MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- It's my first season covering Gopher football, so it's no surprise I don't really know what I'm going to see here tomorrow night. But I'm clearly not the only one. Being around the players this week, it seems like they are wondering a little bit, too, even more than most teams do on the eve of the opener. They speak with confidence, and I'm sure they mostly believe it -- but probably a few aren't certain whether the improvement they see is real, or is their heart blurring their vision.
     Regardless, can't wait. Enough talk, let's play.
     I'm curious about plenty of things that have been talked about all month, but probably the big one for me is how the Gophers will use MarQueis Gray. I know he got on the field a few times last year, but I just have a feeling that Tim Brewster and Jeff Horton have decided that it makes no sense to use such a great athlete part-time. He's not on the two-deep as a receiver, but will he get more passes thrown his way than the coaches have let on?
     It brings up the delicate situation they've got with Gray -- play him a lot, and you risk getting him dinged up. It's like baseball managers with backup catchers -- they're always terrified of coming up a man short and having to use someone unqualified at the position.
     But play him only a little, and you take a great weapon off the field.
     It's a sweltering 93 degrees right now, and it's going to be the same at gametime tomorrow. I asked Brewster if he will limit Gray's play out of caution -- what happens if he wears out the backup quarterback in that weather, and Adam Weber comes down with an injury in the fourth quarter?
     No worries, the coach said.
     "He's a young man who is in very good physical condition. I don't see that being an issue," Brewster said. "He's going to play extensively at wide receiver."


     You may have heard that the Big Ten will unveil its conference alignment tonight, and ESPN is reporting that the final version is one I hadn't really seen proposed. It's basically an east-west alignment, except Illinois and Wisconsin were swapped out for the Michigan schools. According to the network, here's your new Big Ten:

Division 1: Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State.
Division 2: Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin.

     The national headlines will be about splitting Michigan and Ohio State, of course, but locally, this works out awfully well for the Gophers. With the guarantee of an annual game with Wisconsin, they are now assured of meeting all four members of this western "branch," plus all three of their trophy rivals. And seeing the Cornhuskers every year? Not bad.
     The Gophers' big rivals are the ones with a complaint, if ESPN's information is correct. Iowa and Wisconsin won't get to play each other every year, though they still will meet almost two years of every three, particularly when the nine-game conference schedule goes into effect. And Wisconsin, which is going to spend a lot of time traveling east, also didn't get an annual game with Nebraska, which coach Bret Bielema had campaigned for.