Big Ten: Mike Rallis

The 2013 season is less than three months away, and few things generate more excitement among fans than the first chance to see certain players compete in games. Every year, the Big Ten produces a handful of first-year stars, whether they're true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or transfers.

Who are the first-year Big Ten players to watch in 2013? Here are five of them.

[+] EnlargeDanny Etling
AP Photo/Daryl Quitalig via Triple Play New MediaFreshman Danny Etling will battle senior Rob Henry for the Boilers' starting quarterback job.
Purdue QB Danny Etling, freshman: It didn't take long for Etling to impress Darrell Hazell, John Shoop and the rest of Purdue's new coaching staff. A decorated recruit and an Elite 11 finalist, Etling enrolled early and went through spring practice. He made a strong push late in the session and leapfrogged Austin Appleby to join senior Rob Henry in the top group entering fall camp. Although Henry is an excellent leader who has waited a long time to be the starter, don't be surprised if Hazell and the staff decide that the future is now and go with Etling, despite his youth. "Danny's work ethic puts him in a position," Hazell told ESPN.com. "He's a smart guy, gets himself out of trouble and is accurate when he's moving around in the pocket."

Michigan RB Derrick Green, freshman: Until Jabrill Peppers' commitment last month, no Michigan recruit in the Brady Hoke era has generated more excitement than Green, a late pickup in the 2013 class. The Wolverines are looking for a feature running back in their pro-set offense and struggled to find one last season, when quarterback Denard Robinson had more than twice as many rush yards (1,266) as any other player. Green plays a position where true freshmen can make an immediate impact, and he has a sturdy frame at 6-foot, 215 pounds. Michigan has been waiting for a power back like Green, and if he can grasp the protection schemes and outperform Fitzgerald Toussaint in camp, he'll likely play a lot this season.

Nebraska DE Randy Gregory, junior: It's no secret Nebraska needs help on defense, especially up front, where the Huskers lose three starters from 2012 and need a difference-maker to emerge. Gregory comes in from the junior-college ranks with an excellent chance to start or at least log significant playing time. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior from Arizona Western Community College missed last season with a broken leg but recorded 21 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, in 2011 as he helped Arizona Western to the NJCAA title game. The one-time Purdue recruit could fill the pass-rushing void left by Eric Martin.

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, freshman: Although Hackenberg didn't enroll early like Purdue's Etling, he also enters preseason camp with an excellent chance to become a Big Ten starting quarterback as a true freshman. After Steven Bench's transfer, Penn State's quarterback race is down to Hackenberg and junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, who went through the spring and slightly outperformed Bench. RecruitingNation rated Hackenberg as the No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and he has all the mental and physical skills to play early in his career. He'll be challenged to grasp O'Brien's complex, NFL-style offense in several weeks this summer, but unless Ferguson creates significant separation, expect to see plenty of Hackenberg during the season.

Minnesota LB Damien Wilson, junior: The Gophers need immediate help at linebacker after losing Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, and they expect to get it from Wilson, a junior-college transfer from Mississippi. Head coach Jerry Kill was excited about Wilson's addition on signing day, and Wilson showed some promising signs during his first spring session with the Gophers. The 6-foot-2, 254-pound Wilson ranked fourth nationally in the juco ranks with 122 tackles last season and recorded six tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups. Barring a preseason surprise, he'll play a significant role for Minnesota's defense this fall.
Spring practice is kicking off around the Big Ten, and we're taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We're spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren't eligible.

Minnesota needs a boost in its defensive midsection and looks for one from ...

Damien Wilson, LB, junior, 6-foot-2, 245 pounds

The Gophers have several holes to fill on defense, but linebacker stands out after the team loses two multiyear starters -- Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper -- and a total of five scholarship players. Both the secondary and the defensive line took significant steps in 2012, and Minnesota needs a similar upgrade from the linebackers, who performed decently at times last fall but didn't wow anyone. That's where Wilson enters the equation. The junior-college transfer signed with the Gophers in December, has enrolled and will be on the field when Minnesota kicks off spring practice March 26.

Wilson ranked fourth nationally in the junior-college ranks in tackles with 122 last season. He recorded six tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups for Jones County Junior College in Mississippi. Gophers coach Jerry Kill is excited about Wilson, telling ESPN.com last month, "We lost five scholarship linebackers a year ago. We've got a couple of good players coming back, but we really needed to address that need. I think we did a great job of doing that with Damien Wilson." He has an excellent size-speed combination, and his productivity at the JC level bodes well for Minnesota. Kill has high hopes for both Wilson and fellow juco linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who arrives this summer. Wilson gets a jump start this spring and should put himself in position to secure a starting spot.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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Replying to your electronic correspondence every Thursday:

Corey from Lansing, Mich., writes: "In this state you're either green or blue." -- Mark Dantonio. Losing the UofM game every year would crush me on a personal level, and the rest of this state feels the same. I have faith that the Big Ten would not allow things like this to happen. Sometimes it seems fans of other teams in the league do not quite understand how much more important this game is to fans of MSU. Even speaking of this as a possibility feels like standing on the edge of a cliff. MSU's identity is directly related to beating UofM, fans on both sides don't like it but honestly without that game we have no identity.

Brian Bennett: Corey, I can understand your concern, but I really don't think the Michigan-Michigan State game is going anywhere. If the two schools don't end up in the same division, I'm confident that series will remain a protected crossover games. That game is too important. If the Big Ten can't even protect in-state rivalries, what's the point of expansion?




Chris from Toledo, Ohio, writes: I know we've had enough debate of how the divisions should be separated. But I've thought of another reason why Ohio State-Michigan should be in the same division. Obviously, there is a possibility of back-to-back games if they both win their divisions. But, with the new playoff format, there is potential (very low probability, but still possible) that The Game could be played 3 times in a season!!! Both teams could go into the 4-team playoff with 1 loss each (after playing for Big Ten championship), and possibly play a third time. In my opinion, this would be terrible for the rivalry. Thoughts??

Brian Bennett: I find it highly unlikely that two one-loss Big Ten teams will ever get into the four-team playoff. Just won't happen unless there are crazy circumstances. But keeping the Buckeyes and Wolverines in the same division does have some playoff ramifications. Let's say Michigan and Ohio State are in opposite divisions, are both undefeated heading into The Game and are ranked in the top four. And let's say Michigan wins in a close game. Then if Ohio State won the rematch, you'd have two one-loss teams and one that just lost in the final week, which would leave a negative stain on its résumé with the committee. If Michigan won, Ohio State would have two losses and would be virtually eliminated. But if they were in the same division, you'd still have the possibility of Michigan finishing undefeated and Ohio State having just one loss. That would give the league a much better chance of getting two teams in.




Josue from Buenos Aires, Argentina, writes: How could you leave out Wisconsin-Nebraska as one of the main rivalries to be protected? I understand that there´s almost no history there, but as a Badgers fan, Nebraska is almost at the top of the list of teams I would like to play every year. Just look at the past 3 games: great fan bases, great atmospheres, great teams. I´m already disappointed they won't be playing this year (unless we have a B1G Championship rematch). I would hate to have the game relegated to a once-every 3 years occurrence!

Brian Bennett: You said it yourself: there's almost no history between the two teams. Two of the three games played in the past two years have been blowouts. So while I think Wisconsin and Nebraska probably ought to play every year, there's no real rivalry there yet. But I believe it will be a moot point, since it's highly likely the Badgers and Huskers end up in the same division.




Nick from Columbus writes: Any thought to doing semi-protected crossovers to protect the lesser rivalries? I know the Illibuck, Little Brown Jug, Cannon Trophy and others aren't huge regionally, but there's a history there for teams and fans that shouldn't entirely disappear. I would consider scheduling a home-and-home every two years (alternating with a second semi-protected) to keep those traditions somewhat alive. That gives players at least one chance in their college careers to play for the trophy and students and fans one to see it in their home stadiums.

Brian Bennett: The problem with such a scenario is, once you start getting into an idea like "semi-protected crossovers" -- which really sounds just like a second protected crossover game every few years -- you really hamstring yourself in scheduling. Having fewer protected crossover games means more variety and the likelihood of seeing just about every team in the league over a four-year period. While it would be great to keep every historic rivalry, fans need to brace themselves for the inevitable loss of some these series, at least on an annual basis. There's simply no way to preserve them all in a 14-team league. Blame expansion for that.




Scott R. from Chadron, Neb., writes: Brian, what would you say are the chances on either Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah being serious Heisman contenders next year? It seems like Martinez has been considered a serious contender all 3 years now, right up until game 6 or so when Nebraska randomly gets blown out. Statistically he was fairly similar to Braxton Miller, who was a serious contender last year. If we don't randomly get blown out, what are his chances? I have to like Abdullah's chances, 1,137 yards last year (and 178 receiving), and this year he doesn't have Burkhead and Heard to compete with for yards. Feel like this year could be a significant breakthrough for him. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: It really all comes down to team success and turnovers. If Martinez can put up great numbers and lead Nebraska to an undefeated season, he'll have a chance. But he can't have 12 interceptions again, or keep fumbling the ball. The issue for Big Ten quarterbacks, as I wrote about in this piece, is that their numbers are getting dwarfed by some of the spread offenses. Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense with 3,890 yards last season. By comparison, Heisman winner Johnny Manziel had more than 5,100 yards, while 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III piled up nearly 5,000. But every year is different, and Nebraska's offense should be capable of scoring points by the boatload. Abdullah has a chance to build on his breakout sophomore year and get into the conversation. The problem is that the two could be competing for attention in the same backfield, which is something that I think hurt both Russell Wilson and Montee Ball two years ago.




Tommy from Duluth, Minn., writes: Hey, love the blog! Quick question -- why did you rank the Gophers' linebackers ninth? They were god-awful this year! While they were great in pass coverage, there could not have been many FBS schools with worse tacklers than our linebackers and safeties. Just watch the Michigan State, Iowa, or just about any Big Ten conference game we played. Also, how big of an impact do you think JUCO LBs De'Vondre Campbell (offers from Kansas State and Texas) and Damien Wilson (JUCO Defensive Player of the Year) will make? Hopefully, they will make our linebackers a strong point next year, similar to how JUCOs made out (previously awful) defensive backs a strong point last year.

Brian Bennett: Tommy, the easy answer to your first question is this: Did you see the teams ranked below Minnesota in those rankings? 'Nuff said. As to your question about the junior college guys, I think both will have a chance to make an immediate impact. With starters Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper gone and Brendan Beal's injury problems, there is plenty of opportunity for playing time at linebacker. Jerry Kill was very happy to land Campbell on signing day and is also very excited about Wilson. Juco guys can be hit or miss, but both guys have great size and athleticism.




Brett from Conshohocken, Pa., writes: In response to Matt's question in Tuesday's mailblog regarding the Miami investigations effect on Governor Corbett's lawsuit, Adam said:"But the NCAA used the Penn State-commissioned Freeh Report as the investigation for the Penn State case. Penn State signed a consent decree to the penalties Emmert imposed."While I certainly understand this logic, doesn't the Miami investigation also bring into question the methods the NCAA used to obtain said consent decree? It is strongly believed both inside and outside the Penn State community that the NCAA "strong-armed" PSU into signing the decree, leaving President Erickson no option (it's either this or the death penalty). If the organization was dirty enough to pay off both Nevin Shapiro and his attorney to obtain information, what does that say about their methodology regarding the consent decree and sanctions against Penn State? I think it raises enough questions that the judge will likely deem that this suit should proceed, what do you think?

Brian Bennett: Using strong-arm tactics and obtaining information illegally and unethically are two very different things. I still don't see much of a connection to the Miami scandal, where the NCAA completely botched its investigation, and Penn State, where Mark Emmert used the Freeh Report as the sole basis for his investigation. Finding remedies for NCAA punishment in the court system has hardly ever worked. Now, if Penn State fans want some reason for optimism out of this mess, it's this: Emmert is taking a (deserved) public beating right now, and it's conceivable he could wind up losing his job over this mess. A new NCAA president might be more apt to take a second look at the sanctions against the Nittany Lions than the man who issued them in the first place.

B1G postseason position rankings: LB

February, 19, 2013
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It's time for another installment of our postseason position rankings, and today we're looking at one of the strongest groups in the Big Ten in 2012: the linebackers.

Just about every team boasted one standout linebacker last season, and many had multiple ones. That makes this list one of the tougher ones to date, and there's not a whole lot of separation between teams, especially in the middle. Star power matters, but depth is also important.

You can see how we ranked the linebackers entering the season here. Here's how we see things now:

1. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 2): We ranked the Nittany Lions second in the preseason, not knowing for sure how Michael Mauti would bounce back from his latest knee injury. Well, we picked him as our Big Ten defensive player of the year. Gerald Hodges was his usual brilliant self, especially when he switched into beast mode during league play. And the guy nobody talks about, Glenn Carson, also had a very solid season. Linebacker U., indeed.

2. Wisconsin (Preseason: 3): Mike Taylor and Chris Borland were so good and so consistent that we may have begun to take them for granted. Taylor collected 123 tackles, while Borland had 104, and the two combined for 25 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. The unsung member of the trio, Ethan Armstrong, added 93 stops. Once again, the linebackers were the strength of a very good Badgers defense.

3. Michigan State (Preseason: 1): Max Bullough was a first-team All-Big Ten performer who led the Spartans with 111 tackles. Denicos Allen didn't match his 2011 numbers but still managed 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. Sophomore Taiwan Jones surpassed Chris Norman late in the year to give the unit even more depth. This group may have lacked the truly huge, game-changing plays, but it's hard to ask for much more than what it provided all season.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 5): The Wolverines linebacking crew became the backbone of the defense in 2012. Jake Ryan turned into a star with his flair for the big play; he piled up 16 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan were both solid, underrated players, and freshmen James Ross III and Joe Bolden helped give this group outstanding depth.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 11): The Wildcats made the biggest jump from the preseason rankings, as all three starters (Damien Proby, David Nwabuisi and Chi Chi Ariguzo) collected at least 91 tackles. Ariguzo developed into a big-time playmaker, with 10.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Proby and Nwabuisi were almost criminally underrated.

6. Ohio State (Preseason: 4): The Buckeyes had the most interesting stories at linebacker. Ryan Shazier emerged as a destructive force of nature, especially in the second half of the season. Zach Boren switched from fullback to linebacker midseason and made a surprisingly smooth transition. Etienne Sabino broke his leg but came back to finish the year. Storm Klein returned from a suspension to contribute a little. There were some weak spots and shaky moments here, but Shazier's sheer strength helped hold this group together.

7. Iowa (Preseason: 8): Stats alone would tell you that the Hawkeyes had one of the best linebacking corps around. First-year starter Anthony Hitchens was one of the top tacklers in the nation with 124 stops, while James Morris (113) and Christian Kirksey (95) also ranked among the league leaders in that category. But tackle numbers alone don't tell the whole story, and Iowa lacked the kind of high-impact plays from its linebackers that teams above it on this list produced.

8. Nebraska (Preseason: 7): The Huskers had their issues on defense, but it was hard to fault the play of Will Compton, who led the team with 110 tackles and three fumble recoveries. Alonzo Whaley, Sean Fisher and David Santos ably filled out the rest of the group, but Nebraska had trouble finding the right combination of speed and experience at linebacker.

9. Minnesota: (Preseason: 10): The Gophers were young in a lot of spots but not at linebacker, where experienced veterans like Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper led the way. Aaron Hill rounded out what was a solid, if unspectacular, corps that helped Minnesota make great strides on defense.

10. Illinois (Preseason: 6): Injuries were one reason why Jonathan Brown didn't blossom into the superstar we expected to see. He had 9.5 tackles for loss but played in only nine games. It says something about both the Illini linebackers and the defense as a whole that true freshman Mason Monheim led the team with 86 tackles. He and fellow first-year player Mike Svetina at least give Illinois some reason for optimism.

11. Purdue (Preseason: 9): Dwayne Beckford was kicked off the team in August, and things didn't get a whole lot better from there. Will Lucas led the group with 66 tackles, but it was a sign of Purdue's problems at linebacker that converted quarterback Sean Robinson started here. Improving the linebacker play should be a top priority for new head coach Darrell Hazell.

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): Junior-college import David Cooper stepped right in and made an immediate impact, recording 86 tackles and nine behind the line of scrimmage. But the Hoosiers struggled to find consistent play elsewhere at the position. It's no coincidence that Kevin Wilson's latest recruiting class includes several potential linebackers.
Like the rest of his Minnesota teammates, running back Donnell Kirkwood surged out of the gate in nonleague play, racking up 361 rush yards and two touchdowns.

Not surprisingly, the Gophers went 4-0.

It has been more of a struggle for Minnesota and Kirkwood during Big Ten play. The Gophers dropped four of their first five league contests, and Kirkwood averaged just 61.2 yards per game (including a 134-yard surge against Purdue) and zero touchdowns. If Minnesota intended to get bowl-eligible, it likely would need a big performance from No. 20 and the offensive line at Illinois.

Kirkwood delivered in a big way in Minnesota's 17-3 win over Illinois, ensuring that the Gophers will go bowling for the first time since the 2009 season. The sophomore racked up 152 rush yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Boosted by Kirkwood and a stingy defense, Minnesota (6-4, 2-4) had just enough to get past Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Second-year Gophers coach Jerry Kill recorded his first road win as the Gophers won in Champaign for the fourth straight time.

The game was hard to watch at times, particularly in the first half when the teams combined for just six points, one fumble and seven punts. Minnesota held Illinois to 13 first downs and 276 yards, and forced two Nathan Scheelhaase fumbles, including one in the closing minutes as the Illini quarterback tried to stretch the ball for a first down. Kirkwood sealed the win moments later with his second touchdown run, from 12 yards out.

The Gophers' defense once again stepped up, whether it was cornerback Michael Carter knocking down a third-down pass in Minnesota territory or linebacker Mike Rallis forcing Scheelhaase's fumble. Carter has been brilliant in Big Ten play.

Quarterback Philip Nelson had limited numbers (9-for-15 passing, 78 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs), but he made several key plays on third and fourth down, converting two fourth downs to set up the Gophers' first touchdown.

Illinois' defense kept it in the game most of the way, but the Illini have so many problems on offense that it didn't matter. Tim Beckman's crew had just 101 rush yards and couldn't mount a drive of longer than 11 yards in the second or third quarter. The Illini wrap up their home schedule next week against Purdue before finishing at Northwestern.

For Kill and the Gophers, this is one to celebrate. Few envisioned Minnesota would be bowling in Kill's second year. Despite some tough moments in Big Ten play, the Gophers are climbing back toward respectability.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

October, 30, 2012
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We already covered the Mark Weisman news at Iowa earlier. Here are some other personnel nuggets from around the Big Ten ...

Purdue

Standout DT Kawann Short is questionable for Saturday's game against Penn State after suffering an ankle injury last week at Minnesota. Coach Danny Hope is optimistic Short will return and Short told local reporters he's around 90 percent but won't get the final word until later this week. Hope said CB Ricardo Allen (ankle) is improving. Robert Marve will start at QB this week primarily because of his strong passing performance at Minnesota, Hope said.

Michigan

Head coach Brady Hoke sounded more optimistic about having starting QB Denard Robinson (elbow) for the Minnesota game on Saturday. "He should be fine," Hoke said Tuesday. "It's just one of those things that flutters up now and then. ... He's getting better every day." Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said Tuesday that backup Russell Bellomy was adequately prepared for the Nebraska game but struggled after entering the game in a difficult situation. Devin Gardner hadn't been taking many reps at quarterback in the weeks leading up to Nebraska but is taking more this week.

Minnesota

Top WR A.J. Barker (ankle) won't practice today but has a chance to return Saturday against Michigan. Barker had 135 receiving yards and two touchdowns before leaving the Purdue win with the injury, which has coach Jerry Kill concerned. LB Mike Rallis (ankle) and S Derrick Wells (leg) also won't practice today, but both are expected back for the Wolverines.

Penn State

Lions TE Kyle Carter, who ranks second on the team with 35 receptions and 441 receiving yards, is "day-to-day," according to coach Bill O'Brien, after suffering an ankle injury in the fourth quarter of the Ohio State loss. O'Brien expects to know more about Carter later this week.

Ohio State

Coach Urban Meyer downgraded LB Etienne Sabino (leg) to doubtful Tuesday -- he had listed Sabino as questionable Monday. Defensive back Zach Domicone, a special-teams ace, could be back this week against Illinois, although he won't practice today.

Illinois

Miles Osei, who saw some time at QB early this season, is working exclusively at WR as the Illini try to find more weapons to surround top signal-caller Nathan Scheelhaase. Illinois also demoted punt returner Tommy Davis after the Indiana loss and will use Darius Millines or Terry Hawthorne instead. The Illini rank 117th nationally in punt returns.

Indiana

Although freshman QB Nate Sudfeld continues to provide a boost off of the bench, the Hoosiers aren't changing their approach at the position for this week's game against Iowa. Coach Kevin Wilson noted Tuesday that both Sudfeld and Cameron Coffman are backups -- starter Tre Roberson broke his leg in Week 2 -- who need to keep pushing one another. Even though Sudfeld relieved Coffman fairly early in the Illinois win, it doesn't change how the two players are viewed.

Gophers must grind to get Axe

October, 18, 2012
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Paul Bunyan's Axe has to be one of the coolest trophies in college football. Who wouldn't want to pick up a giant axe and swing it around after winning a game? And yet, the axe might as well be Excalibur for Minnesota, more mythical than real.

"As far as I know, nobody on our team has ever touched it," Gophers senior linebacker Keanon Cooper told ESPN.com this week.

The axe has stayed planted firmly in Wisconsin soil since 2004, as the most-played rivalry in the FBS has also become one of the most lopsided in recent years. The Gophers will look to snap an eight-year losing streak against the Badgers this Saturday in Madison. The rivalry hasn't gained much attention of late because of its predictability.

"It's been a while," linebacker Mike Rallis said. "That's on us. We need to change that and get this back to where it's a big deal, it's a big game again."

There's little secret as to why Wisconsin -- which is 15-2 in the last 17 Axe games -- has so thoroughly dominated the series of late. The Badgers haven't scored fewer than 31 points in the last eight meetings, averaging 39.3 points during their winning streak. Wisconsin has scored 42 and 41 points in the last two years.

Minnesota's defense simply hasn't been able to keep up. That unit looks much improved this year and hopes to turn in a much better showing.

"I think we're better because guys are playing fast this year," Rallis said. "We're more comfortable in the system and we're a better overall team. At the same time, if we don't bring our 'A' game, they're going to exploit us."

That's what happened in the Gophers last two games, losses to Iowa and Northwestern. In both, they fell behind big early while getting gashed by the running game. Mental mistakes and poor tackling played key roles. The defense rebounded in the second half of both games, allowing no offensive points after halftime, but the damage had already been done.

Now a team that started 4-0 is in danger of suffering a three-game losing streak and seeing its hopes of going to a bowl for the first time since 2009 dwindle.

"This is a real important game," head coach Jerry Kill said. "It comes at a time when our program needs to play well. We need to step up a little bit."

And that means stopping Wisconsin's running game, which looked rejuvenated last week at Purdue when the Badgers rolled up 467 rushing yards. Minnesota might have the misfortune of catching its rival at exactly the wrong time. But the Gophers know exactly what to expect.

"When you play Wisconsin, it's going to be a man's game," Cooper said. "There aren't a lot of tricks or misdirections. They're going to run right at you, and it's up to you as a man to stop it."

That hasn't happened for Minnesota in two full presidential cycles. If the Gophers ever want to feel that axe in their hand again, their defense had better find a way to stay off the chopping block.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 8 ...

1. Clock ticking for Michigan seniors: Quarterback Denard Robinson and his fellow Michigan seniors have been through a lot in their careers -- some historic lows from 2008 to '10, a rebound 2011 season under current coach Brady Hoke, a Sugar Bowl championship and a streak-snapping win against Ohio State last November. But the fourth-year seniors never have beaten Michigan State. Hoke puts countdown clocks for Michigan State and Ohio State in the football complex and has emphasized the need to beat the Spartans since the preseason. Robinson has struggled in two starts against Michigan State (4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns) and tries to turn the tide against a stout Spartans defense. Michigan can nudge Michigan State farther out of the division race with a victory.

2. Blackshirts versus Blackshirts: Northwestern will don all-black uniforms Saturday at Ryan Field for one of its more anticipated home games in recent memory. Some are joking the Wildcats' threads will be the first blackshirts Nebraska has seen this season. The Huskers' defense has a lot to prove after Ohio State put 63 points on the board against Bo Pelini's squad Oct. 6 in Columbus. Spread offenses have given Nebraska trouble in recent years, and Northwestern quarterback/receiver Kain Colter led his team's upset win last year in Lincoln (2 rush TDs, 1 pass TD). Pelini wants to see an "angry" Nebraska team in Evanston and feels like he has one. The fifth-year coach has stressed winning out, which would put Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. A Northwestern win, meanwhile, means the Wildcats are serious contenders in the Legends Division.

[+] EnlargeMark Weisman
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Mark Weisman has four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, including eight touchdowns during the span.
3. Weisman watch: There's no doubt Mark Weisman is Iowa's top offensive weapon, and for much of the past four games, he has been the Hawkeyes' only threat. The Air Force transfer has recorded four consecutive 100-yard rushing performance and a total of 623 yards and eight touchdowns during the span. But Weisman's status for Saturday night's showdown against Penn State is very much in doubt because of an ankle sprain he suffered last week at Michigan State. Weisman is cleared to play, and an MRI done Monday didn't show major damage, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz didn't sound overly optimistic about having the sophomore, noting that he "would have a lot of progress to make to be able to play." While Weisman might sit, Jordan Canzeri, who tore his ACL this spring, should return for Iowa at running back. Either way, the Hawkeyes are facing arguably the Big Ten's best defensive front seven and need more from a passing attack that ranks 99th nationally.

4. An ax to grind: The Big Ten's best rivalry trophy is at stake at Camp Randall Stadium as Wisconsin and Minnesota play for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Wisconsin has won eight straight in the series and can match the longest win streak by either squad with a victory Saturday. Minnesota senior linebacker Mike Rallis acknowledged this week, "If you don't ever win, it's not really a rivalry." The detest for the Badgers runs deep with Minnesota's roster, though, and while the Gophers will be short-handed, they can record a signature win and a significant upset Saturday. They'll have to beat a Wisconsin team that seems to have found its bearings after a slow start, especially along the offensive line.

5. Getting defensive in Columbus: Both Ohio State and Purdue are looking for better results from their defenses Saturday at The Shoe. The Buckeyes' defensive woes against Indiana (49 points allowed, 481 yards) and for much of the season prompted their offensive-minded head coach, Urban Meyer, to take a more hand's-on role with the defense this week. Ohio State is banged up on defense and had to move starting fullback Zach Boren to linebacker last week (he'll stay there for a while). Meyer stressed the need to finish plays within 4-6 seconds and tackle better. Tackling has been a huge issue for Purdue the past two weeks, as it has allowed 82 points and 771 rush yards in losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. Standout tackle Kawann Short and the Boilers' defensive line needs a dramatic improvement against Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Co., or Saturday's game will get ugly in a hurry. Purdue hasn't won in Columbus since 1988 and hasn't beaten an AP Top 10 team on the road since 1974.

6. Spartans' season on the brink: Michigan State has been the Big Ten's biggest disappointment this season. The Spartans already have lost three home games, including two league home games, meaning they'll need signature road wins to have any chance to repeat as Legends Division champs. Losses this week in Ann Arbor and next week in Madison would eliminate Michigan State from the race. Coach Mark Dantonio does a masterful job of embracing the Michigan rivalry, and his players have responded, winning four straight. Michigan State aims for its first five-game win streak against Michigan in program history Saturday. The Spartans will be geared up, but they can't expect to commit 13 penalties and win, like they did last year in East Lansing. "There's no question that both teams are going to go after each other," Dantonio said. "I don't think there's any question about that. But we've got to keep the game under control. We can't let it get out of control." All eyes will be on the William Gholston-Taylor Lewan matchup after their dust-ups last year.

7. Indiana drops anchor: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson isn't satisfied with being close, and neither are his players. The Hoosiers have had a chance to win all seven of their games this season, but they've only won two of them. "You are getting better and you should feel good about yourself, but you need to keep pushing," Wilson said Tuesday. The next push would be a win Saturday against Navy as Indiana wraps up non-league play for itself and for the Big Ten. Navy ranks 97th nationally in pass-efficiency defense, which should bode well for Hoosiers quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, and their talented core of wide receivers. But the Midshipmen also have turned around their season a bit the past two weeks, and their triple option attack will test an Indiana defense that ranks 109th nationally against the run and has surrendered more than 350 rush yards in two of its past three games. Indiana could go on a nice second-half run, but it needs to get over the hump against Navy in a potential shootout.

8. On the Ball: After a rough few months both on and off the field, Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball is back on track, racking up eight rushing touchdowns in Big Ten play and averaging 152 rush yards against league opponents. He broke the Big Ten career touchdowns record -- owned by former Badgers star Ron Dayne -- last week against Purdue and is six touchdowns shy of matching Travis Prentice's NCAA record of 78. He still needs five rushing touchdowns to match Dayne's Big Ten career record of 71. "I feel like I have my balance back, which is a huge part," Ball told ESPN.com this week. "My cuts are a lot better, a lot stronger. I just feel a lot more comfortable out there." Ball faces a Minnesota team that has been vulnerable against the run in Big Ten play. Wisconsin's offensive line seems to have turned the corner in the past five quarters. The Badgers' front five matches up against an improved Minnesota defensive front led by tackle Ra'Shede Hageman.

9. Lions enter their house of horrors: Kinnick Stadium hasn't been kind to Penn State, which hasn't won in Iowa City since 1999, Ferentz's first season as Hawkeyes coach. The Lions saw their national title hopes vanish at Kinnick in 2008 and managed just three points against the Hawkeyes in their last trip there in 2008. Despite his team's four-game win streak, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien made it clear that "the meat of the schedule" begins now, and Lions cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted this week, "This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us." A win keeps Penn State undefeated in Big Ten play and sets up next week's so-called Ineligi-bowl against Ohio State in Happy Valley. The game features an interesting coaching connection as Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son, worked alongside O'Brien with the New England Patriots the past few years. Kirk Ferentz downplayed the impact of having Brian Ferentz on his staff.

10. Cat nap: After a sluggish start in a previous mid-afternoon kickoff against Boston College, Northwestern's team leaders decided to schedule a mandatory team nap before Saturday's game against Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET kick). Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald greeted the decision with quasi-disgust, saying Monday, "Unbelievable. This is what I get paid to do. Seriously. Create nap time. It's pathetic." But the cat nap is definitely happening, as Fitzgerald confirmed later in the week, and it'll be interesting to see how Northwestern starts the game against the Huskers. Although the idea sounds silly, figuring out how to rest before games to produce peak performances is a subject that gets a lot of attention from sports teams at all levels. There will be some jokes if Northwestern sleepwalks through the first half against the Huskers. If the Wildcats win, expect to see the pregame nap adopted all over the country.

Friday Q&A: Minnesota's Mike Rallis

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
3:00
PM ET
After two rough seasons, the arrow is pointed up for Minnesota football. The Gophers are one of just three undefeated teams left in the Big Ten, and they're already halfway to bowl eligibility, having matched their wins total (3) from each of the past two seasons. They're shown improvement along both lines. They've already intercepted more passes (5) than they did all of last season (4). They also survived an ankle injury to senior quarterback MarQueis Gray in last week's win against Western Michigan. Senior linebacker Mike Rallis, who made his first collegiate start as a freshman in the 2008 Insight Bowl, has lived through the losses and the transition, and he hopes to go out the program headed in the right direction again. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Rallis has started the past season and a half and ranks second on the squad in tackles with 21 this year.

ESPN.com caught up with Rallis this week in advance of Minnesota's game against Syracuse.

Minnesota has had some tough times in recent years. What's it like being around the program and being around campus with the team at 3-0?

Mike Rallis: It's an exciting atmosphere around the program, but we know we've got a long way to go still. We're just out here grinding every practice, trying to get better.

[+] EnlargeMike Rallis
University of Minnesota Athletic CommunicationsMike Rallis wore No. 51 to remember his teammate Gary Tinsley who died suddenly in April.
Coaches talk about the challenges of dealing with success. How is your team handling it early on this season?

Rallis: I think guys have stayed pretty focused and realize that we've got a long way to go. We're going to play a lot of good teams this year, it's a long season. The teams that do well at the end of the season are the teams that continue to build and get better, as opposed to staying the same throughout.

It looks like your teammates were having some fun and showing off their dance moves in this video. Why didn't we see you in it?

Rallis: (laughs) I don't get too caught up in that stuff. When I'm around the football facility, I'm all business.

Where does Syracuse rank among the teams you've played so far this season?

Rallis: I think they're the best team we'll have played so far. They've got a lot of good players out there, a lot of skill players on offense who can hurt you if you give them any kind of space, and the quarterback's a pretty good player, so we're definitely going to have to step our game up to beat this Syracuse team.

What's stood out to you when you've scouted [Syracuse QB] Ryan Nassib?

Rallis: A lot of college quarterbacks stare down their targets, and Nassib will go through his progressions, through his reads. He'll look off a couple guys and move onto the next progression. That's a pretty good quality as a quarterback.

How would you evaluate the defense's performance through the first three games?

Rallis: I think we've done a lot of good things. The main thing that's improved from last year is how fast we've played. Less thinking, less processing, more just going out there and playing fast, great effort running to the ball. But I think we've got a long way to go with some of our fits, some of our assignments and just being more consistent overall as a defense.

The defense already has more interceptions than all of last year. What do you attribute that to?

Rallis: There's a couple things. We made a point of emphasis throughout the offseason of, when we get an opportunity to catch a ball or recover a fumble, we're going to do it. The other thing that I think has been big is the pressure the D-line has created on the quarterback to force some bad throws. It gets him a little weary in the pocket.

You've got a lot of experience at linebacker. How do you factor into leading the team, and where do you think the linebacker group is at right now?

Rallis: We've got a lot of veteran guys who play in the rotation. We have a deep corps, and we look to ourselves to set the tone every practice, every game, come out with great energy, get everybody lined up and just play our roles on the defense.

Where did the idea of having a different player wear Gary Tinsley's jersey number every game come from (Tinsley, a former Gophers linebacker, died suddenly in April)?

Rallis: Pretty soon after Gary had passed, we talked about different ways that we were going to honor him. Some of the players suggested that, and I think it's just been a great way to call attention to Gary and tell his story and honor him in front of a large audience. The TV and the media have to look every game and say, 'Why is so-and-so not wearing his regular number? Why is he wearing 51?' It's because of Gary Tinsley.

What was it like for you to wear 51 against New Hampshire?

Rallis: It was really special. It was a little weird seeing it in my locker at first, but I put it on and I really felt like I had the power of two in me. I felt Gary's presence throughout the whole game, and I do every game, but especially when I put on that 51. After the game, I didn't really want to take it off. I wore it to the post-game press conference, and reluctantly gave it back the next day.

How meaningful was Gary's life to you and your teammates?

Rallis: It's a great inspiration. Gary's a special kid, a very, very special person to me in so many different ways with his attitude toward life. I just try to emulate what he did every day, bring a great attitude, great energy and doing everything he can to win on the field.

A lot of people are asking if Minnesota can keep this going. In your opinion, what needs to happen for the team to keep the momentum?

Rallis: It's all about preparation. We can't have one off practice for the rest of the year. We've got to keep building, we've got to keep getting better. We can't go through the motions. Every practice, we've got to have a sense of urgency to continue to improve.
Our preseason position rankings keep on keeping on as we turn to the linebacker units. On Friday, we ranked the individual linebackers in the Big Ten for 2012. Remember that we are considering 2011 performance most heavily in these rankings.

The top three here are really strong, while several other teams have a chance to be really good at linebacker this season.

[+] EnlargeDenicos Allen sacks Denard Robinson
Mike Carter/US PresswireMSU's Denicos Allen piled up 10 sacks last season.
1. Michigan State: Remember when there were concerns about the Spartans' linebacker corps last August? Seems pretty silly now. All three starters are back from a standout unit in 2011 that included defensive quarterback Max Bullough, sack artist Denicos Allen and the underrated Chris Norman. Add in some promising youngsters like Darien Harris, and this has a chance to be one of the best linebacker groups in the entire nation.

2. Penn State: Linebacker U. took a hit when potential starter Khairi Fortt transferred to Cal. But don't feel too sorry for this Nittany Lions' unit, which still boasts All-Big Ten big hitter Gerald Hodges and veteran Michael Mauti, who just needs to stay healthy to be a star. Glenn Carson was sturdy in the middle as a starter last year as well. Experienced depth is the only real question.

3. Wisconsin: You'd be hard-pressed to find a better duo than Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, who finished one-two in the Big Ten in total tackles last season. Ethan Armstrong will likely fill out the trio, which gets rated this high because of sheer star power.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes' linebackers will be young but have loads of potential. Etienne Sabino is the lone true veteran of the group, while Ryan Shazier showed late last season that he has game-changing ability. Former blue-chip recruit Curtis Grant looks ready now to be a major contributor. The dismissal of Storm Klein did hurt the depth here, however.

5. Michigan: Here's a group that was very solid in 2011 and could be even better in '12. Senior Kenny Demens is the anchor who led the way last year as freshmen Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan got their feet wet. Another rookie in Joe Bolden could bolster the crew this season.

6. Illinois: The Illini have a budding superstar in Jonathan Brown, who could challenge for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors if he builds on his breakout sophomore year. Houston Bates had a good redshirt freshman year and at 240 pounds can be force. The third spot will be more of a hybrid role, likely filled by safety Ashante Williams. Defensive end Michael Buchanan could play some standing up as well.

7. Nebraska: This is senior Will Compton's group to lead after Big Ten linebacker of the year Lavonte David took his superhuman tackling skills to the NFL. Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher will have to raise their games in David's absence. Juco import Zaire Anderson and riser David Santos are expected to push for playing time as well.

8. Iowa: James Morris and Christian Kirksey give the Hawkeyes two 100-tackle men at the position, and they should be better as juniors. But Iowa wasn't as good overall at linebacker in 2011 as it needs to be. Anthony Hitchens likely moves into a starting role at the other spot, and there isn't much in the way of seasoning for the backups.

9. Purdue: Linebacker has been just so-so the last couple of seasons for the Boilermakers. Dwayne Beckford is back after some off-the-field issues and should easily be the best player at the position. Will Lucas also started on the outside last year. There's not much other experience here, but with the defensive line and secondary projected to be strengths, Purdue doesn't need its linebackers to do more than their fair share.

10. Minnesota: The Gophers' defense wasn't very good last year, but the linebackers might have been the highlight. It's one of the few units with considerable experience this year, led by seniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Former Florida transfer Brendan Beal will try to make an impact after being hurt last year.

11. Northwestern: David Nwabuisi is a good tackler and leader for this crew, which nonetheless lacked many difference-makers in 2011. Is this where prized recruit Ifeadi Odenigbo makes an immediate impact?

12. Indiana: Linebacker was a sore spot for the Hoosiers last year, which led them to bring in two junior college transfers at the position. Both Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper looked good this spring and are ticketed to start right away. That also tells you something about the returning talent there for IU.

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:00
PM ET
Happy media days eve.
Earlier this summer, I took a look at the Big Ten's top candidates to throw for 3,000 yards, to run for 1,000 yards and to compile 1,000 receiving yards this season. Well, offensive guys don't get to have all the fun.

Let's move to the defensive side of the ball now and see which guys might produce the top tackling numbers in the league in 2012. We'll start off by examining the leading returning 100-tackle men from last season and their outlook for the coming fall:

1. Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin: Taylor had a true breakthrough year in 2012, leading the league with 150 tackles in 14 games. His 10.7 tackles per game ranked 13th nationally. Taylor sat out this spring while dealing with a hip injury, but is expected to be fully healthy in time for training camp. And there's no reason to think he won't be among the league leaders in stops again this year, along with ...

[+] EnlargeMike Taylor
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWisconsin's Mike Taylor's 10.7 tackles per game ranked 13th nationally.
2. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: You'd be hard pressed to find two more productive returning linebackers than the Badgers' duo. Borland finished just behind Taylor with 143 tackles in '11, successfully making the transition to middle linebacker after missing a year due to injury. There's little question that Taylor and Borland are two defenders Wisconsin will heavily rely on to get stops. And speaking of dynamic duos, let's go ahead and lump the next two together ...

3-4. James Morris and Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa: The Hawkeyes' pair didn't get as much attention as Borland and Taylor but were awfully good in their own right, as each one recorded 110 tackles (Morris did it in 12 games, Kirksey in 13) in 2011. Both will be counted on this fall as Iowa breaks in a very young defensive line in front of them. Considering both are juniors who have had two years of playing experience, the future appears bright for these two.

5. Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois: Brown was another guy who had a breakout sophomore year, making 108 tackles and a lot of plays in opposing backfields. He's got great speed and should only improve as he matures and continues to develop. He's a darkhorse candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors.

6. Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State: Hodges was a first-team All-Big Ten performer last year and enters this season as one of the top linebackers in the country after posting 106 tackles in 2011. He's a big-time playmaker who had a 19-tackle game last year against Illinois. The sky's the limit for Hodges, even in a new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Ted Roof.

7. Ibraheim Campbell, S, Northwestern: Campbell was a pleasant surprise for the Wildcats, finishing with a team-best 100 tackles as a redshirt freshman. He's a hard-hitter who could help Northwestern's defense improve off a disappointing showing last year. Of course, any time your safety is getting 100 tackles, it usually indicates that the guys up front are giving up too much room. So it's probably a good thing if Campbell's tackle numbers go down in '12.

Those are the guys who hit triple digits last year and are coming back. Now here's a quick look at some other players who could reach the century mark this year.

Kenny Demens, LB, Michigan: Demens led the Wolverines with 94 stops last season, and Michigan's defensive line might not be quite as strong as last year's group, meaning he could meet more ball carriers himself.

Dwayne Beckford, LB, Purdue: Fully reinstated to the team last month, Beckford is the most experienced linebacker of the group. He had 91 tackles in '11 and won't have Joe Holland (94 stops as a senior in 2011) to pick up the slack next to him.

Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State: Bullough is the captain of a strong Spartans defense as the middle linebacker and had 84 tackles a year ago. But the players around him are all so good that the tackle numbers could be spread out.

Will Compton, LB, Nebraska: Now that tackling machine Lavonte David is off to the NFL, someone will have to carry the load. That could well be Compton, who had a nice year in 2011 with 82 tackles.

Mike Rallis, LB, Minnesota: Safety Kim Royston paced the Gophers with 123 tackles in 2011. But like Northwestern, Minnesota would rather not see a defensive back lead the way in stops again. Rallis (83 tackles last year) or fellow linebacker Keanon Cooper (77) might see an uptick in stats with a better Gophers' defensive effort.

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: The Buckeyes did not have a player record more than 75 tackles last year. That might change this season, and veteran linebacker Etienne Sabino could put up some big numbers. But I like Shazier -- who had 58 tackles in only 10 games as a freshman, including 15 against Penn State -- to emerge as the next Buckeyes linebacker star.

David Cooper, Indiana: The Hoosiers are high on this junior-college transfer and hope he can have an immediate, Lavonte David like impact. They need someone to make a big mark on a defense that really struggled a year ago.

Michael Mauti, Penn State: The Nittany Lions have Hodges and also Mauti, who can be a major factor if he's recovered from yet another devastating injury. He had 67 tackles two years ago in an injury-shortened season and was playing extremely well before he hurt his knee last September. If he's sound, Penn State could have a top tackling duo a la Wisconsin and Iowa.

Minnesota spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
9:00
AM ET
2011 record: 3-9
2011 conference record: 2-6 (sixth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB MarQueis Gray, CB Troy Stoudermire, LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, WR Brandon Green, LT Ed Olson

Key losses

WR Da'Jon McKnight, S Kim Royston, RB Duane Bennett, DT Anthony Jacobs, DT Brandon Kirksey, TE Collin McGarry

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: MarQueis Gray* (966 yards)
Passing: MarQueis Gray* (1,495 yards)
Receiving: Da'Jon McKnight (760 yards)
Tackles: Kim Royston (123)
Sacks: Gary Tinsley (4)
Interceptions: Troy Stoudermire* (2)

Spring answers

1. Better secondary play: The Gophers looked overmatched defending the pass at times last season, but things appear to have changed dramatically. The secondary took a major step forward this spring and looks to be as deep and talented as it's been in a few years. Head coach Jerry Kill brought in three junior-college defensive backs who should all contribute, including Martez Shabazz, and Troy Stoudermire returns at starting corner after getting an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA. The Gophers were also able to move corner Brock Vereen to safety with the extra depth. Once a weakness, this position now figures to be a strength.

2. Gray matter: Quarterback MarQueis Gray had some big moments last year in his first year of starting but also struggled with inconsistency. That was expected from a guy who played receiver the previous year. Well, Gray greatly improved his mechanics in the offseason, and Minnesota coaches went to Baylor and other places to study how to best utilize his dynamic skills. Gray looked like a more accurate passer this spring, and he has a chance to rush for more than 1,000 yards and throw for more than 2,000 this season as the team's main weapon.

3. Need for speed: Minnesota hasn't had much of a pass rush for the past few years, but the team is hoping a move toward a lighter, speedier defense helps in that regard. Guys like redshirt freshman Thieren Cockran (a listed 235 pounds) and sophomore Michael Amaefula (245) fit the mold of what the Gophers are looking for in a defensive end: athletic, if undersized, quarterback chasers. Along with moving some former safeties down to outside linebacker, Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys are expecting to field faster players on the edge.

Fall questions

1. Skill set: Gray lost his favorite target in departed senior Da'Jon McKnight, and though several options are available, Minnesota lacks a clear No. 1 receiver. Senior Brandon Green and sophomore Marcus Jones -- coming off an ACL injury -- are among the veterans hoping to contribute. But the Gophers will likely need help from incoming freshmen like Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. Junior-college transfer James Gillum could help in the running game, but the team is not deep at tailback. Skill-position players need to step up to keep Gray from being a one-man show.

2. Strength up the middle: While the defense is getting swifter on the perimeter, is it tough enough inside? The team lost both starting defensive tackles from a year ago, and there is very little experience or depth there. Junior college import Roland Johnson could help but is not arriving until the summer. Middle linebacker is another spot without much depth behind starter Mike Rallis. Will Minnesota be able to stand up against power teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska?

3. O-line depth: The good news is that four players who started on the offensive line return, with only right tackle really up for grabs right now. Yet this is an extremely young group overall, and an injury or two could thrust some players into action before they're quite ready. Kill brought in six offensive linemen in his first recruiting class, knowing he needed to rebuild the group. They'll be better off waiting another year before seeing major action.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
12:00
PM ET
Madness and "Mad Men." Should be a great weekend.

Video: Minnesota spring issues

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
1:00
PM ET

Brian Bennett looks at some spring positional issues for Minnesota.

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