NCF Nation: TCF Bank Stadium

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A full slate of games is on tap Saturday, and the Big Ten has several excellent opportunities to improve its national reputation -- or make things worse.

Here are 10 things you should be watching out for this weekend:

1. Terrelle's time -- He's only a sophomore making his 12th career start, but Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor faces a defining game Saturday against USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The Buckeyes need Pryor to make big plays with his feet and limit mistakes against a USC defense unlikely to miss a beat despite losing several standout players. The time has come for Ohio State to win big nonconference games again, and to do so, it needs excellence from the quarterback position.

2. Michigan's defensive line speed -- Boasting improved speed up front, Michigan generated a strong pass rush with only its down linemen last week against Western Michigan. The Wolverines need to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is hitting his stride and has two of the nation's top wide receivers in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. I'm not a believer in Notre Dame's offensive line -- more experienced players doesn't automatically mean better ones -- and Michigan can find ways to turn up the heat on Clausen.

3. Outdoor football returns to the Twin Cities -- Big Ten fans are going to love TCF Bank Stadium, which finally opens its doors for a game as Minnesota takes on Air Force. It should be an electric atmosphere in Minneapolis as the football team returns to campus for the first time in 28 years. The Golden Gophers will undoubtedly be amped up, but they'll need a more polished performance than last week to beat the Falcons.

4. Purdue goes Duck hunting -- Oregon could be ripe for an upset after falling apart both during and after a loss to Boise State last week. Many forget that Purdue outplayed the Ducks for much of last year's game in West Lafayette before falling in overtime. Running back Ralph Bolden leads the Boilers after rushing for 234 yards in his first career start last week. Purdue's defense will need to be much sharper against Jeremiah Masoli and the dynamic Ducks offense.

5. Spartans QB race, Take 2 -- As long as Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both continue to perform well, Michigan State will have a hard time playing only one quarterback. Still, my sense is that the Spartans want a clear field leader when they head to Notre Dame next week. Cousins' and Nichol's performances against Central Michigan (ESPN2, noon ET) could loom large in determining the starter and the backup for the rest of the season.

6. Iowa heads to unfriendly territory -- The Hawkeyes averted disaster last week with two blocked field goals against Northern Iowa. Now they head to Jack Trice Stadium, where they've dropped back-to-back games and four of their last five matchups against Iowa State. Will redshirt freshman Adam Robinson be the answer for Iowa's shaky rushing attack? Iowa is once again the better team in this matchup, but it needs to play like it in a hostile environment.

7. Ohio State's line play -- The Buckeyes' offensive line has underachieved for quite some time, while the defensive front is widely considered the team's strength. Ohio State needs both units to play to their potential against USC. Pryor is the type of quarterback who can hurt the Trojans, but he'll need time to move around in the pocket. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State needs to pressure USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley and find ways to contain USC's running game.

8. Penn State aims for Paulus -- Joe Paterno sang Greg Paulus' praises all week, but Paterno's defensive linemen are waiting for the former Duke point guard, and things could get ugly Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Penn State's defensive line recorded four sacks against Akron in the opener and will be gunning for Paulus, who exceeded expectations last week for Syracuse in his first football game since high school. Paulus' presence at quarterback adds an intriguing subplot to a game that used to mean something but likely will become another Penn State rout.

9. Michigan's youth movement -- From a younger, faster defensive line to a pair of dual threat quarterbacks, Michigan is truly becoming Rich Rodriguez's team. Rodriguez's recruits are in place to be difference makers, but the youngsters need to take another step forward against Notre Dame. Tate Forcier made very few mistakes in his first career start, and both he and Denard Robinson need to maintain the good tempo they established on offense against a superior Irish defense.

10. Badgers on upset alert -- Pat Hill's Fresno State team isn't afraid of hostile environments like Camp Randall Stadium, and Wisconsin could be a little shorthanded because of a flu bug working its way through the locker room. Quarterback Scott Tolzien and wide receiver Isaac Anderson did a lot of good things in the opener, but Wisconsin must do a better job of finishing the game after letting up late against Northern Illinois.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

As I prepare to hit the road next week for some much needed R&R, I thought we should take a look at the most pivotal road games for each Big Ten team this season. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is never easy, and there might not be a greater factor to a team's success or failure than its performance away from its home turf.

Here are the road games that could make or break the season in the Big Ten. These aren't necessarily the toughest road games for a team, just the most important ones.


Fork in the road: Nov. 7 at Minnesota

The Illini will be coming off a fairly manageable stretch against Indiana, Purdue and Michigan, the league's worst three teams last season. If they haven't dug too big a hole to open Big Ten play, they could make a serious bowl push beginning at TCF Bank Stadium. But a loss could trigger a down-the-stretch slide, much like last year.


Fork in the road: Sept. 19, at Akron

Indiana enters the season with its head coach on the hot seat and serious doubts about the team's ability to get on track again. That's why an early trip to Akron and the new InfoCision Stadium is so critical. Indiana could be 3-0 after a win against Akron, or it could be 1-2 with a loss and starting the death march.


Fork in the road: Sept. 26 at Penn State

One of the nation's toughest road schedules has been well-documented, and it all begins in Happy Valley. The Hawkeyes will get a huge boost from a victory at night in front of Penn State's white-out -- never easy to do -- and can validate themselves as a serious league title contender. A loss would reinforce Iowa's recent struggles on the road (the Hawkeyes went 1-3 last year) with more challenges ahead.


Fork in the road: Oct. 3 at Michigan State

Michigan's first road game will be pivotal in a number of ways. It could mark the first road start for a freshman quarterback (Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson), and it kicks off a tough stretch of games against the Big Ten's upper tier. Michigan might head to East Lansing at 4-0, but another loss to in-state rival Michigan State could sidetrack Rich Rodriguez's team.


Fork in the road: Sept. 26 at Wisconsin

I'm starting to get really excited about this game because it could mean so much for both teams. Michigan State might be coming off its seventh consecutive victory at Notre Dame and looking to establish itself as a factor in the Big Ten title race. But the Spartans have dropped four of their last five games at Camp Randall Stadium, which will provide a tough setting for a new starting quarterback.


Fork in the road: Sept. 26 at Northwestern

The Gophers don't get many favors with their Big Ten road schedule, and their league-opening trip to Northwestern provides the best opportunity for a win. Minnesota will be coming off two emotional home games against Cal and Air Force, and could be anywhere from 3-0 to 1-2 entering Ryan Field. If the Gophers have taken the next step, they need to show it against Northwestern, which has delivered consecutive heartbreaking losses to Tim Brewster's team.


Fork in the road: Oct. 17 at Michigan State

For the second straight year, Northwestern could enter its showdown against Michigan State undefeated because of an easy opening stretch. The Wildcats took themselves out of last year's contest with a miserable first quarter, but they've had pretty good success at Spartan Stadium since 1995. A win could propel Northwestern toward a major bowl, while a loss would lower expectations.


Fork in the road: Nov. 7 at Penn State

An obvious choice here as Ohio State likely will take one of the nation's most impressive win streaks into Happy Valley. Provided the Buckeyes handle Purdue and Indiana, they will own a 17-game Big Ten road win streak. The last team to beat Ohio State at home? Penn State in 2005. A win in the Big Ten's premier game could clinch a league title for Ohio State. A loss could put the Buckeyes out of the BCS mix.


Fork in the road: Oct. 3 at Illinois

Penn State plays six of its first seven games at Beaver Stadium, but a trip to Champaign could prove problematic. Illinois boasts the league's best passing attack, and Penn State's secondary likely will be its weakest link this fall. The Lions lost their last game at Memorial Stadium and struggled to contain Arrelious Benn last year in Happy Valley. A win likely means Penn State will be 7-0 heading to Michigan on Oct. 24.


Fork in the road: Oct. 10 at Minnesota

Like Indiana, Purdue is a team that needs some early success to keep things afloat. The opening stretch won't be easy, and Purdue hosts Ohio State and Illinois after its visit to the Twin Cities. The Boilers will have a rough time winning at Oregon in Week 2, so this game provides quarterback Joey Elliott and his teammates a chance to build confidence away from home.


Fork in the road: Oct. 10 at Ohio State

Wisconsin's overall schedule is extremely favorable this fall, but the team's biggest test arrives in Columbus. This isn't necessarily a must-win for Wisconsin, but the Badgers need to show they can play with the league's best on the road. Wisconsin faces Ohio State and Iowa in back-to-back weeks, and its performance in those games will determine whether or not the Badgers are back.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

University of Minnesota president Robert Bruininks will reluctantly recommend Friday that the school's Board of Regents make all athletic venues alcohol free on game days. This includes TCF Bank Stadium, which opens Sept. 12 for Minnesota's football game against Air Force.

Bruininks' recommendation comes in the wake of a new state law that would require alcohol sales throughout the stadium or nowhere at all. Minnesota's original plan called for alcohol sales only in premium-seating areas (luxury suites, club boxes).

"From the beginning of this project, we planned to sell alcohol only in controlled-access, premium seating areas of the stadium, consistent with the practice of the vast majority of college campuses," Bruininks said in a prepared statement. "This was the plan we shared publicly and with the legislature three years ago, and the plan that our business model was based upon.

"Unfortunately, this new legislation leaves us with only two options: to become the only Big Ten campus in the country to sell alcohol throughout its football stadium, or to not sell alcohol at all. Our values do not change, even if our plans must. We have never sold alcohol at student-oriented events in the past, and I do not recommend we start now." 

Bruininks will propose Friday that the Board make TCF Bank Stadium, Williams Arena and Mariucci Arena dry for games. The Board is expected to rule during a June 24 meeting. 

The lack of any alcohol sales will have financial repurcussions for Minnesota, and I agree with The Sporting News' Dave Curtis that the new state law is misguided. If people want to shell out big bucks to drink in a controlled setting, let them. But a school simply can't sell alcohol at the regular concession stands, even if many of the students will be drunk anyway.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 11, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Taking a quick spin around the Big Ten. 

The offense will undergo changes that couldn't be made at midseason last year, when [Jim] Tressel made Pryor the starter. But the Buckeyes apparently are looking at several options to upgrade this year's model.

That might include more use of the pistol formation, in which the quarterback lines up about 4 yards behind center with a tailback behind him. It also could include a version of the single-wing formation, in which the quarterback would line up about 7 yards behind center, but often would have a back crossing in front of him from a slot just before or just after the snap, creating options and confusion.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Whether you root for the Maize and Blue, the Scarlet and Gray or the Black and Gold, the most important color in college football is ultimately green. Money drives the sport, and every Big Ten team faces key decisions in how to allocate its funds. 

Keeping with our green theme on St. Pat's Day, here's a look at money well spent and not so well spent in the Big Ten. 


Mark Dantonio's new contract -- Michigan State needed to give Dantonio a bump after he stabilized the program in his first two seasons as head coach. His revised deal is somewhat of a bargain, at least according to today's salary standards, and should keep Dantonio in East Lansing for a while longer. 

TCF Bank Stadium -- It's a tough economic time to build a new stadium, but Minnesota had to get an on-campus facility after a quarter-century of mediocrity at the Metrodome. TCF Bank Stadium is a truly unique venue that will give Minnesota a much needed campus presence and validate the $288.5 million price tag. 

Illinois' stadium renovation -- Illinois wants to raise its profile in football, and the renovation of a stadium that had charm, but frankly looked very old, was an essential move. The architects maintained the integrity of Memorial Stadium but made overdue upgrades in several areas, namely the student section in the north end zone and, ahem, the press box. 


Guarantee games -- The Big Ten isn't the only league guilty of scheduling too many of these, but it doesn't do much to fix the problem. Big stadiums and the reluctance to part with home games leaves many Big Ten teams with watered-down nonconference schedules that might make athletic departments money but costs the teams on the field and the fans in the stands. 

Bonuses for Wisconsin coaches -- This isn't a knock on the Badgers coaches as much as it is an indictment of the low benchmarks in Wisconsin's Exceptional Achievement Award Policy. Wisconsin's football coaches received more than $250,000 in bonuses -- head coach Bret Bielema pocketed $100,000 -- after the team finished an extremely disappointing 2008 season by reaching a lower-tier bowl game. The explanations behind the policy are downright lame. 

Rich Rodriguez's baggage -- Rodriguez could turn out to be an excellent investment for Michigan, but so far he has been more of a financial burden. Last year, Michigan paid $4.1 million to cover part of Rodriguez's buyout from West Virginia and $2.5 million in salary to the coach. That worked out to $2.2 million per Wolverines win. 

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Spring practice in the Big Ten kicks off in less than two weeks. Excited yet? 

"On the University of Minnesota campus, workers have completed 80 percent of TCF Bank Stadium and are on schedule to finish the $288 million project by early August. More heavy lifting remains on the sales front, however. Terms of the state's financing deal require the university to cover 45 percent of the costs from donations, corporate sponsorships, parking revenues and student fees."

It's game day at the Metrodome

November, 1, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from the Metrodome, or, as I affectionately call it, the Hump Dump. Sorry, but after touring TCF Bank Stadium on Friday afternoon, I can't wait to see Minnesota move out of this place.


It isn't all bad, though. Going through the revolving doors is fun, and the football press box has some of the best sightlines around.

Kind of a sleepy atmosphere around the stadium today, largely due to the 11 a.m. local time kickoff. Minnesotans take Halloween seriously, folks. There were some interesting costumes around my hotel last night. A guy dressed up as an Olympic speed skater gets high marks. It takes a real man to wear Spandex in public.

I stayed in the same hotel as Northwestern and rode the elevator with about 15 players this morning. Despite concerns about the weight limit, we made it safely, and running back Omar Conteh looked ready to go.

Conteh and junior quarterback Mike Kafka are expected to start for the Wildcats, who enter the game at 6-2 but come off a devastating loss at Indiana. A source told me quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring) will play only in an emergency situation. Bacher is on the field warming up, though. The key for Northwestern's new-look starting backfield will be ball security, as Minnesota leads the nation in both takeaways (24) and turnover margin (plus-1.88).

Minnesota comes in at 7-1 and is quite possibly the biggest surprise in the country after a 1-11 campaign in 2007. The Gophers look for their second victory against a team with a winning record and try to march closer toward a once-unthinkable January bowl game.

Here are some things I'll be watching today:

  • Minnesota's defense. How do the Gophers do it? The nation's worst unit in 2007 has led the turnaround this fall. The Gophers emphasize takeaways at every Tuesday practice, and I'm interested to see how these guys consistently make plays. Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons will be on my radar, and defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg likely will be applying the pressure on Kafka.
  • Both offensive lines. In many ways, both teams have survived problems with these groups. Minnesota has been banged up pretty much all season but continues to protect quarterback Adam Weber and move the ball. Northwestern has the youngest and least experienced line in the Big Ten, which has made Mick McCall's play calling more conservative. Both teams boast strong pass-rushers (VanDeSteeg, Corey Wootton and John Gill for Northwestern), so the line that protects better likely wins the game.
  • Coaching. Northwestern will have to tweak its offensive scheme for Kafka and likely will use more option and designed quarterback runs. Wildcats defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz might have some surprises today as he tries to force mistakes from the very disciplined Gophers offense. It wouldn't shock me if Minnesota defensive coordinator Ted Roof heavily blitzes Kafka, forcing him to make quick decisions.

Greetings from Gopher Country

October, 31, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's almost November and you don't need a jacket here. This is a very good thing.

The weather is perfect and it's a shame Saturday's game will be played indoors. I arrived early this afternoon and spend most of the day at The U -- that's the University of Minnesota for non-locals. A very underrated campus, by the way.

You'll have to read the blog on Monday to get specifics about my hourlong tour of TCF Bank Stadium, which will open on Sept. 12, 2009. But let me say it's an excellent facility that Big Ten fans are going to love.

Before the tour, I spent a little time over at the football offices.

I met Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and chatted briefly with defensive coordinator Ted Roof and offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, who I know from his time at Northwestern. Roof asked me not to bring Minnesota bad luck. I replied that Wisconsin is 0-3 in games I've attended this season.

I also spent a few minutes with head coach Tim Brewster, who made sure to show me the view from his office of the TCF Bank Stadium construction. Brewster expects a tough game Saturday from Northwestern, even though the Wildcats won't be at full strength. Brewster also has checked out the Big Ten blog, which is always nice to hear. It's rare that you get to talk to a coach the day before a game, so I appreciate Brewster taking the time to meet with me.

He also introduced me to former Gophers All-American and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Bell, who stopped by his office. Pretty cool.

I'll be back in the morning with more updates, so check back then. Enjoy Halloween.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
 DeLeon Eskridge is one of several freshmen making an impact for the 7-1 Golden Gophers.

As the head coach of arguably the nation's most opportunistic team, Tim Brewster knows that timing and momentum can be everything in college football.

Brewster has a good thing going at Minnesota right now. The Gophers are 7-1 and ranked 17th in the BCS standings after a historically bad 1-11 season in 2007. Their new outdoor, on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, is set to open next September. They have a ton of talented underclassmen. The enthusiasm around the program is building at a rapid rate.

Minnesota's next phase seems clear. Accelerate and improve recruiting. Go after the top prospects while the team is winning. Canvass the state for top talent and tap into familiar spots like Texas and California.

Slam on the gas.

Thing is, when it comes to recruiting, Brewster has always been ahead of the curve. If there was a sixth gear, he would have found it.

"You seize every moment that you can," Brewster said, "but also understanding that we recruited at an extremely high level last year. Recruiting is something that really doesn't change with us, regardless of the now, the moment. We're going to recruit 24-7, 365. That's just kind of our thing."

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's game week. Hallelujah. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez addresses the media around 10 a.m. ET, at which time he could announce his starting quarterback for Saturday's season opener against Utah. Several of Rodriguez's colleagues also hold their news conferences today, so check back for updates.

Onto the links: