Five things I was surprised to see this spring

May, 4, 2009
5/04/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Last week I outlined six items I expected to see around the Big Ten this spring. Here are five things that caught me by surprise.

1. Michigan State's QB race remaining so close -- Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol split all the reps in practice this spring, and it seemed likely that one of them would create some separation in the competition. But much to the delight of the Spartans' coaching staff, the two quarterbacks paced each other and finished the spring with the exact same totals in the spring game (357 pass yards, 4 TDs). Both Cousins and Nichol are expected to play, and the decision on a starter might not come until late September.

2. Ohio State's Justin Boren becoming a presence on the field -- Boren was going to be a story no matter what after transferring from archrival Michigan. There was a chance he would have become a distraction more than a benefit. But the left guard showed this spring that he's most likely Ohio State's best offensive lineman. He also brought a nasty attitude to an offensive line that lacked toughness and consistency for most of 2008.

3. Indiana operating exclusively from the pistol formation -- I knew the Hoosiers coaches had taken a scouting trip to Nevada earlier this spring, but I didn't think the pistol formation would become the centerpiece of Indiana's offense. Quarterback Ben Chappell said the Hoosiers ran "100 percent" of their plays from the pistol this spring. If Indiana gets the timing down, it should have an improved downhill running game and a play-action passing attack.

4. Marvin McNutt emerging as possibly Iowa's No. 1 wideout -- McNutt's athleticism generated buzz when he competed for the starting quarterback spot, but Iowa seemed fairly settled at wide receiver entering the spring with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Trey Stross. But McNutt impressed the coaches throughout spring ball and moved into a starting role on the post-spring depth chart. Johnson-Koulianos, meanwhile, seemed to fall out of favor.

5. Off-field issues stinging four teams -- I know these problems should never be surprising, but it was unfortunate to see key players on several teams finding trouble off the field. Iowa simply can't stay out of the blotter, while Penn State star linebacker Navorro Bowman is in hot water again after failing two drug tests. Indiana lost its best player, wide receiver-quarterback Kellen Lewis, to a second violation of team rules, and Purdue quarterback Justin Siller, a strong candidate to start, was dismissed from school for violating academic policy.

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