Mason says team’s in good health

by Ben Goessling

As is his usual custom, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason didn’t give any specifics on injuries at his Tuesday press conference.

But when asked about the status of starting defensive backs Justin Fraley and Trumaine Banks, Mason said the Gophers will be in the “best shape we’ve been in for a long time” Saturday when they travel to Indiana.

The coach took a similar approach to questions about quarterback Bryan Cupito when Cupito was knocked out of the Colorado State game Sept. 18. He said the following Tuesday that the Gophers should have everybody back for the next game against Northwestern, and Cupito was “part of that everybody.”

Cupito started against the Wildcats. As for Banks and Fraley, who both sat out Saturday’s 45-0 win over Illinois, safety John Pawielski said their status is still up in the air.

“If they’re healthy, they’ll probably play,” he said. “But that’s the coaches’ decision, so we’ll see.”

Coaches react to firing

The firing of Florida coach Ron Zook on Monday shook up one of the nation’s top programs, and several Big Ten coaches had strong reactions to the news.

Indiana’s Gerry DiNardo, who was fired from Louisiana State with one game left in the 1999 campaign, said he respects Zook’s decision to stay on with the Gators through the end of the season.

“I can certainly see Ron’s reasons. My situation was a little different. I didn’t coach the final game because I felt the team would be better off without me,” DiNardo said. “Losing your job is pretty devastating, and it’s hard to describe those emotions.”

Michigan’s Lloyd Carr said he took the firing as an unsettling sign of the times, saying that despite Zook’s 20-13 record in four years, the coach fell victim to an almost insurmountable amount of pressure.

“I don’t work for the president of Florida,” he said, “but we’ve gone in a direction in college athletics where money drives everything.

“I heard one of the most unbelievable comments I’ve ever heard the other day. I was listening to (Penn State) coach (Joe) Paterno, and he said if he were getting ready to go to college, he wouldn’t want to play football. That’s an indictment of where we’re going.”

Game for sale

Carr was more diplomatic in discussing the sponsorship deal Michigan and Ohio State struck with SBC Communications for their Nov. 20 matchup.

The phone company paid $1.06 million over two years for naming rights to the game. This year’s matchup, to be held in Columbus, Ohio, will be called the SBC Michigan-Ohio State Classic. The order of the names will be reversed for the 2005 game in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Each school will receive $530,000 from the deal.

“My own feeling is that this is much-preferred to a 12th (regular-season) game, but that’s going to happen too,” Carr said. “I don’t want to go too much into it other than to say some of the things we’re doing and the directions we’re taking speak too much to money and things that put more pressure on the players.”

For his part, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel approved the deal, saying the team would do “anything we can” to help the athletics department raise money.

Smith likely to start

Tressel said Troy Smith has the inside track to getting a second-straight start Saturday when the Buckeyes play Penn State. Smith replaced Justin Zwick, who separated his shoulder during the second half of Ohio State’s 33-7 loss to Iowa on Oct. 16.

Smith led the Buckeyes to a 30-7 win over Indiana on Saturday.

“Right now, Justin hasn’t practiced full-speed. He did a little bit of light throwing on Sunday,” Tressel said. “In my mind, the person who’s going to get the game plan preparation would be Troy.”