Happy Tuesday! I’m on my way to Iowa City, Iowa, the first stop on our annual Summer Football Tour. I’m excited to see the Hawkeyes practice Wednesday. Before I file my report, check out the day’s top Big Ten web links in this post.
There may not be a player I am more excited to watch this season than the Spartan defensive end.
HUNGRY SPARTANS: Yes, Michigan State has won 11 games in each of the previous two seasons. But the Spartans still have unfinished business. And that’s a big reason why I like them to win the Big Ten. There is a chip on MSU’s shoulder. This is a hungry team that still has something to prove. I like that.
What is that unfinished business? A trip to the Rose Bowl. The last time MSU was there was after the 1987 season. The only Big Ten teams (excluding newcomer Nebraska) with longer droughts are Indiana and Minnesota. I know, it’s difficult to believe.
LOOKING GOOD AT RECEIVER: We saw Michigan backup quarterback Devin Gardner takes some snaps at wideout in the spring. Now in camp, he is taking even more.
Yes, Gardner is still listed as a signal-caller, but it seems he could play a sizeable role at receiver for a team that needs to get help on the perimeter for wideouts like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.
ENTER THE BLACK: A big part of each Iowa season under Kirk Ferentz is creating a theme. This year’s is “Enter the Black.” Why? Because there is a degree of uncertainty given the overhauled coaching staff for a program coming off a 7-6 season.
The more I think about it, the more apropos “Enter the Black” is. This is a big season for many reasons in Iowa City. I can’t wait.
BEAST OF A GOPHER: The Minnesota roster doesn’t teem with blue-chip talent, but there are some intriguing prospects. And none more so than defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, a monster who has an uncommon blend of size and athletic ability.
Hageman could be a force on the interior, a true interior disruptor who may command double-teams that create opportunities for others up front.
FOCUS ON THESE ILLINI: The great Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette has a few Fighting Illini he thinks will surprise.
No. 1 on Tate’s list is Jon Davis. Another player to watch is running back Josh Ferguson. He is coming off a knee injury but showed explosive speed in the spring game. And that’s just what Illinois needs in the backfield for an offense that needs big playmakers carrying the ball.
MORE ABOUT BALL: Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal has an interesting take on star Badger running back Montee Ball and his recent run of off-field issues.
Baggot notes that since the end of spring ball, Ball has been in the wrong place at the wrong time on three occasions. That has left folks to choose between a couple of narratives about Ball:
“Either his luck stinks like a leaky Honey Wagon or his judgment has a large blind spot.”
Here is hoping Ball recovers from a recent beating and can punctuate his spectacular career in the appropriate style with another run at the Heisman trophy.
BEEBE ON PENN STATE: Former Big 12 commish Dan Beebe, who was at the forefront of the NCAA investigation of SMU that led to the death penalty in 1987, told Yahoo! Sports that Penn State’s sanctions could be more challenging than SMU’s.
It is interesting to have Beebe contrast the two cases.
“I felt like the Penn State problem was completely different – it is the most horrendous situation I can ever recall being associated with an intercollegiate athletics program,” Beebe told Yahoo! Sports. “The SMU case was about violations of a voluntary association’s self-imposed rules, none of which are criminal and some of which many in society don’t understand or even agree with.
“Penn State was about horrible acts of crime and immorality against children. The two aren’t even in the same universe as far as I am concerned.”
He is absolutely correct on all fronts.
FUTURE STAR RECEIVER: There may be no Big Ten newcomer who makes a bigger impact than Ohio State true freshman receiver Michael Thomas, who arrived early and was the star of the spring game with 12 catches for 131 yards.
This is an offense that needs receivers to step up for what was the worst passing attack in the Big Ten in 2011. If it happens, the Buckeyes may end up with the best record in the league.
LINE OF DEFENSE: The Nebraska defense will be watched. And no unit on the defense may be more scrutinized than the line, which plans to go on the attack.
The Blackshirt tradition needs to emerge for the Cornhuskers to be contenders in the rugged Legends Divisions. Tackle Baker Steinkuhler needs to be a leader and force on the interior. And Cameron Meredith needs to bring the heat off the edge.
TURNING TO FRESHMEN: Give the attrition it has faced, the Penn State squad figures to have to turn to some freshmen for help this fall. Ben Jones of StateCollege.com offers four to watch in camp.
The most intriguing to me is running back Akeel Lynch, who considered transferring to Iowa after NCAA sanctions were announced. With Silas Redd gone, Lynch could end up filling a big role in the backfield for an offense that needs playmakers.
Wideout Eugene Lewis is another to watch with Justin Brown off to Oklahoma. The Nittany Lions need targets.
TWEETS THAT MATTER
Michigan started preseason practice without suspended players Toussaint and Clark, and with Hoke giving no hint on when either would return.—
Larry Lage (@LarryLage) August 06, 2012
My take: Not a surprise. But it will be interesting to see if the duo is on the field for that Titanic season opener vs. Alabama. Stay tuned.
Players who are rehabbing wear a purple jersey, Northwestern color. Yes that is intentional.—
Bob Asmussen (@BobAsmussen) August 07, 2012
My take: Think Pat Fitzgerald knows about this?
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