Big Ten: Andre McDonald

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 21, 2013
My dog tried to play with a skunk this week. I think we're all getting stir crazy waiting for the football season.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 19, 2013
We are here to do a job, not channel Scrooge McDuck.
One of Minnesota's pressing needs is to find a receiver who can stretch the field and make big plays. Arguably its fastest wideout from 2012 won't be around to help this year.

The team announced Monday that junior Devin Crawford-Tufts will focus solely on the school's track team this year and will not play football. Crawford-Tufts was fourth on the team last year with 16 catches for 189 yards, and he grabbed a touchdown reception against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

But he is arguably more promising as a track competitor. A Minnesota state champion in the 100 and 200 meters in high school, he joined the Gophers' track team in February and finished fourth at the Big Ten championships in the 60 meters.

Crawford-Tufts probably wouldn't have been one of the team's top options at receiver this year, but he definitely would have been in the rotation for playing time. And Minnesota is still thin there in experienced options, with Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Andre McDonald needing to take steps forward to help improve the passing game.

Big Ten lunchtime links

June, 14, 2013
On this day, 224 years ago, the Rev. Elijah Craig did something wonderful.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 8, 2013
Happy Friday.
Three keys for Minnesota in tonight's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas game against Texas Tech:

1. Get creative offensively: The Gophers had major trouble finding the end zone for large parts of the season. Injuries at quarterback, receiver and on the offensive line kept the Minnesota offense stuck in neutral; it averaged just 13.3 points per game in every Big Ten game except an outlying 44-point outburst against Purdue. The month off has given time for those nicks and bruises to heal and should help senior quarterback/receiver MarQueis Gray be as effective as he was early in the season. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover needs to maximize ways to use the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Gray along with true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and lead tailback Donnell Kirkwood. The Gophers are still limited at receiver, with A.J. Barker quitting and Andre McDonald suspended. Limegrover must be creative in finding ways to move the ball and somehow keep up with Texas Tech's wide-open offense.

2. Control the skies: Texas Tech had the No. 2 passing attack in the country, averaging 362 yards per game in the air this season. That's no surprise, given the recent history in Lubbock. The good news for Minnesota is that defending the pass is the Gophers' strength -- they had the No. 11 pass defense in the country this season. Cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire must turn in great games, along with safety Derrick Wells, against standout receivers Eric Ward and Darrin Moore. That won't be enough against a team likely to line up four and five wide receivers every snap, so defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and D.L. Wilhite will have to get pressure on Seth Doege and find ways to disrupt his rhythm. At the very least, the Gophers must take a bend-but-don't-break attitude and force the Red Raiders to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.

3. Do all the little things right: Let's be honest: Minnesota is a huge underdog in this game and would probably be playing a much easier opponent if Ohio State and Penn State were bowl eligible. It's a tough matchup for a team that doesn't score a whole lot in what is almost a road game. But the Gophers still have a chance against a Texas Tech squad that lost four of its final five and saw its head coach bolt for Cincinnati after the season. They just have very little margin for error. Special teams have to come up big. They can't afford many penalties. And they absolutely must win the turnover battle and keep the Red Raiders offense off the field as much as possible. They're going to need some luck and to play nearly a perfect game. The good news: Minnesota should be far more excited to be in this game than the Red Raiders.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

September, 25, 2012
Some news and notes about player comings and goings in the Big Ten:


Quarterback Cameron Coffman, who suffered a hip pointer and left the Ball State game two weeks ago, will be ready to go this week against Northwestern, head coach Kevin Wilson said. True freshman Nate Sudfeld, who finished the game against Ball State and led a fourth-quarter rally, will be at the ready if needed.


Running back Damon Bullock (concussion) is making progress and hopefully could be back this week versus Minnesota, head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Bullock started the first three games before the injury. Mark Weisman ran for more than 200 yards in his first career start last week vs. Central Michigan. Ferentz also expects freshman tailback Greg Garmon (elbow) to return this week.

Michigan State

Could cornerback Johnny Adams help the struggling receiving corps? Adams played receiver during the Spartans' spring game and had a big play. Head coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday "there has been a little thought of" moving Adams to offense for some snaps, though he didn't commit to it. Dantonio also said that defensive end William Gholston, who sat out last week's first half against Eastern Michigan, will be ready to start against Ohio State.


Receiver Andre McDonald, who was hospitalized last week for a reportedly minor heart problem, should be cleared to resume practicing either tomorrow or Thursday, head coach Jerry Kill said. Kill also said offensive lineman Tommy Olson (ankle) is "a big question mark" for Saturday's game at Iowa.

Ohio State

Head coach Urban Meyer said that all signs point to running back Carlos Hyde (knee sprain) playing at Michigan State. If so, this would be the first time all season that Hyde and Jordan Hall have been available in the backfield at the same time.

Penn State

Running back Bill Belton, who's been out since the opener against Ohio with an injured ankle, is listed as probable on the Nittany Lions' depth chart. Head coach Bill O'Brien said Belton practiced Monday and looked pretty good and should be able to play at Illinois. Belton was the starting running back to open the season, and fellow tailbacks Derek Day (shoulder) and Michael Zordich (leg) have battled injuries as well. Both are listed as probable for this weekend.


Quarterback Robert Marve has looked good in practice and "doesn't look handcuffed at all" by his ACL injury, head coach Danny Hope said. While Marve still hasn't done much in the way of team drills, Hope is as optimistic as ever that Marve will play again this season, though he likely will sit out this week's game against Marshall. Defensive end Ryan Russell, who was lifted from the Eastern Michigan game with an injured knee, rested during the team's bye week and should be fully ready Saturday, Hope said. Hope also said running back Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in last year's regular-season finale, is getting closer to returning but probably won't be ready this week.


Running back Montee Ball (concussion) had his status upgraded and will run and condition with the team on Tuesday, head coach Bret Bielema said. Ball will not return to contact drills until he passes more concussion tests. Bielema is hopeful that Ball will be cleared for full participation by Thursday and that he will play at Nebraska.

Minnesota WR McDonald hospitalized

September, 20, 2012
Minnesota freshman wide receiver Andre McDonald has been hospitalized Thursday and is undergoing tests, the team confirmed.

McDonald, a heralded incoming recruit from Minnetonka, Minn., played in the Gophers' season opener at UNLV but missed a Week 2 matchup with New Hampshire with a knee infection. He returned to practice last week but didn't play against Western Michigan.

McDonald told the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper, on Thursday afternoon that he had "a little problem" with his heart.

There's no more information available at this time, but we're obviously hoping for the best and will post any updates.

Q&A: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill

August, 30, 2012
The 2012 college football season kicks off tonight, and Minnesota is the first Big Ten team in action as it visits UNLV. Tonight represents a fresh start for the Gophers and coach Jerry Kill, who had a rough first year in Minneapolis. The team started 1-6 and Kill had to be hospitalized after suffering a seizure on the sideline near the end of Minnesota's Week 2 loss to New Mexico State. The Gophers turned things around a bit with wins against rival Iowa and Illinois but finished 3-9 for the second consecutive season. There's more optimism these days in Dinkytown as Minnesota prepares for Year 2 under Kill, who boasts a strong track record of repairing programs. Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray leads a Gophers team many expect to be markedly improved. caught up with Kill to discuss the state of his program entering tonight's opener.

[+] EnlargeJerry Kill
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillMinnesota coach Jerry Kill is preparing for his second season with the Gophers.
What were your main objectives in camp, and where are you as far as achieving them?

Jerry Kill: Going into two-a-day camps, we needed to identify some of the new kids as early as we possibly could to see if they could help us as freshmen. Personnel issues are always important, certainly when you're turning around a program and making sure you get people in the right places. I felt like we did that. We wanted to make sure offensively, defensively and in the kicking game, we could do what our kids could learn, where they could play fast. We've done that. And then we wanted to make sure each practice was important, and that we accomplished something. To this point, our kids have done a real nice job. We've accomplished everything that we set out to do in camp. We need to go play to see where we're at.

Last year, you were pretty honest about the work you had in front of you. Is your team readier for the season this time around?

Kill: It's a different year, different team. And we're going through a transition. We're not like some of the other schools in the country. We're building a program. But I know that the returning players feel a lot more comfortable because they've had the same coaching staff for the first time in many, many years here. The continuity of our staff and the players that are returning, and then the new players have come in and adapted pretty well, I would say we feel more comfortable.

Everyone knows about MarQueis, but who else is going to make plays for you on offense this year?

Kill: From a receiver standpoint, we need Devin Tufts to have a great year, and he's had a very good camp. A young man who has come out of nowhere as a true freshman who has had a really big impact on what we do is Jamel Harbison. Marcus Jones, who is returning from an ACL injury, has had a good camp. Another true freshman is Andre McDonald, a young man who is a big-play guy, a guy who can go vertical and make plays. Those kids, Derrick Engel, we've got some length and speed that we maybe didn't have at that position. And then out of the backfield, with Donnell Kirkwood, James Gillum, K.J. Maye -- a true freshman who's a big play guy -- and Devon Wright, we haven't had that a year ago. We've added some speed and some playmaking ability on offense. That's something I was concerned about. We won't know how they operate and how they'll play until game day. We're young, and that's scary, but we're certainly more skillful than we were a year ago.

What units are you most curious to see in a game after working with them in the offseason?

Kill: Probably the whole team, but specific units, I think our secondary is very athletic and much better than it was a year ago. I'm excited to see how they play. I'm excited about [defensive tackle] Ra'Shede Hageman. There's no question he's going to play at the next level, and I think he's going to have a tremendous year. The young man is 6-5 and 315 and has a 38-inch vertical jump. He's a raw kid, but he's developed himself into a very, very good football player over the past 6-8 months. So I'm anxious to see Ra'Shede play. He could be a dominant force, not just in the Big Ten, but the country. He's a special player. They don't make them who look like that and run like that. And I'm excited seeing MarQueis play. I want to see how far he's come in a year. I think he's come a long way, but we'll see as we open up.

With Ra'Shede, the talent is there. Is it combining talent and technique and not just relying on his natural ability?

Kill: Well, that's what he's done. It all started against Illinois. He had a big game. Everybody has a way of growing up and maturing. He played tight end when he first got here, had kind of been moved around. He's found himself a home, he's settled in, he's accepted coaching very well. Ever since two-a-day camp started, he's been on a mission. He understands with a body like his and the way he runs, he's got a tremendous future ahead of him if he can develop the skills that it takes to play on the defensive line. He's done an outstanding job. He's a totally different player than he was a year ago.

How are you feeling, health-wise, entering this season?

Kill: Fantastic. I'm doing fantastic.

What do you expect out of UNLV?

Kill: I've coached against Bobby [Hauck]. He's in a process just like we are. He's basically two years ahead of us. Talking to him earlier in the year, he felt like this club was certainly going to be his best to this point in time. He felt like he had the pieces of the puzzle in the right place and was heading in the right direction. He has a young team and felt like this was going to be their year. Everywhere he's been, they play physical, they play hard-nosed, they don't turn the ball over. He's always got some good playmakers.

It's a late kickoff. Have you don't anything to prepare for that specifically?

Kill: It's like anything. We've been doing this a long time, this is my 30th year and we've played late games before. You go through the archives and you get your kids up in the morning, you have a walk-through and film and you keep them active during the day and get them ready, get them focused to play. Playing the first game, the most important thing is make sure they don't get too excited. I don't think there's any question they'll be ready to play. The way these young people are nowadays, it'll be 10 o'clock our time, and that's when they go out anyway. I'd like to think you get to play on TV, on opening night of college football, you'll find a way to get ready to go.
In late June, a group of Minnesota offensive linemen passed Matt Limegrover in the hallway of Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex and did double-takes.

"Coach?" they asked Limegrover, the Gophers' offensive coordinator and line coach.

"Yeah," he replied. "It's me."

Limegrover started losing weight in January and had dropped 40-50 pounds by the time spring ball ended. But the players didn't notice a change until they went several weeks without seeing him.

"They got a big kick out of that," he said.

As of Thursday morning, Limegrover had shed nearly 120 pounds from his frame -- "It's like 119.8," he reported -- and often draws double-takes when spotted on campus.

Part of his motivation for the weight loss came from how he felt during the 2011 season.

"I felt so run down didn't feel like I was at my best, and felt like that was unfair to the kids I was coaching and the team in general," he said. "I feel like a million bucks out there now, 10 times better than I did at any point the last couple years.

"Now I'm not saying it'll help us win some games, but it can't hurt."

While Limegrover has slimmed down considerably, his offense could be fattening up this fall.

Minnesota struggled offensively in 2011, the first season of the Jerry Kill era, finishing last in the Big Ten in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and total offense (310.3 ypg), and 11th in passing offense (150.3 ypg). The Gophers failed to score 30 or more points in a game and had 17 points or fewer in half of their contests.

A big reason for the futility: no identity.

Brandon Green
Rick Osentoski/US Presswire The Golden Gophers expect Brandon "Mr. Dependable" Green to be a leader in the receiving corps.
"We just weren't sure of who we were as an offense," Limegrover said. "That hurt us because we tried too hard to do all the things we had been doing at Northern Illinois, and this was a different group. It's Year 1 at Minnesota, not Year 4 at Northern Illinois."

Year 2 at Minnesota promises to bring greater production, and Limegrover is encouraged by what he's seen in the first few practices of fall camp. The best signs come from the running backs, a mostly anonymous group in 2011 that loses Duane Bennett (639 rush yards).

Junior college transfer James Gillum, who turned heads this spring, continues to display excellent vision and the power to run between the tackles. Sophomore Devon Wright and freshman K.J. Maye provide speed threats on the edge, while Donnell Kirkwood and David Cobb both are healthy and ready to contribute. All the backs have shown a greater grasp of the scheme and the versatility to help in multiple areas.

"Those kids have lifted the energy level of the offense," Limegrover said. "They've given us a spark. They're hitting holes and they're doing things on the perimeter. They're picking up their assignments in the pass game. It's really been a bright spot for us because that's an area I know a lot of people have questions."

The same holds true for the wide receivers. Minnesota loses Da'Jon McKnight, who accounted for 51 of the team's 134 receptions in 2011. No returning player had more than 15 catches a year ago.

Brandon Green, a fifth-year senior who Limegrover calls "Mr. Dependable," leads the group and likely will be quarterback MarQueis Gray's top target. Devin Crawford-Tufts has filled out a bit and "can still run like a deer," Limegrover said. Speedster Marcus Jones is back from a knee injury, and incoming freshmen Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison are already showing the ability to contribute right away. Tight end John Rabe should have a much bigger role in the passing game after recording two touchdown catches last fall.

"We're looking more like a Big Ten receiving crew and Big Ten running backs," Limegrover said. "We've worked to get our tight end position more involved. And especially in the O-line, we're a year bigger and more physical, even though we're still young."

About the only Gophers offensive player who doesn't spark skepticism is senior quarterback MarQueis Gray. He carried the unit for much of the 2011 season, rushing for 966 yards on a team-high 199 carries, and making strides as a passer.

Limegrover is thrilled with Gray's offseason, calling him a "papa bear" for Minnesota's younger players. But Limegrover knows the Gophers must give their signal-caller more help.

"It isn't like basketball where LeBron James, you just clear a side of the floor and let him do his thing," Limegrover said. "We've got to be able to have great support around him. The worst thing we could do for our offense and for this program and for MarQueis Gray is to sit back and go, 'Well, we're going to put it all on his shoulders and we’ll only go as far as he'll take us.' That would be lazy and shortsighted. Every day, we get a little bit closer to everybody feeling good about those other spots.

"That's by far our biggest goal, to get to where we don't have just one bullet in our gun."

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 18, 2012
Shut up and play the hits.

Minnesota spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
2011 record: 3-9
2011 conference record: 2-6 (sixth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB MarQueis Gray, CB Troy Stoudermire, LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, WR Brandon Green, LT Ed Olson

Key losses

WR Da'Jon McKnight, S Kim Royston, RB Duane Bennett, DT Anthony Jacobs, DT Brandon Kirksey, TE Collin McGarry

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: MarQueis Gray* (966 yards)
Passing: MarQueis Gray* (1,495 yards)
Receiving: Da'Jon McKnight (760 yards)
Tackles: Kim Royston (123)
Sacks: Gary Tinsley (4)
Interceptions: Troy Stoudermire* (2)

Spring answers

1. Better secondary play: The Gophers looked overmatched defending the pass at times last season, but things appear to have changed dramatically. The secondary took a major step forward this spring and looks to be as deep and talented as it's been in a few years. Head coach Jerry Kill brought in three junior-college defensive backs who should all contribute, including Martez Shabazz, and Troy Stoudermire returns at starting corner after getting an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA. The Gophers were also able to move corner Brock Vereen to safety with the extra depth. Once a weakness, this position now figures to be a strength.

2. Gray matter: Quarterback MarQueis Gray had some big moments last year in his first year of starting but also struggled with inconsistency. That was expected from a guy who played receiver the previous year. Well, Gray greatly improved his mechanics in the offseason, and Minnesota coaches went to Baylor and other places to study how to best utilize his dynamic skills. Gray looked like a more accurate passer this spring, and he has a chance to rush for more than 1,000 yards and throw for more than 2,000 this season as the team's main weapon.

3. Need for speed: Minnesota hasn't had much of a pass rush for the past few years, but the team is hoping a move toward a lighter, speedier defense helps in that regard. Guys like redshirt freshman Thieren Cockran (a listed 235 pounds) and sophomore Michael Amaefula (245) fit the mold of what the Gophers are looking for in a defensive end: athletic, if undersized, quarterback chasers. Along with moving some former safeties down to outside linebacker, Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys are expecting to field faster players on the edge.

Fall questions

1. Skill set: Gray lost his favorite target in departed senior Da'Jon McKnight, and though several options are available, Minnesota lacks a clear No. 1 receiver. Senior Brandon Green and sophomore Marcus Jones -- coming off an ACL injury -- are among the veterans hoping to contribute. But the Gophers will likely need help from incoming freshmen like Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. Junior-college transfer James Gillum could help in the running game, but the team is not deep at tailback. Skill-position players need to step up to keep Gray from being a one-man show.

2. Strength up the middle: While the defense is getting swifter on the perimeter, is it tough enough inside? The team lost both starting defensive tackles from a year ago, and there is very little experience or depth there. Junior college import Roland Johnson could help but is not arriving until the summer. Middle linebacker is another spot without much depth behind starter Mike Rallis. Will Minnesota be able to stand up against power teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska?

3. O-line depth: The good news is that four players who started on the offensive line return, with only right tackle really up for grabs right now. Yet this is an extremely young group overall, and an injury or two could thrust some players into action before they're quite ready. Kill brought in six offensive linemen in his first recruiting class, knowing he needed to rebuild the group. They'll be better off waiting another year before seeing major action.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 20, 2012
Been a while. Great questions today. As always, thanks for the responses.

Ed from Minneapolis writes: What do you think of Jerry Kill's first full recruiting class? Most rate it at the bottom of the B1G, but if Kill is to follow the Alvarez model of building a program, isn't his unprecedented success with in-state recruiting noteworthy? If not, perhaps this question is wishful thinking

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, I definitely agree with you about the significance of Kill doing well within the state. It's vital Minnesota brings in the state's top recruits, even if they're not nationally elite prospects. Programs like Notre Dame and USC have raided Minnesota for national top prospects in recent years (Michael Floyd and Seantrel Henderson, to name two), and Minnesota needs to put itself in position to compete for the best players in every recruiting cycle. Although the overall class didn't receive high marks nationally, I know our recruiting guys liked some of the additions, such as wide receivers Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and Nelson hail from the state.

Some guy from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: There have been rumors that Al Borges may be giving Deving Gardner some reps as a wide receiver. With our lack of depth at the position and DG's athleticism, would that be a good option?

Adam Rittenberg: I'm in favor of getting your best players on the field, and Gardner is a guy who can help Michigan even if he's not taking snaps. There's some risk involved as an injury would leave the Wolverines thin at quarterback and with a starter (Denard Robinson) who has been banged up for much of his career. A lot depends on how the other wide receivers develop this spring and in the start of fall camp. If Roy Roundtree recaptures his 2010 form, Jeremy Gallon builds off a solid 2011 season and some young players emerge, Michigan might not need to experiment with Gardner. But at this point, the receiver position looks thin.

Ryan from Chicago writes: If Danny O'Brien picks PSU and becomes the starter for the next 2 seasons, what is likely to happen (redshirt or transfer wise) with McGloin, Bolden, Jones, Bench and Hackenberg?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Ryan. I was thinking about the same thing earlier today, and also in relation to Wisconsin's quarterbacks, especially heralded incoming freshman Bart Houston. I don't think McGloin is going anywhere. He loves Penn State and would compete like heck with O'Brien. It would be a surprise to see Bolden and/or Jones transfer if O'Brien came in and won the starting job. Bench would almost certainly redshirt this season if O'Brien came in -- quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher loves Bench, by the way -- and Hackenburg doesn't arrive until next fall, so they wouldn't be overly impacted if O'Brien starts the next two seasons.

Matthew from Dallas writes: Guys,Being a Husker fan I could care less about Mich St, but after reading your blog about the best week 1 game this week, don't you think Mich St is in a no win situation by playing Boise St?I mean if Mich St wins, everyone will just say its not the same Boise St team as the past few years so it doesn't matter. If they lose then they will look bad for getting beat by a Boise St team that is having to rebuild. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting points, Matthew. Some folks will spin it that way if Michigan State wins, but I would hope that after seeing so many Boise State teams beat major-conference programs on the road, especially in the season opener, people would give Michigan State credit for beating the Broncos. Boise State went 50-3 during the Kellen Moore era, but the Broncos also won 10 games or more seven times between 1999-2007. Bottom line: Boise State doesn't lose many games. Any win against the Broncos should resonate nationally, especially for a Michigan State team that loses its own starting quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and several other key players.

Drew from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam - Hope you enjoyed Istanbul. Absolutely one of my favorite cities in the world. You've said repeatedly that the key for the Big 10 to return to the elite in football is depth. The Big 10 is unquestionably the deepest conference in men's basketball this year. Wondering if there is anything Big 10 football programs can learn from the success of their basketball counterparts, especially in the areas of recruiting or coaching. Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, it's a fabulous city, a unique mix of East and West. Also a fun sports town -- they love their hoops and futbol. As to your question, football depth and basketball depth are a little different because of the roster sizes. A recruiting class of three top-level prospects can get you over the hump in basketball, while football teams need more top-level prospects to compete at the national level.

One thing that sets Big Ten basketball apart from football is the number of programs that are either traditional powers, emerging powers and consistent winners. You have a traditional hoops power in Indiana that hasn't enjoyed much success in football. Illinois fits into this category as well, and in recent years, so does Purdue. You also have an Ohio State basketball program that has become nationally elite under Thad Matta. Tom Izzo has brought the type of consistent elite success to Michigan State basketball that we're only now seeing with the Spartans football program. You also have a consistent winner in Wisconsin under Bo Ryan. While the Badgers football program also has made strides in recent years, the hoops team has been a bit more consistent during the past decade. Big Ten football is no longer the Big Two and everyone else, but we haven't seen as many teams compete at the national level on the gridiron than on the hardcourt.

There are some factors that affect both football and basketball, such as Big Ten Network revenue and a school's investment in both programs (facilities, coaches' salaries, etc.). But I don't know if league-wide success in hoops can translate to football. Too many different variables.

Brandon P. from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I have always been more of a Cam Meredith fan over Crick and i was wondering if you think he will be more of a staple for the Blackshirts defense than Crick was supposed to be? If not him, then who?

Adam Rittenberg: They play different positions and Crick could have had a nice year in 2011 if not for the injury, but I think Meredith is a key player to watch this fall. From talking with him a few weeks ago, he's excited about new D-line coach Rick Kaczenski and new coordinator John Papuchis. He also realizes the need to be more of a leader for a unit that admittedly underperformed in 2011. He'll enter his third year as the starter and has some natural pass-rushing skills, as he showed in 2011 with five sacks and nine quarterback hurries. Nebraska didn't generate nearly enough pressure in 2011 -- the team ranked 84th nationally in sacks and 112th in tackles for loss -- so Meredith will need to trigger the rush this coming season.

Dave from Toledo, Ohio, writes: How hard will it be to implement a new offense at Ohio State? How well does the current personnel on the team fit? RichRod's new offense did terrible at michigan his first few years until he had the right players, though I feel like he didn't try to adapt his offense to the players he had, which I'm hoping Meyer and Herman don't make the same mistake. I'm most concerned about our offensive line adapting, as well as having some wide receivers emerge as play makers.Thanks

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, Rodriguez's offense had one bad year in 2008 and then got progressively better, setting some records in 2010. Offense wasn't the problem for Rodriguez at Michigan, and he did have some players recruited by the previous coaching staff who did well. One advantage Meyer has is he inherits a quarterback much more suited to his system (Braxton Miller) than the QBs Rodriguez inherited at Michigan (Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan). Miller likely will have an even higher ceiling under Meyer and Herman than he would have under the previous offensive staff, which drew a lot of criticism. How the offensive line develops will be an interesting subplot of the spring for sure, as Meyer has made some comments about the need for better conditioning, etc. Meyer also has been candid about the need for more difference-makers at wide receiver, a position that was a virtual nonfactor in 2011. I do think a more imaginative offensive game plan will help players blossom at several positions. It's not as if Ohio State lit it up on offense last year. While there could be some growing pains this fall, I think you'll like what you see from the Buckeyes offense.

Ahmet from Rochester, N.Y., writes: Adam, I saw you traveled to Turkey, that is very nice. I would like you to to write soemthing about Turkish soccer since you saw Turkish soccer match

Adam Rittenberg: It was pretty wild, Ahmet. I dragged my wife to the match, and let's just say she was one of the few females in the crowd. We had heard the fans of the home team, Kar_1yaka, were known for being pretty rowdy. There were a ton of police around the stadium, and we had to be patted down by security as we entered. There also were high fences surrounding the pitch so no one could enter from the stands. Everyone stood for the entire game, and there were some designated cheering sections surrounded by security. The chanting during the game was pretty cool even though I had no idea what they were saying. Fans were very demonstrative about bad calls, and some of them went a little too far, like the guy in our row who broke three stadium seats with his foot and almost got in a fight with a guy in the next section over. There were several near-fights among fans and the security didn't do much to step in. It was definitely an experience, and the match we went to was second division, not Süper Lig. I'd definitely go again, though.

Big shoes to fill: Minnesota

March, 1, 2012
To get you ready for spring practice, which kicks off this month, we're taking a look at how each team might fill the roles of two key contributors who are no longer on campus.

Up next, Minnesota.


[+] EnlargeKim Royston
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidReplacing Kim Royston will be a tall order for the Minnesota defense.
Why: Royston was one of few bright spots for a Minnesota defense that struggled mightily for much of the season but finished well. He recorded 123 tackles, the fourth-highest total in the Big Ten and the most on the Gophers by 36 stops. He recorded one of the team's four interceptions on the season and had 3.5 tackles for loss, including a sack, and two pass breakups. Royston's 71 solo tackles were 18 more than any other Gophers player in 2011. He provided leadership for a secondary that lacked it and earned the Carl Eller Award as Minnesota's top defensive player.

Replacement candidates: James Manuel (6-2, 214, Jr.); Derrick Wells (6-foot, 191, Jr.); Jeremy Baltazar (6-foot, 190, Jr.); Michael Carter (5-11, 185, Sr.); Steven Montgomery (5-10, 195, Fr.)

The skinny: The return of cornerback Troy Stoudermire should help Minnesota replace Royston's production, but the team remains extremely unproven at safety. Will this be Manuel's time to shine? Minnesota certainly could use a big season from the junior, who had only 11 tackles in 10 games this past season. Wells had similar numbers (8 tackles, 11 games) in a reserve role but could challenge for a starting spot. Baltazar and Carter both are more natural cornerbacks but could help at nickelback. Montgomery, who isn't afraid to hit people, could be a factor here. The concern is Minnesota lacks many natural safeties and likely needs to have a by-committee approach to the position.


Why: Like Royston, McKnight was by far Minnesota's most productive player at his position in 2011. He recorded 51 catches, 35 more than any other Gophers player. He had twice as many touchdown catches (4) and 570 more receiving yards than anyone else on the roster. He led Minnesota in receiving in each of his final two seasons and was one of the more underrated wideouts in the Big Ten. McKnight made 30 starts in his career and was always MarQueis Gray's first option in the passing game.

Replacement candidates: Brandon Green (6-foot, 186, Sr.); Malcolm Moulton (5-11, 186, Jr.); Marcus Jones (5-8, 170, So.); Devin Crawford-Tufts (6-2, 191, So.); Andre McDonald (6-2, 200, Fr.); Jamel Harbison (5-11, 195, Fr.)

The skinny: Wide receiver will be one of the more intriguing positions to watch both in spring practice and in preseason camp when heralded recruits McDonald and Harbison arrive. Green has started 18 games in his career but needs to take his game to the next level. Most of Minnesota's returning players are smaller wideouts, so a bigger player like McDonald could fill in well for McKnight, whose size made him a threat on the outside. There's good speed in the group with players like Jones, who averaged 15.8 yards a catch as a freshman and led the team with 370 kick returns yards and a touchdown.
The Big Ten recruiting classes are signed and sealed, and although a few more recruits could come aboard, we have a good idea of what the rosters will look like heading into the 2012 season.

That means it's Power Rankings time. Again.

We're taking a post-signing day look at where the league stacks up. There aren't too many changes from our previous rundown, but some teams received a bump from strong recruiting classes.

As they say on Twitter, #legooo.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans' recruiting class didn't crack ESPN's top 25, but it features several strong prospects and is loaded up at wide receiver and defensive back. Mark Dantonio tells us he can't remember recruiting 10 athletes like the ones Michigan State added in the class. Michigan State already is one of the Big Ten's most athletic teams, so this bodes well for the Spartans as they look for another big season.

2. Michigan: Brady Hoke and his staff rode a fast start to 2012 recruiting and finalized a class ranked No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines started three freshmen on defense in 2011 and added several more who can contribute early in their careers, including linebacker Joe Bolden, cornerback Terry Richardson and defensive tackle Ondre "Pee Wee" Pipkins. If Michigan can maintain its momentum on defense after losing several stud linemen, it will be very tough to beat in 2012.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer announced himself with a superb recruiting class featuring arguably the nation's best crop of defensive line prospects. Ohio State would have been an improved team in 2012 after its first seven-loss season since 1897, but the recruiting class boosts the Buckeyes even more. The defensive front seven should be a deeper and stronger unit, and players like Noah Spence, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, have a chance to contribute immediately.

4. Nebraska: The Huskers missed on their top signing day target (offensive lineman Andrus Peat) but still inked a solid class that should help at positions like linebacker, where Big Red lacked size and depth. Linebacker Michael Rose could contribute early in his career. Nebraska also addressed the departure of standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with talented juco addition Mohammed Seisay.

5. Wisconsin: Quality not quantity was the theme for Wisconsin, which signed only 12 players, the Big Ten's smallest class by five recruits. The Badgers lost two offensive line commits to other schools but added a decorated quarterback in Bart Houston and some solid players to the defensive back seven, including linebacker Vince Biegel. This is the type of season that will test Wisconsin's ability to reload and provide a true gauge of the program's progress under Bret Bielema.

6. Penn State: New coach Bill O'Brien and his staff had to scramble to keep the class together, and the 2012 recruiting haul didn't quite match what Penn State adds in most seasons. The coaches were able to keep some good prospects and fulfilled a need at wide receiver with Eugene Lewis and others. It'll be interesting to see how quarterback Steven Bench turns out after Penn State lost verbal commit Skyler Mornhinweg to Florida.

7. Purdue: The Boilers added speed in their 2012 class, and they loaded up on quarterback prospects for the future with four signal-callers. But Purdue also beefed up along the offensive line with Jordan Roos and others. With coaching changes and personnel changes throughout the Leaders Division -- not to mention Ohio State's bowl ban -- Purdue has an excellent chance to make some noise in 2012.

8. Iowa: The big story in Iowa City isn't so much the recent recruiting class but the seismic changes going on in one of the nation's more stable programs. After having the same coordinators for the past 13 seasons, Kirk Ferentz must replace both Norm Parker and Ken O'Keefe, who left late last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Iowa will have new leadership on both sides of the ball, creating some uncertainty but also some excitement. The Hawkeyes added some nice pieces in the 2012 class, such as running back Greg Garmon and defensive end Faith Ekakitie.

9. Northwestern: Although the Wildcats' class didn't crack the national rankings, it looks like the best haul in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. Northwestern picked up a potential difference-maker on defense in defensive end/linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo. Malin Jones could be the team's answer at running back, a spot that has suffered during Fitzgerald's tenure. The Wildcats also added the league's top transfer in former USC receiver Kyle Prater.

10. Illinois: It might take a year for Tim Beckman and his staff to make a big splash on the recruiting scene. Illinois' 2012 haul didn't receive great reviews, but the Illini are pursuing several nationally elite 2013 prospects from within the state. Linebacker recruits Tajarvis Fuller and Tyrone Neal should help Illinois in the defensive back seven. There's enough talent on the squad to get back to a decent bowl, but Beckman and his staff have plenty of work ahead.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers inked a class that drew good reviews from ESPN's analysts. Jerry Kill and his staff retained several top in-state prospects, including offensive lineman Isaac Hayes, wide receiver Andre McDonald and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and fellow wideout Jamel Harbison could be immediate contributors for an offense that needs more options. But defense must be the top offseason focal point for Minnesota, which added several juco defenders.

12. Indiana: Although the Hoosiers remain at the bottom, we liked their recruiting class, which should first and foremost provide immediate help on defense. Junior college defenders like Tregg Waters and Jacarri Alexander likely will step in right away for a struggling unit. Indiana also will increase the competition at quarterback with heralded prep prospect Nate Sudfeld and juco addition Cameron Coffman.