Big Ten: Shady Salamon
Depth chart (Page 10)
- As expected, redshirt freshman Michael Heitz has earned the starting strong-side offensive tackle spot. Scott McDowell and Simon Cvijanovic will serve as backups at tackle.
- Sophomore receiver Darius Millines earned a starting spot with a very strong performance in preseason camp. Classmate Spencer Harris also is listed as a starter at receiver alongside veteran A.J. Jenkins. Ryan Lankford, who had a strong spring, is listed as a backup to Jenkins.
- Senior Jason Ford is the No. 1 running back, while three players -- senior Troy Pollard and true freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- are listed as co-backups. Don't be surprised if Young gets significant playing time behind Ford.
- Interesting to see Justin Green and Terry Hawthorne listed as co-starters at cornerback opposite senior Tavon Wilson. Hawthorne has been pretty impressive when healthy, but Green is right there in the mix.
- After starting last season at safety, Trulon Henry is listed as the starting strong-side linebacker. Sophomore Jonathan Brown enters the season as the top weak-side linebacker ahead of redshirt freshman Houston Bates.
- Sophomore Miles Osei and freshman Reilly O'Toole are listed as co-backups at quarterback behind Nathan Scheelhaase.
- No major surprises on the starting defensive line, as senior Craig Wilson steps into the tackle spot vacated by first-round draft pick Corey Liuget.
- Hawthorne is the team's No. 1 punt returner, while Pollard and Millines are the top two men on kickoff returns.
- Illinois has a good number of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the depth chart, including tight end Jon Davis, and defensive tackles Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe.
Depth chart (Page 22)
- Junior college transfer Malcolm Moulton has made quite an impression. Moulton is listed as the starter at two receiver positions (the "Z" and "V"); freshman Marcus Jones is the backup at both spots. Senior Collin McGarry is listed as another starting receiver alongside All-Big Ten candidate Da'Jon McKnight.
- Ryan Wynn and Zach Mottla are listed as co-starters at center, the result of Wynn battling a sprained ankle during preseason camp.
- Although Minnesota's interior offensive line might feature three senior starters, the top tackles are a sophomore (Ed Olson) and a redshirt freshman (Jimmy Gjere). Two other freshmen, Sean Ferguson and Foster Bush, are listed as Gjere's backups.
- The depth chart includes another redshirt freshman starter in defensive end Ben Perry. Minnesota is very young along the D-line, as tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey are the only seniors listed among the top three players at each position.
- Freshman quarterback Max Shortell has won the backup job behind MarQueis Gray.
- Not many surprises among the linebackers, although Florida transfer Brendan Beal is just a co-backup with junior Ryan Grant at middle linebacker.
- Eric Lair, who stood out at tight end for Minnesota in 2010, is listed as the team's starting H-back/fullback.
- Sophomore Brock Vereen appears as the team's No. 1 cornerback opposite senior Troy Stoudermire. Shady Salamon and Kim Royston are the starting safeties.
- Not surprisingly, freshmen and redshirt freshmen fill coach Jerry Kill's Week 1 depth chart. Quite a few young players will get their college football baptism Saturday afternoon at the L.A. Coliseum.
Who doesn't love a good name? And there are some very strong candidates around the Big Ten this season.
The only criteria, besides having an awesome name, is a player must be on a Big Ten roster entering the 2011 season. Incoming freshmen are eligible. Names that could have a football connotation help your cause.
Let's do this ...
Coach: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
QB: Moses Alipate, Minnesota
RB: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
RB: Mika'il McCall, Iowa
FB: Jared Crank, Purdue
OL: Fou Fonoti, Michigan State
OL: Jack De Boef, Purdue
OL: Rocko Khoury, Michigan
OL: Seung Hoon Choi, Nebraska
OL: Riki Kodanko, Wisconsin
WR: Fritz Rock, Illinois
WR: Xzavian Brandon, Minnesota
WR: Tariq Tongue, Penn State
WR: Nick Toon, Wisconsin
TE: Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
DL: DeJazz Woods, Illlinois
DL: Kyle Baublitz, Penn State
DL: Wisdom Onyegbule, Illinois
DL: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
LB: Storm Klein, Ohio State
LB: Coddye Ring-Noonan, Wisconsin
LB: Kaulana Judd, Purdue
DB: Miami Thomas, Illinois
DB: John Lowdermilk, Iowa
DB: Peniel Jean, Wisconsin
DB: Shady Salamon, Minnesota
P: Alex Butterworth, Penn State
K: Carson Wiggs, Purdue
- Zepheniah Grimes, LB, Illinois
- Griffen Dahlstrom, LB, Indiana
- Curenski Gilleylen, WR, Nebraska
- Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
- Caleb TerBush, QB, Purdue
- Takudzwa Kubvoruno, WR, Michigan State
- Dakota Getz, LB, Iowa
- Darius Millines, WR, Illinois
- Dusty Kiel, QB, Indiana
- Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
- DeOn'tae Pannell, OL, Penn State
- Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State
- Sahr Ngekia, TE, Minnesota
- Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
- Silas Redd, RB, Penn State
- Nick Stoner, DB, Indiana (nod to Adam's hometown of Berkeley, Calif.)
- Marlandez Harris, DL, Indiana
- Logan Link, DB, Purdue
- Stone Pinckney, LB, Northwestern
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."
Salamon was cited for underage drinking Jan. 8 along with his former high school teammate and current Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. The 20-year-old Floyd told police that he had been involved in a fight near the Minnesota campus and had been drinking. Salamon, 19, also admitted he had been drinking.
A team spokesman told the Star Tribune that head coach Tim Brewster is aware of the situation and will deal with it internally. Two other Gophers players, offensive lineman Ryan Wynn and running back Kevin Whaley, were involved in incidents in Arizona following the team's appearance in the Insight Bowl. Whaley since has been granted his release from the team.
"Obviously, we're bothered by it,'' Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune. "I think any issue is an issue we're concerned about, but when you have multiple issues, you're more concerned. .... Obviously, we're not successful getting our message across [to Minnesota athletes]."Salamon started two games at running back in 2008 but wasn't in the mix there this fall. The team auditioned him at defensive back during bowl practices, and Salamon recorded six tackles on special teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- To understand Jay Valai's passion for bone-crushing hits, you must learn his list of YouTube favorites.
Before every Wisconsin game, Valai, a junior safety for the Badgers, watches "Weapon X," better known as Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins. His video selections also include big hits from the late Redskins safety Sean Taylor and "some Oklahoma State game from the 1990s" where a player loses his helmet in a collision.
Valai's playlist even includes a clip that makes Wisconsin fans cringe -- Tennessee's Eric Berry crushing Badgers quarterback Tyler Donovan in the Outback Bowl two years ago.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|Making the big hit has helped Wisconsin's Jay Valai make a name for himself.|
"Even Eric Berry knocking out TD," Valai said, "it kind of excites me, I don't know why."
Valai is developing his own library of YouTube-worthy hits.
He knocked the 'M' decal off the helmet of Minnesota running back Shady Salamon last November and delivered huge blows against Ohio State, Indiana and others. He led the team in forced fumbles (3) in 2008 and knocked out four players from games.
Valai also led Badgers defensive backs with 56 tackles (35 solo).
"He thinks he's Brian Dawkins," cornerback Aaron Henry said. "With Jay being so small and compact, he can hit somebody and it'll seem like a bullet hit 'em."
As Valai steps into a bigger role this fall for the Badgers, his goal is simple.
"Controlled violence," he said. "That's the key."
While Valai is known as one of the Big Ten's biggest hitters, he also must rein things in after delivering several questionable blows. New Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo wants to crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits, and Valai likely will be on officials' radar.
"When he's in on something, he really wants to go whack it," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "Sometimes, it's better to be a little bit more on the side of caution to make sure you've got everything down."
Valai has several explanations for why he craves the big hits, and he's happy to share them.
- "Little-man syndrome." Valai stands only 5-foot-9.
- "Me and [DeAndre] Levy last year, we just found something to be disrespected about."
- "Texas football. It's just run, see, hit." Valai hails from Euless, Texas.
Though Valai agrees he was born to be a safety, his all-time favorite hit takes him all the way back to the eighth grade, when he also played offense.
His team was facing fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard line.
"My quarterback was running into the end zone," he recalled, "and some guy was directly behind him. So I ran straight at him for about 10 yards, took a sidestep to the left and crack-back blocked him. He flipped kind of sideways. We didn't even [score a touchdown], but the crowd was on their feet.
"Ever since then, man, it's been like a drug to me."
Valai wants to keep building his reputation in the Big Ten, but he knows he needs to become a more complete defender.
He was a strong coverage safety in high school, operating mostly in a man-to-man defense. It's taken a few years to master the more complex zone coverages college teams use, but Valai has caught up.
"He always is going for the big hit," Bielema said. "There's a time and place for those things, and those have to be a part of who he is, but I need him to make every play. I want him to make a play in a tough situation, in the open field, be able to get a guy down and have accountability to your teammates."
The über-confident Valai expects to elevate his overall game, but he still salivates when opposing receivers dare to cross over the middle.
"That's just like dessert after dinner, man," he said. "You're licking your chops every play."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The final seven Big Ten teams open preseason camp, including defending co-champs Penn State and Ohio State.
Here are three questions for the remaining seven squads during the next four weeks. If you missed Part I, check it out.
Camp opens: Monday
1. Will true freshman Tate Forcier create some early separation in the quarterback competition?
Forcier enters camp as the frontrunner after a solid spring, and he could further cement himself as the Wolverines' top quarterback in the coming weeks. He'll face some real competition now as junior Nick Sheridan returns from a broken leg and athletic freshman Denard Robinson joins the mix.
2. Who will step up alongside Brandon Graham on the defensive line?
Michigan brings back a potential All-American in Graham, who has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons. He'll need help up front, though, and the Wolverines need strong camps from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and William Campbell.
3. How many true freshmen see the field this fall?
The Wolverines will be much more experienced at several positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in a strong recruiting class, and several freshmen should contribute immediately. Along with Forcier, Robinson and Campbell, running back Vincent Smith impressed this spring and hopes are high for safety Vladimir Emilien. Defensive end Craig Roh also could be one to watch.
Camp opens: Monday
1. Will we see any separation at quarterback before Sept. 5?
Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on it and fully intends to play both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol during non-league play. The two signal-callers paced one another throughout spring ball, but there's a chance one man might be ready to take the job.
2. Can true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper emerge as the top running backs?
None of Michigan State's older players really took charge in the spring, though Caulton Ray's emergence is intriguing. Many expect Michigan State's heralded recruits to emerge as potential starters by the end of training camp.
3. How will the secondary look by the end of camp?
Dantonio has a very good problem in the secondary -- loads of experience. Eight returning players have starting experience, and that doesn't include safety Trenton Robinson, the story of the spring on defense. The competition in the back four should be fun to watch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
No matter what happened this spring, Minnesota knew it would enter the fall with a proven quarterback in Adam Weber and a dynamic wide receiver in Eric Decker. But with Decker playing baseball this spring and Weber limited following shoulder surgery, there were opportunities for those behind them to step up.
That's exactly what backup quarterback MarQueis Gray, wideout Brodrick Smith and do-it-all sophomore Troy Stoudermire did in Saturday's spring game at the University of St. Thomas. Minnesota began its migration to outdoor football with the spring game, in which the offense racked up 34 points.
Any questions that Gray will see the field this fall were put to rest after the freshman completed 8 of 10 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Smith caught both scoring strikes from Gray and had a game-high four receptions for 98 yards.
"I think this will help MarQueis really become a great player," head coach Tim Brewster told reporters. "We will have packages every game where he is involved."
The Gophers also will find more ways to get Stoudermire the ball. Listed as a cornerback, Stoudermire saw time in several spots during the spring game. He caught three passes for 31 yards, had two rushes for 63 yards and a touchdown and gained 180 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
It all added up to 274 all-purpose yards for Stoudermire, who was used mainly on returns last year. Despite a ton of changes on offense during the offseason, Minnesota could be more explosive in 2009. Weber also looked solid in the spring game, completing 9 of 12 passes for 77 yards.
Other items from Minnesota's spring game:
- The game didn't provide a comprehensive look at the Gophers' rushing attack, as both Duane Bennett (knee) and Shady Salamon (concussion) sat out. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley ran very well, racking up 63 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and Stoudermire broke off two big runs, but the offensive line allowed six sacks. It will take some time for the line to totally click with the new offensive scheme, and the group will remain in the spotlight this summer.
- Minnesota might have identified its primary pass rusher in senior defensive end Cedric McKinley, who recorded three sacks and four tackles for loss in the game. The Gophers tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks last fall (34) but lose All-Big Ten end Willie VanDeSteeg.
- For the second straight year, Minnesota's defense should benefit from some new arrivals. Safety Kim Royston, a transfer from Wisconsin, recorded four tackles in the spring game. Sophomore safety Tim Dandridge had four tackles and two pass breakups.
- Minnesota loses both starting specialists from last year's squad, but kicker Eric Ellestad connected on field goals of 48 and 21 yards, while punter Blake Haudan averaged 40.6 yards per punt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE|
|DeLeon Eskridge is one of several freshmen making an impact for the 7-1 Golden Gophers.|
As the head coach of arguably the nation's most opportunistic team, Tim Brewster knows that timing and momentum can be everything in college football.
Brewster has a good thing going at Minnesota right now. The Gophers are 7-1 and ranked 17th in the BCS standings after a historically bad 1-11 season in 2007. Their new outdoor, on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, is set to open next September. They have a ton of talented underclassmen. The enthusiasm around the program is building at a rapid rate.
Minnesota's next phase seems clear. Accelerate and improve recruiting. Go after the top prospects while the team is winning. Canvass the state for top talent and tap into familiar spots like Texas and California.
Slam on the gas.
Thing is, when it comes to recruiting, Brewster has always been ahead of the curve. If there was a sixth gear, he would have found it.
"You seize every moment that you can," Brewster said, "but also understanding that we recruited at an extremely high level last year. Recruiting is something that really doesn't change with us, regardless of the now, the moment. We're going to recruit 24-7, 365. That's just kind of our thing."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.
Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). Linebackers Russell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy, who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."
Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety after Roderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).
Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."
Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.
Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams as they prepare for the start of league play on Saturday.
Illinois -- The defensive line might finally be taking shape for the Illini after some illness/injury issues. Sophomore Josh Brent is back in the fold at defensive tackle, which has allowed standout Will Davis to move back to his natural position of defensive end. Freshman Cory Liuget also has emerged at defensive tackle, a spot vacated when projected starter Sirod Williams tore his ACL during training camp. "It's important that we can [rotate] guys in there and keep us fresh," head coach Ron Zook said. Zook called the defensive line the team's strength before the season, but the group will need to elevate its play Saturday night against Penn State's powerful rushing attack, which ranks eighth nationally (274.3 ypg).
Indiana -- When the NCAA cleared Florida transfer Jerimy Finch to play this season, Indiana's secondary looked like one of the deepest groups on the team. That depth will be tested Saturday against Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). The Hoosiers will be without at least one starting safety (Nick Polk, knee) and could miss their other starter, as strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury. Coach Bill Lynch announced that starting cornerback Chris Phillips will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. So the Hoosiers could be replacing three starters against the Spartans. Finch figures to see plenty of time.
Michigan -- A bye week allowed Michigan's offensive line time to heal, though a knee injury to tackle Perry Dorrestein last week in practice clouded things a bit. Mark Ortmann is expected back from a dislocated elbow and should rotate at left tackle with Dorrestein if Dorrestein can play. Left tackle is one of three offensive line spots that have an "OR" listed between potential starters on the depth chart. Converted defensive lineman John Ferrara could start at right guard in place of David Moosman, who is listed at both guard and center on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Mark Huyge also should be back from an ankle injury, so the coaches have some decisions to make up front.
Minnesota -- True freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge has stepped up in the two games after Duane Bennett's knee injury, but coach Tim Brewster isn't quite ready to call Eskridge his featured back. Brewster said Eskridge, freshman Shady Salamon and junior Jay Thomas all will play Saturday at No. 14 Ohio State, and Minnesota will stick with whoever has the hot hand. The coach admitted that identifying a clear-cut starter has become less of a concern than it was after Bennett went down. Eskridge has 192 rushing yards and five touchdowns the last two games.
Ohio State -- Quarterback isn't the only offensive position where youth will be served Saturday against Minnesota. Freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center on this week's depth chart after playing a prominent role last week against Troy. The Buckeyes moved Jim Cordle from center to left guard after Steve Rehring injured his foot against USC. Rehring will miss "another week or so," coach Jim Tressel said, so that means more time for Brewster, one of several heralded freshmen in Ohio State's recruiting class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
No one would have blamed Tim Brewster or his players for turning their attention to Ohio State as soon as they left the Metrodome field Saturday afternoon.
|AP Photo/Paul Battaglia|
|Marcus Sherels is part of a secondary that has racked up six interceptions and 23 pass deflections.|
But Minnesota wasn't just another BCS team polishing off a fairly negotiable nonconference slate before getting its first major test in league play. In four weeks, the Gophers quadrupled their wins total from all of last season, Brewster's first as head coach.
The nation's worst defense in 2007 has become an opportunistic bunch of talented junior college transplants and holdovers who have upgraded their play. The offense has surged behind quarterback Adam Weber and Eric Decker, limiting mistakes and putting up points in Year 2 of the Spread Coast system.
For the Gophers to gloss over these accomplishments, regardless of the competition, would be a disservice to their fans and themselves.
"As coaches and players, we don't do a good enough job of savoring victory," Brewster said Monday. "We had a great victory over a really good football team on Saturday, and I wanted to make sure our players savored the victory."
So Minnesota celebrated Saturday before reconvening Sunday. Players went through their running and lifting. Then they studied the Florida Atlantic film and made corrections.
"Once we had all of that done," Brewster said, "we started talking about Ohio State."
The Gophers open Big Ten play on Saturday with a visit to the 14th-ranked Buckeyes. But before breaking down the matchup, here's a look at the reasons behind Minnesota's 4-0 start after a 1-11 clunker in 2007.
IMPROVED TURNOVER MARGIN
The Gophers were far too generous last season and ranked 114th nationally in average turnover margin (minus-1.25). This fall, Weber and the offense have safeguarded the football. More important, the defense is consistently taking it away.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Terrelle Pryor era is upon us. Joe Paterno spent the second half in the press box. Purdue and Central Michigan played a classic at Ross-Ade Stadium. Northwestern had one of the weirdest wins in recent memory. Minnesota is, like, really good. Iowa dominated the stat sheet but still lost.
And it's only 3:30 p.m.
It's been an eventful day to say the least around the Big Ten. Here's my quick take on each team as we get ready for kickoff here at Spartan Stadium.
Ohio State -- The future has arrived in Columbus, and he wears No. 2. Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor emerged as the clear-cut starter after leading Ohio State past Troy in another too-close-for-comfort game. Pryor threw four touchdowns in the win, double the amount senior Todd Boeckman has this year against FBS teams. Boeckman attempted only one pass in the game. It's very un-Ohio State to put the team in the hands of a freshman, but the move could pay off down the line.
Penn State -- Paterno's ailing leg forced him to move upstairs in the second half of the Temple game. The 81-year-old could have gone home or taken a nap if he wanted to. Penn State's offense looks unstoppable, as redshirt freshman Stephfon Green became the latest player to take center stage. Sure, the Lions haven't been tested at all, but they have easily been the league's most impressive team to this point.
Purdue -- It looked like deja vu for Purdue after Central Michigan took a 25-24 lead on a gutsty 2-point conversion call by coach Butch Jones and a great catch by Antonio Brown. But the Boilermakers finally came through in the clutch, and Kory Sheets is emerging as a star. Coach Joe Tiller was understandably worried when co-starter Jaycen Taylor sustained a season-ending knee injury, but Sheets has looked more than capable of carrying the load. Kudos to Tiller for becoming Purdue's all-time winningest coach.
Minnesota -- Wow. I didn't see this coming. Florida Atlantic looked to be a good challenge for the Gophers. Guess not. Adam Weber has been arguably the Big Ten's best quarterback to this point, and Minnesota looks to have two viable running threats (Shady Salamon, DeLeon Eskridge) despite the loss of Duane Bennett. But the real story is the defense. The nation's worst unit a year ago held Florida Atlantic to 3 points and continued to force turnovers.
Iowa -- The Hawkeyes came up short in their first test of the season, and the quarterback saga continues for Kirk Ferentz's team. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi appeared to outperform starter Jake Christensen against Pitt after the opposite happened last week. Running back Shonn Greene is for real and so is the defense, but the lingering quarterback issues raise concern.
Northwestern -- The Wildcats swept the nonconference for the first time since 1963, but no one could have predicted how they did it. This team easily could be 2-2 if not for a Herculean effort from the defense under new coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Quarterback C.J. Bacher threw four interceptions today and Tyrell Sutton left the game with a lower left leg injury, but the defense turned in an incredible performance, forcing four turnovers and allowing just one touchdown despite being on the field more than 34 minutes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Just a quick rundown this morning before I hit the road for West Lafayette, Ind. If you missed it Friday night, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel announced that running back Chris "Beanie" Wells will miss tonight's matchup against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
A steady rain is falling here in Chicago, and weather could be a major factor in several Big Ten games Saturday. Perhaps it slows down Oregon enough to keep Purdue close. And it can't be good for the sputtering offenses of Michigan and Notre Dame.
- Without Wells, Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman must shoulder more of the load tonight, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Same goes for a heralded Buckeyes defense, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The sagging Big Ten should be rooting for Ohio State, Drew Sharp writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson is the second coming of "The Freak," Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
- Iowa appears settled at quarterback with Ricky Stanzi, but there's healthy competition at several other spots, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. The Cy-Hawk game usually doesn't match its hype, Pat Harty writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- The Ann Arbor News' Jim Carty sees Notre Dame edging Michigan in a defensive struggle. Despite its early struggles, Michigan's spread offense will test Notre Dame's team speed, Michael Rothstein writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis really needs to win this one, Teddy Greenstein writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Michigan State's next step is playing its best regardless of the competition, Steve Grinczel writes.
- Freshman running back Shady Salamon should get the start today for Minnesota, and he's up to the task, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Coach Pat Fitzgerald wants to see a strong start, more third-down conversions and better discipline from Northwestern today against FBS-slayer Southern Illinois, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- A great look back at the Penn State-Syracuse rivalry from Mark Viera of The New York Times. In case you missed it, no Maurice Evans or Abe Koroma for the Lions again today.
- Purdue running back Kory Sheets wanted the spotlight. He's got it today against Oregon, Tom Kubat writes in The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier. Oregon's offense isn't the team's only unit with tremendous speed. Check out the secondary, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Wisconsin's mammoth offensive line knows it needs to be better tonight against Fresno State, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Badgers can expect some harsh treatment tonight at Bulldog Stadium, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
This week needs no introduction. It boasts an excellent selection of games around the Big Ten, certain to destroy my nearly spotless season record. Two matchups with the Pac-10 and another with a non-BCS power from the West Coast headline the slate, which will largely determine public opinion about the Big Ten until the bowl season.
Expect a bunch of offense on Saturday, except in South Bend.
Michigan State 44, Florida Atlantic 23 -- Rusty Smith and the Owls offense will test the Spartans, who need their line to generate pressure and their patchwork secondary to hold together. But Florida Atlantic's defense has looked awful so far and it's only a matter of time before Javon Ringer gets going again. Quarterback Brian Hoyer and wideouts Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham should have big games as well.
Minnesota 45, Montana State 14 -- The audition to replace running back Duane Bennett begins as Minnesota gets a long look at junior Jay Thomas and freshmen DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon. The Gophers lost to a FCS team (North Dakota State) last year, but quarterback Adam Weber won't let it happen again. Montana State running back Demetrius Crawford tests Minnesota's front seven.
Illinois 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 24 -- Until Illinois' defensive line starts playing to its potential and stopping the run, teams will continue to put up points. Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Michael Desormeaux is very dangerous on the move, so linebackers Brit Miller and Martez Wilson need to track him. Juice Williams continues to put up huge numbers against an overmatched defense.
Northwestern 37, Southern Illinois 21 -- C.J. Bacher and his receivers regain their timing against a Salukis defense that gave up 31 points to Hampton in the opener. More importantly, running back Tyrell Sutton gets on track after cramps limited him against Duke. Running back Larry Warner and the SIU offense should keep things close for a while, but Northwestern pulls away in the third quarter.
Iowa 31, Iowa State 21 -- The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk Trophies, and though the Hawkeyes haven't been tested this fall, they'll prevail at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa State's struggles to defend the run hurts against blossoming back Shonn Greene. Expect an early hiccup for quarterback Ricky Stanzi, but Iowa's acknowledged starter settles down in the second quarter.
Penn State 51, Syracuse 10 -- Syracuse has a big weekend on tap with the premiere of "The Express," a film about Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis. The actual game will be the lowlight. Syracuse allowed 42 points to Akron at home last week, and Penn State provides a much tougher test. Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and Stephfon Green run all around the Carrier Dome.
Oregon 44, Purdue 31 -- This will be a shootout for a while before Oregon pulls away on the field and on the scoreboard. Purdue's coaches gushed all week about the Ducks' team speed, and it will take a phenomenal game plan from defensive coordinator Brock Spack to keep Oregon in check, especially with his fastest linebacker, Jason Werner, sidelined. Joe Tiller's record-setting win will have to wait a week.
Michigan 21, Notre Dame 10 -- The Wolverines' veteran defensive line is the difference against a still shaky Fighting Irish offensive front. Jimmy Clausen won't spend as much time on the ground as he did last year in Ann Arbor, but Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison should cause some havoc. Quarterback Steven Threet makes a few mistakes before moving the ball with short passes, and a Michigan running back breaks a long touchdown run.
USC 31, Ohio State 24 -- The Buckeyes perform better than many expect, but there are just too many factors going against them. USC never loses in L.A. -- at least not to formidable opponents -- and the bye week should benefit the Trojans. Ohio State's defense generates an early turnover, but the offense won't be able to keep up for four quarters without a fully healthy Chris "Beanie" Wells. Terrelle Pryor makes a big play and a bone-headed one, and the Buckeyes' national title hopes fade -- at least for now.
Wisconsin 28, Fresno State 27 -- I had Fresno State winning this game until a conversation Tuesday night with a Wisconsin player (check back Friday to see who he was). The Bulldogs certainly provide an incredible challenge, but the Badgers avoid another slow start and start pounding away with their running backs. All-American tight end Travis Beckum makes his debut and comes up with a big catch or two in the fourth quarter as Wisconsin survives.
Season record: 19-2
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Eastern Michigan 14 11 Michigan State 73 Final Western Illinois 7 Northwestern 24 Final Southern Illinois 13 Purdue 35 Final Bowling Green 17 19 Wisconsin 68 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Utah 26 Michigan 10 Final Rutgers 31 Navy 24 Final Massachusetts 7 Penn State 48 Final San Jose State 7 Minnesota 24 Final Texas State 35 Illinois 42 Final Indiana 31 18 Missouri 27 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41