Big Ten: Jeff Tow-Arnett

Minnesota had the Big Ten's most experienced roster in 2009, and there are quite a few holes to be filled this spring. The Gophers must replace nine starters on defense as well as All-Big Ten wide receiver Eric Decker, a team record-holder.

The spring features a competition at quarterback between Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray and plenty of opportunities for young, highly recruited players to step up.

Here's a look at Minnesota's strong point and weak point heading into spring ball, which kicks off March 23.

Strongest position: Safety

  • Key returnees: Senior Kyle Theret (73 tackles, 3 INTs, 7 passes defended); senior Kim Royston (86 passes, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 7 passes defended); senior Ryan Collado (34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass defended).
  • Key departures: None
  • The skinny: Minnesota boasts the Big Ten's top safety tandem in Theret and Royston. The two finished the 2009 season on a high note in the Insight Bowl. Theret had two interceptions and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt, while Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, including a forced fumble. Collado provides depth behind them. Although the Gophers lose both starting cornerbacks (Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels), the veteran leadership at safety combined with some exciting young players should fill in the gaps.
Weakest position: Offensive line

  • Key returnees: Tackles Dom Alford, Jeff Wills and Ryan Wynn; guards Matt Carufel, Chris Bunders and Trey Davis; and center D.J. Burris.
  • Key departures: Tackle Matt Stommes, center Jeff Tow-Arnett
  • The skinny: It would be easy to spotlight linebacker or defensive tackle, positions where the Gophers lose multiple starters from 2009. But until the offensive line starts stepping up, this team is going to struggle. Minnesota has ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, which is simply unacceptable for a program steeped in running tradition. The Gophers have experience, but whether these linemen are good enough or tough enough to execute a new scheme remains to be seen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten was well represented on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District teams, presented today by the College Sports Information Directors of America (COSIDA). It's especially nice to see several of the league's star players succeeding in the classroom.

Here's the breakdown by school of who made the teams, as well as their GPAs and majors:

Illinois

  • G Jon Asamoah, 3.82, community health
Iowa
  • G Julian Vandervelde, 3.47, religious studies/English
Indiana
  • QB Ben Chappell, 3.7, accounting
  • RB Trea Burgess, 3.47, telecommunications
  • LS Brandon Bugg, 3.62, Master's of business administration
Michigan
  • P Zoltan Mesko, 3.65, business administration (marketing & finance)
  • WR Jon Conover, 3.54, political science
Michigan State
  • WR Blair White, 3.89, human biology
  • RB Andrew Hawken, 3.44, supply chain management
  • LB Adam Decker, 3.62, finance
Minnesota
  • WR Eric Decker, 3.41, business and marketing education
  • C Jeff Tow-Arnett, 3.79, business and marketing education
Northwestern
  • WR Zeke Markshausen, 3.46, mechanical engineering and design & innovation
  • G Doug Bartels, 3.45, anthropology (pre-med)
  • K Stefan Demos, 3.49, communication studies
Ohio State
  • RB Marcus Williams, 3.86, physical therapy
  • OL Bryant Browning, 3.33, marketing
  • OL Andrew Moses, 3.86, political science
  • DT Todd Denlinger, 3.3, construction systems management
Penn State
  • OL Andrew Pitz, 3.93, journalism/telecommunications
  • LB Josh Hull, 3.56, environmental systems engineering
  • C Stefen Wisniewski, 3.89, secondary education
  • P Jeremy Boone, 3.33, elementary education
Purdue
  • LB Joe Holland, 4.0, movement & sports science
  • DE Ryan Kerrigan, 3.38, math education
Wisconsin
  • P Brad Nortman, 3.64, finance

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Quick hits on injury news from around the league after the Big Ten teleconference.
  • Ohio State defensive tackle Dexter Larimore will miss Saturday's game against Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) with a strained right knee. Head coach Jim Tressel said Larimore doesn't need surgery. Todd Denlinger will start in Larimore's place after filling in well against Indiana with his first career interception. Running back Dan Herron (ankle) practiced Sunday and Tressel is anxious to see how the sophomore responds in today's workout.
  • Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle) is going to try to practice today after missing the last three games, head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Moeaki has battled a multitude of injuries throughout his career.
  • Penn State tackle Nerraw McCormack is doubtful for the Eastern Illinois game after sustaining an ankle injury last week against Illinois. McCormack made his first career start at left tackle against the Illini. Sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell will be ready to step in at tackle, though head coach Joe Paterno isn't sure if Pannell will be 100 percent.
  • Minnesota senior center Jeff Tow-Arnett will miss the remainder of the season with a broken leg suffered against Wisconsin. Sophomore Trey Davis will start at center this week against Purdue. Davis started five games at center as a redshirt freshman in 2008 but hadn't played this season until last Saturday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Looks like you've got a case of the Mondays.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Every team in the Big Ten has one essential issue that will determine success or failure this fall. Let's take a look.


Illinois:
The talent is there in Champaign, but the Illini can't afford the chemistry issues that doomed them last season. They need leadership from veterans Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn on offense and, more important, players like linebacker Martez Wilson on a questionable defense.


Indiana:
Whether or not the pistol offense guns down opponents or blows up in smoke, Indiana's season hinges on its defense, a unit that has finished no better than 71st nationally this decade. If the Hoosiers' D can't get it done with players like Matt Mayberry, Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, they never will.


Iowa:
Few teams in America have a tougher conference road schedule than the Hawkeyes, who visit Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Iowa's performance away from Kinnick Stadium will determine whether it plays in another January bowl game or ends up fighting just to make the postseason.


Michigan:
Recent events have created a few more distractions for the Wolverines this fall, but their biggest key remains the quarterback position. Michigan should be much improved everywhere else on offense, but Rich Rodriguez needs consistency, intelligence and play-making ability from Tate Forcier, Nick Sheridan or Denard Robinson.


Michigan State:
Mark Dantonio has mentioned it many times, and I'll echo the head coach: The Spartans must show they can handle expectations. Recent history suggests otherwise, but the program appears to be on a different course under Dantonio and needs to take another step forward with a favorable schedule this fall.


Minnesota:
The offensive line will be in the spotlight as Minnesota emloys a significantly different scheme after two years of the spread. With only one player (center Jeff Tow-Arnett) returning to the position where he started in 2008, the Gophers' front five has some major question marks entering the fall.


Northwestern:
The Wildcats need to prove they can actually survive the losses of multiyear starters at both quarterback and running back. Few outsiders think they can. Defense should once again carry this team in 2009, but Northwestern needs playmakers on offense after losing almost all of its featured skill players.


Ohio State:
This is Terrelle Pryor's team now, a much younger and potentially more explosive squad that needs to restore Ohio State's national reputation in big games. Pryor has to be the catalyst on offense and prove that he's a complete and consistent quarterback. If so, opposing defenses will be in big trouble.


Penn State:
I've been asking the same question throughout the offseason -- can Penn State reload? The Lions have more stars at key positions than any team in the Big Ten, but they need to replenish the offensive line, identify several capable wide receivers for Daryll Clark and get a lot better in the secondary.


Purdue:
A glance at Purdue's Week 1 depth chart shows that first-year coach Danny Hope will be relying on lots of young players this fall. For the Boilermakers to rebound, they need their freshmen and sophomores to make an immediate impact with minimal growing pains.


Wisconsin:
The Badgers simply don't have the margin error to survive the disorganization and lack of discipline that plagued them last season. From the quarterback position on down, Wisconsin needs to be mentally sound for 60 minutes and limit dumb mistakes that led to too many losses in 2008.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota will open spring practice Tuesday with a new offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch), a new run game coordinator (Tim Davis) and a new offensive philosophy (pro-style sets, power run, physical play).

Given all the changes, it doesn't seem like an ideal time to have star wide receiver Eric Decker playing baseball or veteran quarterback Adam Weber held out of contact drills.

Think again.

"People think I'm crazy, but I think it's a tremendous thing for our football team that Adam Weber is not going to get contact reps," head coach Tim Brewster said.

You're probably nodding your head about the crazy part. But let him explain.

"MarQueis Gray is going to get the contact reps," Brewster said. "MarQueis Gray is going to get forced development this spring. That's a great thing for our football team."

Gray, a heralded recruit from Indianapolis, enters spring ball as the team's No. 2 quarterback despite not taking a snap in a college game. An issue with Gray's ACT scores put his college career on pause last fall, but the 6-4, 215-pound freshman will be back on the field Tuesday.

Brewster said he wouldn't trade Weber for any quarterback in the country, but don't expect Gray to sit on the sidelines the next two seasons. He's going to get on the field some way, whether it's as a quarterback, wide receiver or even running back.

"MarQueis has got to put himself in a position where he can take control of our offense and execute our offense, and we don't miss a beat," Brewster said. "Because he's one play away from being our starting quarterback. He's an extremely gifted, talented football player."

Decker's absence with the Gophers baseball team opens up opportunities for other playmakers to develop. Minnesota relied on Decker at times too much last fall, and Brewster is looking for young players like Brandon Green, Xzavian Brandon and Ben Kuznia to step up.

"I didn't think we had enough dynamic playmakers [in 2008]," Brewster said.

Here are some other notes from Brewster's pre-spring news conference.

  • Former defensive lineman Matt Stommes will enter the spring as Minnesota's starting left tackle, as junior Dom Alford shifts from left tackle to left guard. Stommes emerged after Tim Davis became offensive line coach in November and started at right tackle in the Insight Bowl. The senior is listed at 6-7 and 284, but Brewster said he's closer to 300 pounds.
"He's our best athlete in the offensive line," Brewster said. "The pro scouts that have come in and looked at his prototype ... he's got outstanding measurables. We really feel good about him."
  • Linebacker Sam Maresh will be on the practice field Tuesday, which is an amazing accomplishment after he underwent open heart surgery last summer and discovered a non-cancerous growth in his calf this winter. Brewster isn't sure how much Maresh will do but said the freshman went through a rigorous conditioning session Monday morning with his teammates. "There's a chance that he can play [this season]," Brewster said. "I don't want to rush him back. I want to make sure he's 100 percent confident in the calf."
  • Starting cornerback Marcus Sherels will miss most of spring drills following offseason shoulder surgery. He should be fine for preseason camp. Offensive lineman Jeff Tow-Arnett also will miss spring ball after undergoing knee surgery in November. Brewster hopes to have him back for the summer.
  • Sophomore running back Duane Bennett, who started last season before suffering a torn ACL, likely will be held out of contact drills this spring. Same goes for Weber, who will participate in everything else as he grasps the new offense.
  • Expect heralded 2008 recruit Keanon Cooper to play a significant role this fall at one of the outside linebacker spots. Cooper is still listed as a free safety but boasts speed and decent size (6-1, 220). Brewster said Cooper ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who Brewster said is on the cusp of becoming one of the Big Ten's top defenders, ran a 4.43 in the 40.
  • Brewster expects transfers Matt Carufel (Notre Dame) and Kim Royston (Wisconsin) to play major roles right away. Carufel projects as the starting right guard, while Royston will be in the mix at safety. Brewster said Kyle Theret, who recorded three interceptions and 11 pass deflections last fall, will be pushed to keep his starting job. There could be a hole at the other safety spot, as Tramaine Brock has left the team because of academic issues. Brewster didn't say much about Brock, only that he's waiting to see how everything plays out.
  • The team hopes to move into TCF Bank Stadium by July 1 and conduct several preseason practices on the field before the Sept. 12 opener against Air Force. "It's something that's been needed at the U. for a long time," Brewster said. "Fortunately, the dream, it's happened."
  • Minnesota's schedule gets tougher in 2009, as it faces Cal and Air Force and adds defending Big Ten co-champ Penn State and Michigan State to the conference slate. The Gophers will not play Indiana or Michigan, and in 2010 they begin a series with USC. "I was a big part of making the schedule a lot stronger," Brewster said. "It does a whole lot more good than it does harm. ... I don't want to play USC every week, but I want to play a schedule our fans are really excited about."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Now we know how No. 17 Minnesota got to this point.

After a slow start, the Gophers rallied in the second quarter and showcased the characteristics that have led to their 7-1 start. Minnesota's opportunistic defense came up with a game-changing turnover, and quarterback Adam Weber and the offense continue to play mistake-free football. But undermanned Northwestern is hanging in there, and it's been an entertaining game so far.

The Wildcats have to feel good to be tied after their worst fears came true. With a new starting offensive backfield, Northwestern's game plan focused on limiting turnovers. It worked for a litte more than a quarter. But after failing to get good first-down yardage, backup quarterback Mike Kafka showed his inexperience on a hitch pass to Ross Lane. Minnesota cornerback Traye Simmons read the route, stepped in for the interception and took it 23 yards to the end zone.

But Kafka responded nicely and sparked a touchdown drive with a 53-yard run to the Minnesota 2-yard line. The Gophers are clearly trying to take away running back Omar Conteh, which has opened up lanes for Kafka, who has 97 rushing yards on nine carries. Kafka completed his first eight pass attempts before slowing down a bit in the second quarter.

Minnesota's offense settled in nicely in the second quarter. Weber's ability to scramble and make throws on the run has spurred the Gophers. And though junior wide receiver Eric Decker broke his own single-season school record with his 68th reception, Weber is getting other receivers involved (Nick Tow-Arnett, Ben Kuznia, Brandon Green, Jack Simmons), completing 15 of 23 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.

Both offensive lines have looked suspect at times, but Northwestern likely needs to force a turnover from Weber to pull out the upset.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwestern has always considered itself a team that can respond to adversity. So far, the Wildcats are fulfilling their pledge.

Despite the injury losses of running back Tyrell Sutton (dislocated wrist) and quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring), Northwestern dominated the first quarter against No. 17 Minnesota.

Backup quarterback Mike Kafka led Northwestern to scores on each of the team's first two drives. The Wildcats utilized Kafka's running skills and also attacked the field while maintaining a conservative approach. Northwestern's decision to take the ball after winning the opening coin toss raised some eyebrows, but the choice looked genius after Kafka led the team 78 yards.

Kafka threw a 33-yard touchdown to Jeremy Ebert and set up a field goal with a 30-yard pass to Eric Peterman. He's 8-for-8 passing and also had a 28-yard run.

But Minnesota is settling into a rhythm on offense. Adam Weber found tight end Nick Tow-Arnett for completions of 31 and 27 yards on consecutive plays, and the Gophers are threatening after doing nothing on their first two possessions. Expect this one to tighten up fast.

The injury bug continues to bite Northwestern. Defensive end Vince Browne is out after injuring his knee on kickoff coverage, and safety Brian Peters left with a leg injury.

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to take a look inside five Big Ten teams:

Indiana -- After two cakewalk victories, the Hoosiers face their first test of the season Saturday against Ball State and need a solid effort from their secondary, which might be without a big piece. Strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury sustained last week at practice. Coach Bill Lynch said Thomas, the team's leading tackler last fall, won't practice much this week leading up to the game. If Thomas can't go, heralded Florida transfer Jerimy Finch would get the nod. The matchup with Nate Davis and the Cardinals would give the Hoosiers a great chance to evaluate Finch, considered arguably the nation's best safety coming out of high school.

Iowa -- The Hawkeyes still don't have a definitive starting quarterback, but coach Kirk Ferentz reiterates that the situation under center looks much more stable than it did a year ago because the team boasts two players (Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi) capable of running the offense. Stanzi started the last two games, but Ferentz is leaning toward Christensen for Saturday's game at Pitt (ESPN2, noon ET). Throughout the competition Ferentz has given Christensen every chance to cement himself as the starter. If the junior steps up against the Panthers, Iowa could finally decide to stick with him.

Minnesota -- There could be some shuffling on the offensive line after tackle Dom Alford sprained his ankle last week. Coach Tim Brewster is holding out hope Alford can return Saturday against Florida Atlantic, but junior Ryan Ruckdashel or backup right tackle Jason Meinke likely will get the nod. Redshirt freshman Trey Davis will start at center, but Brewster thinks there's a chance Jeff Tow-Arnett can return from a knee injury. Ned Tavale should return after an ankle injury and is expected to share time with Chris Bunders at right guard.

Ohio State -- Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will continue to see increased playing time Saturday against Troy and could split snaps 50-50 with senior Todd Boeckman for the second straight game. Pryor impressed coach Jim Tressel with the way he handled the spotlight last week against USC and made no major mistakes, while Boeckman threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Tressel won't name a starter until later in the week. Though the coach is usually partial to seniors, he doesn't tolerate turnovers and admits he's surprised at how quickly Pryor has grasped the system after getting far fewer reps than Boeckman during the preseason.

Penn State -- A rapidly evaporating group of defensive linemen forced Joe Paterno to move Mike Lucian from offensive guard to defensive tackle last week against Syracuse. The switch might have backfired as Lucian sustained an ankle injury, but Paterno expects the senior to be ready for Saturday's game against Temple. Paterno remains "very concerned" about the depth on the defensive line, and more moves could be on the way if Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma remain suspended. Jack Crawford, a 248-pound true freshman, is in the mix at tackle. The Lions can't afford injuries to reserve tackles Tom McEowen and Chima Okoli.

Big Ten Friday Mailbag

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
6:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The games are finally back Saturday, and what a slate it is. Before putting the blog to bed for a bit, here's what's on your minds.

Josh from Redwood Falls, Minn., writes: Thoughts about Minnesota. Are they improved enough to get to a bowl game? Also, starting center Jeff Tow-Arnett tore his ACL in the win over Bowling Green. He will try to play through it if possible.  

Adam Rittenberg: Minnesota should have no trouble on Saturday and gets Florida Atlantic at home next week, so a perfect non-league record is within reach. But Tow-Arnett's injury is definitely a concern for a fairly inexperienced line that looked to him as a leader. The Gophers not only need to find a running back after losing Duane Bennett, but above all they must protect Adam Weber. I see the Gophers right on the cusp of bowl eligibility, six wins, maybe seven. But if the defense continues producing takeaways, Weber can take this team a long way.


Colin from Brooklyn (N.Y. or Mich.?) writes: What is your take on UOM's recent 2009 de-commits? I get Newsome looking elsewhere but how big of a blow is Campbell's renig? Does he end up at another Big 10 (MSU) or down south? Thank you.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that Kevin Newsome's decommitment wasn't a huge shocker, and Michigan already has two solid quarterbacks for '09. William Campbell's decommitment could be more costly, though Michigan is going to work hard to get him back on board. The Wolverines might try for a package deal with Campbell's high school teammates Teric Jones (already committed) and Thomas Gordon. Defensive line will be a position of need next season after Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson and Tim Jamison depart, so it's important for the Wolverines to bring in top talent. 


Kevin from Raleigh, N.C. writes: While I understand that the USC-Ohio St. game is a big one, it seems to me like you are providing an extended amount of coverage to them at the expense of other Big Ten schools. Perhaps the blog should be changed to the Ohio State blog if this trend keeps up.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't like to fire on my readers, but please go back and read the blog a little more carefully before writing. I think you'll be satisfied with the distribution of coverage. There are features this week on Purdue, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and even a short item on Illinois' Juice Williams. That's pretty equitable in my book. It's my top goal with this blog to be as fair as possible, and I think we achieved that this week. Ohio State-USC is one of those rare mega matchups between powerhouse programs in an age of fearful scheduling, so the game deserves all the hype it's getting.


Ty from New Bern, N.C. writes: What is going to happen in the Wisc, Cal St Fresno game that decides who wins?

Adam Rittenberg: It will come down to Wisconsin's ability to control the line of scrimmage on offense. If the Badgers' mammoth line can overpower Fresno State and create interior rushing lanes for P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay, they should be in good shape. But quarterback Allan Evridge still will need to make a play or two. He'll be helped by having All-American tight end Travis Beckum back in the mix. 


Jonathan from Westerville, Ohio, writes: Back-to-Back losses in the BCS Title game and a potential lopsided loss to USC in a nationally televised game. If Ohio State doesn't live up to expectations in 2008, would changes be in order on the OSU coach staff in terms of coordinators or others? Just a new direction?

Adam Rittenberg:  That's an interesting point, Jonathan. I know both coordinators -- Jim Bollman and Jim Heacock -- have taken some heat for their playcalling in recent years. There's certainly a question of whether the Buckeyes are too conservative on offense. And with Terrelle Pryor taking over at the starter in 2009, they could go in a different direction, especially with another big-game stumble or two. But Jim Tressel is pretty loyal to his guys and probably would need some external pressure to make changes. That's kind of hard to do to a coach who consistently wins 10-12 games a year. 


Tom from Charlotte, N.C., writes: nice job on College Football live. Maybe I watched a little too closely, but was your tie selection a nod to Fresno State this weekend? You're listening to Herbstreit's Badger hate too much.

Adam Rittenberg: I was worried the tie would make me seem too pro-Ohio State, but thanks for noticing. Seeing that I picked Wisconsin to escape Bulldog Stadium with a victory on Saturday night, there's no Fresno State love. Though I'm a big Pat Hill fan and love what he does with that program year in and year out.


Don from Chicago writes: Love your blog, reading Big Ten: What to watch in Week 3. I know its the Big 10 but they like to fudge the math and there are 11 teams. Can't you streth that to 11 things to watch for? I know NU plays SIU, but you could note that offense needs to gain more yards on first down, get more consistent on third down (function of the first), establish Sutton, Bacher and WR timing sharpened up.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the note, Don, but you've got to read the fine print before What to Watch. It's the 10 best items to watch in a given weekend, not the single best item for each team. There will almost always be multiple items listed for a game or two, so that means several teams will be left off the list. For what it's worth, Northwestern's offense has to get going Saturday, particularly on first down. Quarterback C.J. Bacher seems to come up big on third-and-long, but when that offense is truly clicking, it gains 5-8 yards on first down.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some quick Big Ten happenings before delving back into the Buckeyes.

Minnesota's worst fears came true as starting running back Duane Bennett suffered a torn ACL against Bowling Green and will miss the rest of the season. Bennett was terrific against the Falcons, rushing for 100 yards and finishing with 148 all-purpose yards in the big road win. He looked like the running back the Gophers have been looking for, so coach Tim Brewster now will turn to freshmen DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon.

The news is much better for starting center Jeff Tow-Arnett, listed as week-to-week after injuring his knee on the same play as Bennett. Left guard Ned Tavale is also day-to-day with an injury, so several redshirt freshmen could start Saturday against Montana State.

Elsewhere:

  • Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't say when suspended starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma could return to the field. Quarterback Daryll Clark and wideout Derrick Williams should be fine for Saturday's game against Syracuse.
  • Michigan State's newfound depth in the secondary will be put to the test. The Spartans already are without safety Roderick Jenrette (leave of absence), and starter Kendell Davis-Clark could miss the Florida Atlantic game after sustaining an undisclosed injury. Davis-Clark moved from cornerback to safety to take Jenrette's place, and coach Mark Dantonio might make the same move with Ross Weaver, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis expects to see Michigan running back Carlos Brown at quarterback for the Wolverines on Saturday, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder writes in his blog.
  • Iowa's already surging offense gets a big boost Saturday with the return of starting tight end Tony Moeaki and reserve wideout Trey Stross, coach Kirk Ferentz announced today.
Ferentz also said there won't be a quarterback rotation Saturday against Iowa State. It's Ricky Stanzi's job -- for now.
"I'm sure Rick will do well but there are a lot of unknowns," Ferentz said. "It's not like we're ready to crown him king or anything like that."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I'm back here today to check in on the Ohio State Buckeyes as they prepare for Saturday's matchup at top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Head coach Jim Tressel will address the media shortly after noon ET, and I'll keep a running tally of Chris Wells questions as reporters inquire about America's most famous big toe. Check back throughout the day for updates on Ohio State and the rest of the league.

The wireless is extremely slow here at the airport this morning, so just a few links today.

Three questions for Minnesota

August, 19, 2008
8/19/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Today I'll be taking a closer look at Minnesota, which tries to rebound from a school-record 11 losses as it enters Tim Brewster's second season as coach. Here are three questions facing the Gophers as they enter the fall:

1. Who are these guys?

Minnesota's roster has a decidedly different look to it, and that's not a bad thing after last year. Recognizing the need for immediate upgrades on defense, Brewster brought in several junior-college players who will start or get major playing time. Keep an eye on Tramaine Brock, a hard-hitting safety who won a starting job this spring and should set the tone in the secondary. He'll get help from Traye Simmons at cornerback. The line also will have a JC flavor with Cedric McKinley at defensive end and Simoni Lawrence and linebacker. Minnesota will lean on a strong crop of incoming freshmen, including cornerback/return man Troy Stoudermire, and wide receivers Brandon Green, Xzavian Brandon and Brodrick Smith.

2. How will the offensive line fare after losing three starters?

As the rest of the team prepares to take the next step with greater knowledge of the system, the line is, in a sense, starting over. This was one of few Gophers units that excelled last season, allowing a Big Ten-low 13 sacks. The loss of standouts Tony Brinkhaus and Steve Shidell will sting, and Minnesota needs Jeff Tow-Arnett to make a smooth transition from left guard to center. Ryan Wynn, Ryan Orton and Chris Bunders lead a group of promising young linemen, but they can't afford growing pains. Getting the line right is the biggest priority for a team sensing a breakthrough this fall.

3. How will new coordinator Ted Roof reshape the nation's worst defense?

Roof loves tough challenges, but unlike the Duke team he coached last year, Minnesota has the talent to make a big jump this fall. The veteran defensive coach stressed the basics upon his arrival, and Minnesota tackled a ton this spring after not doing it enough last fall. Roof doesn't consider himself a panacea, but he's another reminder that last season is in the past. There's no doubt the junior-college transfers will help. Roof's challenge will be facilitating improvement from returning starters like defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg and linebackers Steve Davis and Deon Hightower.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's media day begins later Thursday morning, and I'll be there to check in with Heisman candidate Curtis Painter, coach-in-waiting Danny Hope and the rest of the Boilers.

First, I give you the links on the other 10 teams. 

  • My appearance at Camp Rantoul made Bob Asmussen's daily practice recap in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Thanks, Bob. Much more newsworthy items include a note on Illinois center Ryan McDonald and the fact several projected starters will appear on special teams this fall. Zook's best recruits at Illinois have come from the Washington, D.C., area, but he's also going back to his Ohio roots for talent. No big secret here, but the 2008 season hinges heavily on quarterback Juice Williams.  
  • Forget about Iowa's history of bouncing back from bad seasons on and off the field. Want a reason to be optimistic about the Hawkeyes? Wide receiver Andy Brodell is back in the fold, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Brodell is a difference-maker. Forbes magazine calls Iowa's Kirk Ferentz the worst value in college football, given his salary. I still think Iowa had to finalize Ferentz's contract at the time.
"The most overpaid coach is Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who made $3.4 million last year despite lackluster results on the field, for a score of 71. Just how lopsided is Ferentz's deal? During the last three years he's pocketed $10 million, including a record $4.7 million in 2006, but has led the Hawkeyes to just a 19-18 record."
  • Mitchell Evans came to Indiana with an open-minded attitude about where he'd play. The Hoosiers are putting that approach to the test by moving Evans to wide receiver, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. A couple of more previews on Indiana, which wants to get back to a bowl game and win it this time.
  • Rich Rodriguez might not be beloved on the practice field, but he also keeps his door open for his new players, the AP's Larry Lage writes. Nebraska's Bo Pelini isn't the only big-time coach looking to rebuild the walk-on program at his school. RichRod wants all the help he can get, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. 
  • Michigan State running back A.J. Jimmerson is no stranger to competition at his position, Chris Solari writes in the Lansing State Journal. A nationally televised opener at Cal gives the Spartans a chance to make an early statement, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
  • Running back is a big concern at Minnesota, but a healthy Jay Thomas should help matters, Myron Medcalf writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Two years ago, Jeff Tow-Arnett and Adam Weber worked on the quarterback-center exchange as young scout teamers at Minnesota. Now they're in the spotlight as starters, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times' Jim O'Donnell checks in from Camp Kenosha, where Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sees his defense improving and his new-look offensive line coming together. The Wildcats' bowl hopes hinge heavily on senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, Jay Taft writes in the Rockford Register Star.
  • Despite two national title misses, Ohio State's coaches aren't concerning themselves with the past, Rob Oller writes in the Columbus Dispatch. Probably a good thing. Defensive tackle could be a weak spot for the Buckeyes, but defensive coordinator Jim Heacock likes what he has, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Buckeyes center Jim Cordle could fool defenders at the line by snapping the ball with both hands, Ken Gordon writes in the Columbus Dispatch.
  • Tyrell Sales is filling some big shoes as Penn State's linebacker leader, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The starters look set in Penn State's secondary, but watch out for reserve safety Drew Astorino, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane has a rundown of the improvements at Beaver Stadium this fall.
  • Wisconsin cornerbacks Allen Langford and Aaron Henry have walked parallel paths following ACL surgery. Both men are back in the mix for starting jobs, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Defensive end O'Brien Schofield, a projected starter opposite Matt Shaughnessy, will miss 1-2 weeks of practice after suffering an ankle injury. End Kirk DeCremer remained out of both Wednesday practices, while quarterback Allan Evridge could return today, Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.

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