Spring look around the Big Ten
As spring practices start, our Big Ten notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Will Gary Russell be eligible for the fall semester at Minnesota? How is Paul Posluszny's rehab going at Penn State? Who's the legacy recruit that's verbally committed to Wisconsin for 2007? Our Big Ten notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Seven members of Ron Zook's 2006 recruiting class are already on campus and in place for the start of spring practice. They include two junior college transfers (Justin Sanders and Antonio Steele), two prep school graduates (Randall Hunt and Dere Hicks), two early-graduation high school recruits (Kyle Yelton and Marques Wilkins) and Oklahoma transfer Akim Millington.
The problem won't be getting head coach Terry Hoeppner back on the field this spring. The problem will be getting him not to overdo it after having a brain tumor removed in late December. IU personnel just about had to change the locks on the football complex to keep Hoeppner from attending the team's 6 a.m. winter workouts. Other than that, he's been engaged on the brink of his second season.
The toughest job at Iowa might belong to the 16 student volunteers who are helping relocate 46,000 season-ticket holders in the wake of Kinnick Stadium's renovation. Some 16,000 customers have visited the ticket office's temporary location in Carver-Hawkeye Arena to pick their exact seat location for the Sept. 2 opener against Montana and beyond. An increase in the width of the bleacher seats made each row two seats shorter than before the $89-million renovation, necessitating the seating overhaul.
Timing is everything and Michigan's was very good when it came to scheduling Vanderbilt for its 2006 opener. The Commodores won't have rising NFL draft choice Jay Cutler at quarterback for the Sept. 2 game in Ann Arbor -- the only regular-season SEC-Big Ten game in 2006. Vandy jumped a contract with Middle Tennessee State to take the $650,000 payout from Michigan.
The Spartans have some holes to fill on the offensive line with none bigger than the center position. Chris Morris' departure could necessitate moving Kyle Cook from guard if no younger players show potential in spring practice.
Tailback Gary Russell figured to take over for Laurence Maroney once Maroney declared himself eligible for the NFL. Trouble is, Russell isn't enrolled for the spring semester. Newspapers in the Twin Cities have reported the problem is academic-related. Russell could re-enroll this summer and still get eligible for the fall. If not, the job will fall to Amir Pinnix, who carried 32 times for 206 yards in the Gophers' win over Michigan State late last season.
There's little buzz about the Wildcats being their typical pain-in-the-conference-race this season, probably because four-year starter Brett Basanez is gone after setting 30 school records. Look close, though, and head coach Randy Walker isn't bereft of experience. Northwestern returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. If C.J. Bacher, Andrew Brewer or Mike Kafka can replace Basanez ably, playing the Wildcats won't be a pushover.
The disappointment was apparent at Ohio State's Pro Day workouts for 14 former players, not because of what they did, but because of what Ted Ginn Jr. didn't do. Ginn, who had the option to participate on a trial basis because he's a junior, decided against it. Ginn strongly has hinted strongly since stepping on campus in 2004 that he'll be headed to the NFL after the 2006 season.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny has attacked his rehab like one would anticipate from the Butkus and Bednarik Award winner. Posluszny suffered a partial tear of his medial collateral ligament in the fourth quarter of Penn State's Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. He and offensive tackle Levi Brown are on the 2006 watch list for the Lombardi Award, presented to the nation's best linebacker or lineman.
Defensive end Shaun Richardson has withdrawn from school and will not play for Purdue this season. Richardson did not finish all his enrollment requirements while a student at Joliet (Ill.) Junior College, where he played before signing with Purdue in December.
The Badgers are getting a legacy recruit, one they hope will be as accomplished as his father. Nick Toon, the son of Al Toon, has committed verbally to Wisconsin's 2007 recruiting class. The younger Toon is 6-2, 195. His father played eight seasons in the NFL and ranks No. 3 all-time at Wisconsin in catches (131), receiving yards (2,103) and touchdown receptions (18).
Bruce Hooley has covered the Big Ten for 18 years and now hosts a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.