Big Ten: Kyle Theret

A very rough season in Minneapolis ended on a good note with hope for better things ahead.

Minnesota would love to delete most of the 2010 season, as the team endured a nine-game losing streak and became the first FBS squad to fire its coach this fall. Tim Brewster was sent packing in mid October after his team slipped to 1-6.

The Gophers had a multitude of problems, but most traced back to a defense that began the season with 11 new starters. Minnesota ranked last in the Big Ten against the run (191.4 ypg) and struggled to slow down opponents for long stretches. Special teams also were problematic at times, and the offense couldn't translate yards into points. Although quarterback Adam Weber improved upon his poor junior season, he and his teammates struggled to put it all together for victories.

To the Gophers' credit, they never stopped fighting, and interim coach Jeff Horton did a fantastic job keeping the team united. Minnesota finally broke through at Illinois on Nov. 13 and followed it up with an upset victory against Iowa to claim a rivalry trophy for the first time since 2006. Players like receiver/quarterback MarQueis Gray and cornerback Troy Stoudermire finished the season the right way.

It's time for Minnesota to close the book on 2010 and start a new chapter.

Offensive MVP: Adam Weber. The wins didn't come until November, but Weber gave Minnesota chances to win with an improved performance from 2009. He passed for 2,679 yards with 20 touchdown strikes and nine interceptions, and he added 156 rushing yards. Receiver Da'Jon McKnight merits a mention here after tying for the Big Ten lead with 10 touchdown receptions.

Defensive MVP: Gary Tinsley. Tinsley developed into one of the Big Ten's more productive linebackers in 2010. He ranked 10th in the league in tackles per game (7.5) and ranked second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss. Tinsley added a forced fumble and an interception. Stoudermire, linebacker Mike Rallis and safety Kyle Theret should be mentioned as well.

Turning point: Minnesota never truly recovered from a Week 2 loss to FCS South Dakota State, which scored at will against the Gophers. But Minnesota continued to play hard and had a great chance to open Big Ten play at 1-0 after building a 28-20 fourth-quarter lead against Northwestern on Oct. 2. But the Gophers couldn't hang on and fell 29-28. Two weeks later, Brewster was canned and Minnesota endured five consecutive losses by double digits after the Northwestern defeat.

What's next: Minnesota on Monday introduced Jerry Kill as its new head coach. Kill isn't the big name Gophers fans had hoped for, but he has a track record of turning around programs and brings a more measured approach to Minneapolis after Brewster's promises of Big Ten titles. The rebuilding likely will continue in 2011, but Kill inherits some nice pieces, including Gray and McKnight.

Midseason review: Minnesota

October, 12, 2010
Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 1-5 (0-2 Big Ten)

Tim Brewster and his players entered the fall determined to raise the bar and disprove those murky preseason projections of 2-10. Unfortunately for the Gophers, their critics are looking a lot better than they are. After an encouraging come-from-behind road win at Middle Tennessee to kick things off, Minnesota has dropped five consecutive games, including four on its home field.

The cracks began to form in a Week 2 loss to FCS South Dakota, which shredded Minnesota's new-look defense for 41 points and 444 yards at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota has shown flashes of promise, taking second-half leads against both USC and Northwestern, but the Gophers still struggle to finish games, much like they struggle to finish seasons under Brewster. Unless the latter trend turns around, this thing could get really ugly for Minnesota and its fourth-year coach.

The Gophers' power-run, ball-control offense has had some success with running back Duane Bennett, and senior quarterback Adam Weber has performed better (12 TDs, 4 INTs) through the first half than he did in 2009.

Minnesota's major issues rest with a defense that allows a league-most 32.3 points a game and 196.3 rush yards a game. The Gophers have had to replace 10 starters on defense, but given Brewster's recruiting skills, fans expected better than this. Brewster remains positive and refuses to let his players quit, but his challenge will get tougher without a win this week against Purdue.

Offensive MVP, QB Adam Weber: The senior has his critics, but he hasn't been the problem this season. Weber ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards with 1,448 and has tossed 12 touchdown passes -- tied for second in the league -- and four interceptions. The senior threw only 13 touchdowns all of last season, so he's well ahead of that pace. Bennett and wide receiver MarQueis Gray (26 receptions, 349 receiving yards, 4 TDs) merit mentions.

Defensive MVP, LB Gary Tinsley: Not many obvious choices here, but Tinsley has emerged as the leader of the linebackers in Mike Rallis' absence. He has recorded a team-high 46 tackles, including six for loss, and had a career-high 14 stops in Saturday's loss to Wisconsin. Safety Kyle Theret also has been a presence since returning from suspension in Week 3, recording 35 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
A new Rose Bowl access rule could prevent the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup Jan. 1 in Pasadena, but at least the two leagues will get to know one another very well on Saturday. Three Big Ten-Pac-10 games are on the slate, as No. 18 USC visits Minnesota (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), Arizona State visits Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) and No. 9 Iowa visits No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Bloggers Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down the three matchups.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCan Arizona State's defense stand up to Wisconsin running back John Clay?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, it's been too long, my friend. The Rose Bowl seems like decades ago, although they're still celebrating in Columbus. Given the likelihood of Boise State or TCU crashing the party in Pasadena this year, it's nice to have some Pac-10-Big Ten flavor this Saturday. Let's start off with Arizona State-Wisconsin. The name Steven Threet still makes people shudder in Madison after he led Michigan to a historic comeback against Wisconsin in 2008, triggering the beginning of the end for the Badgers that year. It also turned out to be the beginning of the end for Threet in a winged helmet. He seems to be settling in very nicely so far in Tempe. What should Wisconsin expect from Threet and the Sun Devils on Saturday?

Ted Miller: An offense with extraordinary firepower! See an average of more than 500 yards and 47.5 ppg. Oh, wait. The Sun Devils played not one but two FCS foes. Hmm. And according to this box score, they rushed for just 56 yards on 29 carries against the hearty Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Double-hmm. Still, the early returns are fairly positive on Threet and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread attack. The Sun Devils' offense was so bad last year that merely being mediocre would be a huge improvement. A bigger issue than Threet: the offensive line. It wasn't consistent against FCS foes, so you'd think the Badgers front-seven might pose a problem. But, to me, the more interesting matchup is a fast Sun Devils defense versus an experienced, physical Badgers offense. What's your take?

Rittenberg: Totally agree that the game likely will come down to Arizona State's dynamic defense and Wisconsin's power run game, led by John Clay. He's the Big Ten's version of Toby Gerhart, except bigger. Clay has looked great this year, but Wisconsin needs to clean up some sloppy play on offense against the Sun Devils. The Badgers already failed on three red-zone scoring chances, matching their total from all of the previous season (53-for-56), and they've committed three turnovers inside the red zone. They have little trouble moving the ball and boast what I believe to be one of the nation's most balanced offenses, but they're not good enough to survive these mistakes much longer. Arizona State will have its hands full with Clay and a mammoth offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can use their speed and force turnovers, they'll have a shot in this one.

Let's move on to the other afternoon affair, USC at Minnesota. The Trojans haven't exactly been dominant this year, but at least they haven't lost to South Dakota. At home. Giving up 41 points and 444 yards. Yeesh. Your thoughts?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Eugene TannerMatt Barkley will try to exploit a Minnesota defense that gave up 258 yards to South Dakota
Miller: Here are two teams that are muddling along, though the Trojans surely feel better about 2-0 -- no matter the way they got there -- than the Gophers do with 1-1, including the loss to a team from the Dakotas. Adam, I have no idea about the Trojans. They still look great getting off the bus. They still have NFL prospects at every position. In Week 1 at Hawaii, the offense looked great, the defense terrible. In Week 2 at home versus Virginia, it was mostly the opposite. Is it a question of fire and focus in the face of NCAA sanctions? I think we won't really be able to answer that question until the Pac-10 schedule starts. As for this one, I think the Trojans are going to roll. But I wrote that the previous two weeks and ended up being wrong. So what do I know?

What's your take?

Rittenberg: This is an odd matchup. In some ways, USC is just asking to get beat. But how can Minnesota take down Troy if it can't keep South Dakota to fewer than 40 points? The Gophers defense obviously is a major question mark, and I fully expect Matt Barkley to attack downfield a lot on Saturday. Minnesota gets a boost as safety Kyle Theret returns from suspension, giving the defense one returning starter from 2009. The other thing here is if things go back for Minnesota at the start, any sort of home-field edge will disappear. They're not too pleased with coach Tim Brewster right now in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's only chance is to control the clock with Duane Bennett and its power run game, and keep Barkley and Dillon Baxter off the field. A huge challenge.

OK, we've saved the best for last: Iowa at Arizona. Both teams look great so far. Iowa won last year's game, but trips out West haven't been kind to the Hawkeyes lately. What happens in Tucson?

Miller: First off, it's a great offense-defense matchup, with Nick Foles and an experienced UA offense taking on one of the best defenses in the nation. The cautionary tale for Wildcats fans is that also seemed like the case heading into the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, which became a complete disaster. Foles has a good offensive line, but the Hawkeyes have an NFL defensive front. If the Wildcats can get any sort of running game -- and Nic Grigsby is an explosive guy who can make a big play out of a small crack -- then things will be far easier for Foles and a quick-hit passing game. Foles is extremely accurate and he has a deep receiving corps. Yet to me the game turns on the Wildcats' rebuilt front seven. The unit replaced both tackles and all three linebackers and has played better than expected, but Iowa is a different sort of beast. If the Hawkeyes can run power effectively, then the Wildcats will be in trouble. If Iowa has to throw, I like the Wildcats secondary's chances versus Ricky Stanzi, who as you well know, Adam, hasn't always been the manzi.

What do you see from this one?

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Icon SMICan Arizona's offensive line contain Adrian Clayborn?
Rittenberg: Should be a great one in the desert. Iowa knows Arizona has come a long way since last year's meeting in Iowa City, when Foles hadn't yet emerged as the starter. The game could come down to whether Arizona can get Grigsby going and protect Foles against the Hawkeyes, who boast arguably the nation's best defensive line. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn has been a bit quiet so far this season, but he usually plays his best in big games. Arizona typically has some outstanding defensive backs, but don't underestimate The Manzi, who has yet to throw an interception this year. So love it or leave it, pal! Iowa can stretch the field with receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and the run game has looked good so far with Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. The Hawkeyes won in State College, Madison and East Lansing last year, but they haven't fared well historically in these trips out West. Arizona definitely has some built-in advantages.

OK, prediction time. Who wins in the three Pac-10-Big Ten matchups?

Miller: Somehow I knew you were going to ask that.

I think USC will handle Minnesota fairly easily: Trojans 41, Gophers 20.

I think Arizona State will be competitive at Wisconsin but the Sun Devils will struggle to score -- and possess the ball -- and the defense will wear down: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

As for Arizona-Iowa: I go back and forth, but I'm going to risk the ire of the Wildcats faithful and pick Iowa 28, Arizona 24. I just don't think the Arizona defense will be able to hold up all night, and that will allow the Hawkeyes to take a lead at some point in the second half and then play keep-away with the run game.

So, for what REALLY is going to happen... Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Rittenberg.

Rittenberg: Why thank you, good sir.

The Gophers save face a bit against USC and hang around for a while before Barkley and his receivers prove too much for a young defense. Trojans win 35-23.

Wisconsin controls the clock as always and cleans up some of its mistakes in the red zone. Threet leads two first-half scoring drives before the Badgers take control and win 30-20.

Iowa-Arizona should be a great one. The elements will be tough for the Hawkeyes, and they'll fall behind early. But I've got to go with the better defense and the more battle-tested team. Iowa wins 26-21.

So we agree. We'll have to fight over the Rose Bowl pick this year. I've got Boise State!

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
Ten items to track as you watch every Big Ten squad in action Saturday.

1. Hawkeyes head west: History doesn't favor Iowa -- or any Big Ten team, for that matter -- when it comes to early season road games out west. Iowa has dropped its past six games west of the Rockies, and as columnist Mike Hlas points out, the Hawkeyes have lost their past three road games against Pac-10 members by an average of 28 points. Fortunately for Iowa, it boasts a senior-laden team that should be able to handle the difficulties of a time change, a late kickoff time, the absence of defensive coordinator Norm Parker and some potentially steamy weather in Tucson against No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET). This is a chance for Iowa to showcase itself on the national stage and beat a solid Wildcats team. The elements will be tough, but Iowa is a tough team that won in tough places last fall.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallRicky Stanzi and Iowa take aim at a rare road win over the Pac-10.
2. Spartans' secondary put to the test: Michigan State's secondary was the team's No. 1 concern entering the season. We should get an excellent read on whether the Spartans have taken a step forward or not Saturday night against Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and the Notre Dame offense (ABC/ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). Floyd is a handful for any secondary, and Rudolph showed once again against Michigan that he's not a typical tight end. Michigan State needs strong performances from safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Chris L. Rucker and others, and it'll be interesting to see if All-American linebacker Greg Jones provides a lift in coverage, a point of emphasis for him in returning to school.

3. Big Ten reunion of sorts: When Wisconsin began watching tape in preparation to face Arizona State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), coach Bret Bielema made sure to include a clip of a Michigan quarterback leading a historic comeback against the Badgers in 2008. That quarterback was Steven Threet, who will lead the Arizona State offense into Camp Randall. Threet is one of several former Big Ten players reunited with foes from their old league Saturday. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, formerly of Michigan State, faces Iowa, while Rice running back Sam McGuffie, formerly of Michigan, faces Northwestern. And let's not forget about Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who goes up against his alma mater.

4. Minnesota picks up the pieces: This could go one of two ways for Tim Brewster's crew. Minnesota either will let Matt Barkley and USC go nuts Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) and increase the calls for a coaching change. Or, the Gophers will use last week's inexcusable loss to South Dakota as a rallying cry and play good football against a USC team asking to get beat. Obviously, Minnesota needs to take a huge step with a young defense, which will regain the services of senior safety Kyle Theret. Overshadowed by the Dakota Debacle were the strong performances of Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett, who need even better days against the Trojans.

5. Michigan's quarterback rotation: Unless we see an Appalachian State re-run, Michigan should be able to rest sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson for part of Saturday's game against Massachusetts. If and when Robinson leaves the game, it should get interesting. Will coach Rich Rodriguez continue to call on true freshman Devin Gardner before last year's starting signal caller, Tate Forcier? How will they perform? Forcier seemed to be in better spirits last week at Notre Dame, and you know he's itching to play and show what he can do in a game.

6. Penn State running on E: E as in All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster, who needs a strong performance very soon after racking up only 72 rush yards in the first two games. Whether it's Royster's weight gain, the offensive line or a limited playbook, Penn State hasn't gotten much from No. 22. Saturday provides an interesting challenge as Penn State faces a Kent State team (ESPN2, noon ET) that leads the nation in rush defense (11 ypg allowed). The Golden Flashes certainly aren't Alabama, but they did a nice job of holding Boston College's ground game in check last week. This is a good chance for Royster to show he's still got it and make a move in his pursuit for the school's career rushing record.

7. Purdue behind the 8 ball: Life without No. 8 (Keith Smith) begins for Purdue, which must identify a new top target for quarterback Robert Marve. Smith was an outstanding possession receiver, and the Boilers will look to Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith, Gary Bush, O.J. Ross and others to help fill the void beginning Saturday against Ball State. Purdue also can't also lose sight of the need to identify a deep threat. Through two games, Marve has completed 54 passes for only 391 yards (7.2 yards per completion). Siller seems like a good candidate to stretch the field.

8. A family affair for Poseys: Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey squares off against his older brother, Julian, a defensive back for Ohio, on Saturday in Columbus. It's one thing for brothers to play on opposing teams, but the Poseys likely will be matched up directly against one another. DeVier Posey has been excellent so far this season, recording eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But Julian Posey can hold his own -- three pass breakups and a 38-yard fumble return to the end zone this year for the Bobcats -- and he knows his little brother better than anyone. Said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel: "I told DeVier, 'If big brother shuts you down, it's going to be a long lifetime for you.'"

9. Illini aim to own the state: Illinois is 12-0 all-time against public schools from the state, a streak it tries to continue Saturday against Northern Illinois. It's only Week 3, but this is another must-win for Ron Zook's team, which looked very good last week against Southern Illinois. After the NIU game, Illinois has a week off before opening Big Ten play with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. So this is crucial. Linebacker Ian Thomas and an improving Illinois defense faces a Northern Illinois team favored to win the MAC West but struggling a bit so far this season. NIU also could be without ailing coach Jerry Kill for the game.

10. Wildcats, Hoosiers hit the road: Northwestern and Indiana both are favored to win Saturday, but September road games always are tricky. The Wildcats head to Houston, which will be a homecoming for several players, but provides some unique challenges, namely the weather. Rice held its own in the season opener against Texas and should test on-target quarterback Dan Persa and his NU teammates. Remember Indiana? It seems like the Hoosiers haven't played for eons (actually Sept. 2), but they're back at it Saturday afternoon at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers top this week's Bottom 10, but they'll be excited to face a Big Ten squad in their house. Indiana's defense must perform better than it did in the opener.
Tim Brewster often gets criticized for putting a positive spin on everything, but the Minnesota coach was brutally honest about what happened last week against South Dakota.

"It's a game in which we should have won," he said Tuesday. "There's no excuse for us to lose that football game. ... It’s a game we expected to win. The reality is we didn't win it."

A 41-38 loss to the FCS Coyotes wiped away any momentum Minnesota generated from its season-opening win at Middle Tennessee. The calls for Brewster's firing have intensified in the Twin Cities, and a former Gophers All-American described the program's current state as "shameful" in an interview with the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.

Suddenly, those preseason predictions of 2-10 for Minnesota don't seem overly harsh. But Brewster hasn't lost faith in his team.

Check out this tidbit of bravado he shared on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

"One game is not going to define us," he said. "It's one game of 13 games we're going to play this season."

As you know, Minnesota is only guaranteed to play 12 contests, but Brewster believes the Gophers will go bowling for the third consecutive season.

To do so, Minnesota can't let the South Dakota loss linger.

"I'm certainly not going to let our team be down," Brewster said. "That's one game in the season. The attitude's fine on our football team. There's great conviction. And there's a great urgency, knowing just how good a football team Southern Cal is."

Oh, yeah, forgot to mention Minnesota hosts No. 18 USC on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET).

If the Gophers made South Dakota quarterback Dante Warren look like an All-American last week, think what Matt Barkley and his receivers will do Saturday. USC hasn't been exactly dominant in its first two victories, but Barkley ranks 12th nationally in pass efficiency, tossing seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

He takes aim at a defense that surrendered 444 yards to South Dakota and Warren, who accounted for 433 of those yards in just his second career start.

"They look like the USC that I've always seen: big, physical, strong, fast on defense, and an outstanding quarterback in Matt Barkley," Brewster said. "You certainly have your hands full when you’re playing a football team as talented as they are. I don't know if there's any great time to play 'em, but I do know this: we're excited about the opportunity to get a chance to measure ourselves against a team like Southern Cal."

Minnesota has played 11 first-year starters on defense for the first two games, a significant factor in the struggles against South Dakota. But help arrives Saturday as senior safety Kyle Theret makes his season debut after being suspended for the first two contests.

Safety Kim Royston (leg) won't play against the Trojans, but Theret brings two and a half years of starting experience to the secondary. Theret has recorded nine career interceptions, including two in his last game, the 2009 Insight Bowl.

"We've got a great opportunity on Saturday," Brewster said.

Nuggets from Minnesota practice

September, 1, 2010
I've reviewed the Big Ten Network's preview of Minnesota. The crew of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith attended a Gophers scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium.

Here are some notes and observations:
  • Minnesota looked a lot more physical on both sides of the ball. The offense certainly is keeping it simple, but the line generated good push and the backs consistently had nice gains. A new-look defense definitely has further to go, but there were several nice hits in the scrimmage from defensive back Kyle Henderson and others. The BTN crew seemed to like the arrival of offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, who will really emphasize the power run game this fall. "For the first time, the schemes fit each other," DiNardo said.
  • Head coach Tim Brewster wanted to upgrade the schedule at Minnesota, and he has gotten his wish this year. "It’s the toughest schedule in the conference," DiNardo said. Games against Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois and USC will challenge a young team early, but it also could help in the long run. "No one's going to give them a chance in a lot of these games," Griffith said. "This is an opportunity for the team to come together and rally."
  • Junior running back Duane Bennett had a very good day. He made several good cutbacks and bounced outside for a nice gain in the scrimmage. He capped a long drive by the first-team offense when he bounced off defensive back Shady Salamon and into the end zone. Although Minnesota will use several ball carriers, "Bennett’s the better back right now," DiNardo said.
  • DeLeon Eskridge also had some nice runs, although he also lost the ball following a jarring hit from safety Kyle Theret, who lays the wood and will be missed in Thursday night's opener. I also was impressed with true freshman Donnell Kirkwood, who spun off tackles well in the scrimmage. Fullback Jon Hoese had a big gain on fourth-and-short. Minnesota is certainly keeping things simple with the run game. "They have an inside zone, outside zone and they have a gap scheme." DiNardo said. "And that’s their run game."
  • It was tough to tell how much Minnesota's run game has improved, given all the new faces in the defensive front seven. DiNardo likes the first-team offensive line, especially guards Matt Carufel and Chris Bunders, and he thinks Ed Olson will be a future All-Big Ten player and possibly a future All-American.
  • Senior quarterback Adam Weber threw the ball well and looked comfortable in the offense. He made a perfect throw to Da'Jon McKnight on a deep route for a touchdown, putting the ball just beyond the defensive back's hands. He also threaded the ball to Troy Stoudermire for a first down in the scrimmage. Weber told the BTN crew how his injury issues last year changed his approach to getting treatment and preparing himself for the physical toll.
  • MarQueis Gray had a good scrimmage as the backup quarterback and as a starting wide receiver. He had a big gain on an end-around play, where he cut back before lowering his shoulder into a defender and gaining a few more yards. Great quote from Weber on Gray: "Very impressed with MarQueis this year. It's never easy when you’re a quarterback. He's a true quarterback. ... MarQueis is all about giving it up for his teammates. You could put him at left guard and he'd have a great time doing it." Brewster added that he'll get the ball in Gray's hands a lot this fall.
  • Henderson stood out on defense with several nice hits, and Ryan Grant and Kenny Watkins also showed some good physical play. The BTN crew identified defensive backs Christyn Lewis and James Manuel as newcomers to watch, and Griffith, echoing Brewster, sang the praises of defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, a converted tight end.
  • It was interesting to hear Brewster tell BTN crew about "building a program from the foundation up." He talked about overhauling the roster after he arrived and taking time to put his plan in place. His coaching changes definitely have served as evidence, but it wasn't as if the cupboard was totally empty when he arrived. "We've had a lot of staff turnover at Minnesota," DiNardo said, "but the good news is I believe this is the best staff Tim Brewster's had since he's been here."
We knew going into the season that Minnesota had to replace nine defensive starters, more than any other Big Ten squad.

Make it 10. And possibly all 11.

Safety Kyle Theret is suspended for Thursday night's opener at Middle Tennessee, head coach Tim Brewster announced Tuesday. Theret continues to serve a penalty for his drunken-driving arrest in March, although he practiced with the team in preseason camp. Veteran offensive lineman Dom Alford, a projected starter, also is suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Ed Olson will start in Alford's spot.

Minnesota really could use Theret, who led the team in interceptions (3) last year and recorded 73 tackles and seven passes defended. The team's only other returning starter on defense, safety Kim Royston, also could miss the game as he continues to rehab a broken leg suffered in spring practice.

Brewster said there's only "a small chance" Royston will play, adding, "I don't want to put him out there until I'm 100 percent certain that he's ready."

If Royston sits, Minnesota will take the field with 11 new starters on defense. Good thing Middle Tennessee will be without star quarterback Dwight Dasher, suspended for the game.

Get to know names like Christyn Lewis, James Manuel, D.L. Wilhite, Mike Rallis and Michael Carter. They're just some of the new starters Minnesota needs to step up Thursday night against the Blue Raiders.
The position rankings march on as I take a look at the top five secondary units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Tyler Sash will be one of the leaders of the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary.
2. Penn State: The Lions are always solid in the front seven, but the secondary might lead the unit in 2010. Starting safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay both return, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn takes on an enhanced leadership role after recording five pass breakups last fall. Penn State also has high hopes for cornerback Stephon Morris, who recorded 30 tackles and an interception as a freshman in 2009. Converted receiver Chaz Powell should add depth at the corner spot. Opponents completed just 54.1 percent of their passes against Penn State last fall.

3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.

4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.

5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.

Up next: Offensive line

More rankings ...

The Revolving Door: Minnesota

June, 10, 2010
All the expansion news has prompted a drought in the Revolving Door series, but it returns today.

Here's my seventh installment of a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Eric Decker, WR: You could argue Decker was the entire Minnesota offense before he sustained a season-ending foot injury against Ohio State. Decker turned in some amazing performances in September, becoming Minnesota's all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yards. The Big Ten coaches showed Decker the ultimate sign of respect by voting Decker first-team all-conference even though he appeared in only eight games.

Lee Campbell, LB: All three of Minnesota's starting linebackers could qualify here, but Campbell gets the nod after an extremely productive senior season. The Floridian ranked third in the Big Ten in tackles with 119, led Minnesota with 11.5 tackles for loss and recorded two blocked kicks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and six passes defended.

Staying ...

Adam Weber, QB: Weber has more experience than any Big Ten signal caller and should benefit from the arrival of new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton and a simplified scheme. Yes, he struggled mightily in 2009, throwing two more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes, but he's only two years removed from earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Don't forget Weber is still Minnesota's all-time passing leader.

Kyle Theret, S: Like Weber, Theret boasts a ton of experience as a starter and should lead a Gophers secondary that might need to replace three starters (depending on Kim Royston's availability). Theret led Minnesota with three interceptions and recorded 73 tackles and seven passes defended. He saved his best performance for the Insight Bowl, where he had two interceptions and made a 40-yard reception on a fake punt.

Coming ...

Jimmy Gjere, OT: It's no secret that Minnesota's offensive line must improve, and while Gjere is only a freshman, he could help right away this season. A heralded prospect from New Brighton, Minn., Gjere not only boasts good size but has length and good footwork. The Gophers ideally would like to redshirt him, but if they need him, he's available.

Christyn Lewis, DB: Given Minnesota's situation in the secondary, Lewis could see the field soon. The junior college transfer from Citrus College in California worked at safety and nickel back during spring ball. Depending on what happens with Royston -- or Theret, who was indefinitely suspended this spring -- Lewis might be a factor in 2010.

More revolving door ...
Who are the most irreplaceable players in the Big Ten? These aren't necessarily the best players, but the guys who teams really can't afford to lose.

Let's take a team-by-team look at who they are:

Illinois: Offensive tackle Jeff Allen. Illinois already has lost one starting offensive tackle to injury in Corey Lewis (ACL), placing a major burden on Allen to protect a young starting quarterback. Allen has started two seasons and should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He drew praise from the coaches this spring for absorbing Paul Petrino's new offense, and he'll anchor the line at weak-side tackle. If he goes down, Illinois likely will turn to Craig Wilson, who has played mostly special teams in his career.

[+] EnlargeBen Chappell
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesBen Chappell finished last season with 17 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards.
Indiana: Quarterback Ben Chappell. History shows that for Indiana to have a chance at a bowl game, it needs to put up a lot of points. The running game has been inconsistent the past few years, but Chappell is poised to have a big senior season through the air. The Big Ten's third-leading passer in 2009 will have a bunch of weapons at his disposal, led by first-team, all-conference wide receiver Tandon Doss. Indiana has virtually no experience behind Chappell and would turn things over to a redshirt freshman (Dusty Kiel or Edward Wright-Baker).

Iowa: Quarterback Ricky Stanzi. This isn't a knock against backup James Vandenberg, who certainly proved himself last fall at Ohio State. But Iowa is simply a different team with Stanzi on the field, drawing confidence from him through his ups and downs. You could see how much Stanzi meant to his teammates on offense after he went down against Northwestern last November. Although offensive tackle Riley Reiff, defensive end Adrian Clayborn or safety Tyler Sash certainly can make their case to be in this spot, Stanzi is the player who shapes Iowa's success more than any other player. He's got the 'it' factor.

Michigan: Cornerback Troy Woolfolk. Woolfolk provides leadership and some experience in a Wolverines secondary that looks pretty shaky even with him on the field. The thought of Woolfolk being out would certainly raise the anxiety level among Michigan fans. Woolfolk had some good moments last fall and has a chance to be a very solid Big Ten cornerback this year. He also can play safety in an emergency. Given Michigan's lack of depth in the defensive backfield, Woolfolk's presence is crucial.

Michigan State: Linebacker Greg Jones. This one is pretty obvious. Not only has Jones led Michigan State in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus, but he's the undisputed leader on defense. Without Jones' tackling and play-making ability in the offensive backfield, an average Michigan State defense would be a lousy one. Although the Spartans boast some depth at linebacker with Chris Norman, Eric Gordon and incoming freshmen William Gholston and Max Bullough, Jones is the one guy the coaches are counting on for a ton of production.

Minnesota: Safety Kyle Theret. There's not an obvious choice for the Gophers, but the team's defense lost some major experience after safety Kim Royston broke his leg this spring. Theret, who was suspended during spring ball but should return, has started 32 games at safety. He ended the 2009 season on a strong note with two interceptions and a tackle for loss in the Insight Bowl. If Royston can't return or is limited, Theret will have to lead a young Gophers' secondary.

[+] EnlargePersa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireDan Persa is the only Wildcats quarterback with any game experience.
Northwestern: Quarterback Dan Persa. Persa hasn't even started a game for Northwestern, so how can he be labeled as irreplaceable? First off, no other Wildcats quarterback has game experience, while Persa appeared in 10 contests last fall. Backup Evan Watkins remains a bit raw, and Northwestern will have a true freshman, most likely Trevor Siemian, as its third-stringer this season. Persa already has established himself as a team leader, and he would create problems if he went down.

Ohio State: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Another easy choice, as Pryor has started 22 of Ohio State's past 23 games at quarterback. Although the Buckeyes have won games without major contributions from Pryor, the offense will be shaped around him more this fall. He'll need to build off of what he showed on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Backups Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton lack game experience, and Ohio State would need everyone else to step up around the quarterbacks to survive without Pryor.

Penn State: Running back Evan Royster. An experienced running back can be a young quarterback's best friend, and Royster certainly qualifies as a veteran. He has started the past two seasons for the Nittany Lions, racking up 2,405 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Penn State needs big things from Royster this fall as an inexperienced signal caller takes over for Daryll Clark. Backup running back Stephfon Green has shown flashes, but he lacks Royster's consistency.

Purdue: Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. We'll find out if running back Ralph Bolden is replaceable this season, but Purdue doesn't want to see anything happen to Kerrigan. The senior is one of the nation's top pass rushers, and he's the most experienced member of a defensive line that loses standout tackle Mike Neal. Kerrigan led the Big Ten with 13 sacks last fall and will make life easier for those around him. Aside from Gerald Gooden, Purdue looks a little thin at D-end.

Wisconsin: Quarterback Scott Tolzien. If Tolzien's value wasn't known after the 2009 season, it became even clearer during spring ball after backup Curt Phillips tore his ACL. Tolzien led the Big Ten and ranked 22nd nationally in pass efficiency (143) last season, completing 64.3 percent of his passes. He limits major mistakes and spreads the ball around well to his receivers. Redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr has talent but lacks game experience and looked shaky this spring. Wisconsin would much rather let Budmayr have more time to prepare.

Minnesota spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
2009 overall record: 6-7

2009 conference record: 3-5 (8th)

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 2, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Adam Weber, RB Duane Bennett, RB DeLeon Eskridge, C D.J. Burris, S Kyle Theret, S Kim Royston, P Eric Ellestad

Key losses

WR Eric Decker, TE Nick Tow-Arnett, LB Lee Campbell, LB Nate Triplett, LB Simoni Lawrence, CB Traye Simmons, DT Garrett Brown, DT Eric Small

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Duane Bennett* (376 yards)

Passing: Adam Weber* (2,582 yards)

Receiving: Eric Decker (758 yards)

Tackles: Lee Campbell (119)

Sacks: Eric Small (3)

Interceptions: Kyle Theret (3)

Spring answers

1. Weber still man to beat: Adam Weber knew his job was on the line this spring, and he stepped up like a senior should. After backsliding last season, Weber embraced a pared-down playbook and created some early separation with MarQueis Gray and Moses Alipate. He must continue to make progress this summer, but he had the type of response the coaches wanted to see this spring.

2. Defensive line reloads: Minnesota loses all four starters up front but could have a more talented and explosive defensive line this fall. The coaches really like they size they have at defensive tackle with Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey. No defensive end recorded more than two sacks last year, a total that must improve this fall. Head coach Tim Brewster raves about Ra'Shede Hageman, and Matt Garin also should contribute a lot there.

3. Simple is better on offense: The arrival of new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton and a simplified scheme definitely paid off for the Gophers this spring. Players really welcomed Horton's system after going through information overload under Jedd Fisch last fall. Minnesota's offense could struggle in 2010, but players will have a lot more confidence in what they're being asked to do.

Fall questions

1. Secondary shaky: Minnesota's first priority is the cornerback spot, where it loses both starters. Is Michael Carter ready to break out? Carter and Ryan Collado look like the top two options, but depth certainly could be an issue against opponents who like to pass the ball. Safety looked like the Gophers' biggest strength after last season, but Kim Royston's broken leg and Kyle Theret's suspension thinned things out this spring. Royston will be a big loss if he can't return.

2. Linebackers in limbo: The Gophers lose three productive linebackers from last year and not only need starters to emerge, but some depth along with it. Mike Rallis, a converted safety, had a very nice spring and should be a key contributor along with Sam Maresh. But Minnesota needs others to emerge in the defensive midsection. The Gophers could use Gary Tinsley, but whether he'll be available remains to be seen.

3. Offensive line: The Gophers have lost their offensive identity a bit the last few years, and they need to build more toughness along the line. All five starters return, but young players like Ed Olson and Brooks Michel are pushing the returnees and increasing the competition. It's far from a finished product yet, but Minnesota's linemen are embracing a simplified scheme and taking pride in run-blocking. They've got to keep it going through the summer.
The spring game recap series marches on with Minnesota, which wrapped up its spring session Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Both the offense and defense had some highs and lows, as the offense started fast before slowing down considerably, while the defense allowed an early touchdown before turning up the heat with physical play in the second half.

Not surprisingly, the quarterbacks took center stage. Three-year starter Adam Weber got most of the work with the first-team offense and led an opening scoring drive, thanks in large part to a 56-yard completion to speedster Troy Stoudermire. But the senior completed less than half his passes (8 of 20) in the game. Backup MarQueis Gray accounted for the game's lone touchdown pass, a 38-yard strike to Hayo Carpenter, but he also threw an interception. Third-stringer Moses Alipate completed 2 of 4 passes for 14 yards.

Head coach Tim Brewster will name a starter in the coming days, and all signs point to Weber, who stepped up his game this spring after a subpar junior season. I'm sure a portion of Gophers fans will be upset to see Weber back at the controls, but his struggles last season weren't all his fault. Remember that he was recruited to play in the spread and had to adjust to a dramatically different and overly complex offense in 2009. He'll be better this season, especially if the offensive line steps up.

Minnesota's running game showed some life early as top backs Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge racked up 97 of their combined 106 rushing yards in the first half. Bennett averaged 6.1 yards a carry, though the backs struggled to find running room late in the game.

The defense played without any returning starters from 2009 but still showed some good things, especially at linebacker. Mike Rallis, a converted safety, recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss. Sam Maresh had two tackles for loss and a pass breakup, and Keanon Cooper picked off a Gray pass.

Other Gophers nuggets:

  • Kenny Watkins and Christyn Lewis filled the starting safety spots in place of the injured Kim Royston and the suspended Kyle Theret, and both players turned in solid performances. Lewis and Watkins combined for seven tackles and two pass breakups.
  • Minnesota must replace both of its starting defensive tackles, but Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey earned high marks from reporters who attended the game.
  • The biggest hole for the defense could be the cornerback spot, as it must replace Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels. Michael Carter recorded two pass breakups in the spring game and Ryan Collado added three tackles and a pass breakup. Kyle Henderson, a transfer from Minnesota-Mankato, was one of the spring game stars with four tackles and three pass breakups. Still, Minnesota needs to develop more depth there.
  • Kicker Eric Ellestad turned in a solid performance, going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts with a long of 50 yards.
Penn State went through a spell of player arrests. So did Iowa. Michigan State wants to finally move past the residence hall mess that resulted in 11 players pleading guilty to assault.

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.
Safety figured to be one of Minnesota's strongest positions in 2010, but the Gophers' situation in the secondary is very much in doubt after Tuesday's practice.

Starting free safety Kim Royston broke two bones in his lower left leg Tuesday and is sidelined indefinitely. Royston, a transfer from Wisconsin who started all 13 games last season, underwent surgery Tuesday night to stabilize the leg and will have another surgery later in the week.

His status for the 2010 season is unknown at this stage. Royston's father told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press that they'll know more after the second surgery.
"It's a tough loss," head coach Tim Brewster told the Star Tribune. "We were in a 7-on-7 drill. He just got tangled up and fell awkwardly and broke his lower leg pretty good."

Brewster, in a text message to, wrote that there's a chance Royston can return for the fall.

Royston finished third on the team in tackles with 86 last season to go along with seven passes defended, an interception, a forced fumble and a sack. He finished with his best performance in the Insight Bowl, recording 15 tackles and a forced fumble against Iowa State.

Minnesota is already practicing without its other starting safety, Kyle Theret, indefinitely suspended after being cited for driving while impaired last month.

The Gophers need several unproven players to step up at safety during the final week and a half of spring ball.
Minnesota returns just two starters on defense, and it will go through at least part of spring drills without one of them.

Safety Kyle Theret was indefinitely suspended Monday for an unspecified violation of team rules. Theret was cited for fourth-degree driving while impaired early Sunday. University of Minnesota police arrested the 21-year-old Theret after he struck a parked car and then pulled away. He was booked into the Hennepin County Jail at 3:04 a.m. and released at 5:56 a.m. No bail was required, and Theret has a May 24 court appearance.

Theret has started the past two seasons at safety and finished with 73 tackles and three interceptions last fall. He stood out in Minnesota's Insight Bowl loss to Iowa State, recording seven tackles, two interceptions and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that turned the game.

Theret and fellow safety Kim Royston are the only returning starters on defense, so Theret's presence will be missed. It's unclear if he'll return before the end of spring ball.

Minnesota started spring drills Tuesday and wraps up April 24 with its spring game.