BT spring game previews: Six-pack on tap

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
1:30
PM ET
Since many of you have asked, I won't be attending any spring games this weekend (or next, for that matter). It's a little tough to explain to non-media folks, but I get a lot more out of visiting campuses midweek than for spring games, when things are chaotic. The good news: I'll recap every spring game Monday.

Now it's time to preview the six Big Ten spring games on tap Saturday (in reverse alphabetical order) ...

PENN STATE

The vitals: Blue-White Game presented by AAA kicks off at 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Beaver Stadium; admission and parking are free

More details: Penn State has a pregame autograph session and a ton of events planned for the weekend. All the information can be found here.

Three things to watch

1. The quarterbacks: The race for the starting job has been the top story at Penn State this spring, and all four candidates will be on the field Saturday. Most eyes will be on sophomore Rob Bolden and junior Matt McGloin, who split the starts in 2010 and have paced one another throughout the spring. Both players have impressed the coaches, who likely won't name a starter until the summer. Saturday marks the final chance for Bolden and McGloin to showcase their abilities for the coaches and fans before spring ball concludes.

2. Line play: Penn State has to upgrade both lines if it wants to contend in the Leaders division this season. The Lions have very little depth at defensive end because of injuries, but fans should keep an eye on defensive tackles Devon Still, Jordan Hill and Brandon Ware, all of whom have drawn praise from the coaches this spring. Penn State needs a big year from its interior linemen. The offensive line boasts four seniors and should be solid at the tackle spots, but it'll be interesting to see how the guards and centers perform as Penn State must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski.

3. Running backs: Injuries will keep several Penn State playmakers on the sideline Saturday, but fans should get a clear read on the running backs. There's a lot of hype for Silas Redd after a solid freshman season, but he's being pushed by Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum, who has stood out this spring after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Green and Redd both have breakaway ability, while Beachum could be the power back Penn State has missed in recent years.

NORTHWESTERN

The vitals: The spring football "exhibition," which will be more of a situational scrimmage, kicks off at noon CT (1 p.m. ET) at Ryan Field; admission and parking are free but fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable canned-food items for a food drive.

More details: Northwestern is holding a youth football clinic and several other events. All the info can be found here.

Three things to watch

1. The race for backup QB: All-Big Ten selection Dan Persa is on track to return by late May or early June, but he won't be taking any snaps Saturday. Northwestern will divide the reps evenly between three signal-callers -- sophomore Kain Colter, junior Evan Watkins and redshirt freshman Trevor Siemian -- vying to play behind Persa this season. Colter is the most intriguing candidate after a breakout performance against Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl, but all three players have endured some ups and downs this spring.

2. New faces on defense: The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism on defense with recent recruiting, especially at spots like linebacker and defensive back. Northwestern's defense looked slow and overmatched at times last season, and quite a few jobs are open this spring. Keep an eye on players such as linebackers David Nwabuisi and Damian Proby and redshirt freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell, a player coach Pat Fitzgerald has praised multiple times this spring.

3. The running backs: Persa carried the run game in 2010 but admits he took too many shots and will try to limit the damage this fall. He could use more help from a run game that has suffered since Tyrell Sutton graduated. Mike Trumpy provided a spark late last year and has had a good spring, and Adonis Smith has a year under his belt. Keep an eye on Tyris Jones, a physical runner who has stepped up this spring as a running back/H-back. NEBRASKA

The vitals: The Red-White Spring Game kicks off at 1 p.m. CT (2 p.m. ET) Saturday at Memorial Stadium; tickets are $10 (students get in free with a ticket)

More details: Can be found here.

Three things to watch

1. Offensive personnel: Nebraska won't reveal many details about its new offensive scheme, so fans shouldn't read too much into what they see Saturday. It'll be more important to evaluate the individual players at pretty much every offensive position. Taylor Martinez will be limited in the game, and Cody Green and Brion Carnes will take most of the reps. Who will step up at wide receiver alongside senior Brandon Kinnie? Wideouts like Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and Stanley Jean-Baptiste have drawn praise this spring. I'm particularly interested to see how the offensive line looks as Nebraska needs some upgrades there.

2. Defensive blitzes: Coordinator Carl Pelini has talked a lot this spring about wanting to be more multiple with his scheme in 2011. Huskers defenders acknowledged they got very comfortable in their base scheme last fall. It will be interesting to see what types of blitzes and movement the defense shows in the spring game. Nebraska is very deep up front even though several key players are out with injuries, and I'm curious to see how they'll use their linebackers, more of whom should see the field this coming season.

3. The secondary: Nebraska loses quite a lot here from the 2010 squad, but expectations remain extremely high. The Huskers know what they have in cornerback Alfonzo Dennard but will be looking for other players to shine. It will be interesting to see how players like cornerback Ciante Evans and safeties Courtney Osborne and P.J. Smith perform Saturday as they transition into larger roles this fall.

MICHIGAN

The vitals: The Mott Spring Game kicks off at noon ET Saturday at Michigan Stadium; admission and parking are free

More details: Michigan is holding locker room tours, an alumni flag football game and many other events. More information can be found here and here.

Three things to watch

1. New schemes: Michigan has brought in new systems on both sides of the ball this spring, and the spring game should provide some clues about what we'll see this fall. Greg Mattison's defense will be familiar to Michigan fans as the Wolverines transition back to a 4-3 alignment and put the onus on a defensive line that has drawn positive reviews this spring. Al Borges' offense will be more "downhill," and the running backs will be featured in different ways. Has Stephen Hopkins taken the lead? Fans should get an idea of how certain players are adjusting in the spring game.

2. Denard Robinson: No Michigan player thrived more in the previous offense than Robinson. How he transitions to Borges' scheme largely will determine how effective the Wolverines will be in 2011. Robinson's passing accuracy has impressed Borges this spring, and Borges noted that Robinson is accustomed to taking snaps from under center after doing so in high school (Michigan will use plenty of shotgun, too, Borges told me.) It will be interesting to see how comfortable "Shoelace" looks in the offense Saturday.

3. Defensive front seven: It'll be a bit tough to get a read on the secondary as players such as Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd remain sidelined, but there has been a ton of attention on the front seven and particularly the line this spring. A lot of folks will be watching big Will Campbell, who moved back to defense and has drawn good reviews this spring. Veteran lineman Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen are excited about the new system on defense. Michigan needs depth at linebacker, and Cam Gordon has generated a lot of buzz for the second straight spring.

IOWA

The vitals: The Hawkeyes begin practice around noon CT (1 p.m. ET) at Kinnick Stadium and will hold a controlled scrimmage at the end; admission is free but fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items for the Johnson County Crisis Center

More details: Can be found here.

Three things to watch

1. The secondary: Iowa has had a lot of moving parts in the secondary this spring, so it'll be noteworthy to see who does what on Saturday. Playmaker Micah Hyde has moved to safety this spring and former cornerback Jordan Bernstine also should see time at a safety position. Shaun Prater is the one guarantee at a corner spot, but the other three positions should bring plenty of competition until the season begins.

2. Options at RB, WR and TE: The Hawkeyes know their top running back (Marcus Coker), their top receiver (Marvin McNutt) and their top tight end (Brad Herman). But they're looking for more options at all three spots, and the spring game could provide some clues. Junior Jason White should get a good chunk of carries Saturday along with redshirt freshman De'Andre Johnson, who is back at practice after a hamstring issue. Receiver Keenan Davis and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz both are likely to move into bigger roles this season, so they'll be players to track Saturday.

3. James Vandenberg: The junior quarterback has drawn rave reviews this spring, and barring a setback, he will start the season for Iowa. Most of us haven't seen much of Vandenberg since the 2009 season, but his sustained focus last season and the strides he made during bowl practices stood out to head coach Kirk Ferentz. It will be interesting to see how Vandenberg conducts himself Saturday as he prepares to be the undisputed leader of the offense in 2011.

INDIANA

The vitals: The Cream & Crimson Spring Game presented by Smithville will kick off at 11 a.m. ET Saturday at Memorial Stadium; admission and parking are free

More details: Indiana fans can enjoy a free breakfast -- aptly labeled "Pigskins & Pancakes" -- and other events. You can learn more here.

Three things to watch

1. The quarterbacks: Indiana is still looking for a starter and the race likely will continue into fall camp. Several signal-callers will take snaps Saturday but Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are the likely front-runners. I came away from Bloomington two weeks ago thinking Kiel had the edge, but coach Kevin Wilson has maintained that the starting job "has to be earned" and it will take more than a strong spring game performance to do it. Still, it will be interesting for fans to see how the signal-callers perform in Wilson's up-tempo offense.

2. Defensive playmakers: The Indiana program only will turn a corner when the defense makes upgrades throughout the depth chart. Fans should be looking to see who makes plays Saturday and creates problems for the offense. Defensive end Darius Johnson is a good bet as he led the squad with 4.5 sacks and seems ready to take on a larger leadership role. Linebacker Jeff Thomas also should build on his first FBS season. Who else can step up for a long-suffering unit?

3. The coaching staff: Fans will notice an immediate difference with Wilson and his staff. They'll get after it in practice and bring plenty of energy to the field, especially on the defensive side. Players likely will scrimmage at a very fast pace, and Wilson isn't the type of coach to hold back if he doesn't like what he's seeing. The new mood at Hoosiers' practices should reveal itself Saturday.

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