Big Ten: TCF Bank Stadium

CHICAGO -- Minnesota unveiled the new TCF Bank Stadium last fall and had little trouble selling out the place.

The school finished 11th nationally in percentage of stadium capacity filled at 101.6 percent (50,805 average attendance). Only Ohio State (102.9 percent capacity) and Michigan (102.6 percent capacity) ranked higher than Minnesota in the Big Ten.

It's safe to say Minnesota will have little trouble drawing big crowds again this season.

Although Tim Brewster's team has its doubters, Minnesota boasts one of the nation's most attractive and toughest home slates. The Gophers will host USC, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa this season. Those four squads combined to go 42-10 in 2009, and all won bowl championships, with both Ohio State and Iowa prevailing in BCS games.

As Minnesota enters a pivotal season, the Gophers' ultimate fate likely will be decided on their home field.

Some coaches might shudder at Minnesota's home schedule this fall, but Brewster welcomes it.

"It's truly exciting to play the type of schedule we're going to play," he said during the Big Ten's spring meetings. "How about to be a Minnesota fan and you're going to see USC come to TCF Bank and Ohio State and Iowa and Penn State. We've got them in our backyard.

"It really motivates our football team."

Minnesota has mastered the win-enough-to-reach-a-minor-bowl-game formula, having done so in nine of the past 11 seasons. But for the Gophers to turn a corner, they need some signature wins, and this fall provides plenty of chances at home.

The Gophers last beat Iowa in 2006 and have dropped eight of their last nine to their archrival. Minnesota last beat Penn State in 2004, Ohio State in 2000 and USC in 1955 (last faced the Trojans in 1980).

"Our guys are jacked," Brewster said.

A few other Gophers nuggets:

  • Colleague Joe Schad reports that Minnesota will self-report a potential secondary violation involving the recruitment of heralded in-state prospect Seantrel Henderson. Henderson, an offensive tackle from St. Paul, ultimately signed with USC over Minnesota and many other schools.
  • Brewster expects linebacker Gary Tinsley to be in the mix for playing time this fall. Tinsley faced multiple charges following an April arrest, including fleeing police after allegedly driving a moped the wrong way down a one-way street. Tinsley wasn't suspended from the team and, according to Brewster, won't face felony charges from the incident.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 14, 2010
5/14/10
12:00
PM ET
My condolences to the city of Cleveland.

It's game day at TCF Bank Stadium

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from the Big Ten's newest stadium, which definitely lives up to the hype.

Minnesota finally has a real home stadium, but whether the friendly surroundings pay off today remains to be seen. The Gophers face an enormous test in eighth-ranked California, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best at running back.

For the first time in my journalism career, I'm happy to provide a weather forecast for a Minnesota home game (instead of the standard room temperature joke at the Metrodome). It looks like a gorgeous day, with temperatures around 70 degrees at kickoff, working their way up to 77 during the fourth quarter.

A couple of personnel notes for Minnesota: cornerback Marcus Sherels (ankle) isn't expected to play, and Dom Alford will start at left tackle over Matt Stommes.

THREE KEYS FOR CALIFORNIA

1. Stay awake. Head coach Jeff Tedford hates hearing about how the early kickoff last year against Maryland doomed his team, which looked utterly lifeless in College Park. A strong start on offense, especially from quarterback Kevin Riley, would prove the Bears are ready this time and could take the crowd out of the game.

2. Find Eric Decker on every play. The Gophers senior wide receiver has been the team's only consistent offensive weapon so far. Talented Bears cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson likely will be assigned to Decker (the game's best matchup, in my opinion), but he could use some safety help against the Biletnikoff Award candidate.

3. Pressure quarterback Adam Weber. Cal ranks sixth nationally in sacks (4.5 spg), and the Gophers' offensive line is still adjusting to a brand-new system. Weber will make mistakes under pressure from time to time, so Cal should take an aggressive approach with defensive end Ernest Owusu and others.

THREE KEYS FOR MINNESOTA

1. Make Riley win the game. Minnesota's linebackers have been fabulous so far, but Best and Shane Vereen can take over a game with their big-play ability. The Gophers need to load up the box and force Riley to make tough throws. Riley has been extremely efficient this season, but Minnesota can't let Cal's running backs take over.

2. Diversify the offense. Decker can't beat a team like Cal by himself, and he'll need help from his fellow wideouts, tight end Nick Tow-Arnett and running backs Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge. This needs to be the game where wideout Hayo Carpenter becomes a difference maker for the Gophers.

3. Make plays on special teams. The Gophers rank among the top 20 nationally in both kickoff and punt returns, and sophomore Troy Stoudermire can be a game-changer Saturday. Stoudermire should give Minnesota's offense good field position, and the Gophers need continued excellence from punter Dan Orseske and kicker Eric Ellestad.

Minnesota announces game-day changes

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


There were quite a few glitches at the grand opening of TCF Bank Stadium last week, and Minnesota plans to address them for Saturday's game against No. 8 Cal (ESPN, noon ET).

The school announced several improvements Friday designed to address entry gates, concessions and shuttle service to the stadium.
  • Gates now will open two hours before kickoff rather than 90 minutes. Two additional gates will be open on the East side of the stadium, and more staff will be present at the gates. Fans with special needs or not carrying bags can now go through a new express lane.
  • After numerous complaints about concessions, Minnesota will add five portable concession stands to the top of the upper bowl of the stadium. Five more portable stands will be available on the main concourse along with two in the west plaza of the stadium.
  • More buses will be used for shuttle service to St. Paul and all buses will have multiple doors for entry and exit. Fans with special needs now will be able to use a disability-only shuttle to St. Paul and the West Bank campus.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


A full slate of games is on tap Saturday, and the Big Ten has several excellent opportunities to improve its national reputation -- or make things worse.

Here are 10 things you should be watching out for this weekend:

1. Terrelle's time -- He's only a sophomore making his 12th career start, but Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor faces a defining game Saturday against USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The Buckeyes need Pryor to make big plays with his feet and limit mistakes against a USC defense unlikely to miss a beat despite losing several standout players. The time has come for Ohio State to win big nonconference games again, and to do so, it needs excellence from the quarterback position.

2. Michigan's defensive line speed -- Boasting improved speed up front, Michigan generated a strong pass rush with only its down linemen last week against Western Michigan. The Wolverines need to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is hitting his stride and has two of the nation's top wide receivers in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. I'm not a believer in Notre Dame's offensive line -- more experienced players doesn't automatically mean better ones -- and Michigan can find ways to turn up the heat on Clausen.

3. Outdoor football returns to the Twin Cities -- Big Ten fans are going to love TCF Bank Stadium, which finally opens its doors for a game as Minnesota takes on Air Force. It should be an electric atmosphere in Minneapolis as the football team returns to campus for the first time in 28 years. The Golden Gophers will undoubtedly be amped up, but they'll need a more polished performance than last week to beat the Falcons.

4. Purdue goes Duck hunting -- Oregon could be ripe for an upset after falling apart both during and after a loss to Boise State last week. Many forget that Purdue outplayed the Ducks for much of last year's game in West Lafayette before falling in overtime. Running back Ralph Bolden leads the Boilers after rushing for 234 yards in his first career start last week. Purdue's defense will need to be much sharper against Jeremiah Masoli and the dynamic Ducks offense.

5. Spartans QB race, Take 2 -- As long as Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both continue to perform well, Michigan State will have a hard time playing only one quarterback. Still, my sense is that the Spartans want a clear field leader when they head to Notre Dame next week. Cousins' and Nichol's performances against Central Michigan (ESPN2, noon ET) could loom large in determining the starter and the backup for the rest of the season.

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


TCF Bank Stadium features all the bells and whistles: A football-shaped locker room that measures 60 yards by 25 yards; the third-largest scoreboard in college football, 37 private suites, 350 LCD televisions, a 20,000-square foot club room.
 
 AP Photo/Jim Mone
 TCF Bank Stadium is the first new stadium in the Big Ten since 1960.

But for Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker, some of the stadium's most basic features mean the most.

"It’s nice to finally see Minnesota lettering on the field and also in the stands," Decker said. "It’s a place we can finally call home."

Beginning Saturday night against Air Force (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET), Minnesota will no longer be a tenant in a multipurpose stadium occupied by a pro baseball and a pro football team. TCF Bank Stadium belongs to the Gophers.

Football is back on campus and back outdoors for the first time since 1981.

It's the first new stadium in the Big Ten since 1960 and just the second on-campus facility built by a BCS school since 1998 (Stanford is the other). The stadium has increased enthusiasm for Gophers football, which fell short of expectations for most of its run in the Metrodome.

"You can tell now with school starting that the student body is getting excited about football and Saturday game days," said Decker, a native of Cold Spring, Minn., who will have 15 to 20 family members and friends at the game. "People come up and ask for tickets and it’s like, ‘It’s already sold out. I can’t help you out there.'

"It seems like a lot more people are getting involved and want to be there."

Decker and his teammates expect to feed off the crowd Saturday night, but they've been challenged to maintain their focus until kickoff. Air Force is hardly a pushover, and Minnesota has many more distractions this week than most.

Head coach Tim Brewster limited media access to players and showed them plenty of Air Force tape -- the Falcons won their opener 72-0 -- to keep the focus where it needs to be. The team has practiced and scrimmaged in the stadium throughout the preseason and will hold one more workout there this week to get comfortable.

"We know that this is a special occasion for everybody, and we’ve got to make this game extra special," Decker said. "With the preparation, we’ll be able to see that excitement on game day and kind of use that 12th man for us. Hopefully, we get things going the right way and keep that excitement all game long."

Big Ten lunch links

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
12:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sorry these are coming a little late. I had to drive through a typhoon to get to Iowa City, but I'm here, safe and sound. I'll be heading over to Kinnick Stadium in a bit.

For now, chew on these links. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Admit it. You want to be Eric Decker. Who doesn't?

He's one of the best wide receivers in college football, and he has been selected in each of the last two Major League Baseball drafts, most recently by his hometown Minnesota Twins in the 27th round last month. Decker is putting baseball on hold to see things through on the gridiron, and he'll serve as a co-captain this fall as Minnesota opens TCF Bank Stadium. A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season, Decker will become Minnesota's all-time receptions leader this fall and set several other marks before pursuing an NFL career.

 
  Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
  Eric Decker should become Minnesota's all-time receptions leader this fall.

Decker took some time this week to discuss his future and the outlook for Minnesota in 2009.

Have you been able to switch your focus back to football pretty easily after playing baseball this spring?

Eric Decker: Yeah, it wasn't too bad of a transition. In the middle of June, I got back to doing football workouts, got back on the field and tried to get myself in shape for football. There's definitely a difference mentally and physically, just getting my strength back and being able to get my feet under me, where running routes and running long distances isn't hard anymore. That's a big thing because baseball, you're not running for two and a half hours at a time. It's more short-lived. In football, you're going and going and going and going.

Did your interest in playing football this fall ever waver after the draft?

ED: It was always clear that my intentions were to come back. It's a great opportunity to open up the new stadium, play my senior season and represent Minnesota. I'm very excited for the season. We have a lot of guys back and more depth. I'm really confident in what we can do.

There's a lot of excitement about the stadium. What's it like among the players since you'll be the first to play there?

ED: Just the excitement level and your preparation, you work so much harder because you know you have an opportunity to play at a new stadium in front of a big crowd and really cherish it. We got a chance to walk around and be in it. I think we're going to do a few summer workouts at the end of the month here inside and get a feel for it and really get adapted to the playing field and the atmosphere. It will be a special time. Our focus will always be on Syracuse [Week 1] during the summer, but to open the new stadium will be a special moment for everybody.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As Minnesota prepares to welcome football back to campus at TCF Bank Stadium this fall, the school is also celebrating its last on-campus venue, Memorial Stadium. 

Minnesota's library has launched a comprehensive Web site detailing the history of Memorial Stadium, which served as the Gophers' home from 1924-81. Almost every significant milestone in program history, including six national championships, took place at Memorial Stadium. 

The site contains original blueprints for the stadium, early photos of the facility, archived game footage (very cool) and pictures of game programs, the marching band and the non-football activities that took place there. Minnesota's move to the Metrodome is also explained, along with letters both advocating and opposing the decision to leave campus in 1982. Fans can also share stories and videos about the stadium. I enjoyed this one in particular. 

All in all, a very cool site, so check it out.

  • Sticking with Minnesota stadiums, colleague Graham Watson writes today that certain schools, including Minnesota, are choosing to invest in their programs despite the tough economic times. Though much of the money for TCF Bank Stadium was raised before the economy tanked, Watson writes that Minnesota expanded its budget by $40 million even after things turned sour.  

Big Ten lunch links

July, 7, 2009
7/07/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Let's take a spin around the Big Ten. 

  • Ohio State's home showdown against USC and its road trip to Penn State make colleague Bruce Feldman's list of must-see games this season.
  • Minnesota is offering rebates to premium seat owners in the new TCF Bank Stadium after the recent decision to prohibit alcohol sales throughout the facility, the Star Tribune reports. 
  • Michigan offensive lineman Mark Ortmann is learning from the best, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
  • Purdue has no major health issues and is seeing good turnout at summer workouts, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
  • No surprise here as quarterback Juice Williams is considered the team's most important player, The (Champaign) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen writes.
  • Penn State quarterback recruit Paul Jones might miss his senior season of high school following ankle surgery, Mike White writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • Former Ohio State assistant Dennis Fryzel died after a battle with cancer, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As I prepare to hit the road next week for some much needed R&R, I thought we should take a look at the most pivotal road games for each Big Ten team this season. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is never easy, and there might not be a greater factor to a team's success or failure than its performance away from its home turf.

Here are the road games that could make or break the season in the Big Ten. These aren't necessarily the toughest road games for a team, just the most important ones.

ILLINOIS

Fork in the road: Nov. 7 at Minnesota

The Illini will be coming off a fairly manageable stretch against Indiana, Purdue and Michigan, the league's worst three teams last season. If they haven't dug too big a hole to open Big Ten play, they could make a serious bowl push beginning at TCF Bank Stadium. But a loss could trigger a down-the-stretch slide, much like last year.

INDIANA

Fork in the road: Sept. 19, at Akron

Indiana enters the season with its head coach on the hot seat and serious doubts about the team's ability to get on track again. That's why an early trip to Akron and the new InfoCision Stadium is so critical. Indiana could be 3-0 after a win against Akron, or it could be 1-2 with a loss and starting the death march.

IOWA

Fork in the road: Sept. 26 at Penn State

One of the nation's toughest road schedules has been well-documented, and it all begins in Happy Valley. The Hawkeyes will get a huge boost from a victory at night in front of Penn State's white-out -- never easy to do -- and can validate themselves as a serious league title contender. A loss would reinforce Iowa's recent struggles on the road (the Hawkeyes went 2-3 last year) with more challenges ahead.

MICHIGAN

Fork in the road: Oct. 3 at Michigan State

Michigan's first road game will be pivotal in a number of ways. It could mark the first road start for a freshman quarterback (Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson), and it kicks off a tough stretch of games against the Big Ten's upper tier. Michigan might head to East Lansing at 4-0, but another loss to in-state rival Michigan State could sidetrack Rich Rodriguez's team.

MICHIGAN STATE

Fork in the road: Sept. 26 at Wisconsin

I'm starting to get really excited about this game because it could mean so much for both teams. Michigan State might be coming off its seventh consecutive victory at Notre Dame and looking to establish itself as a factor in the Big Ten title race. But the Spartans have dropped four of their last five games at Camp Randall Stadium, which will provide a tough setting for a new starting quarterback.

MINNESOTA

Fork in the road: Sept. 26 at Northwestern

The Gophers don't get many favors with their Big Ten road schedule, and their league-opening trip to Northwestern provides the best opportunity for a win. Minnesota will be coming off two emotional home games against Cal and Air Force, and could be anywhere from 3-0 to 1-2 entering Ryan Field. If the Gophers have taken the next step, they need to show it against Northwestern, which has delivered consecutive heartbreaking losses to Tim Brewster's team.

NORTHWESTERN

Fork in the road: Oct. 17 at Michigan State

For the second straight year, Northwestern could enter its showdown against Michigan State undefeated because of an easy opening stretch. The Wildcats took themselves out of last year's contest with a miserable first quarter, but they've had pretty good success at Spartan Stadium since 1995. A win could propel Northwestern toward a major bowl, while a loss would lower expectations.

OHIO STATE

Fork in the road: Nov. 7 at Penn State

An obvious choice here as Ohio State likely will take one of the nation's most impressive win streaks into Happy Valley. Provided the Buckeyes handle Purdue and Indiana, they will own a 17-game Big Ten road win streak. The last team to beat Ohio State at home? Penn State in 2005. A win in the Big Ten's premier game could clinch a league title for Ohio State. A loss could put the Buckeyes out of the BCS mix.

PENN STATE

Fork in the road: Oct. 3 at Illinois

Penn State plays six of its first seven games at Beaver Stadium, but a trip to Champaign could prove problematic. Illinois boasts the league's best passing attack, and Penn State's secondary likely will be its weakest link this fall. The Lions lost their last game at Memorial Stadium and struggled to contain Arrelious Benn last year in Happy Valley. A win likely means Penn State will be 7-0 heading to Michigan on Oct. 24.

PURDUE

Fork in the road: Oct. 10 at Minnesota

Like Indiana, Purdue is a team that needs some early success to keep things afloat. The opening stretch won't be easy, and Purdue hosts Ohio State and Illinois after its visit to the Twin Cities. The Boilers will have a rough time winning at Oregon in Week 2, so this game provides quarterback Joey Elliott and his teammates a chance to build confidence away from home.

WISCONSIN

Fork in the road: Oct. 10 at Ohio State

Wisconsin's overall schedule is extremely favorable this fall, but the team's biggest test arrives in Columbus. This isn't necessarily a must-win for Wisconsin, but the Badgers need to show they can play with the league's best on the road. Wisconsin faces Ohio State and Iowa in back-to-back weeks, and its performance in those games will determine whether or not the Badgers are back.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 25, 2009
6/25/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

In honor of Jon and Kate, here are eight items for you. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Minnesota announced Tuesday that non-premium seating at the new TCF Bank Stadium has sold out, leaving only a small number of seats in the indoor club and suite sections of the venue.

According to the school, more than 10,000 season-ticket accounts were processed during the six weeks after seat selection began on March 30. The student section is sold out except for the 2,000 tickets held for incoming undergraduate, transfer, graduate and professional students, which will go on sale Aug. 15. 

The stadium opens Sept. 12 when the Golden Gophers face Air Force. 

The university's Board of Directors is expected to approve an alcohol ban throughout TCF Bank Stadium at its meeting Wednesday. University president Robert Bruininks reluctantly recommended the stadium-wide alcohol ban after a new state law required Minnesota to sell alcohol throughout the facility or nowhere at all. Minnesota wanted to serve alcohol only in premium seating areas. 

Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
4:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A few questions and answers before the weekend.

Donny from Decatur, Ill., writes: I've been hearing a lot of the hype surrounding this years Illinios receivers, everything from "Maybe the best in the country", "best in the Big Ten". Maybe it's because I am in Illinois. But I am excited to go see these guys in action this year. What are your thoughts on them this year? Do you think they will live up to the hype? WithBenn, Cumberland, Sykes, Jenkins, Duvalt, James, and TE Hoomanawanui and Newcomers/Red shirts etc. Fayson, Ramsey, Scottand Hawthorne the Illini look to have a very solid group for a few years to come. Also Juice has gotten better with every year he has played. What do you truly expect from these guys this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Well, since I've been writing some of those things myself, I'd say my opinion is pretty high of Illinois' group. As an Illini fan, you have the right to get very excited about these wideouts. Arrelious Benn will contend for All-America honors this fall, and Illinois could have a legit No. 2 receiver to complement Benn in Jarred Fayson. I never thought Jeff Cumberland could truly be a No. 2, and now he won't have to be. But all those weapons you list easily make Illinois the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. If Juice Williams gets time to throw, look out.


Brian from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Could you explain why OSU has only 16 scholarships available (I think) but they lost 33 players from last year?

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State signed a fairly large class in February (25 recruits), which accounted for most of the graduation losses. The Buckeyes also boast a pretty sizable junior class, which includes true juniors like Brandon Saine, redshirt juniors like Thad Gibson and even transfers like Justin Boren (Michigan). You always have to factor in the number of redshirted players and the number of fifth-year seniors when calculating how big or small a recruiting class will be.


Derek from New Jersey writes: I saw you posted a lunch-link about Minnesota's new stadium. I also watched a video about it. I was just wondering, from somebody who has been there, what your thoughts on it were. Is it built up (ie: Beaver Stadium) or out (Michigan Stadium)? Do you know where the student section will be in the horshoe stadium, or how many seats will be blocked off for them? Any neat novelties worth mentioning? It's not often a college team gets an all new stadium. Thanks for any extra insight!

Adam Rittenberg: TCF Bank Stadium breaks the traditional mold of most Big Ten football facilities. For starters, it is located in a major metropolitan area, which will be a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the stadium. Fans in the upper deck and suites will get a great view of downtown Minneapolis. It definitely doesn't compare with any of the huge Big Ten facilities in terms of size, though it could expand to 80,000 seats if Minnesota chooses to add another deck. The student section will be in the east (non-open) end of the horseshoe, near the Gophers' tunnel. As far as novelties, the massive scoreboard in the open end will be pretty cool. Fans also will be able to see the field while walking along the main concourse. There isn't much excess space on the field footprint, so fans will be very close to the action. Overall, it should be a great venue, and I love the fact that Minnesota didn't build something too big to start off. For more, check out my tour of the facility back in November.

(Read full post)

Big Ten lunch links

June, 17, 2009
6/17/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

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