NCF Nation: Jon Hoese

A rough stretch for the Minnesota football program continued this week as wide receiver Connor Cosgrove has been diagnosed with leukemia.

Cosgrove, a freshman, is the son of Golden Gophers defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. According to the Star Tribune, he hadn't been feeling well lately and went in for tests, which revealed he has an acute form of leukemia.

He has started chemotherapy treatments immediately.
"Connor is a special young guy," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "He's got a hell of a battle in front of him, and we're going to help him get it done."

Cosgrove hasn't played for Minnesota after transferring from St. Cloud State. His father missed practice Tuesday but has returned to the team and will coach Saturday against No. 18 USC (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET).
"Kevin's going to spend time at the hospital with his son, but he'll continue with the preparation," Brewster said. "Kevin's trying to be strong for his family and his son, and he will be. But it's obviously a shock. We're going to help him through a tough situation."

Connor Cosgrove's diagnosis is the latest blow for Minnesota. The father of Gophers fullback Jon Hoese died last week after suffering a stroke. And we all know what happened last Saturday against South Dakota.

The program is reeling right now. I can't imagine what a Gophers win against USC would do to lift the spirits in that locker room.

But there are much more important things than football.

Keep Connor Cosgrove in your thoughts and prayers as he goes through his treatment.
Whether or not you're a Minnesota fan, you should be rooting for Gophers senior fullback Jon Hoese right now.

An emotional period for Hoese took a tragic turn Monday night, as his father, Terry, died following a stroke. Terry Hoese suffered the stroke Aug. 26, a week before Minnesota opened the season against Middle Tennessee.

Jon Hoese, a co-captain for the Gophers, strongly considered not traveling to the game to be with his ailing father. Hoese ended up making the trip, and all he did was score a career-high three touchdowns, including the game-winner, and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return that sealed a 24-17 victory.

Four days later, he had to say goodbye to his dad.

"I spoke to Jon shortly after his father passed, and it's been a hard thing," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said Tuesday. "Obviously, he played against Middle Tennessee with a very heavy heart. He played extremely well, and one of the most inspiring moments I've ever had in sports is giving Jon Hoese the game ball, knowing that the ball was going to his father."

Brewster isn't sure if Hoese will be back for Saturday's home opener against South Dakota, but his presence on the field at Middle Tennessee meant a great deal.

"Jon Hoese's loved," Brewster said. "He's loved by this team. He came here as a walk-on, he's an elected captain now and one of the better players on our team. It was so special to see the support that our team, the Gopher family, gave the Hoese family.

"That whole family's meant so much to the Gophers, and it's just a tough time. But Jon is hanging in there."

I know I speak for many of you in passing along my condolences to Hoese and his family. It'll be good to see him back on the field again, but only when he's ready.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2010
The Big Ten's best looked good against mostly weak competition in Week 1, so no changes up top. Michigan's impressive win comes with a reward, and there's a little shuffling at the bottom.

Let's get started ...

1. Ohio State (1-0): The Big Ten's most complete team delivered a complete performance in dismantling Marshall 45-7 on Thursday night. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked more comfortable as he led a surprisingly dynamic offense that got a lot of its weapons involved. The defense continued its opportunistic ways. Aside from a few special-teams miscues, not much to complain about.

2. Iowa (1-0): After living on the edge throughout the 2009 season, the Hawkeyes dominated Eastern Illinois to open a year filled with high expectations. Aside from a leg injury to quarterback Ricky Stanzi that looked scarier than it actually was, Iowa fans could breathe easy Saturday. Stanzi and running back Adam Robinson both stood out, and the defense allowed only one significant drive. Things get tougher the next two weeks with Iowa State and Arizona.

3. Wisconsin (1-0): The Badgers made a few big mistakes early against UNLV, but they pulled away in the second half behind their three-headed running back monster of John Clay, Montee Ball and dynamic freshman James White. Defensive end J.J. Watt made a game-changing forced fumble early in the third quarter, and Wisconsin's power game took over from there. A good performance overall on the road, although the Badgers need to clean up a few things.

4. Penn State (1-0): Joe Paterno has found his quarterback, and (gasp!), he's a true freshman. Rob Bolden answered the call in his first career start, showing good poise in the final three quarters against Youngstown State. Receivers Brett Brackett and Derek Moye stepped up, and Chaz Powell returned a kickoff 100 yards to the end zone. Penn State's offensive line still needs to pick up its play after Evan Royster recorded only 40 rush yards against Youngstown.

5. Michigan State (1-0): After leaning on Kirk Cousins and the pass game too often last season, Michigan State re-established the run in a big way Saturday. Playing without projected starter Larry Caper (hand), the Spartans received big performances from freshman Le'Veon Bell (141 rush yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore Edwin Baker (117 rush yards 2 TDs). Linebacker Greg Jones had a forced fumble and nearly secured his first career interception.

6. Michigan (1-0): Thanks to Denard Robinson and an improved offensive line, Michigan recorded the most impressive victory of Week 1, considering the competition. Robinson has to be careful with all the hits he takes, but if he continues to complement his ridiculous speed with an accurate arm, the Wolverines will win a lot of games this fall. Michigan's defense still concerns me a bit, although I liked the aggressiveness from Craig Roh.

7. Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats never trailed against Vanderbilt but seemed fortunate to escape Nashville with a victory. New starting quarterback Dan Persa carried the offense, much like predecessor Mike Kafka did in 2009, and showed incredible accuracy (19-for-21 passing, 222 yards, 3 TDs). The run game once again was absent, a concern for Pat Fitzgerald going forward, and Northwestern endured several special-teams miscues.

T-8. Minnesota (1-0): For the first time in a while, you can say Minnesota has an offensive identity. The Gophers held the ball for 45:34 in their come-from-behind win against Middle Tennessee, as Duane Bennett (187 rush yards) led the power rushing attack. Fullback Jon Hoese (3 rush TDs) provided the best story of Week 1, and a new-look defense did enough to hold off a Dwight Dasher-less Blue Raiders team. The Gophers really needed this one.

T-8. Purdue (0-1): A young Purdue team played predictably inconsistent football at Notre Dame. New quarterback Robert Marve looked good at times but made too many mistakes. The secondary did a decent job against Irish star receiver Michael Floyd, but Purdue allowed scores on four consecutive possessions midway through the game. Still, the Boilers had a chance at the end, and they'll get better in the coming weeks.

10. Indiana (1-0): Look out for the Hoosiers' offense this season. IU didn't miss a beat without All-Big Ten wide receiver Tandon Doss, as quarterback Ben Chappell found a rhythm against Towson and Darius Willis (102 rush yards, 2 TDs) led the ground game. The outlook on defense remains much cloudier after the Hoosiers allowed 392 yards to Towson. If the defense doesn't get better by Big Ten play, Indiana will have a tough time winning games.

11. Illinois (0-1): For a moment, it looked like Illinois would stun Missouri and finally win a game at the Edward Jones Dome. But the second half showed that the team remains a work in progress on both sides of the ball. There were some encouraging signs, particularly running back Mikel Leshoure and defenders Corey Liuget and Ian Thomas, but Illinois needs to put a complete game together. This week's home matchup against Southern Illinois will be huge.
Let's put a bow on Week 1 before looking ahead to a more challenging slate of games in Week 2.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesQuarterback Denard Robinson had a record-breaking day in Michigan's opening win.
Team of the Week: Michigan. Many picked the Wolverines to lose its opener against UConn, and almost no one thought the Wolverines would win convincingly. Behind do-it-all quarterback Denard Robinson, a powerful offensive line and an opportunistic defense, Michigan stormed out of the gate and never looked back, beating Connecticut 30-10. The Wolverines still have some issues on defense, but if Robinson stays healthy and keeps this up, the Maize and Blue will be tough to beat.

Best game: Minnesota-Middle Tennessee. Considering nine of the 11 games were decided by more than one score, there were not many choices here. At least the Gophers brought some drama in Murfreesboro, rallying from a 17-14 second-half deficit to win 24-17. Minnesota also provided the most touching story of the weekend, as fullback Jon Hoese rushed for three touchdowns and recovered a fumble just days after his father suffered a severe stroke. Hoese nearly didn't make the trip.

Biggest play: After a somewhat sloppy first 30 minutes by Penn State, Chaz Powell created some distance on the scoreboard with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter. Powell, back at wide receiver after being moved to cornerback this spring, had Penn State's longest kick return since Rich Mauti's 100-yard runback in 1975. Honorable mention goes to Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, whose forced fumble led to a touchdown early in the third quarter against UNLV after the Badgers led by only three points at halftime.

Best call: Joe Paterno and his staff made a historic call by starting true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden in the opener, and it paid off. Bolden showed impressive skills and poise, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Rich Rodriguez's decision to go with Robinson at quarterback for Michigan also looked good.

Game balls (given to players not selected for helmet stickers)

  • Ohio State S/LB Tyler Moeller: Moeller's return to the field following a year away was memorable enough, but he also played an outstanding game for the Buckeyes' defense. The senior recorded a team-high six tackles, including two for loss with a sack and a forced fumble against Marshall.
  • Iowa RB Adam Robinson: A-Rob made a good case to be Iowa's starting running back, rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. He'll need to hold off Jewel Hampton, who plays his first game since 2008 on Saturday against Iowa State.
  • Penn State WR Brett Brackett: People seemed to forget about Brackett during the preseason, but he clearly formed a bond with his new starting quarterback. Bolden and Brackett connected eight times for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Indiana RB Darius Willis: Willis made the most of his limited action against Towson, rushing 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. If he stays healthy, Indiana should finally have a consistent run game.
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan and Illinois DT Corey Liuget: Their teams both lost Saturday, but Kerrigan and Liuget did all they could to prevent it. Kerrigan recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, assisting on a safety, and had a sack and a forced fumble. Liuget recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, assisted on a sack, broke up a pass and recorded a quarterback hurry.
  • Minnesota RB Duane Bennett: The Gophers dominated possession time against Middle Tennessee, and Bennett was the reason why. He did everything but score touchdowns, racking up 187 rush yards on 30 carries.
How bizarre: Northwestern's victory at Vanderbilt was sealed on a very questionable penalty call by Big Ten officials. Quarterback Dan Persa appeared to be stopped just short of a first down with less than two minutes left, bringing up fourth-and-1 and a likely punt. But officials called Vandy's Jay Fullam for a helmet-to-helmet hit -- replays showed he led with his shoulder -- and the penalty allowed Northwestern to run out the clock and escape with a 23-21 victory.

Now, let's take a quick look at the Week 2 slate ...

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCoach Jim Tressel and Ohio State face a tough early test against the Hurricanes.
Miami (1-0) at Ohio State (1-0): The nation's top matchup pits Jacory Harris and the Canes against Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET). Miami and Ohio State meet for the first time since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which gave the Scarlet and Gray their last national title. Buckle up.

Penn State (1-0) at Alabama (1-0): Joe Paterno heads to the home of the Bear, although this time he'll face Nick Saban and the defending national champs (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Bolden surprised a lot of folks with his play in the opener. Now he'll try to shock the world against the Tide.

Michigan (1-0) at Notre Dame (1-0): Who ever thought this matchup of tradition-rich powerhouses would feature two spread offenses? If Michigan's Robinson pulls off a repeat performance against Manti Te'o and the Irish defense, the Wolverines should be 2-0.

Iowa State (1-0) at Iowa (1-0): Adrian Clayborn didn't mean to tick off Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment, but you can bet the Cyclones will use it as motivation Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Iowa's Hampton plays his first game since 2008.

Michigan State (1-0) vs. Florida Atlantic (1-0) at Detroit: How weird will it be to see the Spartans wearing their road unis for a game in nearby Detroit? Florida Atlantic is the home team Saturday (ESPNU, noon ET).

San Jose State (0-1) at Wisconsin (1-0): After a few hiccups in the opener, Wisconsin aims for a cleaner performance at home (ESPN, noon ET) against a San Jose State team that lost by 45 to Alabama in Week 1.

Illinois State (1-0) at Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats try to revive their anemic run game against an Illinois State team filled with Big Ten connections, from head coach Brock Spack, the former Purdue defensive coordinator, to former Michigan State running back Ashton Leggett.

Southern Illinois (1-0) at Illinois (0-1): Can you say must-win? SIU is typically one of the nation's top FCS programs, and the Salukis would love to score an upset against the state's top public school. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tries to bounce back from a rough opener in front of the home crowd.

Western Illinois (1-0) at Purdue (0-1): Something tells me Robert Marve and the Boilers offense figure things out in a big way this week, although Western Illinois blanked Valpo 45-0 in its opener.

South Dakota (0-1) at Minnesota (1-0): The Gophers barely escaped last year against South Dakota State, winning 16-13. They'll shoot for a more convincing win against South Dakota, which got pummeled by Central Florida in its opener.

Bye: Indiana

Big Ten helmet stickers for Week 1

September, 5, 2010
It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from the first weekend of games in the Big Ten. There were 11 games and many more outstanding performances, so getting the list down to five (or six) wasn't easy. Honorable mentions certainly go to Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Wisconsin's John Clay, but those guys get enough love for their accomplishments.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: "Shoelace" was amazing in his first career start, a 30-10 victory over Connecticut, predictably with his feet and surprisingly with his arm. Robinson broke Michigan's record for single-season quarterback rushing with 197 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, eclipsing Steve Smith's mark in the third quarter. He was just as brilliant as a passer, completing 19 of 22 attempts for 186 yards and a touchdown with several big third-down conversions.

Penn State QB Rob Bolden: Bolden looked like he belonged Saturday in his first career start (and game), continuing his rapid rise at the college level. How many freshmen don't enroll early and still win a starting quarterback job, much less at a big-time program? After some early jitters, Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns in a 44-14 win over Youngstown State. He also had an interception that wasn't really his fault. He'll have some ups and downs in the coming weeks, but Bolden appears to be the answer for the Lions.

Minnesota FB Jon Hoese: Hoese almost didn't make the trip to Middle Tennessee on Thursday after his father suffered a severe stroke six days earlier. He decided to play and ended up rushing for a career-high three touchdowns, including the game-winner, as Minnesota rallied for a 24-17 win. Hoese also recovered a Middle Tennessee fumble on a kickoff to seal the win. Just a tremendous performance amid adversity.

Michigan State RBs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker: The Spartans rediscovered their run game in a big way during Saturday's 38-14 win over Western Michigan, as Bell and Baker combined for 258 rush yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries. As projected starter Larry Caper sat out with a hand injury, Baker set the tone and Bell sparkled in his first college game with a 75-yard run. Bell's 141 yards mark the most ever by a Michigan State freshman in his first college game.

Northwestern QB Dan Persa: Persa likely saved Northwestern from what would have been a crushing loss to SEC bottom-feeder Vanderbilt. Despite getting no help from an anemic rushing attack, Persa completed 19 of 21 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns, all to different targets in the 23-21 victory. He added 82 rushing yards in a performance that mirrored what Mike Kafka did for NU in 2009.
The Big Ten is still perfect in 2010. All three teams in action Thursday night came out victorious. You've already seen my thoughts on Ohio State-Marshall.

Let's take a look at the other two games:

Minnesota 24, Middle Tennessee 17: It wasn't a masterpiece, but Minnesota took a big step toward establishing its offensive identity. Coach Tim Brewster has talked about "pound the rock" for a while, but until Thursday night, the Gophers hadn't been that power-run, clock-killing offense. They achieved both of those goals in a big way at Middle Tennessee, rushing for 281 yards and holding the ball for 45:34. That's exactly what new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton wants to do with this unit. Running back Duane Bennett had a huge night (30 carries, 187 yards), and I couldn't be happier for fullback Jon Hoese, who scored all three Minnesota touchdowns, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter. Hoese nearly didn't make the trip after his father suffered a severe stroke this week. He ends up playing, scoring three touchdowns and recovering a fumble on a kickoff return. He'll be getting a helmet sticker Saturday night. Minnesota's defense looked shaky at times in the middle quarters but did enough to win, and senior quarterback Adam Weber completed 10 of 17 passes. Most important, Minnesota played a more disciplined game, committing no turnovers and had just four penalties. The Gophers had to take advantage of Middle Tennessee without Dwight Dasher, and they did with a second-half rally.

Indiana 51, Towson 17: Tandon Doss' absence clearly didn't slow down the Indiana offense, which surged both through the air and, more importantly, on the ground. As I expected, Damarlo Belcher picked up the slack for the injured Doss and came up big with eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Ben Chappell did what senior quarterbacks are supposed to do against poor FCS teams and delivered an efficient performance (17-for-24 passing, 186 yards, 2 touchdowns). But the big story was Willis and the run game. Coach Bill Lynch introduced the pistol formation to spark the rushing attack, but Indiana has been inconsistent and Willis has struggled to stay healthy. The junior back looked great Thursday with 102 rush yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries. Linebacker Tyler Replogle led the defense, and two defensive backs who used to play receiver, Mitchell Evans and Matt Ernest, both recorded interceptions. Indiana has to capitalize on a very soft nonconference slate, and Thursday night was the first step.
After Minnesota ran a multitude of plays but very few of them well last season, new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton came in with a simple plan.

Step 1: Identify a feasible package of plays for the Gophers execute well.

Step 2: Stick to it!

In preseason camp, he's seeing the desired results.

"We’re really close to that point right now," Horton told me after Friday's practice. "They’re even calling the plays along with me. They’re anticipating what’s going to happen because they’ve seen a variety of looks from the defense to what we’re doing.

Adam Weber
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaMinnesota quarterback Adam Weber is a three-year starter.
"There’s still a lot we’ve got to clean up, but the effort is there and guys are working really hard to be good."

Minnesota didn't dramatically change its offense after Jedd Fisch returned to the NFL, but Horton spent most of the spring installing his plan. He needed the players to continue the process on their own in the summer to make sure they had it down for the season.

So far, Horton has seen "great carryover" in practice, thanks in large part to senior quarterback Adam Weber, a three-year starter who had to reclaim the top job this spring after beating out MarQueis Gray.

"He always approached it like he was going to be the starter, and he did a great job leading the workouts this summer, getting guys ready for camp," Horton said of Weber. "He gets a bad rap. I’m his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. I don’t know many people who can work for four bosses in four years. He’s doing a great job."

The easiest way for Minnesota's offense to keep it simple in 2010 is to effectively run the ball, something haven't done well in a while. One of the nation's premier rushing offenses just five years ago, Minnesota has finished 111th and 104th nationally in the past two seasons, ranking last in the Big Ten both times.

Horton expects to use multiple backs this season -- Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge can be considered co-starters, while Horton said freshman Donnell Kirkwood is performing well -- and he's thrilled to have fullback Jon Hoese back in the fold. But it won't matter who carries the ball if Minnesota's line doesn't markedly improve.

The experience is there, but Horton, head coach Tim Brewster and others have challenged the line to be tougher and more physical.

"They’ve played a lot of football for us, all five of them," said Horton, who singled out center D.J. Burris for his leadership. "I told them when we started camp, ‘It’s on you guys. You have to take charge.'"

Minnesota also has to survive without record-setting receiver Eric Decker, whose foot injury last fall coincided with the offense's nosedive. Horton joked that he almost expected Decker to be on the field for camp -- "That’s one of the reasons I took the job as offensive coordinator," he said -- but acknowledged the major production void left by No. 7.

Horton doesn't expect a receiver to catch 70-80 passes like Decker used to, but he likes the variety he has with players like Da'Jon McKnight, Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen.

“From what we put in in the spring, those guys worked on it in the summer, and you can see a big improvement running those plays in the fall," Horton said. "They’re not thinking as much. And if you’re thinking, you can’t play fast. They know what they’re doing, and that brings confidence."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Jon Lemoine/US Presswire
 Minnesota wideout Eric Decker had a big night with 149 receiving yards but the Gophers did not have enough offense to counter Kansas.

The first eight games showed how far Minnesota has come from its 1-11 disaster in 2007.

The last five games showed how far the Golden Gophers still need to go.

Minnesota's 42-21 loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl capped a five-game slide to close a season that began with so much promise. This looked like a mismatch heading in, and unfortunately for the Gophers, it was. A seasoned Kansas team led by do-it-all quarterback Todd Reesing overwhelmed Tim Brewster's squad.

To have any shot at an upset, Minnesota's defense had to force turnovers, something it did better than any Big Ten team this season. Either the defensive line or the secondary needed to disrupt Reesing's rhythm, and both units could not get it done. Jayhawks wideout Dezmon Briscoe torced the Gophers for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns, and teammate Kerry Meier added 113 receiving yards and a touchdown. Meier also threw a touchdown to Briscoe.

First-year Gophers defensive coordinator Ted Roof did a nice job with a revamped unit for two-thirds of the season, but Minnesota (7-6) looked more like last year's defense down the stretch, allowing 97 points in the final two games. Though rush end Willie VanDeSteeg is a key loss, most of the defense returns for 2009 and should be improved.

As expected, Minnesota emphasized the power run game after bringing in new offensive line coach Tim Davis in late November. The Gophers had some early success and took a 14-7 lead on two touchdown plunges by new fullback Jon Hoese. Brewster clearly has the right idea in restoring Minnesota's traditional run game, but it will take more time for the system to fully take shape.

With Reesing and his receivers doing whatever they pleased, Minnesota was forced to pass to stay in the game. Gophers wideout Eric Decker had a big night (149 receiving yards), but Minnesota simply doesn't have enough weapons to win an offensive shootout right now.

Despite a very disappointing finish, Minnesota still has some positive momentum after a six-win improvement from 2007 and TCF Bank Stadium opening in September. Brewster is recruiting well and brings the enthusiasm and high expectations this program needs. Led by quarterback Adam Weber, he nucleus is back for 2009.

But make no mistake -- the Gophers aren't there yet. Late-season collapses are far too common for this program, and Brewster has to end the trend immediately.

As for the Big Ten, yuck. Aside from Northwestern's impressive effort Monday, the bowl season has been a disaster. The Big Ten is the only BCS conference without a win, while other leagues, particularly the Pac-10, have made major strides. Perhaps the new year will bring better outcomes for the league.