Big Ten: Ryan Orton
- Iowa will be without starting running back Adam Robinson for Saturday's regular-season finale at Minnesota. Robinson suffered an apparent concussion after taking a big hit on a screen pass in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Ohio State. Coach Kirk Ferentz expects Robinson to be back for Iowa's bowl game, but freshman Marcus Coker will start Saturday. I asked Ferentz whether a penalty should have been called on the play where Robinson was injured. Ferentz called it a "bang-bang play" and said while pass interference could have been called, he had no issue with the legality of Jermale Hines' hit on Robinson. "It was an aggressive football play," Ferentz said.
- Wisconsin running back John Clay is practicing today, but his status for Saturday's game against Northwestern will be determined later in the week. Clay is listed as the third-team running back on this week's depth chart.
- Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti (shoulder) will be limited in today's practice. "After we watch him do some things today, we'll have a better idea how much he can do on Saturday, if any at all," coach Joe Paterno said. Lions center Doug Klopacz likely will miss the game with an ankle injury.
- The open week came at a good time for Minnesota's offensive line, which should get everyone back with the possible exception of Ryan Orton for the Iowa game.
- Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema are among the eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. The winner will be announced Dec. 6 in New York.
- Wisconsin's Clay has been named one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back. Oregon's LaMichael James and Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter are the other two finalists. The winner will be announced Dec. 9 during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards.
- Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi is one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's top interior lineman. The winner will be announced Dec. 9 during the "Home Depot ESPN College Football Awards." I'd be pretty surprised if Carimi doesn't win.
- No surprise here, but the BCS announced that Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State are the only Big Ten teams still under consideration for BCS bowl slots.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It was a heavy news day around the Big Ten, so my regularly scheduled mailbag will be pushed back to Wednesday. From here on out I'll have mailbags on Tuesdays and Fridays, so make sure to send in your questions.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced this afternoon that junior Jake Christensen will start at quarterback Saturday against Maine. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, who has come on strong toward the end of preseason camp, also will see action. Christensen threw for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions as the starter last season, completing only 53.5 percent of his passes.
"He came in as a starter, and I think he's practiced well," Ferentz said of Christensen. "It's not a matter of his performance. He's elevated his performance from the spring. I thought he was better in the spring than he was in the fall [of 2007], and I think he's continued to improve, which is what we're hoping for."
Here are some notes and links I didn't get to earlier:
- Ferentz announced that reserve running back Nate Guillory will transfer. Guillory had been competing for the starting job this month but fell behind opening-day starter Shonn Greene and emerging sophomore Paki O'Meara. Freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton are also in the fold, so Ferentz isn't concerned about depth despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. "The jury is still out because we haven't played a snap that counts," he said, "but based on what we've seen, we're pretty optimistic."
- Ferentz also announced that tight end Tony Moeaki and Michael Sabers, wideout Trey Stross and offensive lineman Dan Doering will miss the opener with injuries. Doering, a possible starter at left guard, has a hand injury but should be back by next week. Moeaki will miss 1-2 weeks with a foot injury. Sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian has a hamstring injury but could play.
- Wideout Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are no longer with Illinois' team, coach Ron Zook announced today. Gamble had been expected to contribute at receiver this fall.
- Minnesota's Week 1 depth chart is out, and not surprisingly, there are some notable changes. Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons are listed as starters at safety and cornerback, and former wideout Marcus Sherels has won the other starting cornerback spot. Sherels also will serve as the team's primary return man on kickoffs and punts.
- Sophomore Ralph Spry and emerging junior Ben Kuznia have joined star Eric Decker as the Gophers' starting wideouts. Freshmen Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith are listed as backups. Minnesota's starting spots at left guard and right tackle remain undecided. Sophomore D.J. Burris is competing with Ryan Orton at left guard, and redshirt freshmen Ryan Wynn or Jason Meinke will start at right tackle.
- Penn State safety Nick Sukay will miss the season with a broken bone in his foot, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Starting cornerback Tony Davis expects Lydell Sargeant to win the other top CB job, Jeff McLane writes.
- Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is healthier but must leapfrog several players on the depth chart, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Also check out the list of Buckeyes true freshmen likely to play this fall (besides Terrelle Pryor, of course).
- Maybe RichRod is fooling all of us, but he seems fine with playing two quarterbacks in the season opener, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder writes in his blog.
- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio praises the play of defensive end Dwayne Holmes, who could start the opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's the second half of my interview with Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster. (For part I, click here.)
Have the junior college guys set a new tone on defense?
Tim Brewster: We ask this singular question of our players: Are you a great teammate? We spend a lot of time talking about what a great teammate is and team camaraderie and those types of things. We really feel like we're growing together very closely. I just have a really good feel for this group of kids. They genuinely care about each other, and that will take you a long way.
Recruiting is obviously a big part of what you do and have done. What has it been like so far recruiting to Minnesota?
TB: I really felt like this was one of the best-kept secrets in college football, the Twin Cities, the facilities we have here, the facility commitment, brand-new stadium. I think that last season's recruiting success is just the tip of the iceberg. We're going to continue at a very high level each and every year. It's something that's very important to me and our staff. We work really hard at it, and the biggest thing is we really enjoy the recruiting process. Minnesota's not a hard sell at all. Last year, we had 45 kids in on official visits; 31 of them signed scholarships with us. That's over a 72 percent success ratio. That's amazingly high.
Leadership starts with the quarterback spot. How has Adam [Weber] come along in camp and where do you see him progressing?
TB: Adam has got a chance to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He's got tremendous physical characteristics. He's got a great mind. He's really adapted well to the spread offense. The thing I'm most excited about is his leadership capability. He's verbalizing leadership, he's really taken command of our football team and in particular, our offense. We had some pretty good numbers last year, but I think we'll be much improved on that side of the ball as well.
Is the running back spot a position you need to get more from? There were some injuries last year and a lot was on Adam's shoulders.
TB: In our offense, the quarterback is a designed runner, so it wasn't by accident that Adam ran so many times. He'll run the ball quite a bit this year as well. We really think Duane Bennett's going to be an outstanding player. We've got some really good young kids: DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salomon, Jay Thomas comes back healthy. So we think that tailback is going to be a position of strength for us.
Adam and Eric [Decker] developed great chemistry last year. Are some other guys stepping up at wide receiver to provide a second option?
TB: Brandon Green is going to be really an outstanding football player. Brodrick Smith is really making an impact on our team. Xzavian Brandon is doing some nice things. So under the leadership and guidance of Eric Decker, that group is really coming along nicely. We're really going to have to expedite the learning process with those guys because we need 'em from Game 1 to be performers for us.
So in terms of junior-college guys and freshmen playing this fall, are you thinking 15-20 guys?
TB: I don't necessarily put a number on anything. There'll be a lot of new faces, especially on the defensive side of the ball and there'll be some new ones on offense. Collectively, we've got a chance to be a much-improved team.
You've been a little banged up on the offensive line, which has some new starters. How is that group coming along?
TB: The line has really done a nice job. We've got some real workmanlike guys, nothing flashy about those guys. I just really like their work ethic. A young guy, Ryan Orton has really stepped in and played extremely well at left guard. Dom Alford has been a solid Big Ten football player. Ryan Wynn has really done a nice job and Ned Tavale, Chris Bunders. We've got some youthfulness there, but we also have some outstanding talent. It's a nice group.
With the players feeding off your optimism, what are their expectations for the season?
TB: It's hard to say. I think our team is a confident group. They feel good about themselves, and they should. Last season was a very painful one for all of us, but our team, the investment they've made in improving themselves physically, off the field, in the weight room, has been amazing. Summer camp has gone very well. We want to make certain that we honor the game the way we play it. I think our kids are going to do that, without question.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Today I'll be taking a closer look at Minnesota, which tries to rebound from a school-record 11 losses as it enters Tim Brewster's second season as coach. Here are three questions facing the Gophers as they enter the fall:
1. Who are these guys?
Minnesota's roster has a decidedly different look to it, and that's not a bad thing after last year. Recognizing the need for immediate upgrades on defense, Brewster brought in several junior-college players who will start or get major playing time. Keep an eye on Tramaine Brock, a hard-hitting safety who won a starting job this spring and should set the tone in the secondary. He'll get help from Traye Simmons at cornerback. The line also will have a JC flavor with Cedric McKinley at defensive end and Simoni Lawrence and linebacker. Minnesota will lean on a strong crop of incoming freshmen, including cornerback/return man Troy Stoudermire, and wide receivers Brandon Green, Xzavian Brandon and Brodrick Smith.
2. How will the offensive line fare after losing three starters?
As the rest of the team prepares to take the next step with greater knowledge of the system, the line is, in a sense, starting over. This was one of few Gophers units that excelled last season, allowing a Big Ten-low 13 sacks. The loss of standouts Tony Brinkhaus and Steve Shidell will sting, and Minnesota needs Jeff Tow-Arnett to make a smooth transition from left guard to center. Ryan Wynn, Ryan Orton and Chris Bunders lead a group of promising young linemen, but they can't afford growing pains. Getting the line right is the biggest priority for a team sensing a breakthrough this fall.
3. How will new coordinator Ted Roof reshape the nation's worst defense?
Roof loves tough challenges, but unlike the Duke team he coached last year, Minnesota has the talent to make a big jump this fall. The veteran defensive coach stressed the basics upon his arrival, and Minnesota tackled a ton this spring after not doing it enough last fall. Roof doesn't consider himself a panacea, but he's another reminder that last season is in the past. There's no doubt the junior-college transfers will help. Roof's challenge will be facilitating improvement from returning starters like defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg and linebackers Steve Davis and Deon Hightower.