NCF Nation: Ben Kuznia
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- Now we know how No. 17 Minnesota got to this point.
After a slow start, the Gophers rallied in the second quarter and showcased the characteristics that have led to their 7-1 start. Minnesota's opportunistic defense came up with a game-changing turnover, and quarterback Adam Weber and the offense continue to play mistake-free football. But undermanned Northwestern is hanging in there, and it's been an entertaining game so far.
The Wildcats have to feel good to be tied after their worst fears came true. With a new starting offensive backfield, Northwestern's game plan focused on limiting turnovers. It worked for a litte more than a quarter. But after failing to get good first-down yardage, backup quarterback Mike Kafka showed his inexperience on a hitch pass to Ross Lane. Minnesota cornerback Traye Simmons read the route, stepped in for the interception and took it 23 yards to the end zone.
But Kafka responded nicely and sparked a touchdown drive with a 53-yard run to the Minnesota 2-yard line. The Gophers are clearly trying to take away running back Omar Conteh, which has opened up lanes for Kafka, who has 97 rushing yards on nine carries. Kafka completed his first eight pass attempts before slowing down a bit in the second quarter.
Minnesota's offense settled in nicely in the second quarter. Weber's ability to scramble and make throws on the run has spurred the Gophers. And though junior wide receiver Eric Decker broke his own single-season school record with his 68th reception, Weber is getting other receivers involved (Nick Tow-Arnett, Ben Kuznia, Brandon Green, Jack Simmons), completing 15 of 23 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Both offensive lines have looked suspect at times, but Northwestern likely needs to force a turnover from Weber to pull out the upset.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It's Big Ten preview day, so check back for updates about the league's top stories this season. If my flight to O'Hare arrives relatively on time -- famous last words -- I'll be chatting today at 4 p.m. My opening act is Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, who chats at 1:15 p.m. ET. He'll do. After finishing up a few things in Bloomington, I'm on to Ohio State tomorrow, where Beanie Wells, Brian Robiskie and others will be available.
- Illinois coach Ron Zook thinks Williams can complete 70 percent of his passes this fall, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd writes. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen hands out his Camp Rantoul awards for Illinois. Wideout Chris Duvalt takes home MVP honors.
- Investigators in the sexual assault case involving two former Iowa football players questioned the alleged victim and her family, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. The Hawkeyes' receiving corps is healthy and deep, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
- Indiana's depth at the skill positions has kept expectations high, LaMond Pope writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer is struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after the car crash that killed his father and girlfriend and seriously injured his brother last Christmas Eve, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Guard Cory Zirbel's injury has prompted John Ferrara to move from defense to offense, John Heuser writes in the Ann Arbor News. Wideout Terrance Robinson is also out for several weeks with an injury.
- Greg Jones is Michigan State's best linebacker, but which spot will he occupy this season? The Spartans are still figuring it out, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal. Michigan State got a wonderful surprise Wednesday as Arthur Ray Jr., the offensive lineman who battled cancer last season and is still working his way back, visited practice, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Playing college football is all in the family for the Tow-Arnett brothers at Minnesota, Dennis Brackin writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Quad injuries have dogged Ben Kuznia, but the Gophers wideout now finds himself running with the 1's, Scott Thoma writes in the West Central Tribune.
- Northwestern hopes for a defensive resurgence with Malcolm (Arrington) in the middle, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. Arrington will replace standout Adam Kadela, who still stings from missing a bowl game last season.
- Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith sent a letter to fans lamenting Time Warner's decision not to pick up the Big Ten Network and asking subscribers to switch their cable providers, Jeffrey Sheban writes in the Columbus Dispatch. Here's Smith's letter. Turning back to the field, the Buckeyes hope to regain their trademark excellence on special teams, Matt Markey writes in The (Toledo) Blade. Former Texas and Arizona coach John Mackovic picks Ohio State to knock off USC.
- Special teams is also on the brain at Penn State, which struggled on kickoff coverage last year, Ben Brigandi writes in The Altoona Mirror. Lions coach Joe Paterno is looking for a leader at linebacker. Todd Sponsler of the 50-yard Lion blog reveals his preseason Top 25, which includes Penn State at No. 14. Bleacher Report ranks its top 12 surprise blowouts in college football history, and Penn State's 48-14 trouncing of No. 1 Pitt in 1981 tops the list.
- Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller weighs in on the NCAA's decision to ban horse-collar tackles.
- Allan Evridge is Wisconsin's starting quarterback, but the No. 2 job remains open, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Wisconsin fullback Chris Pressley welcomes the responsibility of being a captain this fall, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt can't wait to suit up for the Badgers, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here are a few items I found while waiting for player interviews to start at Indiana.
- Xavier Fulton turned around his career at Illinois by hopping across the line, Terry Bannon writes.
- Iowa's young linebackers are ready to take on greater roles this fall. The Quad City Times' Eric Page takes a look at Iowa's pivotal position group, the offensive line.
- Cornerback Morgan Trent is no longer the weak link in Michigan's secondary, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News. Rich Rodriguez pulled a fast one on his players, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Michigan State's camp is winding down, and coach Mark Dantonio has Cal in his thoughts, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News. Also, standout linebacker Greg Jones could play either in the middle or outside.
- Minnesota's freshmen wide receivers are generating plenty of buzz, but don't forget about returnees like Ralph Spry and Ben Kuznia, Kent Youngblood writes.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sounds off about how the spread offense has changed the Big Ten since his playing days in the mid-1990s, Jon Spencer writes.
- Linebacker is only a temporary home for many Ohio State players, and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins might stay on the field in nickel packages, Ken Gordon writes. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel is quoting Barack Obama, Doug Lesmerises writes. Does that mean Obama will carry Ohio in November?
- If you didn't know already, Penn State's defensive line is stacked. Jerome Hayes looks forward to rejoining the mix after a knee injury, Joe Miegoc writes.
- Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor is trying to stay positive following his season-ending knee injury, Tom Kubat writes.
- With Jonathan Casillas nursing an ankle injury, Wisconsin's Blake Sorensen could play a greater role at multiple linebacker spots this fall, Jeff Potrykus writes.