quench the fire. Northern Illinois and Fresno State are decent teams, but the lack of a BCS opponent drags down the quality of the schedule. Hawaii has been tough to beat at home in recent years, and Wisconsin could be fighting for bowl position when it heads to Oahu.
10. NORTHWESTERN -- Towson, Eastern Michigan, at Syracuse, Miami (Ohio)
Northwestern is trying to make bowl games on a more consistent basis, and another visit to Cupcake City should help. All four of these teams have new head coaches, and the lone "test," a trip to Syracuse, certainly isn't what it used to be. The watered-down slate certainly won't remedy Northwestern's attendance problems, and the school should (and will) take a more aggressive approach to scheduling in the future.
11. PENN STATE -- Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois
This is the hard truth for Penn State: A desire to fill Beaver Stadium eight times could very well keep the Nittany Lions out of the national title game. We won't get a true read on Penn State until Iowa visits Happy Valley on Sept. 26, and anything less than an undefeated season will prevent the Lions from reaching the BCS championship in Pasadena. Sure, Penn State had no idea Syracuse would be this bad, but the absence of a road game against a decent opponent could really hurt the national profile of the team and its individual stars this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
For the last decade or so, Minnesota has had the luxury of being able to pile up early wins and still reach bowl games despite late-season slides.
Since 1998, the Gophers own a 46-29 record in games played before Oct. 20. Soft nonconference schedules certainly helped, and Minnesota typically started well in Big Ten play.
After Oct. 20, the picture isn't so pretty. Minnesota has gone 23-36 in games played on Oct. 20 or later during the same time span. The trend certainly continued last season, as Minnesota started 7-1 before dropping its final five games.
Given the way the schedule is changing, the Gophers need to put a stop to this pattern right now.
The era of cupcake scheduling appears to be over at Minnesota, thanks to head coach Tim Brewster and athletic director Joel Maturi. Minnesota faces California and Air Force this season, USC in 2010 and 2011 and most likely Texas somewhere in the distant future.
"This year's schedule is unbelievably attractive," Maturi said last month at the Big Ten spring meetings. "And then we play Southern Cal. It's been very well received. Now if we go get our butts kicked, I don't know how well it would be received. But I do believe it's what we aspire to be. It helps our recruiting and hopefully, we'll rise to the occasion and play competitive football."
The good news is Minnesota has the type of team that should improve rather than regress during the course of the 2009 season.
There's a ton of talent on offense, particularly at wide receiver and quarterback. The running back position should also be better with the return of Duane Bennett. But there also is a significant scheme change under new coordinator Jedd Fisch. The offensive line will need time to settle in, and that's why Minnesota could have some trouble against Air Force, Cal and Northwestern.
The defense also has a new coordinator in Kevin Cosgrove, its third in as many years. Minnesota boasts playmakers in the secondary (Traye Simmons, Marcus Sherels) and good experience up front (Garrett Brown, Eric Small, Cedric McKinley), but an adjustment period is also expected here.
Minnesota's season will hinge on its ability to adjust -- to schemes, to coaches, to new personnel groups and most importantly, to the ebb and flow of the season. A slow start is possible, and if so, the Gophers must show greater mental toughness than they have in past seasons. Their conference road schedule is brutal -- Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern -- but there are opportunities to do damage at home.
Finishing strong will be paramount for a program that hasn't done so much in recent years. If Minnesota wants to take the next step, it needs to be playing its best football in November.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Legendary Minnesota broadcaster Ray Christensen will return to the booth to call a series during the Gophers' first game at the new TCF Bank Stadium this fall.
Christensen, who has called approximately 510 Minnesota football games and 1,309 basketball games during a career that spanned five decades, will call the Gophers' first offensive series of the second half Sept. 12 against Air Force.
"We couldn't be more pleased that Ray reacted so positively to our invitation to be part of our first radio broadcast from TCF Bank Stadium," Greg Gerlach, general manager of Gopher Sports Properties, said in a statement. "Ray is so closely identified with the sound of Gopher football. Having broadcast the last game in Memorial Stadium and the first game in the Metrodome, it only made sense to see if he might be willing to take part in this broadcast milestone as well."
Christensen said in a statement that he was "thrilled to be a part of this historic evening." A member of the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame, he retired from full-time broadcasting in 1993 but continued to call Gophers football and basketball games until 2001.
This is a very cool gesture, and Christensen will add to what figures to be an exciting day for the Minnesota program.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten has released its 2009 TV schedule for prime-time football games, which features 14 contests during the first eight weeks of the season. As stated last week, the Big Ten has a policy preventing conference games from being played at night in November unless they take place indoors.
Here's the full rundown with TV for the games:
Sept. 3 (Thursday)Eastern Kentucky at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Missouri vs. Illinois, 3:40 p.m. ET, ESPN
Northern Illinois at Wisconsin, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Illinois State at Illinois, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Air Force at Minnesota, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
USC at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Iowa at Penn State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN
Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN
Ohio State at Indiana, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Michigan at Iowa, 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN
Illinois at Indiana, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Iowa at Michigan State, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Michigan State at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Penn State at Northwestern, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN2
My quick thoughts on the schedule:
- Penn State fans undoubtedly will be disappointed with only one night game, as Beaver Stadium under the lights is one of the top home-field advantages in college football. The Lions will have several other games finish under darkness, including a road game at Northwestern and, most probably, a Nov. 7 home game against Ohio State.
- Indiana has to be pleased with three prime-time TV games, including two at home, coming off a 3-9 season.
- Iowa and Indiana have the most night-time appearances with three. Illinois plays two true night games and opens with an afternoon contest against Missouri on Sept. 5. Kinnick Stadium will be LOUD on Oct. 10.
- Minnesota gets the benefit of two prime-time games at the new TCF Bank Stadium, but the opener against Air Force falls at the same time as Ohio State-USC. That's a bit of a tough break for the Gophers.
- My favorite night games on this list are USC-Ohio State (duh), Iowa-Penn State, Michigan-Iowa, Iowa-Michigan State (brrr) and Michigan State-Minnesota (really brrr).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Scheduling has kept Minnesota busy during the offseason.
Here's what the Golden Gophers will face this fall.
Sept. 5 at Syracuse
Sept. 12 Air Force
Sept. 19 California
Nov. 14 South Dakota State
My take: Minnesota's scheduling philosophy has dramatically changed under head coach Tim Brewster, who helped add national powerhouse USC to the slate in 2010 and 2011. This year's slate ranks at or near the top of the Big Ten in difficulty, as Minnesota opens its new on-campus facility (TCF Bank Stadium) against back-to-back bowl participant Air Force before taking on Cal, a preseason top-20 squad. The Gophers also travel to Syracuse for new coach Doug Marrone's debut, which could provide the rebuilding Orange an emotional boost. A 2-0 or 3-0 start would set up the Gophers for another step forward after improving six wins last season. On the flip side, Minnesota brought in two new coordinators and a new offensive system and could struggle to adjust against strong competition.
BIG TEN SCHEDULE
Sept. 26 at Northwestern
Oct. 3 Wisconsin
Oct. 10 Purdue
Oct. 17 at Penn State
Oct. 24 at Ohio State
Oct. 31 Michigan State
Nov. 7 Illinois
Nov. 21 at Iowa
Byes: Michigan, Indiana
My take: Minnesota has the toughest road schedule of any Big Ten team, with trips to league-title contenders Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa as well as a visit to Northwestern, which finished in the top half of the conference in 2008. The Gophers got a bit unlucky with their byes, but their home games all are winnable. A win at Northwestern in the opener would be huge, as Minnesota could begin league play at 3-0. Minnesota has a history of starting strong and fading fast, and this schedule certainly lends itself to the trend. After consecutive trips to Happy Valley and Columbus, the Gophers will need to bounce back against Michigan State and Illinois.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
One of the biggest knocks on former Minnesota head coach Glen Mason was his approach to nonconference scheduling.
The Golden Gophers repeatedly breezed through one-ply Septembers before tripping up in Big Ten play.
Those days are over.
Continuing a trend of more aggressive scheduling, Minnesota announced a home-and-home series against national powerhouse USC. The Gophers will host USC at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 18, 2010, before opening the 2011 season at the L.A. Coliseum (Sept. 3). Minnesota canceled a home-and-home series against Washington State to make room for the Trojans.
"Playing against arguably one of the best football teams of this decade really indicates the type of challenge coach [Tim] Brewster and our football program wants to take on," Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said in a statement. "I think this series should really excite our fans, our players and our potential recruits."
Minnesota will face Air Force and Cal next fall and begin a series against Colorado in 2012.
"As I've said from the beginning, I want to upgrade our nonconference schedule to help with our national recruiting base," Brewster said in a statement. "I've said that I would like to play a marquee BCS opponent on national television one time a year. I'm excited about the series with USC and would like to commend associate athletic director Marc Ryan on his ability to schedule those games."
The school also announced several other changes to future schedules.
- Minnesota will host South Dakota in 2010 and North Dakota State in 2011.
- Minnesota moved its 2010 game against UNLV to 2012. The Gophers will open the 2012 season in Las Vegas against the Rebels.
- The Gophers' 2012 contest at Air Force has been canceled.
- San Jose State will visit Minnesota in 2013 and 2014. Western Illinois will visit in 2013.
- Minnesota will host South Dakota State and Ohio in 2015.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Happy Friday to all. Let's see what's on your mind.
Adam from Phoenix writes: The 2008 Buckeyes look similar to the 2005 Buckeyes. 1.Tressel does not know who to play at quarterback: 2005 - Zwick/Smith & 2008 ? Boeckman/Pryor. 2.The ?pocket? quarterback lost in 2005 (Zwick) and is currently losing in 2008 (Boeckman). 3.A top-tier program won a game against the Buckeyes while Tressel was deciding who to play at quarterback (2005: TX & 2008: USC). 4.The team played much better after Tressel decided to play only one quarterback in 2005 and appears to play much better with Pryor under center in 2008. My picks for the Big Ten: 1. WI 2. PA St 3. OH St
Adam Rittenberg: That's an interesting comparison. I'm sure at this stage, Ohio State would be happy if the mobile quarterback or the pocket quarterback led the team to a BCS bowl win, as Troy Smith did against Notre Dame in 2005. It will be interesting to see how much longer Tressel goes with rotating quarterbacks. My sense is if Terrelle Pryor continues to make progress without making big mistakes, he'll get the keys to the car the rest of the season. Don't count this team out in the Big Ten race by any means, but they have a tough road with trips to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois.
Brenton from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: Adam, if Iowa lays it on Pittsburgh, a top 25 team at beginning of the season, will that be enough to make them a legitimate Big 10 conteder?
Adam Rittenberg: I'm still kicking myself for putting Pitt in my preseason Top 25. Someone must have spiked all of our drinks. But this would be a very solid road win for Iowa, which really hasn't been tested much on either side of the ball this season. The Hawkeyes can solidify their quarterback position with a strong road performance, and an already confident defense will gain another boost by containing LeSean McCoy. I wouldn't put Iowa in the Big Ten title mix just yet. If the Hawks beat Michigan State on the road and Wisconsin at home Oct. 18, then we'll talk.
Ron from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Hey grew up with Kellen Lewis down here in the Jacksonville area and just wondering why he doesnt get some of the national pub that some other B10 Qb's get?( ala painter, Juice, Boeckman) He's put up better numbers then Juice and Boeckman. Put up simliar numbers to Painter's, and beat him head to head last season.
Adam Rittenberg: Ron, the easy answer is that he plays for Indiana, which has only become relevant again in recent years. For what it's worth, I ranked Lewis as the league's top quarterback entering the season and think highly of his speed and playmaking ability. Curtis Painter will set a ton of records before he's finished and plays for a team known for passing and big offensive numbers, so he'll probably get more pub than Lewis. But if Indiana starts strong -- a good possibility with the schedule -- and Lewis continues to put up big numbers, people will start to take notice. The Antwaan Randle El comparisons are certainly legitimate.
Ray from Chicago writes: The Wildcats appear to have trouble scoring touchdowns in the redzone, particularly last week against the Salukis. Northwestern is not a deep-pass team, so one would think that play calling inside the red zone would not be different that their regular game plan. Is Fitz calling the right plays or are the players failing to execute?
Adam Rittenberg: Ray, this has been a problem with Northwestern's spread offense for a number of years. They move the ball great between the 20's but struggle to punch it in the end zone. It's a big-yards, little-points offense. The red-zone issues cost the Wildcats last year against Duke when they couldn't convert four chances inside the 10-yard line. You're right about the short-pass-oriented attack, and it really should work better in the red zone. Wideout Ross Lane has emerged as a big target for C.J. Bacher down there, but the biggest problem historically has been the inability to run the ball in short-yardage situations. Northwestern is a terrible I-formation team and though Tyrell Sutton has good running strength, defenses consistently stop him with the offense lines up in the I. They might want to use backup running back Omar Conteh more in those situations, and the quarterback draw can also help.
Brett from Minneapolis writes: Adam, As a loyal Gopher fan, I am a little upset we're getting picked on for poor scheduling. The cupcake schedule can be attributed to Glen Mason (who will be an analyst for the Gopher-Buckeye game on Big Ten Network). Brewster is doing a better job of scheduling. This is from Gophersports.com: 2009: Air Force, Cal (Note: We had Syracuse on the schedule for the first game, but it has now been changed to TBA). 2010: Washington State, UNLV (soft, but the Badgers have also played them in the past. Also pulled an upset over Arizona State) 2011: WA State 2012: Colorado 2014 & 2015: Oregon State There are rumors flying around that Brewster is trying to schedule Texas in 2016. The Gophers have had problems scheduling quality basketball opponents as well and are trying to schedule schools to play the Gophers in both sports.
Adam Rittenberg: Agree on all points. The weak scheduling under Mason for all those years still fuels the criticism. Those nonconference slates rarely prepared the Gophers for Big Ten play, and, as a result, they would finish with a watered-down 7-5 or 6-6 record and go to a minor bowl game. Brewster came in with lofty expectations, and part of that comes with beefing up the schedule. Teams like Cal, Washington State, Colorado and Air Force aren't super powers, but they'll test Minnesota much more than Smorgasbord State or whoever they used to play.
Gary from the ATL (that's Atlanta for the un-hip) writes: Regarding your column on Joe Pa's decision on Evans and Koroma, what is your opinion of an appropriate punishment? Notwithstanding the negative spotlight on PSU, i.e., OTL story, I believe the three game suspension (Oregon State, Cuse and Temple) is more than adequate considering the charge. In fact, you wouldn't see anywhere near a 3 game suspension for similar charges at OSU, UF, Wiscy (DUI on a mo-ped), OU, UT, and other big programs. Just curious of your opinion. Keep up the great blog.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Gary. The hard thing is that the punishments vary so much by school, as you point out. Some see misdemeanor marijuana possession as a slap-on-the-wrist transgression, especially for first-time offenders. Other schools take it a bit more seriously. What can't be ignored here is the timing -- the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning of game week after a year in which the team had a ton of off-field problems. How dumb can you be? The team's punishment could depend on what the university decides to do, but I'd say extending the suspensions another game or two sounds fair.
Paul from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Adam, thanks for offering your predictions for the Big Ten week 4. Also, thanks for offering a way for us to bombard you with criticism :) . From me, it's only on one game, though. No way in the world is Ball State beating Indiana Saturday. Didn't last year, didn't the year before, and it's not happening this year. You say Ball State will be pumped up. Good. So will IU. They're the real team on the rise. Indiana, at home, will have too much of an advantage. BSU has been the trendy pick recently. But, it stops now.
Adam Rittenberg: Congrats to Paul for writing the nicest critical e-mail I've received this season. This is a tough game to call, and I'll be happy to eat crow on Saturday night if the Hoo
siers hold serve at home. The early season schedule really concerns me, starting with two cupcakes before a bye week. Indiana hasn't faced any adversity on either side of the ball. Expect that to change on Saturday, even if Ball State doesn't win the game. I really like what the Hoosiers have going on the defensive side. They're more than just Greg Middleton up front, and Matt Mayberry has gotten rave reviews at linebacker. But the secondary concerns me against Nate Davis, a legit pro prospect. I think this could be a case where light scheduling comes back to haunt Indiana.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There weren't many ohs and ahs in the film room as Justin Kershaw and his fellow Michigan State defenders watched Cal's dynamic running back Jahvid Best.
The Spartans had seen this movie before. Every day in practice.
"We go a lot of 1's vs. 1's and I think Javon Ringer's one of the best running backs in the country," Kershaw said. "Best really reminds me of him a lot. He's a fast back, he runs powerful, he's got a lot of moves, he's a great player, but I go against Javon every day, so there's not really a lot I haven't seen out of a running back."
Best drew attention last fall for his big-play skills, gaining at least 10 yards on more than one-third of his touches. Many of those bursts came as a kickoff returner, as Best ranked second in the Pac-10 in return average (27 ypr).
Ringer's ability to gash defenses for big gains often gets overlooked because of his low touchdown numbers, but the Spartans senior back had runs of 80, 72, 70 and 64 yards last season. And like Best, Ringer expects to return kickoffs Saturday when Michigan State opens the season at Cal.
"Every team respects his speed," Kershaw said of Ringer. "He's the complete running back."
Michigan State might need to spend more time studying Cal sophomore quarterback Kevin Riley, who appeared in four games last fall as Nate Longshore's backup and had his best performance in the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force. Kershaw, who had five tackles for loss last season, noted that Riley is more mobile than Longshore but said the Spartans are preparing for both quarterbacks.
The biggest challenge for Kershaw could be right in front of him, as he goes up against center Alex Mack, the Rimington Award front-runner, and guard Noris Malele. To prepare for challenges like Saturday's, Kershaw added 15-20 pounds during the offseason and expects to build off last season, his first at defensive tackle after switching over from end.
"It's going to help me with the wear and tear of the season," Kershaw said of the extra mass. "I feel quick off the ball. They're fast, their offensive linemen are fast, so we'll have to be ready for everything."
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Purdue Indiana 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Maryland