NCF Nation: Deon Hightower

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.

The way the Gophers dominated Florida Atlantic, they could have started scheming for Terrelle Pryor and the possible return of Chris "Beanie" Wells early in the fourth quarter of a 37-3 romp.

 
 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.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I've arrived safely in Columbus and it's still early enough to call this a morning briefing, so it is. I'll be heading over to Ohio State for interviews this afternoon, but first here's what's going on around the Big Ten as training camps wind down.

  • A major renovation of Memorial Stadium is almost complete, and Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther will turn his attention to other matters, including whether to continue playing the annual football game with Missouri in St. Louis or switch to campus venues, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune. Illinois-Missouri used to be just a basketball rivalry, but both teams are on the upswing. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Loren Tate takes a look at most hyped games in the series history.
  • Jerimy Finch gives Indiana's defense another playmaker and requires the coaches to be creative with their lineup, possibly pairing Finch with Nick Polk at safety or using the Florida transfer at linebacker, the Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog. Indiana got some more good news Thursday as talented freshman wideout Tandon Doss is cleared to play after being sidelined by an academic issue.
  • Here's a closer look at the Iowa depth chart, which includes two starting quarterbacks and no Shonn Greene, who still is expected to play a major role. Greene wasn't as much of a couch potato last year as roommate Albert Young indicated, but his exile from the program took a toll, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
  • An injury to a right guard rarely spells doom, but Michigan's offensive line looks thinner without Cory Zirbel, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • Michigan State's coaches have a new $15.5 million recruiting tool, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Spartans star running back Javon Ringer, one of four team captains announced Thursday, will face a new look from Cal's defense in the opener, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Minnesota shuffled its defense, going big at middle linebacker with Lee Campbell moving over from defensive end, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. The shift creates an interesting competition at outside linebacker between veterans Deon Hightower and Steve Davis.
  • Ohio State senior linebacker Marcus Freeman loves the pub -- and the double teams -- teammate James Laurinaitis receives, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises checks in with former Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith. Why was a Division III swimming coach talking to the Ohio State football team, especially since he's not a fan? Because he wins national championships.
  • Quarterback isn't the only starting spot in Penn State's offensive backfield not yet determined. Here's a look at the running backs, courtesy of The Altoona Mirror's Todd Irwin. Joe Paterno didn't say much during an interview with the Big Ten Network, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane writes in his blog. Penn State has stayed relatively healthy during the preseason, Bob Flounders writes in The Patriot-News.
  • Ultra-confident Kory Sheets might tick off Purdue's coaches at times, but he's ready to carry the load at running back, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The Boilers' lack of linebacker depth forced the team to move Joe Holland from safety, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
  • Jaevery McFadden is the man in the middle for Wisconsin's defense, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Offensive line depth is a concern for the Badgers entering the season, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.

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