Cupito, Sherels expected back Saturday

David McCoy

With its first bye week in three seasons, Minnesota’s football team used the time off to heal some physical and emotional wounds.

After missing the heartbreaking Wisconsin game on Oct. 15 with a shoulder injury, Gophers quarterback Bryan Cupito will start against No. 12 Ohio State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Metrodome, coach Glen Mason said.

“He looks great,” Mason said. “He’s already bouncing back. I thought this week I’d be answering the question by saying that he’s getting better, but he’s done everything, he’s fine. He’ll start Saturday.”

A key defensive component, linebacker Mike Sherels, had not played since Oct. 1 against Penn State due to an undisclosed injury, but Mason said Sherels is healthy and will be ready to go against the Buckeyes.

But even with Sherels back, Mason said he’s sticking with Mario Reese in the starting lineup.

“I think Reese deserves to play,” Mason said. “It just gives us another guy in the mix. I think Mario Reese has played well.”

Buckeyes linebackers not bad either

Ohio State’s linebacking corps of Anthony Schlegel, Bobby Carpenter and All-American A.J. Hawk might be the best in the country.

“There’s only one word you can say about them, and that’s excellent,” Gophers running back Laurence Maroney said. “They’re big and they’re physical. They sure seem like the toughest on paper, but I haven’t faced them yet so I can’t tell you. But that’s what you ask for in college.”

Some pundits have suggested the trio might be the best Ohio State has ever had.

Mason, who coached Ohio State’s outside linebackers in 1978-1979, didn’t go quite as far as that, but did say the fact that all three are playing there at once might make them Ohio State’s best corps ever.

“They’ve had some great linebackers there, obviously,” Mason said. “I don’t know when they’ve had a group like they have. That might be the difference.”

Increased parity

With 4-1 conference records, No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 11 Penn State – both unranked to start the season – sit atop the Big Ten.

However, both Michigan and Iowa (3-2 Big Ten) are just a game back. At 2-2, Minnesota is still in the race as well.

So far, this year’s Big Ten slate has been one of increased parity to years past, Mason said.

“I coached in this league at one time when there were a couple good (teams) and there were some really bad ones,” Mason said. “To the point where, on Sunday night, you’d be working and you’d look at each other and go, ‘What are we doing here? Come on, let’s go.’ But right now, there is a logjam at the top, and a lot of funny things have happened.”

Basanez for Heisman

Michigan State coach John L. Smith probably wouldn’t find what’s happened quite as funny. His Spartans were upset soundly by Northwestern on Saturday, losing 49-14.

The game vaulted the Wildcats into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this season and bumped Michigan State out of the poll.

Northwestern Quarterback Brett Basanez passed for 331 yards, two touchdowns and ran for two more in the win. It was another solid performance for the senior, who led the Wildcats to a 51-point flurry Oct. 8 against Wisconsin.

But when a reporter asked Smith if he’d be surprised to see Basanez considered for the Heisman Trophy during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference, he was rather blunt.

“Yeah,” Smith said. “Unless they go on to win the league. Is he going to be in the top four or five? That would be very hard. But I think it’s going to come down to how they finish up as a team.”

Milestone coaching

Penn State coach Joe Paterno notched his 350th career win Saturday with his team’s 63-10 win over Illinois.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr picked up his 100th win at Michigan as the Wolverines beat Iowa 23-20 in overtime.