Big Ten: Kevin Cosgrove
- Tyvis Powell and Jordan Hall led "The Chase" for Ohio State as the Buckeyes began practice. Notes from OSU's first spring session here, here and here.
- The consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class will soon visit Michigan. Devin Gardner's extra year gives the Wolverines some tantalizing options for '14.
- There's no controversy, just competition at quarterback for Michigan State, at least in Mark Dantonio's view. New Spartans playcaller Dave Warner says the team's offense can be more imaginative.
- Darrell Hazell fixed a hole on his coaching staff by hiring Jim Bridge away from Illinois.
- And that means Tim Beckman is in the market for another new assistant coach.
- Dan Voltz is excited about a chance to be Wisconsin's next starting center. Jeff Genyk joined Gary Andersen's staff as tight ends coach. A 2014 quarterback who had been committed to the Badgers will consider other options.
- Northwestern receiver Rashad Lawrence talks about getting over the "10-win hump," while Pat Fitzgerald says Venric Mark has to take the next step.
- Nebraska's Imani Cross has slimmed down and gotten quicker but is still a bulldozer.
- Some spring storylines to follow at Penn State. Bill O'Brien will head out on a spring coaches caravan.
- Former Minnesota assistant Kevin Cosgrove's claim against the school for lack of payment was dismissed in court. A closer look at Gophers receiver Jamel Harbison.
- A Bloomington quarterback will walk on to Indiana.
- Iowa is realizing it needs to sell itself to the fans.
- Jim Delany checks in at No. 2 on SI.com's list of the 10 most powerful people in college sports.
- Athlon previews the spring stories in the Big Ten.
The number of assistant coaches earning $250,000 or more is on the rise, particularly in the SEC, but what strikes me is the Big Ten's absence among the very top earners. No Big Ten assistant ranks among the top 10 nationally in salary and only Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino ($475,250) ranks in the top 30 in earnings. The SEC, meanwhile, has 14 assistants among the top 30.
I think the quality of coaching remains very high in the Big Ten and several assistants might want to get new agents. I also think that wild spending on assistant coaches is less a part of the culture in the Big Ten than it is in the SEC, Big 12 or even ACC. Will we ever see a Big Ten coordinator make more than $900,000, like Will Muschamp did at Texas, or more than $500,000? Perhaps we will, but I think it's doubtful.
There are also quite a few top assistants at big-time programs in the Big Ten who don't seem likely to make the jump to head-coaching positions elsewhere. While we've seen Big Ten assistants like Wisconsin's Dave Doeren and Ohio State's Darrell Hazell land top jobs this month, there aren't a ton of red-hot coaching prospects in the Big Ten.
It's interesting to see the discrepancy.
Who are the Big Ten's highest-paid assistants? Check 'em out:
(Note: As a private institution, Northwestern doesn't have to reveal coaches' salaries; Penn State declined to provide coaches' salary information.)
1. Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino (total compensation: $475,250, maximum bonus: $39,000)
2. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (total compensation: $361,094, maximum bonus: $122,500)
3. Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning (total compensation: $325,120, maximum bonus: $26,000)
4. Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman (total compensation: $311,500, maximum bonus: $50,550)
5. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock (total compensation: $309,000, maximum bonus: $51,500)
6. Minnesota defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove (total compensation: $305,000, maximum bonus: $0)
7. Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee (total compensation: $282,100, maximum bonus: $0)
8. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson (total compensation: $277,100, maximum bonus: $0)
9. Ohio State assistant head coach/receivers coach Darrell Hazell (total compensation: $264,800, maximum bonus: $48,133)
10. Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe (total compensation: $260,524, maximum bonus: $0)
Nebraska's highest-paid assistants are offensive coordinator Shawn Watson ($380,000 salary, $130,833 maximum bonus) and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini ($375,000 salary, $129,375 maximum bonus).
Illinois' decision to spend big bucks for its new coordinators plays out here. It's interesting that for a defense-oriented league like the Big Ten, three of the four highest-paid assistants are offensive coordinators.
The Big Ten's biggest assistant coach bargain in 2010: Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell ($235,250), who led the team during coach Mark Dantonio's absence. All but one of Ohio State's assistants makes more than Treadwell.
Another major bargain is Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle ($129,792).
Your thoughts on the coaches' salaries?
- There are plenty of Big Ten nuggets in this week's Dash.
- Nebraska's move to the Big Ten comes with a hefty price tag.
- Michigan State players are motivated by ailing coach Mark Dantonio, Bob Wojnowski writes in The Detroit News. Actions will speak louder than emotions for the Spartans in the coming weeks, Michael Rosenberg writes in the Detroit Free Press. More disturbing details about the alleged computer theft ring that includes Spartans tight end Dion Sims from The Detroit News.
- Iowa running back Adam Robinson is now flying solo, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Norm Parker could be back for the Oct. 16 trip to Michigan, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Penn State coach Joe Paterno insists that Evan Royster isn't in the doghouse, Ben Watanabe writes in The Express-Times. Paterno still sent some messages to his troops with benchings, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
- Ohio State's depth on defense and special teams will be tested by the latest rash of injuries, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Here's your big Ohio State injury news: Brutus is probable for Saturday's game.
- Minnesota receiver Connor Cosgrove is home from the hospital, and Gopher D-coordinator Kevin Cosgrove talks about the last week, Marcus Fuller writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press. Safety Kim Royston likely will miss another game, Josh Katzenstein writes in the Minnesota Daily.
- Wisconsin will lean on its other linebackers after the season-ending loss of Chris Borland, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Better kick placement and defeating blocks are the keys to improving Wisconsin's kick coverage, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Michigan tells local vendors to stop selling products that directly reference Denard Robinson or other players, Kyle Swanson writes in The Michigan Daily.
- Here's what we've learned from Illinois' 2-1 start, Herb Gould writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Dan Persa for Heisman? The Northwestern quarterback's statistics put him among the nation's elite, ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers writes.
- Purdue's injuries have forced offensive coordinator Gary Nord to get creative, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
- Despite a 2-0 start, Indiana's run defense still has to get better, Pete DiPrimio writes in The (Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel.
Cosgrove, a freshman, is the son of Golden Gophers defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. According to the Star Tribune, he hadn't been feeling well lately and went in for tests, which revealed he has an acute form of leukemia.
He has started chemotherapy treatments immediately.
"Connor is a special young guy," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "He's got a hell of a battle in front of him, and we're going to help him get it done."
Cosgrove hasn't played for Minnesota after transferring from St. Cloud State. His father missed practice Tuesday but has returned to the team and will coach Saturday against No. 18 USC (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET).
"Kevin's going to spend time at the hospital with his son, but he'll continue with the preparation," Brewster said. "Kevin's trying to be strong for his family and his son, and he will be. But it's obviously a shock. We're going to help him through a tough situation."
Connor Cosgrove's diagnosis is the latest blow for Minnesota. The father of Gophers fullback Jon Hoese died last week after suffering a stroke. And we all know what happened last Saturday against South Dakota.
The program is reeling right now. I can't imagine what a Gophers win against USC would do to lift the spirits in that locker room.
But there are much more important things than football.
Keep Connor Cosgrove in your thoughts and prayers as he goes through his treatment.
If only the Gophers could be so lucky against the other team from the Mount Rushmore State.
South Dakota came into TCF Bank Stadium today and stunned Tim Brewster's team 41-38, wiping away any momentum generated from Minnesota's season-opening win at Sun Belt Conference favorite Middle Tennessee.
In the opener, Minnesota held the ball for nearly 46 minutes. Now we know why. The Gophers can't stop anyone.
A defense featuring 11 new starters had no answer for South Dakota and quarterback Dante Warren, who lit up Minnesota for 352 pass yards and three touchdowns and added 81 rushing yards and two scores. Minnesota signal caller Adam Weber did his best, tossing three touchdown passes, and Duane Bennett added 104 rush yards and two scores, but the Gophers aren't really built to win shootouts and shouldn't have been in one against the Coyotes. Kevin Cosgrove's defense simply must get better in a hurry.
Brewster entered the season on the hot seat. Now it's scorching. And USC is coming to town next week.
- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has grown up in the job, Michael Hunt writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Barry Alvarez always said a team needs five great players, and Wisconsin has the magic number this year, Andy Baggot writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Some very revealing stuff from Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez in this interview with the Detroit Free Press' Mitch Albom. Annarbor.com's Pete Bigelow looks into the crystal ball and sees what Rodriguez needs to turn things around at Michigan this fall. More on Rodriguez and the hot seat from Rivals.com's Tom Dienhart.
- Could Jim Tressel catch the great Woody Hayes in coaching wins at Ohio State? The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon breaks it down. According to Buckeyes receiver Taurian Washington, the team has added Florida State transfer Dionte Allen. If Ohio State wins a national title this fall, the 2008 recruiting class could be a big reason why, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Robert Bolden appears to be Penn State's best quarterback, and The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' David Jones asks when the freshman should see the field. The Nittany Lions play the Big Ten's toughest schedule this fall, Jared Shanker writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. Penn State's league schedules for 2011 and beyond have been wiped clean, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
- An in-depth look at Illinois' all-time football roster from The (Champaign) News-Gazette. New coordinator Paul Petrino is being called "the offensive Ron Zook" by Zook himself Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell is right at home in his hometown, Dustin Dopirak writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times (subscription required). Good guy Bill Lynch will take the Hoosiers bowling this season, Hugh Kellenberger writes in The Herald-Times.
- A great piece on the history of traveling trophies in the Big Ten from The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Scott Dochterman.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald refuses to eat at In-N-Out Burger until the Wildcats head back to the Rose Bowl, Teddy Greenstein writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Michigan State has the ingredients for a renaissance this fall, most importantly team unity, Lynn Henning writes in The Detroit News.
- An in-depth season preview for Iowa from the Iowa City Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi and defensive end Adrian Clayborn are two reasons why Iowa could be special this fall, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- The Detroit Free Press' Shannon Shelton examines the outlook for Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota this fall. Iowa tops the Big Ten in Terry Hutchens' league preview (The Indianapolis Star).
- Minnesota's coaching staff has gone through a lot of shuffling, but co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee provide stability, Marcus Fuller writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
- The Big Ten is poised for some very big changes in the coming weeks, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News.
- Purdue's strength once again will be through the air this fall, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
Hammock, the Golden Gophers' running backs coach since 2007, will share coordinator duties with Jeff Horton, hired last month from the Detroit Lions. Minnesota also has a co-coordinator situation with its defense as Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee both share the title.
"This promotion is a reward for the tireless work that Thomas has done as both a coach and a recruiter," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said in a statement. "He has done an outstanding job with our running backs and has been a huge asset to our staff. Thomas is one of the outstanding your coaches in America and I could not be more please to reward him with the title of co-offensive coordinator. He and Jeff [Horton] will do a great job coordinating our offense."
Hammock and Horton will look for better results from Minnesota's running game this fall. The Golden Gophers have ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons, and no back has truly emerged to take charge. Hammock has been one of Brewster's best recruiters, helping to land running backs Lamonte Edwards, Donnell Kirkwood and Devon Wright, among others, for the 2010 class.
Hightower came to Minnesota from the Houston Texans and will step down to pursue another coaching job. Brewster expects to find a replacement soon.
According to the Detroit Free Press, and several other reports, Minnesota has hired Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton to run its offense. Horton replaces Jedd Fisch, who left Minnesota after only one season to take a position on Pete Carroll's staff with the Seattle Seahawks. Fisch had come to Minnesota from the Denver Broncos.
I've yet to receive official confirmation on Horton's hiring from the university, which should make an announcement in the coming days.
Horton, who interviewed for Minnesota's vacancy last year, has spent the last four seasons in the NFL but previously coached quarterbacks at Wisconsin and had head-coaching stints at both Nevada, his alma mater, and UNLV.
While at Wisconsin, Horton worked with several current Minnesota assistants, including co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee and offensive line coach Tim Davis. He mentored quarterbacks such as Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi at Wisconsin and Matthew Stafford this season with the Lions.
An offensive makeover led to significant growing pains on that side of the ball. Quarterback Adam Weber, a third-year starter, struggled to find a rhythm in Jedd Fisch's pro-style system, especially after superstar wide receiver Eric Decker went down with a foot injury. More troubling was the fact that Minnesota ended up as one of the Big Ten's most penalized teams for the second consecutive season.
The Gophers' veteran presence showed up on defense, as the team boasted arguably the league's best group of linebackers with Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence. Two senior defensive tackles and standout cornerback Traye Simmons helped the defense hold several teams in check. Kevin Cosgrove's unit is the biggest reason why Minnesota will play in a bowl for the second consecutive season.
Decker's injury was a major blow for the Gophers, who played a challenging schedule and notched decent wins against Northwestern, Air Force and Michigan State. They also had good moments against both Cal and Wisconsin. But the offensive struggles really showed up in the second half of the season, as Minnesota endured two shutouts in Big Ten play and nearly a third at Ohio State. Head coach Tim Brewster's struggles in rivalry games continued, as Minnesota fell short against both Wisconsin and Iowa.
Offensive MVP: Eric Decker. It says something when the offensive MVP missed half of the season, but Decker was simply that good. He could have made a serious run for the Biletnikoff Award had he stayed healthy, and he still led Minnesota in receptions (50), receiving yards (758) and receiving touchdowns (5). Decker's brilliant performance against Cal still resonates with me, and the Big Ten coaches selected him first-team all-conference despite his injury.
Defensive MVP: Lee Campbell. Campbell really stepped up nicely as a senior, finishing third in the Big Ten with 112 tackles, including a league-high 65 solo stops. He stood out on special teams with two blocked kicks and was very effective in pass coverage with an interception and six passes defended. Honorable mentions go to both Triplett and Simmons.
Turning point: Decker's injury in a 38-7 loss to Ohio State on Oct. 24 really hurt the Gophers, though the offense already had started to struggle a bit. Minnesota briefly turned things around with a wild win on Halloween night against Michigan State, but came out flat the next week against a woeful Illinois team.
What's next: Minnesota's immediate destination is Tempe, Ariz., where it will play in the Insight Bowl for the second straight season and for the third time in the last four seasons. But where is Minnesota really headed as a program? If Brewster returns for 2010, he needs to develop heralded recruits into stars and get the offense moving. The Gophers need to show they're closer a Big Ten title than they were when they dismissed Glen Mason.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 4-3 (2-2 Big Ten)
It has been a bit of a mixed bag so far for Minnesota, which continues to search for consistency from its offense to complement an improved defense. There's certainly a new buzz around the program as football returned to campus and outdoors for the first time since 1981. The Gophers opened the year with hard-fought wins against Syracuse and Air Force and stayed close with Cal until the fourth quarter. Since then, there have been good performances against both Northwestern and Purdue, a missed opportunity against Wisconsin and an anemic offensive showing in a 20-0 loss at Penn State. The transition from the spread offense to a pro-style system has been a struggle, and Minnesota needs more production from the run game and quarterback Adam Weber down the stretch. The defense has made obvious strides under new coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee, and the Gophers boasts one of the Big Ten's best linebacking corps.
Offensive MVP, WR Eric Decker: It's not a stretch to suggest that Decker was the Gophers offense through the first few games. He made eight or more receptions in each of Minnesota's first five contests and continues to find openings even though opponents know exactly what's coming from the Gophers. There's not a tougher wide receiver in the country than Decker, who ranks 10th nationally in receiving yards (104.4 ypg).
Defensive MVP, LB Nate Triplett: This award could go to any of the Gophers' top three linebackers, but Triplett has truly emerged as a major playmaker. He ranks second on the team and third in the Big Ten in tackles (10 tpg) and has recorded two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and six passes defended. Honorable mentions go to fellow linebackers Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, and cornerback Traye Simmons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Eric Decker has accomplished just about everything in his Minnesota career.
He's already regarded as one of the greatest wide receivers in team history, setting the Gophers' career receptions record earlier this season (212). He twice has set the team's single-season receptions record and was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award last year. Considered the greatest No. 7 in team history, Decker's picture hangs in the team's home locker room, not far from where the senior dresses before games. He also starred for Minnesota's baseball team and was selected in each of the past two Major League Baseball drafts, most recently by his hometown Twins in June.
At times, Decker carries the Minnesota offense.
But he has never carried Paul Bunyan's Axe.
|AP Photo/Morry Gash|
|The Badgers are hoping to return to Madison Saturday with Paul Bunyan's Axe.|
"It would be amazing," he said. "That's one thing I told myself. Before I leave, I want to be able to carry that axe around. I've grown up in Minnesota. I understand what it means to have the axe. I've been around the game to see how exciting it is when we do finally get it.
Decker gets his final chance to hoist the axe Saturday as Wisconsin visits TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, noon ET). The Badgers have kept the enormous rivalry trophy since 2004, and last year they rallied to beat the Gophers in Madison as Decker watched from the sideline with an ankle injury.
Decker considers Wisconsin the Gophers' top rival, and the feeling is mutual from the Badgers, who try to preserve their perfect record in Minneapolis.
"I’ve seen what it means to the people of Wisconsin," Badgers junior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "It's a pride thing. We want to be able to have that axe for the next year."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State answered the bell and finally dominated a team, while the Big Ten's upper crust has separated itself. The top five look pretty solid, while the bottom six are a muddled mess.
1. Penn State (3-0) -- The exhibition season is over for Penn State, which looked better on offense and just as stingy against Temple. The Lions finally established a decent running game, and not a moment too soon with Iowa visiting Happy Valley this week. Linebacker Sean Lee has been fabulous in his return to the field, and Penn State's defense is setting the tone. But things are about to get much tougher.
2. Ohio State (2-1) -- I probably punished the Buckeyes a little too much last week, but I needed to see them deliver a convincing performance against an inferior opponent. Terrelle Pryor and the much-maligned offense clicked against Toledo, and the defensive line was merciless against Aaron Opelt and the Rockets. The Buckeyes defense has things rolling right now as Juice Williams returns to Columbus this week.
3. Michigan (3-0) -- This has more to do with Ohio State's overdue performance than anything Michigan did against Eastern Michigan. Wolverines freshman quarterback Tate Forcier looked his age at times Saturday, but Carlos Brown and the rushing attack picked him up nicely. A young Michigan defense still has some things to shore up against the run as it opens Big Ten play against Indiana.
4. Iowa (3-0) -- No Big Ten team has looked more impressive the last two weeks than the Hawkeyes, though national respect is still hard to come by. The good news? Iowa can gain a ton of cred by upsetting No. 5 Penn State on Saturday night in the Whiteout at Beaver Stadium. The defense must maintain its edge and quarterback Ricky Stanzi needs to limit his first-half mistakes in Happy Valley.
5. Wisconsin (3-0) -- The Badgers took care of business against FCS Wofford and continued to get steady play from junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. The schedule really favors Wisconsin this year, with four consecutive home games to begin the season, and Bret Bielema's team has capitalized. Michigan State will be a desperate team Saturday, but Wisconsin gets the Spartans and Camp Randall Stadium.
6. Minnesota (2-1) -- After a rough start, Minnesota rallied against Cal and made the nation's eighth-ranked team work for a victory at TCF Bank Stadium. Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee have the defense playing extremely hard, especially in the front seven. Eric Decker is a stud, but the offense remains far too one-dimensional. The Gophers will struggle in the Big Ten if they can't run the ball.
7. Indiana (3-0) -- Surprised to see the Hoosiers here? Well, they deserve it after their second 3-0 start in the last three seasons. Akron clearly missed suspended quarterback Chris Jacquemain, but Indiana took advantage of the situation and intercepted backup Matt Rodgers four times. The competition gets much harder this week at Michigan, but kudos to Bill Lynch and Indiana for the hot start.
T-8. Northwestern (2-1) -- The Wildcats resume looks pretty weak right now, with a blowout win against Towson and a close call against Eastern Michigan followed by a loss at Syracuse. A banged-up defense let Greg Paulus and Mike Williams pile up yards and points Saturday, leading some to believe that last year's improvement was a fluke. Quarterback Mike Kafka's play was very encouraging, but if the defense reverts to pre-2008 form, Northwestern will struggle in the Big Ten.
T-8. Michigan State (1-2) -- Credit the Spartans for playing extremely hard in South Bend, but they still came out with a tough loss. Listening to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who handled a difficult situation well, you'd think these Spartans won't go the way of their predecessors. A trip to Madison this week has to be classified as a must win before arch-rival Michigan visits East Lansing on Oct. 3.
10. Illinois (1-1) -- The Illini didn't play on Saturday, but they lost a huge piece of their defense last week as middle linebacker Martez Wilson (neck) will miss the rest of the season. Wilson will be missed, and linebackers Ian Thomas and Russell Ellington must pick up the slack. The biggest boost must come from Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn and the offense. Illinois season could be decided in the next three games (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State).
11. Purdue (1-2) -- A home loss to Northern Illinois carries a price, even though the Huskies are an improved team. NIU loaded up against the run and held Ralph Bolden in check, and Purdue couldn't get its downfield passing game going. It's hard to know what to make of Purdue, which should have beaten Oregon on the road but really struggled against NIU. The Boilers can strike back this Saturday night against Notre Dame (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan has made things a lot more interesting in the Big Ten, while the league's midsection remains as muddled as ever.
Just as a reminder, these rankings are fluid. Wins are rewarded. Losses carry a price.
1. Penn State (2-0) -- It's safe to say the Nittany Lions are the league's best team right now, but the mood isn't totally comfortable in Happy Valley. Penn State wants to see more from its run game and offensive line to take some pressure off of senior quarterback Daryll Clark.
2. Michigan (2-0) -- Too high a placement for Rich Rodriguez's crew? Name another Big Ten team that has looked impressive in back-to-back weeks. Michigan still has some concerns (youth, depth), but it looks completely different on offense and continues to get big performances from young players like quarterback Tate Forcier.
3. Ohio State (1-1) -- The Buckeyes would have been No. 1 had they held off USC, but another close loss raises questions about Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and the offense. Cameron Heyward and the defense played masterfully, but does Tressel-ball still work in this era of college football, or does Ohio State need to evolve?
4. Iowa (2-0) -- Iowa State isn't very good, but a 32-point road win in a rivalry game speaks for itself. Tyler Sash led an opportunistic Iowa defense with three interceptions, and the Hawkeyes established a run game with freshmen Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson. After some tough luck on the health front, Iowa is back on track heading into a big stretch against Arizona and Penn State.
5. Minnesota (2-0) -- The Gophers have a road win against an improved Syracuse team and a hard-fought home victory against always-tough Air Force. Their lack of explosiveness on offense is still a concern, but the defense has taken a step forward under Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee. A huge opportunity arrives Saturday as Cal visits TCF Bank Stadium.
T-6 Northwestern (2-0) -- The Wildcats drop two spots after letting their guard down in the second half against Eastern Michigan and nearly falling to the Eagles. Star defensive end Corey Wootton hasn't shown up so far, and Northwestern's overall defensive line play has been uninspiring. Things get tougher next week against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
T-6 Wisconsin (2-0) -- It's hard to know what to make of the Badgers at this point, but they're finding a way to win despite some flaws. Scott Tolzien clearly was the right choice at quarterback, and running back John Clay came up big against Fresno State. The defense is a major concern, especially on third downs, but Wisconsin has done a nice job of surviving against decent teams.
8. Michigan State (1-1) -- Mark Dantonio often brings up Michigan State's struggles under high expectations, and Saturday's loss to Central Michigan certainly looked a lot like other Spartans' collapses. A lack of discipline showed up often, especially on special teams, but perhaps more damaging were the struggles of a deep and experienced secondary. Next week's game at Notre Dame will be huge.
9. Illinois (1-1) -- The Illini took care of business against Illinois State, pulling away to an easy win despite losing quarterback Juice Williams (bruised quadriceps) early. It wasn't a spotless performance, but running back Jason Ford made a difference in his return. Illinois can climb the rankings in the coming weeks with games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State -- or it can tumble to the bottom.
10. Purdue (1-1) -- Danny Hope's team would have made a big jump had it won at Oregon, but giveaways and other mistakes doomed the Boilers in Eugene. This team is better than many of us expected, and Ralph Bolden looks like a star at running back, but it can't win games with so many miscues. Purdue must bounce back against Northern Illinois before Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium.
11. Indiana (2-0) -- Improved defense has paid off early on for the Hoosiers, and the team sparked its rushing attack against Western Michigan behind Demetrius McCray. I'm not totally sold on IU, but there are certainly some encouraging signs for Bill Lynch's crew. This week's trip to Akron is huge before opening Big Ten play with Michigan and Ohio State.
Let the games begin. Here are 10 things to watch as Big Ten football kicks off in 2009.
1. Michigan's response -- Head coach Rich Rodriguez and the program have been in the cross-hairs all week, but Michigan can ease some of the pressure by beating Western Michigan and showing tangible improvement. Team chemistry is a question mark after current players spoke publicly about possible NCAA rule violations involving time limits, but the Wolverines need a united effort Saturday. Michigan simply isn't good enough to win if the team is splintered.
2. Juice vs. Weatherspoon -- Missouri star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon targeted Illinois quarterback Juice Williams in some Twitter trash talk last month. Williams gets a chance to answer in the Edward Jones Dome, where he set a total offense record (461 yards) last year against Mizzou. This is a pivotal game for Williams and the Illini, who have the more experienced team and need to get over the hump against the Tigers.
3. Defending Paulus -- Minnesota co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee face an unusual scouting challenge against Syracuse, as they prepare their players for a quarterback who spent the last four years shooting baskets on Tobacco Road. Greg Paulus plays a meaningful football game for the first time in four years, and it's up to cornerback Traye Simmons and the Gophers to make sure he doesn't find a rhythm.
4. New Hope at Purdue -- The Danny Hope era begins as Purdue opens the season against Toledo. Outside expectations are low for the Boilermakers, but Hope has brought plenty of energy and a faster pace to just about everything in the program. The Big Ten's mystery team will use plenty of freshmen and other newcomers right away, while heady quarterback Joey Elliott finally gets a chance to be the starter.
5. Paterno back where he belongs -- You can probably switch off the Penn State-Akron game shortly after the opening kickoff, but it's worth tuning in to see Joe Paterno run on the field for his 44th season as Nittany Lions head coach. Paterno hasn't coached from the sidelines since Sept. 27, but he'll be back as Penn State begins its Big Ten title defense at Beaver Stadium.
6. Captain Kirk at the controls -- Michigan State's quarterback competition isn't over, but sophomore Kirk Cousins gets the first shot in the opener against Montana State. Named just the second sophomore captain in team history last week, Cousins has the intangibles and the polished passing skills to be a star in this league. But he needs a strong debut Saturday since Keith Nichol isn't far behind.
7. A surprise backfield in Madison -- Few would have pegged quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back Zach Brown to be Wisconsin's opening-day starters when preseason camp began, but both players earned the top jobs over more heralded competitors. Tolzien must continue his steady play at a position where Wisconsin simply can't afford mistakes, and Brown looks to build on an excellent preseason as he'll likely share carries with John Clay.
8. Terrelle, Take 2 -- Ohio State should have little trouble with Navy, but it needs to see tangible signs of progress from quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The gifted sophomore spent the offseason improving his footwork and passing mechanics to become a more complete quarterback. This is Pryor's team now, and he needs a strong opening statement before facing USC in Week 2.
9. Locked and loaded in Bloomington -- Indiana's pistol formation makes its debut Thursday night against Eastern Kentucky, as the Hoosiers try to jumpstart a downhill rushing attack. Without Kellen Lewis on the field, the Hoosiers need a reliable run game and will look to an improved offensive line and a deep group of running backs led by Demetrius McCray and Darius Willis.
10. New backs on the block -- Iowa and Northwestern are among several Big Ten teams starting unproven running backs. The Hawkeyes likely won't find another Shonn Greene this fall, but they need decent production from former walk-on Paki O'Meara and redshirt freshman Adam Robinson to ease concerns after Jewel Hampton's season-ending injury. Northwestern will start junior Stephen Simmons at running back, but true freshman Arby Fields generated plenty of buzz in camp and should get plenty of work against Towson.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove doesn't need a refresher course on Greg Paulus.
Cosgrove held the same position at Nebraska five years ago when the Cornhuskers, like most major BCS football programs, tried to recruit Paulus out of Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, N.Y. Video of Paulus throwing to wide receiver Lavar Lobdell remains fresh in Cosgrove's mind.
That's a good thing, since Cosgrove will get a live look at both Paulus and Lobdell on Sept. 5 when Minnesota opens the season at Syracuse. After a four-year run with the Duke basketball team, Paulus returned to football and this week was named Syracuse's starting quarterback for the opener.
"He was a heck of a player back then," Cosgrove said. "I expected him to definitely come in and compete. It doesn't surprise me that he's been named the starter. He's a very good athlete. To be a point guard at Duke, you have to be athletic, you have to be a leader.
"I know he must have those abilities, and he could throw the ball very well in high school."
Paulus' long absence from football creates a unique preparation situation for his first opponent. Few quarterbacks have such long gaps between meaningful competition, and it's hard to know which player will show up in the Carrier Dome
The Gophers defense hasn't started to scout Syracuse just yet, but Cosgrove knows his players need to be ready for just about anything.
"He has the abilities to run different types of offenses," Cosgrove said. "He can be a drop-back passer, he can be the zone-read quarterback. So you have to prepare for those things so you're ready."