Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 20, 2012

Spring drills are winding down, with Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota conducting games this Saturday, so here are my newsy links for today. Wisconsin and Michigan State will finish April 28. I will be at the Ohio State game and there are two things I?m most interested to see. On offense, Urban Meyer has said he wants to throw the ball. How will quarterback Braxton Miller look? Which receivers are stepping up? And on defense, the linebackers lagged in 2011. The defense needs better play to take the next step in its development.

Yes, Ohio State in ineligible to win the Big Ten or play in a bowl this season, but that won?t diminish enthusiasm and excitement in 2012 for the Buckeyes with Meyer taking over with the promise of big things in the future. Meyer already has raised the bar from a recruiting standpoint in the Big Ten. And he also will ratchet up the competition on the field this fall, providing a figurative kick in the pants to a conference that hasn?t won a national title since 2002. This is gonna be fun, Brutus!

Here?s a look at the bigger football headlines in the Big Ten on Friday.

What if …: Stefanie Loh of the Harrisburg Patriot-News wonders: What if Joe Paterno had retired after the 2009 season?

No doubt, JoePa would have been draped in the same praise that is enveloping Tennessee women?s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who announced she is stepping down. Paterno deserved a similar farewell.

Loh says Summitt was to women?s hoops what Paterno was to football - an iconic figure whose contributions went far beyond the X?s and O?s of sports coaching. The scandal would have been made public eventually, and Paterno?s role in it would ultimately have been questioned. That was unavoidable. The events had already been set in motion, writes Loh.

But maybe, just maybe, if he?d walked away in 2009, the fans wouldn?t be so angry, the alums would have had precious closure, and the legend would have bowed out with his aura still intact.

No doubt, it all makes for an interesting discussion.

Spartans rising: Michigan State defensive end William Gholston is a versatile beast. And to make him even more of a beast, Spartan coaches plan to use him in a variety of ways, including at linebacker. Yes, I know: Scary.

"I showed you the tape, you?d be like, ?Why is he not playing linebacker??? defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi told Chris Solari of the Lansing State Journal. ?He was a beast. I mean, A BEAST. I have to get that tape on YouTube."

The junior earned All-Big Ten second-team honors and finished with 70 tackles, 16 of them for a loss, along with five sacks and three quarterback hurries. This despite being suspended for MSU?s regular-season win over Wisconsin for violating the Big Ten?s sportsmanship code when he punched Michigan?s Taylor Lewan a week earlier.

Let?s go ahead and call Gholston the best defensive end in the Big Ten. Sounds about right.

Line adjustments: Former guard Ricky Barnum is still adjusting to center for a Michigan offensive line that?s a work in progress, according to Nick Baumgardner of

?There's a lot I have to do to up my game," Barnum said after Michigan?s spring game that saw a few botched snaps. "I've got to get better."

He has a huge task in replacing David Molk, who won the Rimington Award as the nation?s top center in 2011.

There are other moves on the line. Michael Schofield is penciled in at right tackle with Mark Huyge gone, while Joey Burzynski may be the top option at left guard. The only incumbents: left tackle Taylor Lewan and right guard Patrick Omameh.

?We've been in the system for two years now, and we all have to step up," Barnum said. "I thought we could have done a lot better. We did OK, but it's not good enough.

"If we keep listening to the coaches, we'll be OK."

Band stays home: Michigan?s band has been told it won?t travel to Texas for the epic season-opening game against Alabama in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

"We are treating the Cowboys Classic game against Alabama as any other road game," Michigan associate athletic director Dave Ablauf said. "We do not have a travel allowance for the band like we would for a bowl game. … We have not taken our band on similar trips in the past."

Too bad. This would be a memory of a lifetime for the kids.

Gophers improving: Promise abounds for Minnesota as it?s primed to close spring drills this Saturday.

?We've got to keep moving forward and working ahead," Jerry Kill told Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We're still going to have to rely on some young people that are coming in to help us out and build the depth of our program, but I think some kids have gotten better and worked hard, and we appreciate that."

The Gophers still have myriad issues, with one of the biggest being the development of a pass rush. But, there?s promise in that area, too, with the emergence of Thieren Cockran, a 6-6, 235-pounder who was redshirted last year and has come on strong this spring.

?We're very pleased with where they're at," said Kill, who enters his second season. "To be honest with you, we're a lot farther ahead with them than I thought we would be.?

Could Minnesota be a bowl team for the first time since 2009? It will be a tough task, especially playing in a loaded

Legends Division that likely will feature three of the top five teams in the Big Ten.

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My take: Speaking to Bret Bielema yesterday, he reiterated to me the need to develop some receivers. Jared Abbrederis is out this spring with a foot issues, so spring drills have been a good time for other Badger receivers to step up to provide targets in a passing game that must to take heat off Montee Ball and the running game.

My take: The bottom line is don?t expect new Penn State coach Bill O?Brien to pick a No. 1 quarterback at the conclusion of spring drills. Maintaining competition is key over the summer for Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones. Who wants to work for it? senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.