Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Take Two: Which B1G position needs jolt?
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
In our most recent Take Two, we debated which position group was the strongest throughout the league. So on the flip side, today's Take Two topic is this: What position group in the league looks most in need of improvement after spring practice?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Much is expected from Iowa receiver Keenan Davis after his strong 2011 season.
The Big Ten had nine receivers drafted into the NFL over the weekend, and overall the league lost its top seven pass-catchers from the 2011 season. So there's no wonder that position looked a little weak across several campuses this spring. Only two players who caught at least 50 passes last year -- Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Iowa's Keenan Davis--returnin 2012. Michigan State lost its top two wideouts in B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin and is relying on wildly inexperienced players to step up there. Ohio State didn't have a player catch more than 14 passes last year, and new coach Urban Meyer criticized the receivers all spring, though Michael Thomas did have a strong spring game. Wisconsin missed Abbrederis (foot injury) this spring and is trying to find someone else to play with consistency at that spot. A.J. Jenkins basically was the passing game for Illinois last year, and now the Illini need more options in their new spread system after losing the first-rounder.Michigan needs to replace Junior Hemingway and is hoping Roy Roundtree bounces back after a subpar junior year stats-wise.
I could go on and on. Very few schools appear settled at receiver right now, and I'd be hard pressed to select a pair of preseason first-team all-conference performers there at this point. While receiver is one position where young players can often have a quick impact, it's also true that the league is lacking proven stars at that spot heading into the season.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Consistency will be a major focus for Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase next season.
The league undoubtedly loses a lot at receiver, but I'm going with the guys throwing the passes, not catching them. Great quarterbacks can make adequate receivers good and good receivers great. It rarely works the other way around. The Big Ten doesn't lose as many standout quarterbacks as it does receivers, but the league says goodbye to three of its best in Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Northwestern's Dan Persa. Wilson energized Wisconsin's offense with his strong arm and athleticism, and while his accomplishments were overshadowed by those of teammate Montee Ball, he'll be sorely missed. While Danny O'Brien is a nice addition, he's not Russell Wilson. Cousins and Persa also leave significant voids in East Lansing and Evanston, respectively. While Kain Colter is a great athlete and Andrew Maxwell has been groomed for the spotlight, both men have a lot to prove.
The overall quality of quarterback play in the league needs a boost in 2012. Remember that the Big Ten failed to have a team ranked in the top 35 nationally in pass offense in 2011. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase and Minnesota's MarQueis Gray must become a lot more consistent. Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Indiana's Tre Roberson must grow up. Michigan's Denard Robinson needs to cut down on his interceptions and add reliability to his repertoire. Iowa's James Vandenberg has to get a lot better on the road. Purdue and Penn State need a quarterback to separate himself from the pack. There are many more familiar names at quarterback, but if they don't make strides, the Big Ten once again will be grounded on offense.