Big Ten mailbag: Gophers' chances vs. TCU?


It's a Wednesday during the June gloom (if you're a college football fan, at least). But here's another Big Ten mailbag to cheer you up.

Brian Bennett: Just 13 short weeks from tomorrow, Minnesota will host probable No. 2 TCU on a Thursday night. Does that get your blood pumping? An upset would be a monumental win for Jerry Kill's program, and I like that the Gophers have all offseason to come up with things to throw at the Horned Frogs. The game will be at TCF Bank Stadium, and if Minnesota faithful aren't going bonkers for this one, I'm not sure they ever will. But (and you knew there was a but coming, didn't you?) what scares me is that this isn't a great matchup for Kill's team. The Gophers struggled last year against teams with speed who could spread them out -- see the losses to Missouri and Ohio State, which were perfectly excusable, and also the upset loss to Illinois and the near disaster at home against Purdue. TCU led Minnesota 30-0 after three quarters last year in Fort Worth before going on to win 30-7. The Gophers have been much better suited to win a brawl in close quarters than a sprint out in space. And the Horned Frogs figure to have one of the best and fastest offenses in the country again. I'd favor TCU by about 10 points right now but can't wait to see what kind of game plan Kill and his staff devise as a counter punch this summer.

Brian Bennett: That's once again the key question in State College. If the line fails to make major progress, the Nittany Lions will have a hard time moving the ball on offense for a second straight season.

But I'm optimistic that we'll see marked improvement. For one, there's new personnel, including highly regarded juco import Paris Palmer at tackle, four young players who redshirted last year,and stud freshman Sterling Jenkins, should Penn State decide to throw him into the fire. Andrew Nelson should get better in his second year of starting, and the team won't be breaking in converted defensive linemen this offseason. Position coach Herb Hand is one of the best in the business at what he does, and even with the loss of Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach, there's nowhere to go but up here.

It's nearly unthinkable that this group could give up 44 sacks again. It still won't rank among the best in the Big Ten, but I think Penn State can get well above 3 yards per carry and be serviceable, at least, up front this fall.

Brian Bennett: Get two playoff teams? Land Joey Bosa on "Dancing With the Stars?" ("Game of Thrones" characters are already ripping off his move). Hey, it's hard to top a national title and a New Year's Six bowl win. But the Big Ten can build on last year by doing better in the nonconference schedule, avoiding any disasters similar to Week 2 in 2014 and not leaving its playoff hopes in limbo. And building more depth behind Ohio State and Michigan State, whether that's with teams such as Wisconsin and Minnesota taking the next step, or Michigan ascending under Jim Harbaugh or whatever, is crucial to the league's long-term health.

Brian Bennett: Not much information is flowing about the league's TV negotiations this fall, and that's by design. Big Ten officials are mum on the matter and say they won't talk about it publicly. But as Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told reporters at last month's joint meetings, the upcoming TV deal "has been a non-stop conversation." League officials are clearly content letting Jim Delany work on the deal, and why wouldn't they be? "If I were doing anything and had to negotiate," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said, "I'd want Jim Delany negotiating for me."

The Big Ten has some decisions to make, but as the last Power 5 league to go to market and one that's blessed with an incredibly large fan base, the conference is sitting on a gold mine.

Brian Bennett: We miss you, Faux. Since I don't plan on watching many Youngstown State games, Saturdays this fall simply won't be the same.