Friday, May 3, 2013
What we learned this spring in the Big Ten
By Adam Rittenberg
1. Big Ten offenses will emphasize the pass more in 2013. Indiana was the only Big Ten team to finish in the top 30 nationally in pass offense last season, and seven league squads finished 94th or worse. Greater balance is the goal around much of the conference, and teams emphasized the pass more this spring. Iowa is trying to ramp up its vertical passing game after a season of throws and routes short of the first-down marker. Michigan will also look to stretch the field more with Devin Gardner at quarterback and a pro-style system in place. Spread teams like Ohio State, Northwestern and Nebraska also are looking for better offensive balance and have the receivers to achieve it. New Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit sent a clear message about the unit's direction in the spring game, as the Illini threw 87 passes and piled up 601 yards.
2. The new coaches are blending in well. The Big Ten's two newcomers, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell, took proactive steps to establish themselves with their new programs. Andersen put his imprint on practices with a steady stream of music and sprinkled in team-building activities, but he also showed respect for Wisconsin's track record of success and a large and decorated senior class. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team," star linebacker Chris Borland said. The same can be said of Hazell, who got the Boilers' attention this winter with 6 a.m. workouts and kept the focus strong during crisp, efficient practices this spring. "Players who maybe thought they'd plateaued are learning and still developing," Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell said.
3. Ohio State and Nebraska have remarkably similar profiles. The Buckeyes and Huskers will be popular picks to meet in the Big Ten championship game, and the teams are somewhat mirror images coming out of the spring. They have dynamic offenses capable of piling up points and yards in bunches. They have dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. They have multiple weapons at running back and some improving receivers. And they have major questions with the defensive front seven. Ohio State must replace all four starting defensive linemen from 2012, and Nebraska is on the lookout for linebackers. Filling gaps on defense will undoubtedly be the focus for both teams when preseason camp rolls around.