Big Ten: Dwayne Holmes

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Mark Dantonio is changing the culture at Michigan State. In his first two seasons as Spartans head coach, Dantonio has gone 16-10 and guided the team to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1996-97. A program known for midseason collapses and a lack of mental toughness made a push for the Big Ten title last fall before stumbling Nov. 22 at Penn State. The Spartans ended a six-game slide to archrival Michigan in October, and Dantonio and his staff have made major upgrades in recruiting. More challenges lie ahead, as Michigan State must replace All-American running back Javon Ringer, quarterback Brian Hoyer and standout safety Otis Wiley, among others.

Dantonio sat down last week to discuss the upcoming season and his vision for the program.

 
  Fernando Medina/US PRESSWIRE
  Mark Dantonio has produced a 16-10 record since taking over as the Spartans' head coach.

You mentioned last year that this team overachieved a bit. Do you sense it will have to be like that again this year?

Mark Dantonio: It's something we constantly talk about here. I don't care where you're at and the status of things, how long you've played, whether it's [All-Big Ten linebacker] Greg Jones or whoever, it's always important to overachieve because you're always going to face adversity. You want to be known as that type of player, regardless of your ability level. We'll continue to concentrate on that.

Are you about where you thought you'd be as far as your short-term and long-term plan for the program?

MD: I've never really said, 'This is what we need to do in Year 1 or Year 2.' We've set goals, tried to get to those points and places, and we've accomplished some goals. We haven't won a championship yet. That's the goal that we set out for every single year. Why coach if you're not excited about trying to make those goals? Why play if you just say, 'I hope we can win seven games this year?' So I never really put a timetable on that. I've always said, 'This is what we've done. Now what are we going to do next year?' I've never felt like we've arrived. But the culture is changing, which is important. The ability to stay in games and play hard, I hope we're changing that. I look at the 26 games that we've played since I've been here, and there's two games -- the Ohio State game and the Penn State game [in 2008] -- where we've been out of the game. I would hope that perception is changing. But you can always slip right back into it if you're not careful.

How hard is it to do that, to avoid slipping back to the culture that was here before?

MD: That culture where things would fade quickly on us, that existed when I was here before [as an assistant from 1995-2000]. The Wisconsin game, boom, in 1999 [a 40-10 loss], or you beat Ohio State and lose to Minnesota, or whatever the case it was. Or whether it was getting shellacked by Nebraska or going out to Oregon [and getting beat]. That was here. What we have to do is make sure we're changing that perception. And I think we are. Our players need to understand they truly need to play one play at a time. That's a coaches' adage, but you have to do that in this day and age because one slip-up -- you don't take advantage of an offensive opportunity, or you have a poor special-teams performance, or one mental assignment on defense -- can cost you. You have to be able to play with attention to detail or you can't play. There's too much parity in college football. You hear the perception about the Southeastern Conference versus the Big Ten, but you look at it and you look at how close the game was between us and Georgia, it could have went the other way. Texas-Ohio State could have went the other way. So it's just tight out there. You better be ready to play. It's mental toughness. I believe that.

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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

The first Big Ten teleconference is complete. Here are some notes from the call:

OHIO STATE

  • Defensive tackle Doug Worthington will play Saturday against Youngstown State but will not start the game, coach Jim Tressel said. Worthington was arrested last month for DUI and had a pretrial hearing continued on Monday. Worthington started 11 games last fall but will play behind senior Nader Abdallah. "Exactly how much he'll be playing, I don't know," Tressel said, "but he'll be suited up and ready to go."
  • Terrelle Pryor might be listed as Ohio State's third-team quarterback, but the gap between the heralded freshman and backup Joe Bauserman is negligible. "I wouldn't go so far as to say one is the third guy and one is the second guy," Tressel said. Expect Pryor to make his collegiate debut Saturday, and not only in mop-up time. "What we've done at the beginning of nearly every season is we've had multiple quarterbacks play in the first half," Tressel said. "I don't think we're looking at waiting till the end of games."

MICHIGAN STATE

  • The Spartans' Week 1 depth chart is out and there are some surprises at defensive end, where four potential starters are listed. Senior Brandon Long and Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati, had been projected to start but could share time with fifth-year senior Dwayne Holmes and sophomore Colin Neely. I can't see any way Anderson doesn't become the full-time starter, but it's interesting that he hasn't been given the job yet.
  • Senior Kendell Davis-Clark will start at free safety as the Spartans are still without projected starter Roderick Jenrette, who recently was asked to leave the team to address personal matters. Davis-Clark moves over from cornerback, where he started 14 games during the last two seasons. Talented sophomore Chris L. Rucker will start in Davis-Clark's old spot, and players like Ashton Henderson provide depth. "We could play six corners right now," coach Mark Dantonio said, "so we felt like we could make that change and not suffer any problems."
  • Fifth-year senior Mike Bacon beat out redshirt freshman Joel Foreman for the starting spot at left guard.
  • Sophomore Mark Dell and redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham are listed as the starting wide receivers ahead of Blair White and Deon Curry. True freshman Keshawn Martin is listed as the third-stringer behind Cunningham, while classmate Fred Smith is fourth string behind Dell.
  • Safety Otis Wiley will handle punt returns. Backup running back A.J. Jimmerson and Davis-Clark are on kickoff returns as Michigan State tries to replace superstar Devin Thomas.

WISCONSIN

  • Star tight end Travis Beckum will dress for Saturday's game against Akron, but it's unclear whether he'll play because of a lingering hamstring injury.
  • Coach Bret Bielema said decision-making was never Allan Evridge's problem, but the quarterback had to learn to be more patient with his reads and progressions in the pocket. Evridge has made those adjustments to earn the Badgers' starting quarterback job. "Here's a guy who was so anxious to be The Guy, who put a lot on himself," Bielema said of Evridge, who started seven games for Kansas State in 2005. "We've calmed him down."
  • Bielema also is spearheading a proposal made by Big Ten coaches to implement an early signing day on the recruiting calendar. The date would be the first Wednesday after the last active recruiting weekend in December.

PURDUE

  • Jaycen Taylor's season-ending knee injury has put Purdue on notice to find a second option at running back to complement starter Kory Sheets. Four players are in the mix, but sophomore Dan Dierking could have the inside track after playing in all 13 games (starting one) last fall and racking up 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. "We really felt like Sheets and Taylor would split playing time there," coach Joe Tiller said. "What we have to do from a management point of view is make sure we don't use Kory Sheets so much that he wears down."
  • Tiller said having a Week 1 bye might actually help Purdue given all the injuries it had in the spring and the uncertainty at running back and other spots. The Boilermakers' Big Ten bye fell in Week 4, but they had to play Notre Dame that week. Tiller said Purdue also won't have a normal bye week next season before getting one in 2010.
  • A secondary that has added Dwight Mclean and a healthy Torri Williams has impressed Tiller thus far in camp. "It might be the best-looking secondary that we've had since maybe 2001, something like that," he said. "I look for us to be much improved."

MICHIGAN

  • Coach Rich Rodriguez has been pleased with the progress of the wide receivers, who along with the running backs can pick up his offense a bit quicker than quarterbacks or linemen can. In addition to older players like Greg Mathews and LaTerryal Savoy, freshmen Martavious Odoms and Roy Roundtree have been impressive in practice. "We hope to have six or seven guys ready to play on Saturday," Rodriguez said.
  • Michigan can't afford any added confusion on offense, but Rodriguez isn't concerned about adjusting to the new clock rules this season. "We usually go at a pretty good tempo anyway," he said. "Conditioning is a bigger factor than it's ever been."

IOWA

  • The Hawkeyes' streak of 30 consecutive home sellouts is in jeopardy, which coach Kirk Ferentz attributes partly to economic impact of the floods that ravaged the state earlier this summer. "The challenges of our state are paramount to our challenges on Saturday," Ferentz said.
  • The coach added that he expects to announce
    Iowa's new player development coach in the next month. The position was added in response to a wave of off-field problems involving first-year Hawkeyes players.

NORTHWESTERN

  • Coach Pat Fitzgerald praised wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, the only true freshman on Northwestern's Week 1 depth chart. Ebert, a quarterback in high school, quickly stood out in preseason camp because he arrived in peak conditioning level, not usually seen among true freshmen.

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