Big Ten: Kevin Whaley
Now Minnesota appears to be the Big Ten team struggling to keep its players out of the blotter.
Gophers junior linebacker Gary Tinlsey faces two felony charges and three misdemeanors following his arrest early Sunday. According to Minneapolis police, Tinsley, 20, and another person were driving mopeds in the wrong direction down a one-way street when an officer ordered them to stop. Both kept driving and one of them, later identified as Tinsley, fled on foot before being caught by University of Minnesota police.
Tinsley, a projected starter at linebacker, faces felony charges of fleeing police in a vehicle and on foot, as well as misdemeanor charges of driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and traffic law enforcement. He remained in Hennepin County jail as of Monday night. No disciplinary action has been announced yet, but Minnesota officials, including athletics director Joel Maturi, are gathering more information about Tinsley's case.
"We're disappointed," Maturi told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press. "We're frustrated. I believe we'll handle it appropriately. Once we know all the facts, we'll make a decision on how to respond."Tinsley also was cited for underage drinking and fleeing police following an alleged fight in late September, though he wasn't suspended from the team.
Minnesota has endured several other player arrests in the last four months. Starting safety Kyle Theret was indefinitely suspended last month after being cited for driving while impaired. Linebacker Sam Maresh, a candidate for a starting position whose comeback from a heart ailment attracted national attention, twice has been cited for underage drinking in recent weeks.
Two other Minnesota players, running back Kevin Whaley and offensive lineman Ryan Wynn, were arrested during the team's trip to the Insight Bowl in Arizona. Whaley, who came to Minnesota with a checkered past, left the team following a suspension, while Wynn is practicing this spring. Cornerback Michael Carter was arrested in November but didn't face a suspension.
The incidents are adding up, which isn't a good sign heading into a pivotal year for this program and its coaching staff.
Head coach Tim Brewster started his Minnesota tenure by making a strong statement on conduct when he dismissed four players allegedly involved in a rape of an 18-year-old woman, including star cornerback Dominic Jones.
"We spend a considerable amount of time addressing our players regarding their personal conduct and we will not compromise our values," Brewster said in a statement at the time. "We are establishing a culture of integrity and we will demand that our players are held accountable for their actions."
Sounds like it's time for this message to be relayed to Minnesota players once again.
Here's a look:
Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.
Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.
Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.
Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.
Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.
Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.
Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.
Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.
Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.
Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.
Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.
Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.
Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.
Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.
Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.
Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.
Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.
Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.
Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.
Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.
Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.
Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.
Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.
Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.
Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.
Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.
Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.
Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
Salamon was cited for underage drinking Jan. 8 along with his former high school teammate and current Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. The 20-year-old Floyd told police that he had been involved in a fight near the Minnesota campus and had been drinking. Salamon, 19, also admitted he had been drinking.
A team spokesman told the Star Tribune that head coach Tim Brewster is aware of the situation and will deal with it internally. Two other Gophers players, offensive lineman Ryan Wynn and running back Kevin Whaley, were involved in incidents in Arizona following the team's appearance in the Insight Bowl. Whaley since has been granted his release from the team.
"Obviously, we're bothered by it,'' Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune. "I think any issue is an issue we're concerned about, but when you have multiple issues, you're more concerned. .... Obviously, we're not successful getting our message across [to Minnesota athletes]."Salamon started two games at running back in 2008 but wasn't in the mix there this fall. The team auditioned him at defensive back during bowl practices, and Salamon recorded six tackles on special teams.
Whaley asked for his release from the team, which obliged on Wednesday. Minnesota said in a news release that Whaley had been indefinitely suspended for violating team rules following the team's loss to Iowa State in the Insight Bowl.
Whaley was arrested and charged with assault following an incident at a Scottsdale, Ariz., nightclub early on New Year's Day. Scottsdale police said Whaley attacked two security guards at the club while being escorted out after disturbing female patrons. Whaley, 21, was released after being charged.
The New Year's incident wasn't Whaley's first brush with trouble at a nightclub. He sat out his first year at Minnesota after being shot in the leg outside a nightclub in Virginia. He also was arrested for assault outside a Minneapolis nightclub in 2008.
Athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune that head football coach Tim Brewster addressed conduct with his players following the Insight Bowl, though both Whaley and offensive lineman Ryan Wynn were arrested.
"Coach Brewster did an unbelievable job of thanking the seniors, of making sure MarQueis [Gray] didn't feel the responsibility for losing the game," Maturi told the newspaper. "Then he spent several minutes talking about acting properly. He said, 'Don't go out and do anything stupid tonight. You are representing yourself and our institution.' Obviously a couple of people didn't listen."
Whaley had 88 carries for 367 yards and two touchdowns this fall. Some considered him the frontrunner to win the starting job this spring, but Minnesota now will turn to Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and several incoming recruits to carry the load at running back.
But we don't know who will be the Golden Gophers' starting quarterback next fall. We don't know who will emerge as the top ball carrier or the playmaking receiver. We don't know who will replace three outstanding linebackers, two solid defensive tackles and a top-level cornerback in Traye Simmons.
Every bowl-bound team hopes to use the extra game to get an idea of what to expect the following season. For Minnesota, today's game takes on added meaning before a pivotal 2010 campaign. Expectations will be higher then, and the pressure will be turned up on Brewster to produce better results.
"Every coach would love to be able to win the last game of the season because it springboards you," Brewster said. "It springboards you forward with positive momentum, positive energy. Not that a loss is going to determine your season the following season. I just think a last-game win certainly helps, particularly from a mental point of view, going into the offseason."
Though Minnesota loses more on defense, the offense will be the big question mark in the spring.
Quarterback Adam Weber is completing his third season as the starter, but he'll need to beat out talented backup MarQueis Gray and third-stringer Moses Alipate this spring to keep his job. Running backs Duane Bennett, Kevin Whaley and DeLeon Eskridge all return, but one of them needs to distinguish himself this spring, something that didn't happen during the season. The Gophers are also searching for the next Eric Decker at receiver and will be looking to players like Troy Stoudermire, Brandon Green and Da'Jon McKnight to step up.
The offense has been a unit of extremes, from the highs against Michigan State and Northwestern to the lows against Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State.
"The level of consistency has got to improve," Brewster said. "That's been our mindset in our preparation for the bowl game. 'Let's make good decisions with the ball, not turn the ball over, be able to run the football and take advantage of some strengths down the field.'
"I expect us to play well offensively, based on the practices we've had."
In case you missed it: Minnesota's best case-worst case.
Best-case synopsis: The Golden Gophers recapture their dominant rushing attack, while the defense continues to force takeaways at a high rate. ... Minnesota surges to a 6-0 start that includes a dramatic victory against Cal. ... The Gophers win both of their trophy games, against Wisconsin and Iowa. ... They advance to the Outback Bowl and beat Georgia for their first New Year's Day bowl win since 1962. ... Wide receiver Eric Decker wins the Biletnikoff Award.
Worst-case synopsis: The scheme changes on offense slow production and the run game stalls. ... The defense can't stop the run or generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. ... Minnesota stumbles to a 1-4 start as the heat begins to rise on third-year head coach Tim Brewster. ... The team goes 4-8 and misses a bowl for the second time in three seasons and recruiting begins to suffer. ... Brewster shuffles his coaching staff yet again.
You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Despite returning more experience than any Big Ten team, Minnesota struggles with the scheme changes." ... "Despite the emotions of the stadium opener and a tricky opponent (Air Force), Minnesota keeps its composure and improves to 2-0." ... "Wisconsin retains [Paul Bunyan's] axe as [John] Clay and Zach Brown combine for 310 rush yards." ... "[The Gophers] end the season on a down note against Iowa, which posts another shutout against its archrival." ... "Athletic director Joel Maturi decides to give Brewster one more year, but it's clear that a winning record must be posted. The team's recruiting takes a step back." ... "Minnesota splits against Michigan State and Illinois."
Lies, lies, lies: "Junior quarterback Adam Weber stays healthy, limits interceptions and operates the new scheme flawlessly with help from backup MarQueis Gray." ... "The Gophers then head to Iowa City and avenge a 55-0 loss as Decker has a big day at Kinnick Stadium. The loss drops Iowa to 6-6." ... "Decker wins the Biletnikoff Award, cornerback Traye Simmons is a finalist for the Thorpe Award and head coach Tim Brewster receives a lengthy contract extension." ... "Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best leads Cal into the Twin Cities on Sept. 19, but Minnesota running backs Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and Kevin Whaley end up stealing the show, piling up 285 rush yards against the Bears." ... "Northwestern hands Minnesota another brutal loss, this time by blocking a 25-yard field goal attempt as time expires to prevail, 24-23."
Reality check: Minnesota won two more games than the worst-case scenario, and at 6-6 will return to the Insight Bowl. But the changes on offense seemed to decrease production, and Weber saw his interceptions total soar and his completion percentage drop. Gray didn't play as much as some envisioned. An injury to Decker on Oct. 24 at Ohio State really hurt the offense, which finished last in the Big Ten in scoring (21.6 ppg). The Gophers' defense was a bright spot, especially at linebacker with Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence. Minnesota secured some pretty decent wins, but Brewster's drought in trophy games continued as Iowa shut out the Gophers for the second straight year.
Here are my quick thoughts at halftime around the league.
Indiana 10, Penn State 10: This has been the story of Indiana's season. The Hoosiers once again came out hot on the road and took a 10-0 lead against a disinterested Penn State team. Quarterback Ben Chappell was cookin' and all seemed right for IU. Penn State committed four first-half turnovers as quarterback Daryll Clark struggled. But things went sour for the Hoosiers late in the half, as a missed field goal led to a long Penn State touchdown drive. The Lions can't possibly play worse in the second half, so you'd have to think Penn State wins.
Purdue 20, Michigan State 17: I'm continually impressed with the way Danny Hope's team has performed in Big Ten play. After fumbling on the first play of the game, Boilers quarterback Joey Elliott has dissected Michigan State's overrated secondary for 180 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore running back Ralph Bolden looks very good so far, and Purdue should be up more in this one. Two big plays on either side of the ball have led to Michigan State's two touchdowns, but quarterback Kirk Cousins needs a strong second half, especially with the run game struggling.
Wisconsin 21, Michigan 17: A very interesting game so far at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, tight end Garrett Graham and wideout Nick Toon are taking advantage of a vulnerable Michigan secondary, hooking up for two scores. It has been an odd half for Michigan's defense, which has scored a touchdown and set up a field goal with an interception in Badgers territory. Wolverines quarterback Tate Forcier, rumored to have lost his starting job, has been spectacular so far (15-for-18 passing, TD), while Vincent Smith has been a difference maker at running back. I'm not sure Wisconsin's John Clay got in the end zone for the go-ahead score, but this one could come down to the wire.
Northwestern 7, Illinois 3: Both defenses look good so far, but it has been a very sloppy game in Champaign. Northwestern has been hurt by dropped passes, sacks, penalties and two missed field goals, while Illinois quarterback Jacob Charest looks shaky in his first career start. NU's Mike Kafka has passed the ball well despite getting little help from his wideouts, and he made a great throw to Zeke Markshausen for the go-ahead score late in the half. Illinois' running back Mikel LeShoure is having another big day, but the Illini need to find a way to get in the end zone.
Minnesota 13, South Dakota State 10: Adam Weber's strange season continues as the Minnesota junior quarterback threw a pick-six in the second quarter. Minnesota's defense responded with a touchdown of its own, as Michael Carter forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone. South Dakota State's offense doesn't appear too powerful, so Weber just need to limit mistakes after halftime. Kevin Whaley is running the ball decently for the Gophers, who should use backup quarterback MarQueis Gray more often.
In a conference starved for offensive stars, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker shined the brightest during the first part of the season.
He caught 43 passes for 639 yards in his first five games and drew some well-deserved national attention after a gutsy performance in Minnesota's loss to Cal on Sept. 19. For a Gophers offense going through a lot of transition this year, Decker was the one constant.
|Jack Rendulich/Icon SMI|
|Minnesota's Eric Decker will miss the rest of the regular season with a strained left foot.|
And now he'll be sidelined for the rest of the regular season with a strained left foot that may require surgery. Decker, who missed time late last season with a high ankle sprain, sustained the injury during Saturday's loss to No. 17 Ohio State.
You can't sugarcoat the significance of this loss for the Gophers.
Minnesota's offense ranks last in the Big Ten in both total yards (292.8 ypg) and rushing yards (105.9 ypg) and 10th in scoring (21.1 ppg). The Gophers' new pro-style system hasn't clicked consistently, as the offensive line is struggling and junior quarterback Adam Weber seems to be regressing.
Decker deserves to finish his spectacular college career in a bowl game. But will he get the chance?
Minnesota needs to win at least two of its final four games to reach the postseason. The Gophers begin a three-game homestand Saturday night against Michigan State (Big Ten Network, 8 p.m. ET) before hosting Illinois and South Dakota State. Though they should be favored in the latter two contests, they need to find some offense in a hurry.
The offensive line needs to protect Weber better, and wide receivers like Troy Stoudermire and Brandon Green have to step up. Tight end Nick Tow-Arnett has done his part, but Decker had 32 more receptions than any other Gophers wideout despite a drop in production the last three games.
An inconsistent run game also needs to improve, which won't be easy against Michigan State. Running backs Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and Kevin Whaley all have had their moments, but Minnesota lacks a bell cow in the backfield.
The Gophers are sticking with Weber as the starting quarterback, but they can't forget about talented freshman MarQueis Gray.
Decker could have pursued a pro baseball career after being drafted in June by the hometown Twins, but he returned to serve as a co-captain and set more records. He owns team records for career receptions, career receiving yardage, career 100-yard receiving games, single-season receptions and consecutive 100-yard games.
"It’s cumulative right now, all 11 guys on offense have to step up," head coach Tim Brewster said. "I really think he’s the most complete wide receiver in college football today. You don’t just replace that guy too easily. We’ll be fine. It’s kind of our mindset. Next man up. Our guys are going to respond well."
We'll find out on Saturday night.
Bring your rain gear to the games Saturday.
Joel from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, in your best case scenario for OSU, if the Buckeyes win out, doesn't that assure themselves a spot in the Rose Bowl? They don't need Iowa to lose if they win out, because they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.Just like Penn State getting the Rose Bowl nod last year.
Adam Rittenberg: Yes, that would be correct because Michigan State would have a worse overall record (9-3) than Ohio State (10-2) because of the two nonleague losses. As long as Ohio State doesn't fall to New Mexico State -- highly unlikely -- the Buckeyes would go to the Rose Bowl.
Brad from Philadelphia writes: What if PSU wins out, OSU wins out, and Iowa only loses to OSU. That would make all three 7-1 and each team beat one of the other 2 teams?The head-to-head would be a tie so does it go to overall record? If so, is OSU eliminated because of the loss to USC? But PSU and Iowa are still tied. Then what? BCS standings?
Adam Rittenberg: If I'm reading the Big Ten tiebreaker procedures correctly, Iowa would go to the Rose Bowl in this situation. Item 5c reads: "If three teams are still tied, and one of the three teams is eliminated through the percentage basis of all games played, the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure." So with Ohio State out of the running because of the overall record, Penn State and Iowa would go to the regular tiebreaker and the Hawkeyes hold the head-to-head victory, so they would go to Pasadena.
Teddy from Decatur, Ill., writes: Adam, what do you think the chances of Illinois snagging Brian Kelly the coach from Cincinnati are? I mean Ron Guenther (the Illini AD) can get a good look at him when he comes to us on the 3rd of December. I know Guenther is usually loyal to his coaches but c'mon, this is pathetic.
Adam Rittenberg: A couple of things, Teddy. It's still a bit premature to say Zook will be finished at Illinois. The school still owes him a lot of money, and perhaps more importantly, the school isn't in great shape to make a coaching change. Illinois' chancellor resigned earlier this week in the wake of a major admissions scandal that also forced the resignation of the university president and six trustees. So the leadership of the university is very much in flux, which could hinder a major coaching change. As to Brian Kelly, I highly doubt he's going to Illinois. Simply put, Kelly can hold out for a much better job, and he's got a pretty good one right now.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Remaining schedule: at Ohio State, vs. Michigan State, vs. Illinois, vs. South Dakota State, at Iowa
There should be a strong sense of urgency for Tim Brewster's squad in the second half. Minnesota is the Big Ten's most experienced team, and the Gophers will lose their best offensive player (wide receiver Eric Decker) and their terrific linebacking corps (Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence) after the season. So it's critical that the Gophers get back to the postseason and finish stronger than they did last year, when they dropped their final six games. The defense has made obvious progress, and all three linebackers rank among the league's top 15 tacklers. Minnesota must do a much better job of getting off the field as it ranks last in the Big Ten in third-down defense (50.9 percent). But the offense is certainly the top priority as the Gophers try to establish some consistency from their running backs as well as quarterback Adam Weber. The system is no longer new, and Minnesota needs its offensive line to step up and create room for Kevin Whaley, DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett. The Gophers also need to take care of business at home, given their tough road slate.
Best-case scenario: The offense starts to click, holes open in the running game and Weber recaptures the form he showed at times the past two seasons. Minnesota sweeps its three home games and manages to pull a big road upset to finish 8-4 and reach a warm-weather bowl game in Texas or Florida.
Worst-case scenario: Weber continues to struggle and the run game never gets going as opposing defenses do everything they can to take Decker out of the equation. The defense doesn't improve on third down and begins to get tired down the stretch. Minnesota drops its final four Big Ten games and misses the postseason at 5-7.
Prediction: Bowl game. Minnesota finishes 6-6 or 7-5.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Happy hump day.
- Costly interceptions were a problem throughout the Big Ten last week, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- As I reported earlier this week, the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl and the Big Ten will reach an agreement for the league's eighth bowl tie-in, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State downplays its offensive struggles but could be expanding the playbook, Ken Gordon and Tim May write in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Michigan State might not have quarterback Keith Nichol available Saturday against Northwestern, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News. The Spartans are better prepared for Northwestern's spread offense this time around, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Penn State linebacker Sean Lee expects to return to the field Saturday, but JoePa isn't so sure, Joe Juliano writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Wisconsin's performance against Iowa will largely determine the Badgers' season, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Kirk Ferentz doesn't dole out praise too often, but he likes what he's seen from Iowa's young running backs, Andrew Logue writes in the Des Moines Register.
- Minnesota running back Kevin Whaley is lucky to be alive, and he's making the most of his opportunity. Has Minnesota become the real Linebacker U this season?
- A week off might be the best remedy for Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier, annarbor.com's Dave Birkett writes.
- Purdue tries to snap its long losing streak against ranked opponents Saturday, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Still no word on who will start at quarterback for Illinois this week, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Balance is a buzzword offensive coordinators trumpet every week, but Minnesota's Jedd Fisch takes a different approach.
Fisch will worry about balance at the end of the season. Right now, he's worried about Penn State and whatever it takes to beat the Nittany Lions.
"We've got to take the approach that the best teams I've ever been a part of took," Fisch said, "and that's however you can win, you win. We did that in Baltimore [with the Ravens] many times. We did it in Denver [with the Broncos]. We've outscored opponents and then we've beat 'em 10-7. Whatever it takes to win the game, that's what we'll do."
Minnesota has taken a variety of approaches in Fisch's first season as it transitions to a pro-style offense. When the running game stalled early on, the Gophers kept throwing the ball to superstar wide receiver Eric Decker, who carried the offense at times.
The Gophers opened Big Ten play with a balanced effort against Northwestern (186 pass yards, 166 rush yards). The run game stalled the next week against Wisconsin, so Adam Weber took to the air. Last week against Purdue, Weber attempted only nine passes as Minnesota racked up 207 rush yards in a win.
It's been a process for a unit still in transition. Minnesota ranks last in the league in total offense (319.7 yards per game) and rushing offense (114.5 ypg) but owns a 4-2 record, 2-1 in Big Ten play.
"We've shown that we can run the ball, and we've shown that we can throw the ball," Fisch said. "The games have dictated what we've chosen to do."
Few games likely will dictate only 10 total pass attempts, but the Purdue contest allowed Minnesota to develop its run game, the focal point behind the switch from the spread offense. Head coach Tim Brewster wants to make Minnesota a running back haven again, and the team this season lives by the motto, "Pound the Rock."
Three running backs combined for 176 rush yards on 29 carries. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley provided a big spark off the bench with 79 rush yards and a touchdown on only eight carries.
Quarterback Adam Weber, who has struggled with his passing at times this season, also got into the mix as a runner with nine carries and a 2-yard scoring run. Weber led the team in rushing as a freshman in 2007 but hasn't had a huge running role since then.
"It was just what the tape showed us during the week," Fisch said. "And a couple of them were off of run-pass options where the look just presented itself to take off and get eight yards and get us to second-and-2."
Penn State's doesn't allow much of anything , ranking sixth nationally in scoring (10.2 ppg) and eighth in yards allowed (255.7 ypg). The odds are Minnesota will throw much more, but you never know.
"We'll certainly have to throw the ball a little bit more this week against Penn State," Brewster said. "But we're also going to have to continue to run the ball and have efficiency running the ball. Running the football is a trait that all good teams have. It's one in which our guys are really starting to build."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Kudos and criticism from last week's Big Ten games.
Note: most of the thumbs up go to players or units I haven't already recognized (helmet stickers, players of the week, etc.)
Thumbs up, Jared Odrick and Navorro Bowman -- Sure, it came against Eastern Illinois, but Odrick finally turned in a dominant performance. The Lions defensive tackle recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks, and broke up a pass in Penn State's 52-3 win. Bowman has been brilliant since his return from a groin injury and had two tackles for loss and a 91-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Thumbs down, Indiana's defensive line -- Facing a Virginia team that ranked 119th nationally in sacks allowed, Indiana failed to capitalize on a favorable matchup. The Hoosiers recorded only two sacks and allowed 47 points and 536 total yards in an embarrassing loss.
Thumbs up, Kevin Whaley -- Minnesota fans had been clamoring to see more of the redshirt freshman running back, and they got their wish against Purdue. Whaley sparked the run game with 79 rush yards and a touchdown on only eight carries (9.9 ypc).
Thumbs down, Michigan's linebackers and safeties -- A tight end should never get as open as Iowa's Tony Moeaki did on Saturday night, much less twice. Michigan failed to mark Moeaki and paid the price as he hauled in easy touchdown passes of 34 and 42 yards.
Thumbs up, Ross Homan -- One of several standout defenders for Ohio State against Wisconsin, Homan recorded a career-high 15 tackles, including two sacks, and had a forced fumble and a pass breakup. He surpassed his previous career high in tackles by five as Ohio State bent but didn't break.
Thumbs down, Illinois' coaching staff -- To fall behind 14-0 on your home field in a must-win game indicates a breakdown in preparation. To not score a first-half touchdown in four games against BCS opponents is the biggest indictment of this staff. Sure, the players deserve some blame as well, but talent is being wasted every time this team steps on the field.
Thumbs up, Jeremiha Hunter -- Hunter entered the season with less hype than fellow linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, but he has been the group's top playmaker. He recorded 12 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery against Michigan. Remember that Hunter recorded the all-important second field goal block in the opener against Northern Iowa.
Thumbs down, Northwestern's offensive line -- The Wildcats desperately wanted to spark their rushing attack against one of the nation's worst teams but failed. Despite 41 rushing attempts and numerous personnel groupings, the Wildcats couldn't break through against Miami (Ohio). A veteran-laden group should be performing much better.
Thumbs up, Sherrick McManis -- McManis is the biggest difference maker on Northwestern's defense, which has boosted its play the last two weeks. McManis recorded an interception, a forced fumble and two pass breakups against Miami (Ohio). I'm convinced if he had been healthy against Syracuse, NU would have won the game.
Thumbs down, Purdue's special teams -- For the second straight week, the third phase really let down the Boilers, who had a field-goal attempt blocked and returned to the end zone. Given that Purdue actually has a special teams coordinator in J.B. Gibboney, the Boilers should be performing much better in this area.
And one more ...
Thumbs up, Pat Narduzzi -- The Michigan State defensive coordinator has turned things around nicely the last two weeks. Michigan State recorded six sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown against Illinois. Aside from the final five minutes of regulation against Michigan, the defense has been superb since the Wisconsin game.
The top four spots remain unchanged after a week that featured no upsets in conference play. There's somewhat of a drop-off after No. 4, and there's not much separation between Nos. 5-8. No one should question the three teams at the bottom.
1. Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) -- The Buckeyes won a weird game against Wisconsin, proving that big plays can overcome very inconsistent offense. I don't see a more complete unit in the league than Ohio State's defense, and with the offenses struggling around the Big Ten, it's tough to see any team scoring many points against the Scarlet and Gray. Ohio State will need Terrelle Pryor to win a conference game or two at some point, but the Buckeyes remain the team to beat.
2. Iowa (6-0, 2-0) -- Some were surprised that Iowa didn't beat Michigan by more, but the Hawkeyes once again showed their resiliency by rallying from an early deficit and making big plays down the stretch. Defense and special teams have carried Iowa this season, and those units need to be sharp for upcoming road games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.
3. Penn State (5-1, 1-1) -- A pathetic nonconference slate is finally complete, and we'll finally learn more about Penn State in the coming weeks. Quarterback Daryll Clark has turned in back-to-back strong performances, and the defense is getting production from its standout players (Navorro Bowman, Jared Odrick). Penn State now must elevate its play another level against better competition.
4. Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) -- Sure, the Badgers lost by 18 points at Ohio Stadium, but they showed why their 5-0 start wasn't a fluke. If Wisconsin can clean up the major mistakes, it should go on to a strong season. The Badgers need to get running back John Clay back on track, but they have to love what they're getting from senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield right now.
5. Minnesota (4-2, 2-1) -- With upcoming trips to both Penn State and Ohio State, Minnesota desperately needed to beat Purdue and the Gophers came through. Plus, they rediscovered their rushing attack thanks to Kevin Whaley and others. It's tough to see Minnesota winning these next two, but the Gophers still should be set up for a strong finish toward a bowl berth.
T-6. Michigan State (3-3, 2-1) -- The Spartans' defense delivered its second consecutive strong performance against Illinois, and the offense did some nice things before being hampered by injuries. Michigan State's margin for error remains slim after the slow start, and it needs to continue the momentum this week against Northwestern before Iowa visits Spartan Stadium.
T-6. Michigan (4-2, 1-2) -- Despite a 1-2 Big Ten mark, Michigan remains a dangerous team because of its talent level and ability to hang around in games. The Wolverines have some obvious flaws, including a lack of depth and way too many defensive breakdowns, but they should continue to make progress throughout the season. Head coach Rich Rodriguez needs to effectively manage quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson this week against Delaware State.
8. Northwestern (4-2, 1-1) -- The résumé still looks extremely weak for Northwestern, which has beaten three FBS teams that own a combined record of 1-16. It didn't help that the Wildcats struggled to put away a bad Miami (Ohio) team on Saturday. The defense appears to be coming around, but an offense without a consistent run game or many big-play threats needs to find a better rhythm Saturday against Michigan State.
9. Indiana (3-3, 0-2) -- What the heck happened to the Hoosiers in Charlottesville? Players and coaches undoubtedly are wondering the same thing after an embarrassing performance against Virginia. The 3-0 start seems like a distant memory, and Indiana must get back on track at home against Illinois this week. The Hoosiers' veteran-laden defense needs to bounce back fast.
10. Purdue (1-5, 0-2) -- The Boilers aren't really this bad, right? A team that outplayed Oregon on its home field and nearly knocked off Notre Dame? Well, the beauty of football is you tend to get what you deserve, and Purdue deserves a five-game losing streak after committing 20 turnovers this season. Major mistakes are cropping up in every game, and Danny Hope needs to get things fixed fast. Things don't get any easier with No. 7 Ohio State visiting Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.
11. Illinois (1-4, 0-3) -- There's clearly a preparation problem for Illinois, which has yet to score a first-half touchdown against a BCS opponent. Quarterback Juice Williams clearly isn't the problem with the offense, which continues to waste talent at wide receiver. It's simply stating the obvious, but Illinois must beat Indiana on Saturday to have any chance of salvaging the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Five lessons from the week that was in the Big Ten:
1. Iowa is foolproof in the clutch -- After a long stretch of heartbreaking losses from 2006-2008, Iowa has won its last five games decided by five points or fewer. The Hawkeyes have fallen behind in both of their Big Ten games and rallied behind tremendous special teams play, opportunistic defense and a resilient quarterback in Ricky Stanzi. Since upsetting Penn State last November, Iowa has displayed a team-wide confidence when things get close. The Hawkeyes might not be able to live on the edge much longer given their schedule, but they're a good bet when the score gets close late in games.
2. Ohio State's defense is the Big Ten's best unit -- Jim Heacock's defense once again has made the Buckeyes the team to beat in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes rank seventh nationally in points allowed and 11th in total defense, and they're forcing more turnovers than they have in past years. No Big Ten offense comes close from a talent and execution standpoint, and while Iowa's defense has been solid, Michigan exposed some weaknesses Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Despite losing several national award winners, Ohio State's defense repeatedly makes big plays and rescues an offense that still hasn't found its rhythm. Sure, the Buckeyes allowed yards to Wisconsin, but they forced major mistakes and didn't wear down despite being on the field for 42:47.
3. Minnesota can run the football -- Tim Brewster wants to restore Minnesota as a rushing powerhouse, and the Gophers took a big step Saturday. Eight players combined for 207 rush yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's victory against Purdue. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley provided a spark off the bench, and quarterback Adam Weber got more involved in the run game with nine carries and a touchdown. Weber only attempted nine passes in the victory, two of which were intercepted. Wide receiver Eric Decker might be the Big Ten's best offensive player, but Minnesota knows it needs to run the ball to win Big Ten games.
4. Big Ten getting defensive -- It's very clear midway through the season that the Big Ten won't be an offensive league in 2009. While veteran quarterbacks have struggled a bit and one potential juggernaut (Illinois) has totally crumbled, the league's defenses are once again the story. Both Ohio State and Penn State boast top-20 units, and Iowa has at times been the league's most impressive defense. Minnesota's linebackers have sparked an improved defense, while both Michigan State and Northwestern are starting to see their veteran-laden units step up. Both Michigan and Wisconsin showed good things on defense despite losses, while the league's bottom three (Purdue, Indiana, Illinois) are all struggling to stop anybody.
5. Michigan not a finished product -- Credit the Wolverines for never giving up and always finding ways to hang around in games, but it's clear that head coach Rich Rodriguez is still very much in the building stage. Michigan is still too prone to defensive breakdowns, and its special-teams play, aside from all-world punter Zoltan Mesko, left much to be desired against Iowa. Despite Tate Forcier's late-game magic earlier this season, Rodriguez didn't go back to the freshman quarterback in crunch time after some earlier struggles. The talent is there and Michigan will continue to improve, but things aren't falling into place just yet.