Big Ten: Amir Pinnix

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Ron Scheffler/US Presswire
 Duane Bennett started seven games for the Gophers in 2007.

Duane Bennett is used to people botching his first name. Full disclosure: if a Minnesota official hadn't said, "Here's DOO-on," before a recent interview, I would have been one of them.

"It's a common thing for them to get it wrong when they first meet me," the Minnesota sophomore running back said. "But after I enunciate it and let them know its DOO-on, they kind of catch on."

Bennett notes that the proper pronunciation is always listed in the Gophers media guide and the weekly game notes. Television broadcasters read those -- at least the good ones do -- so they should get it right on the air.

If Bennett makes a jump this fall, his name will be called a lot.

Minnesota's running game was nothing special in 2007, ranking seventh in the Big Ten. Quarterback Adam Weber led the squad in rush yards and a group of running backs beset by injuries (Amir Pinnix, Jay Thomas) and inexperience (Bennett) struggled to get on track.

After coach Tim Brewster benched Pinnix for several costly fumbles, Bennett got his first career start against Ohio State, the Big Ten's top rushing defense. He ended up starting seven games, getting mixed results. He racked up 106 yards against Michigan, becoming the first Gophers true freshman to eclipse 100 yards since Laurence Maroney in 2003. But he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in the other 10 games he played.

"Just knowing the offense is not a good thing," Bennett said. "You've got to understand what everybody's doing, the scheme of things, the routes, why we're calling this protection. Towards the middle and the latter part of the season, I started to understand where I was supposed to be and why I was supposed to be there. It gave me that feel of, 'OK, I understand why I'm important to the offense.'"

Bennett and the other backs will take on more important roles this season.

Though the "spread coast" offense requires a mobile quarterback, Weber also needs reliable runners beside him. Thomas is healthy and freshmen DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon provide depth.

The ingredients are there for a rushing resurgence this fall. Offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar produced five consecutive 1,000-yard rushers at Northwestern and Cal before joining the Gophers, and Minnesota's recent tradition at the position is on full display every Sunday.

"We're trying to not so much get the ball out of Weber's hands, just eliminate those extra hits that Weber's taking," Bennett said. "Those are unnecessary hits. We know he's a tough guy, but for him to be able to last the whole season, we want to take the load off his shoulders."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

Happy Friday to all. Big Ten media days are less than a week away and every team but Purdue opens preseason practice on Aug. 4, so gear up. The season's almost upon us. Here's the daily look around the league:

  • College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement awaits Joe Paterno this weekend, and the coach spoke at a benefit dinner Thursday night in Johnstown, Pa. The 81-year-old is already in preseason mode: He's starting to ignore his grandkids, Sam Ross Jr. writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. As for his energy level? "I feel great," he said. "My health is fine. I can't throw the ball 40 yards any more, but I never could."
  • Who ends up making those 40-yard throws this fall remains to be seen, but JoePa would prefer having one quarterback lead the offense, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
  • Paterno also discussed the head-coaching potential of Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, the man most consider to be Paterno's choice as a successor, Mike Mastovich writes in The Tribune-Democrat.
  • Former Minnesota running back Amir Pinnix sees brighter days ahead for the program, Sid Hartman writes in The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. "You have to stay optimistic, always," Pinnix said. "That's why I love coach [Tim] Brewster, because he's so optimistic. He uses motivation, and he can inspire you to go out and make things happen."
  • A quick hoops detour: Ohio State has gone Greek again, as center Zisis Sarikopoulos -- say that 10 times fast -- is transferring from UAB, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Perhaps Thad Matta knows he won't have B.J. Mullens for long, and a team can never have enough 7-footers, right?
  • Mike Barwis mania continues, as CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd takes a look at Michigan's enterprising new strength coach. Wonder if Barwis' colleagues around the country are getting jealous yet.
  • The Lansing State Journal's State of State series continues with a look at ticket prices. Michigan State hasn't raised them in football since 2005, and athletic director Mark Hollis wants to keep it that way, Joe Rexrode writes. But a hike seems inevitable, especially with football season-ticket sales projected to drop by 1,000 this season.
  • Student season-ticket sales haven't suffered at MSU. They're at the highest level in 20 years, so the school is expanding the student section at Spartan Stadium by roughly 3,300 seats this season. Last fall, student season-ticket sales were the highest in 20 years. I mistakenly wrote last week that the section is in the southwest corner; it's in the southeast corner.
  • Recent struggles aren't turning away Iowa fans. Games against Wisconsin and Iowa State are already sold out. Tickets went on sale Thursday.

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