Big Ten: UNLV Rebels
After a sloppy performance, particularly from their senior quarterback, Minnesota made enough plays in all three phases in the extra sessions to beat UNLV 30-27 and survive a major scare on the road. The Gophers avoided losing to a Rebels squad coming off of a 2-10 season and gave coach Jerry Kill his first road win at the helm.
Before getting to Gray's odd night, some props for Minnesota's defense. The unit rescued the Gophers multiple times and showed tangible improvement. First, a line that has been largely ineffective for the past three seasons turned up the heat, as Ra'Shede Hageman, D.L. Wilhite, Ben Perry and others got involved. The secondary stepped up late, no one more so than sophomore safety Derrick Wells, who recorded two interceptions, including one in the end zone in the third overtime. Senior Jordan Wettstein, who had missed a short field-goal attempt early, connected from 32 yards out for the win.
Gray finished with a nice stat line (17-for-30 passing 268 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), but he had a nightmarish performance in regulation. The senior struggled with his accuracy and missed at least three wide-open receivers for touchdowns. Despite a boost from Donnell Kirkwood (81 yards) and James Gillum (51 yards, TD) in the run game, Minnesota's offense stalled after getting next to nothing from its leader.
But to Gray's credit, he didn't quit and came alive in overtime with two touchdown strikes to tight end John Rabe. Wide receiver A.J. Barker also had a breakout performance (three receptions, 101 yards).
Minnesota made numerous mistakes, including 11 penalties and a muffed punt by Troy Stoudermire that led to a UNLV score.
This wasn't a masterpiece, and for the most part, the Gophers should hope what happened in Vegas stays there. They won't win many more games playing like this.
But it's always easier to build off of a victory, and Minnesota's flight home will be a happy one.
Wisconsin made it official Thursday and announced it will open the season against UNLV on Thursday, Sept. 1. The game had been originally scheduled for Sept. 3.
Kickoff time and TV plans will be announced at a later date, but the game will take place under the lights.
"To be able to open up the college football season at home, in front of our tremendous fans at Camp Randall Stadium in a Thursday night game, something that has only been done here one other time, will be very special," head coach Bret Bielema said in a prepared statement. "It will be great national exposure for our program and a terrific way to kick off the 2011 season."
Couldn't agree more with the coach. Night football is great. Night football at Camp Randall Stadium is special, and this seems like a great way for Wisconsin to start the new season. Can you tell I'm lobbying to be sent to cover this game? Bristol, can you hear me?
Wisconsin last played a Thursday night home game in 2000 against Western Michigan, also the season opener.
The Big Ten is pretty rigid about maintaining a Saturday presence but allows some flexibility at the beginning and the end of seasons. Ohio State opened the 2010 season with a Thursday night home game against Marshall, while Minnesota traveled to Middle Tennessee the same night. Indiana hosted its 2009 opener on a Thursday night.
Good move. Hope to see more.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Wisconsin is still looking for two home games in 2010, but the Badgers completed their 2011 slate today with the addition of South Dakota.
The season opens with home games against UNLV (Sept. 3) and Oregon State (Sept. 10), followed by a neutral-site meeting with Northern Illinois on Sept. 17 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Wisconsin then wraps up non-league play Sept. 24 at home against South Dakota, an FCS team that finished fourth in the Great West Conference last season.
"What I like about the 2011 schedule is that our fans will have the opportunity to see a variety of quality football programs from around the country," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said in a statement. "We're also very excited about the chance to play in a historic venue like Soldier Field. The Big Ten schedule is always tough, and we're pleased to have our bye week in the middle of October."
The addition of the Coyotes, who recently moved up from Division II, won't change the growing frustration with Wisconsin's scheduling approach. Wisconsin has faced FCS teams in each of the last three seasons, nearly losing to Cal Poly in 2008, and figures to do so for the foreseeable future.
Wofford is on the slate this fall.
As The Capital Times' Jim Polzin writes in his blog:
"Bielema made it clear last fall that Football Championship Subdivision [formerly I-AA] opponents will continue to appear on the Badgers' schedule, mainly because UW can save a ton of money by booking a 'buy game' against an FCS program as opposed to a mid-major Football Bowl Subdivision program."
Wisconsin needs to fill two games for its 2010 slate -- a road game at UNLV and a home game against Arizona State are already set -- and as Polzin points out, you can bet an FCS team will fill one of the dates.
Unfortunately, these games are the reality in the Big Ten, not just at Wisconsin. As much as all of us would rather see Big Ten teams play more BCS foes or top non-BCS squads, we had better familiarize ourselves with the Great West, Missouri Valley and the Ohio Valley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Mailbag traffic was a bit light this week, aside from the standard why-do-you-hate-my-team stuff. I know it's the offseason, but if you have questions on recruiting, personnel, coaching changes or scheduling, please send them my way.
Thom from Lancaster, Pa., writes: The prestige rankings are something else ... in some cases, comical. Please run some questions past your ESPN stat guys as to how they came up with their point awards. Why is an NC worth 25 points (why not 20 points?, 30?, 50?) My bottom line question is what was the formula and who/what determined the amount of points to be awarded (ie, what is the logical relationship between +25 points and -2 points (why wasn't it -25 point). (And, how many points did PSU get for 1994 when PSU would have done the huskin')
Adam Rittenberg: I'll try to check into this, Thom, but for now, here's the explanation of the scoring system for the Prestige Rankings. I think a national championship should carry more weight than anything else, even though the system for determining titles is certainly questionable. I'm a little surprised teams weren't docked more points for NCAA violations, probation, etc. According to my calculations, Penn State would have received 60 points in 1994 (10 for berth in major bowl, 10 for major bowl win, 10 for best win/loss record in conference regular season, 10 for final AP top-5 finish, 3 for bowl appearance, 3 for bowl win, 2 for 10-win season, 4 for two weeks as AP's No. 1 team, 3 for first-round NFL draft pick and 5 for All-Americans).
Craig from Parts Unknown writes: do you know the dates of spring games for the big ten teams, especially IOWA?
Adam Rittenberg: Craig, I'm currently in the gathering process for spring football dates. I know some spring games already -- Michigan (April 11), Ohio State (April 25), Michigan State (April 25), Purdue (April 18) -- while others haven't been set in stone just yet. Iowa hasn't announced its spring game, but it likely will take place April 18 or April 25.
Dylan from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam, I was wondering when you were going to mention how Otis Wiley was robbed of the coveted (ok, well not really) Rudy Award. The other three "finalist" failed to even be mentioned as honorable mentions on their all conference team while Mr. Wiley was all Big Ten 1st Team after coming in as a walk-on. And who cares if he exhibited character, courage, contribution and commitment during his college career, the guy was amazing (when healthy).
Adam Rittenberg: Dylan, it's hard to say someone was "robbed" of the Rudy Award, which goes to a player who demonstrates extraordinary courage and character during their time in college football. TCU kicker Drew Combs, who was born with a left arm that ends below the elbow, certainly seems like a worthy recipient. Otis Wiley was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and a tremendous contributor this season. He would have been a deserving recipient as well, but I doubt he's too torn up about not getting this award.