Big Ten: Brian Gamble
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It was a heavy news day around the Big Ten, so my regularly scheduled mailbag will be pushed back to Wednesday. From here on out I'll have mailbags on Tuesdays and Fridays, so make sure to send in your questions.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced this afternoon that junior Jake Christensen will start at quarterback Saturday against Maine. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, who has come on strong toward the end of preseason camp, also will see action. Christensen threw for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions as the starter last season, completing only 53.5 percent of his passes.
"He came in as a starter, and I think he's practiced well," Ferentz said of Christensen. "It's not a matter of his performance. He's elevated his performance from the spring. I thought he was better in the spring than he was in the fall [of 2007], and I think he's continued to improve, which is what we're hoping for."
Here are some notes and links I didn't get to earlier:
- Ferentz announced that reserve running back Nate Guillory will transfer. Guillory had been competing for the starting job this month but fell behind opening-day starter Shonn Greene and emerging sophomore Paki O'Meara. Freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton are also in the fold, so Ferentz isn't concerned about depth despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. "The jury is still out because we haven't played a snap that counts," he said, "but based on what we've seen, we're pretty optimistic."
- Ferentz also announced that tight end Tony Moeaki and Michael Sabers, wideout Trey Stross and offensive lineman Dan Doering will miss the opener with injuries. Doering, a possible starter at left guard, has a hand injury but should be back by next week. Moeaki will miss 1-2 weeks with a foot injury. Sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian has a hamstring injury but could play.
- Wideout Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are no longer with Illinois' team, coach Ron Zook announced today. Gamble had been expected to contribute at receiver this fall.
- Minnesota's Week 1 depth chart is out, and not surprisingly, there are some notable changes. Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons are listed as starters at safety and cornerback, and former wideout Marcus Sherels has won the other starting cornerback spot. Sherels also will serve as the team's primary return man on kickoffs and punts.
- Sophomore Ralph Spry and emerging junior Ben Kuznia have joined star Eric Decker as the Gophers' starting wideouts. Freshmen Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith are listed as backups. Minnesota's starting spots at left guard and right tackle remain undecided. Sophomore D.J. Burris is competing with Ryan Orton at left guard, and redshirt freshmen Ryan Wynn or Jason Meinke will start at right tackle.
- Penn State safety Nick Sukay will miss the season with a broken bone in his foot, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Starting cornerback Tony Davis expects Lydell Sargeant to win the other top CB job, Jeff McLane writes.
- Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is healthier but must leapfrog several players on the depth chart, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Also check out the list of Buckeyes true freshmen likely to play this fall (besides Terrelle Pryor, of course).
- Maybe RichRod is fooling all of us, but he seems fine with playing two quarterbacks in the season opener, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder writes in his blog.
- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio praises the play of defensive end Dwayne Holmes, who could start the opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'll be spending the day with Illinois at its training camp in Rantoul, Ill. Here are three questions facing Illinois as it aims for a Rose Bowl repeat this fall:
1. How will the Illini replace Rashard Mendenhall's production on offense?
They won't, at least not with one player. Expect junior Daniel Dufrene to get the first shot at running back, but the Illini will utilize every capable option in the ground game, including quarterback Juice Williams and dynamic wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Dufrene, who averaged 6.3 yards a carry last season as Mendenhall's backup, has picked up his play in preseason camp after a subpar spring. Along with redshirt freshman Troy Pollard, Dufrene will try to make opposing defenses respect the run, opening things up for Williams, Benn and a passing attack that will be spotlighted this fall.
2. Can linebacker Martez Wilson and the rest of Illinois' heralded 2007 recruiting class back up the hype?
Benn already has, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last season despite playing with a bum shoulder. It's now Wilson's turn to step up, particularly at a position that has lost All-American J Leman and underrated weak-side backer Antonio Steele. Wilson has all the tools to be a star but can't get by on athleticism alone. Other 2007 recruits pegged for greater roles this fall include safety Nate Bussey and wide receiver Brian Gamble. Illinois lost both of its starting safeties and needs more playmakers at wideout besides Benn.
3. Will Williams take the next step in his evolution?
Williams showcased his big-game poise by leading Illinois to a win at Ohio Stadium last November, but he'll have much more on his shoulders this fall. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley wants to accentuate the passing game, and though Williams significantly improved his completion numbers from 2006, he'll need to be even more on point this fall. Williams admits he'll never be the loudest guy in the locker room, but he's shown a greater grasp of the offense and a greater desire to lead.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Northwestern media day has come and gone, and I learned that at least one Big Ten coach (Pat Fitzgerald) has read the blog. Only 10 more to go.
The schedule is shaping up a bit for next week. I'll be spending Wednesday at Camp Rantoul with the Illinois Fighting Illini, before heading over to Purdue for media day on Thursday. There could also be some surprises along the way.
Here's your daily diet of links:
- If you're just waking up, Ohio State defensive backs Donald Washington and Jamario O'Neal have been suspended for the first two games of the season. Not a major blow, given that they'll be back for USC, but it could shake up the dynamic in the secondary.
- Oh, and some guy named Terrelle Pryor spoke with reporters at Ohio State media day. He was a pretty popular man, Paul Schofield writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Items of note: Pryor rooms with starting quarterback Todd Boeckman, gets a lot of reps in practice and likes hanging out with the older players.
- More on Ohio State media day from The Columbus Dispatch's Buckeye Blog. Left tackle Alex Boone knows how to roundup the linemen -- "If you're big and fat, let's go" -- a group that includes Michigan transfer Justin Boren.
- Wisconsin star tight end Travis Beckum sat out Thursday's practice with "tightness in his lower body," but it doesn't appear to be too serious, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Also, defensive lineman Brandon Hoey's career is over after lingering back problems.
- The Badgers seem pretty solid at outside linebacker, but the middle is a concern. Enter Jaevery McFadden, who could unseat incumbent Elijah Hodge for the job, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.
- Apparently Akron doesn't like its chances to upset Wisconsin on Aug. 30. The school gave back some of its allotted tickets, so get 'em while they're available.
- Strong defense is a given at Penn State, but a strong season hinges on whether the offense can make up ground, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
"Penn State has scored a total of six points in its last two trips to Camp Randall Stadium, where it faces Wisconsin on Oct. 11. It has scored a total of 23 points in its last three visits to Ohio Stadium, where it will face the Buckeyes on Oct. 25."
- Without star Sean Lee in the mix at linebacker, senior Tyrell Sales needs to step up for Penn State. It looks like he's ready, Sam Ross Jr. writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Missed this one from earlier, but it looks like Rich Rodriguez isn't the only one shelling out benjamins after the legal dispute with West Virginia. But given the final outcome, I doubt the university minds too much.
- Wide receiver Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are back with their Illinois teammates at Camp Rantoul after missing the first three practices, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. There's also an item on cornerback Miami Thomas, who is from Chicago.
- Defensive end Cameron Jude and wide receiver Keshawn Martin are among the Michigan State freshmen who have impressed so far, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog.
- Spartans cornerback Ross Weaver hopes to stay healthy after several setbacks, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- Fomer Michigan defensive end Rondell Biggs was arrested this winter for illegal possession of steroids, which surprises Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor News.
- Add Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo to the growing list of people that envision a turnaround in Iowa City this fall. Sorry, I just don't see it.
- If you didn't figure it out already from my posts yesterday, Northwestern is gunning for a bowl berth -- and a win, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Tim Brewster's incoming recruiting class is all the rage, but only three members from his first crop remain with Minnesota, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Will a healthy and deeper line translate into more sacks at Minnesota? The Gophers have to do better up front, Kent Youngblood writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.