Big Ten: 2012 big ten spring team wraps

Illinois spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
11:30
AM ET
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 2-6 (fifth, Leaders Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Nathan Scheelhaase, C Graham Pocic, WR Darius Millines, LB Jonathan Brown, DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence, CB Terry Hawthorne, DT Glenn Foster

Key losses

WR A.J. Jenkins, LT Jeff Allen, G Jack Cornell, DE Whitney Mercilus, LB Ian Thomas, CB Tavon Wilson, K Derek Dimke

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Nathan Scheelhaase* (624 yards)
Passing:
Nathan Scheelhaase (2,110 yards)
Receiving: A.J. Jenkins (1,276 yards)
Tackles: Jonathan Brown* (108)
Sacks: Whitney Mercilus (16)
Interceptions: Terry Hawthorne* (3)

Spring answers

1. Front loaded: How good is Illinois' defensive line? The Illini lose a first-round draft pick for the second consecutive year and should be just fine for the next season. Although All-America end Whitney Mercilus leaves a big production void, Illinois is loaded up front with Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence, Glenn Foster, Justin Staples and others. Buchanan and Spence both have NFL potential and should be the mix for All-Big Ten honors. While Illinois has a new coordinator in Tim Banks, the scheme changes aren't dramatic and new head coach Tim Beckman wisely retained line coach Keith Gilmore.

2. Ferguson emerges: The Illini are short on proven offensive weapons (more on that later), but they came out of the spring game feeling a bit better after watching freshman Josh Ferguson run for 130 yards and record a game-high six receptions. Ferguson, who redshirted last season after being slowed by a hamstring injury, brings top-end speed to the offensive backfield. He could form a nice tandem with Donovonn Young this fall.

3. Versatility abounds: Beckman is open to using versatile players in multiple roles, and two options emerged this spring. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who has seen time on returns, played some receiver during the spring game and hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass. Hawthorne played both corner and receiver in high school and could be a "slash" player for the Illini. Reserve quarterback Miles Osei also showed he can be effective at multiple positions (running back, receiver).

Fall questions

1. Offensive weapons: The offense's struggles in the second half of 2011 stemmed in large part from the fact Illinois developed no consistent weapons other than wideout A.J. Jenkins, a surprise first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. Depth is a major concern at both running back and receiver. Darius Millines has shown promising flashes, but he struggles to stay healthy. Although the coaches aren't afraid to audition players from other positions, Illinois would really benefit if wide receiver Ryan Lankford and tight ends Evan Wilson and Jon Davis stepped up. The Illini also need a third option at running back behind Young and Ferguson.

2. Special teams: Beckman didn't mince words when evaluating Illinois' special teams from 2011, calling them "terrible." He's being kind. The Illini couldn't catch punts, and they finished last in the FBS in kick return average (15.7 ypr). Standout kicker Derek Dimke departs, and Illinois must find a replacement. Illinois has too much talent to be so lousy in the kicking game, and Beckman stressed the basics this spring. He must continue to see progress this summer as Illinois tries to become a more complete team.

3. Quarterback efficiency: Illinois wants to regain its swagger on offense after flat-lining down the stretch of last season, and it starts with the quarterback spot. Nathan Scheelhaase has started two seasons under center, but he's transitioning to a new system and looked a bit shaky throwing the ball in the spring game. Arm strength is a question mark for Scheelhaase, who will need to spread the ball around in the new system. Reilly O'Toole also is in the mix after playing a decent amount as a backup in 2011. O'Toole will continue to compete for time.

Indiana spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
11:00
AM ET
2011 record: 1-11
2011 conference record: 0-8 (sixth, Leaders Division)
Returning starters: offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Kofi Hughes, CB Lawrence Barnett, DT Larry Black, DT Adam Replogle, S Mark Murphy

Key losses

OL Andrew McDonald, LB Jeff Thomas, LB Leon Beckum, WR Dre Muhammad

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Stephen Houston* (802 yards)
Passing: Ed Wright-Baker (1,029 yards)
Receiving: Kofi Hughes* (536 yards)
Tackles: Jeff Thomas (80)
Sacks: Adam Replogle* (4)
Interceptions: Greg Heban* (2)

Spring answers

1. Improved defense: The Hoosiers had nowhere to go but up after fielding one of the worst defenses in the country last year. Some junior college transfers, especially linebackers David Cooper and Jacarri Alexander, injected some much-needed talent and energy into the unit this spring. The defense showed much better execution and fundamentals overall, thanks in large part to some young players getting baptized by fire last fall. This is still not a dominating group by any stretch, but with some solid players up front such as Larry Black and Adam Replogle and in the back end such as Mark Murphy and Lawrence Barnett, the Hoosiers hope to have far fewer major breakdowns this season.

2. Depth at running back: Stephen Houston led the team in rushing last season despite showing up a little out of shape in the summer from junior college. That spoke both to his skills and the lack of competition around him. That's not the case now, as Indiana has a much healthier stable of backs to work with, including a healthy Matt Perez and transfer Isaiah Roundtree, who had a big spring game. Add in mobile quarterback Tre Roberson, and the Hoosiers could have an effective ground attack in 2012.

3. Better off Ted: Tight end Ted Bolser had a promising freshman year with 27 catches for 407 yards and five touchdowns, but those numbers dipped to just 14 catches for 165 yards last year. Some of that was probably due to a largely ineffective passing game. Bolser had a strong spring, capped by a six-catch performance in the spring game, and was targeted often in the offense. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder could become a go-to guy for new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback competition: Roberson seized the starting job midway through last season and showed so much promise that two other young quarterbacks -- Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel -- transferred. He has a strong presence and the potential to be a star. But the coaching staff insisted that junior college transfer Cameron Coffman was right in the thick of the race to be the starter this season after a nice spring. Coffman is a better pure passer than Roberson, who needs to work on that aspect of his game.

2. Bringing the heat: Indiana had just 18 total sacks last season and often had trouble generating much of a pass rush, which was part of the reason it gave up so many big plays. While Black and Replogle make a nice tandem at tackle, the search is still on for playmakers who can get to the quarterback. Ryan Phillis showed some things late in his freshman year, including a big game in the finale against Purdue, and Bobby Richardson made a nice transition from tackle to end as a freshman. Maybe the linebackers can help in the pass rush as well. But the Hoosiers need to make other teams uncomfortable in the passing game without blitzing to improve on defense.

3. Overall talent and depth: Head coach Kevin Wilson has his work cut out for him after failing to win a single game against FBS competition his first season in Bloomington. Wilson played 32 true and redshirt freshmen in 2011 and had many players going through spring practice for the first time this year. The extra seasoning will no doubt help them get better, but this is still a roster that doesn't look like the top Big Ten contenders. Indiana will need to stay healthy, get some breaks and see its young players mature quickly to make any noise in the league this season.

Michigan spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
11:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 6-2 (2nd, Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Denard Robinson; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Roy Roundtree; WR Jeremy Gallon; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DE Craig Roh; LB Jake Ryan; LB Kenny Demens; LB Desmond Morgan; CB J.T. Floyd; CB Blake Countess; S Thomas Gordon; S Jordan Kovacs.

Key losses
WR Junior Hemingway; WR Darryl Stonum; WR/KR Martavious Odoms; TE Kevin Koger; C David Molk; RT Mark Huyge; DT Mike Martin; DE/DT Ryan Van Bergen; DT Will Heininger.

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Denard Robinson* (1,176 yards)
Passing: Denard Robinson* (2,173 yards)
Receiving: Junior Hemingway (699 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Demens* (94)
Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen (5.5)
Interceptions: Courtney Avery* and J.T. Floyd* (2)

Spring answers

1. Quarterback accuracy: Denard Robinson played one series in the public spring scrimmage, but coaches raved about his improved leadership, decision-making and accuracy throughout the spring. The latter two were major issues for Michigan last season. While it is unknown whether Robinson will truly be more accurate until Sept. 1 against Alabama -- Michigan closed all of its practices to the media this spring -- offensive coordinator Al Borges was very confident in Robinson’s potential for his senior season.

2. Cornerback has depth: Two seasons ago, cornerback was the biggest question on Michigan’s team because of youth, inexperience and a lack of talent. That is no longer an issue. The Wolverines have as many as six players they could feel comfortable with come the fall, and that doesn’t include incoming freshman Terry Richardson (Detroit/Cass Tech), the highest-ranked player in Michigan’s incoming signing class. Sophomore Blake Countess could turn into a star, and fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd is the most consistent corner the Wolverines have. They’ll be the likely starters.

3. A featured back is set: Borges made no hesitation: Redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint is going into the fall as his top tailback -- a marked change from what the Wolverines endured last spring and through the first half of last season. Toussaint rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last season, giving Michigan a dynamic dual running game with Robinson. With major questions at wide receiver and tight end, expect a lot of running from Toussaint and Robinson, especially early in the season.

Fall questions

1. Who is catching the ball: Michigan’s coaches spoke highly of Jeremy Gallon, Jerald Robinson and Roy Roundtree during the spring as their top three receivers, but Robinson has never caught a pass, Gallon has had one season of consistent productivity, and Roundtree saw his numbers plummet last season to 19 catches for 355 yards. Tight end isn’t much better, as the position group has two career catches. Denard Robinson’s two best safety valves -- Junior Hemingway and Kevin Koger -- graduated, so even if Denard Robinson is improved, he might need to hunt to find a reliable receiving option. Incoming freshman Devin Funchess (Farmington Hills, Mich./Harrison) could be an option at tight end.

2. Who is pressuring the quarterback: Michigan took its biggest hits on the defensive line, which saw three starters graduate -- Mike Martin was a third-round draft pick, Ryan Van Bergen signed as a free agent, and Will Heininger graduated -- and its fourth starter, Craig Roh, switch positions. Michigan insists it’ll be OK there. Will Campbell and converted end Jibreel Black will likely start inside, and either sophomore Brennen Beyer or sophomore Frank Clark will start at rush end. The success of Michigan’s defense last season relied on pressure the front four created. With an almost completely new group there, how they fare against opponents will be interesting to see.

3. Punting problems: Somewhere along the way last season, Will Hagerup lost his mojo, much like kicker Brendan Gibbons the year before. A strong-legged punter, Hagerup wasn’t connecting with the ball well and eventually lost his job to freshman Matt Wile. Now entering his junior year, Michigan hopes either Hagerup regains his form or Wile becomes more consistent. The Wolverines’ offense should be fairly prolific, but with a defense searching for pressure early on, it needs to be able to control field position with the punter.

Iowa spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
10:30
AM ET
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (fourth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB James Vandenberg, C James Ferentz, WR Keenan Davis, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, CB Micah Hyde, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, S Tanner Miller

Key losses

RB Marcus Coker, WR Marvin McNutt, OT Riley Reff, G Adam Gettis, DT Mike Daniels, DE Broderick Binns, LB Tyler Nielsen, CB Shaun Prater

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Coker (1,384 yards)
Passing: James Vandenberg* (3,022 yards)
Receiving: Marvin McNutt (1,315 yards)
Tackles: James Morris* and Christian Kirksey* (110)
Sacks: Mike Daniels (9)
Interceptions: Micah Hyde* and Tanner Miller (3)

Spring answers

1. Embracing change: Iowa is going through a historic number of changes, including the first new coordinators (Greg Davis and Phil Parker) in Kirk Ferentz's tenure as head coach. But for the most part, players and coaches seem to be embracing the new elements of the program, including an offense that will diverge a bit from what Iowa ran under Ken O'Keefe. The Hawkeyes will be a more up-tempo offense and mix in some no-huddle elements. "They've been extremely open to everything," Davis told ESPN.com. "Sometimes the same play said differently and explained differently creates excitement. And I sense an excitement."

2. Back seven emerging: There's no doubt Iowa will lean on its defensive back seven this season. Cornerback Micah Hyde has established himself as a premier playmaker and a team leader, and Ferentz likened the career paths of linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey to those of former stars Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. Linebacker play could be a major strength for Iowa this fall, while players like Hyde and Tanner Miller bring experience to the secondary.

3. C.J.'s time: Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz arrived at Iowa with a lot of hype and attention. He appears poised for a breakout junior season in Davis' offense. "This is only 39 springs I've been in, and I've never had a tight end like C.J.," Davis told reporters. At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Fiedorowicz can create a lot of problems for opposing defenses and should be an integral part of the Hawkeyes' passing attack this fall.

Fall questions

1. Defensive line: Iowa hasn't been this young up front in recent memory, and despite a strong track record at defensive line, there are major question marks entering the summer. The coaches are relying on Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione, the only veteran linemen on the field this spring, as well as Dominic Alvis, who will return from a torn ACL this fall. But Iowa undoubtedly needs young players like Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn and Carl Davis to take steps and contribute.

2. Running back: Stop me if you've heard this before, but Iowa enters the summer with big questions at the running back position following Marcus Coker's transfer and Jordan Canzeri's ACL injury during spring ball. The good news is that despite an unfortunate stretch of bad luck and bad circumstances, Iowa has consistently developed good to great Big Ten backs. The Hawkeyes must do so again as unproven returnees Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson compete with decorated incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill.

3. The search for No. 1 receiver: All-Big Ten selection Marvin McNutt leaves a significant void, and given Iowa's question marks at running back, the team really needs a No. 1 receiver to emerge. Keenan Davis seems like the obvious choice, but he had an "up and down" spring, according to Ferentz, with some injuries. Kevonte Martin-Manley played a lot last year and could be ready to make some strides, as could Don Shumpert. "We have some room there for guys to step up," Ferentz said.

Michigan State spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
9:30
AM ET
2011 record: 11-3
2011 conference record: 7-1 (Legends Division champions)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; Defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

DE William Gholston, DE Marcus Rush, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, LB Chris Norman, CB Johnny Adams, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Isaiah Lewis, RB Le'Veon Bell, LT Dan France, C Travis Jackson

Key losses
QB Kirk Cousins, DT Jerel Worthy, WR Keshawn Martin, WR B.J. Cunningham, S Trenton Robinson, RB Edwin Baker, TE Brian Linthicum

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Le'Veon Bell* (948 yards)
Passing: Kirk Cousins (3,316 yards)
Receiving: B.J. Cunningham (1,306 yards)
Tackles: Max Bullough* (89)
Sacks: Denicos Allen* (11)
Interceptions: Isaiah Lewis* and Trenton Robinson (4)

Spring answers

1. Defensive depth: Michigan State returns eight starters off one of the best defenses in the country, and the coaching staff might have been most excited this spring about guys who didn't play much last year. Linebackers Darien Harris and Taiwan Jones, defensive ends Joel Heath and Shilique Calhoun and defensive back Trae Waynes all had impressive practices and showed that they're ready to contribute and push the starters. The Spartans won't have much drop off if their first-stringers need a break or get injured. That gives this defense a chance to be scary good in 2012.

2. The Bell tolls: Le'Veon Bell asserted himself at the end of last year as the team's top tailback, overtaking Edwin Baker. And after appearing to get called out by coach Mark Dantonio for being complacent early in the spring, he turned in some dominant efforts. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he's a rumbling freight train with surprising nimbleness in the open field. Do not be surprised to see him emerge as a superstar back this season if he remains focused.

3. O-line on the way up: Michigan State mixed and matched on the offensive line early last season because of injuries and inexperience. By the end of the season, the group was playing well. This spring, the line features six players who have started and much more maturity. That's one reason why Bell excelled this spring, as the Spartans' power running game looked much better. This figures to be the best and deepest O-line in Dantonio's tenure, and the offense could lean more on the ground attack while the passing game finds its wings.

Fall questions

1. Catching on: The top receivers coming out of spring were redshirt freshman Andre Sims Jr., little-used sophomore Keith Mumphery and Jeremy Langford, who made the switch from running back in the middle of spring practice. In other words, there's a dire lack of experience at the position that Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol patrolled so well. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett was cleared by the NCAA for immediate eligibility on Thursday, and that should help. The Spartans are also going to need Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler -- their two veterans even though both lack much receiver experience themselves -- to get healthy and for some true freshmen to make an impact. If there's a glaring concern for this year's team, it's definitely at this spot.

2. Maxwell's house: Michigan State feels confident that Andrew Maxwell, a fourth-year junior who sat behind Cousins the past three seasons, can make a smooth transition into the starting quarterback job. But Maxwell doesn't have much game time under his belt, and we won't know whether he can bounce back from adversity until it happens on the field this fall. It didn't help that he missed the last couple weeks of spring practice with a knee injury. The Spartans need him to stay healthy, or else they will have to turn to redshirt freshman Connor Cook. And a new quarterback could struggle with such a green receiving group.

3. Worthy replacements: Jerel Worthy skipped his senior season and wound up as a second-round NFL draft pick after an All-America campaign. The Spartans have a host of players looking to replace him at defensive tackle, with Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge stepping up late in spring practice to assume the No. 1 reps. Depth won't be an issue, but it remains to be seen whether any of his successors have the kind of game-changing ability that Worthy brought when he was fully engaged. Nothing boosts a defense quite like a disruptive force in the middle of the line. We know the Spartans' defense will be good. Can it be great without a player like Worthy up front?

Minnesota spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
9:00
AM ET
2011 record: 3-9
2011 conference record: 2-6 (sixth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB MarQueis Gray, CB Troy Stoudermire, LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, WR Brandon Green, LT Ed Olson

Key losses

WR Da'Jon McKnight, S Kim Royston, RB Duane Bennett, DT Anthony Jacobs, DT Brandon Kirksey, TE Collin McGarry

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: MarQueis Gray* (966 yards)
Passing: MarQueis Gray* (1,495 yards)
Receiving: Da'Jon McKnight (760 yards)
Tackles: Kim Royston (123)
Sacks: Gary Tinsley (4)
Interceptions: Troy Stoudermire* (2)

Spring answers

1. Better secondary play: The Gophers looked overmatched defending the pass at times last season, but things appear to have changed dramatically. The secondary took a major step forward this spring and looks to be as deep and talented as it's been in a few years. Head coach Jerry Kill brought in three junior-college defensive backs who should all contribute, including Martez Shabazz, and Troy Stoudermire returns at starting corner after getting an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA. The Gophers were also able to move corner Brock Vereen to safety with the extra depth. Once a weakness, this position now figures to be a strength.

2. Gray matter: Quarterback MarQueis Gray had some big moments last year in his first year of starting but also struggled with inconsistency. That was expected from a guy who played receiver the previous year. Well, Gray greatly improved his mechanics in the offseason, and Minnesota coaches went to Baylor and other places to study how to best utilize his dynamic skills. Gray looked like a more accurate passer this spring, and he has a chance to rush for more than 1,000 yards and throw for more than 2,000 this season as the team's main weapon.

3. Need for speed: Minnesota hasn't had much of a pass rush for the past few years, but the team is hoping a move toward a lighter, speedier defense helps in that regard. Guys like redshirt freshman Thieren Cockran (a listed 235 pounds) and sophomore Michael Amaefula (245) fit the mold of what the Gophers are looking for in a defensive end: athletic, if undersized, quarterback chasers. Along with moving some former safeties down to outside linebacker, Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys are expecting to field faster players on the edge.

Fall questions

1. Skill set: Gray lost his favorite target in departed senior Da'Jon McKnight, and though several options are available, Minnesota lacks a clear No. 1 receiver. Senior Brandon Green and sophomore Marcus Jones -- coming off an ACL injury -- are among the veterans hoping to contribute. But the Gophers will likely need help from incoming freshmen like Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. Junior-college transfer James Gillum could help in the running game, but the team is not deep at tailback. Skill-position players need to step up to keep Gray from being a one-man show.

2. Strength up the middle: While the defense is getting swifter on the perimeter, is it tough enough inside? The team lost both starting defensive tackles from a year ago, and there is very little experience or depth there. Junior college import Roland Johnson could help but is not arriving until the summer. Middle linebacker is another spot without much depth behind starter Mike Rallis. Will Minnesota be able to stand up against power teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska?

3. O-line depth: The good news is that four players who started on the offensive line return, with only right tackle really up for grabs right now. Yet this is an extremely young group overall, and an injury or two could thrust some players into action before they're quite ready. Kill brought in six offensive linemen in his first recruiting class, knowing he needed to rebuild the group. They'll be better off waiting another year before seeing major action.

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
8:30
AM ET
2011 record: 9-4
2011 conference record: 5-3 (third, Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Kenny Bell, TE Ben Cotton, DT Baker Steinkuhler, DE Cameron Meredith, LB Will Compton, S Daimion Stafford, K/P Brett Maher

Key losses

LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DT Jared Crick, S Austin Cassidy, C Mike Caputo, WR Brandon Kinnie, T Marcel Jones

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rex Burkhead* (1,357 yards)
Passing: Taylor Martinez* (2,089 yards)
Receiving: Kenny Bell* (461 yards)
Tackles: Lavonte David (133)
Sacks: Lavonte David (5.5)
Interceptions: Austin Cassidy and Lavonte David (2)

Spring answers

1. Secondary makes strides: Although Nebraska's defensive backfield loses a key piece in Alfonzo Dennard, the sense coming out of the spring is that the Huskers will have more overall depth in the secondary this season. Details were a theme for the entire defense, but especially for the secondary, and new coach Terry Joseph frequently tested his players on their responsibilities. Players like cornerback Andrew Green had a strong spring, and the Huskers look pretty solid at safety with Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith. Juco addition Mohammed Seisay increases the competition at cornerback.

2. More weapons emerging: Coordinator Tim Beck wants to be a more balanced offense this fall, and he should have the weapons to upgrade the passing attack. Nebraska returns all but one major contributor at receiver, as well as veteran tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed. Kenny Bell showed impressive spurts last season and should build on his performance this fall. Quincy Enunwa is another nice piece, and Tim Marlowe provides a veteran presence. If Jamal Turner polishes his blocking, he should see increased opportunities on the field.

3. Ready and Will-ing: The Huskers acknowledged their depth issues at linebacker during their Big Ten transition, but they aren't worried about finding a leader at the position. Senior middle linebacker Will Compton has stepped forward and taken a proactive approach toward leadership. Compton, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2011, is a heady player who understands the defense and can motivate others. He'll help fill the production void left by standout Lavonte David.

Fall questions

1. Taylor Martinez: The Huskers quarterback was the talk of spring ball after he spent the winter -- and his spring break -- working on his footwork and his throwing mechanics. Martinez received good marks from his coaches, and he seemed more comfortable as he'll operate the same offense in consecutive seasons for the first time in his college or high school career. But the junior still has a lot to prove as a passer after completing just 56.3 percent of his attempts in 2011 and often looking unsettled in the pocket.

2. Defensive line rotation: Head coach Bo Pelini likes the potential of the defensive line, but injuries slowed several key players this spring. The Huskers should go four deep at defensive end, but they'll need to solidify the interior line alongside veteran Baker Steinkuhler. Players like Chase Rome, who saw action last fall following Jared Crick's injury, and Thaddeus Randle should be healthy entering fall camp and need good performances.

3. Linebacker depth: Compton has the middle on lock down, and Buck linebacker Sean Fisher is healthy and playing well, but the Huskers need more bodies in their defensive midsection. Junior-college transfer Zaire Anderson will be a key player to watch in fall camp as he should compete for field time right away. Whether Alonzo Whaley can land the starting weak-side spot remains to be seen, but Nebraska would be better off being able to go five or six deep at linebacker.

Northwestern spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
8:00
AM ET
2011 record: 6-7
2011 conference record: 3-5 (fifth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: offense: 5; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Kain Colter, WR Demetrius Fields, WR Christian Jones, G Brian Mulroe, C Brandon Vitabile, DE Tyler Scott, LB David Nwabuisi, S Ibraheim Campbell

Key losses
QB Dan Persa, WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Drake Dunsmore, LT Al Netter, CB Jordan Mabin, S Brian Peters, DT Jack DiNardo

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Kain Colter* (654 yards)
Passing: Dan Persa (2,376 yards)
Receiving: Jeremy Ebert (1,060 yards)
Tackles: Ibraheim Campbell* (100)
Sacks: Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo and Quentin Williams* (3)
Interceptions: Brian Peters (5)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line makes strides: Northwestern's pass rush has been absent for the past two seasons, but things could soon be shifting. The defensive line turned in a strong spring as several unproven players stepped forward, including freshman end Deonte Gibson and sophomore tackle Chance Carter, who had an interception return for a touchdown in the spring game. Tyler Scott could be primed for a breakout season, and the Wildcats should be able to ratchet up their pressure with the front four.

2. On target: They might not be household names, but Northwestern's receivers performed very well this spring and form by far the deepest posttion group on the squad. Demetrius Fields provides a veteran presence, and sophomore Christian Jones brings size to the slot position. Speedster Tony Jones returns from injury, and Cam Dickerson emerged as a reliable option this spring. Even if USC transfer Kyle Prater can't play this season, Northwestern will have plenty of options in the pass game.

3. Nick of time: The struggles in the secondary are well documented, and the Wildcats lose three starters from 2011, including first-team All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters. They'll need several players to grow up quickly and cornerback Nick VanHoose obliged this spring with a strong performance. VanHoose, who redshirted last season, put himself in position to secure a starting job and showcased good speed and ball skills.

Fall questions

1. Colter's arm: Kain Colter is the best athlete Northwestern has had at quarterback since installing the spread offense in 2000, but his passing skills remain under scrutiny. He made velocity a chief priority during the offseason after completing 55 of 82 pass attempts in 2011, and while he showed promise in practices, he looked shaky in the spring game. Northwestern's offense doesn't stretch the field that often, but the Wildcats quarterbacks must make high-percentage throws to the outside and keep the chains moving. Colter's running skills are special, but he must continue to make progress with his throwing arm.

2. Defensive playmakers: The Wildcats are in desperate need of difference-makers on defense after recording just 20 takeaways (T-77th nationally), 17 sacks (T-106th) and 59 tackles for loss (104th) last season. While the defensive line's play this spring is encouraging, Northwestern needs more from all three levels of the defense, particularly a linebacking corps that returns all three starters. Peters' presence in the secondary will be missed, and when fall camp kicks off in August, the coaches will be looking for players who can fly to the ball and change the game.

3. Offensive line/run game: It's essential for the line to build better chemistry during preseason camp after mixed results this spring. Northwestern hasn't produced an elite featured running back since Tyrell Sutton graduated, and the physical run blocking simply hasn't been there on a consistent basis. The line also struggled in the spring game, surrendering six sacks and eight tackles for loss. While Colter's mobility should help out the front five, the group needs to elevate its play for the offense to keep producing at a high rate.

Ohio State spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
7:30
AM ET
2011 overall record: 6-7
2011 conference record: 3-5 (fourth, Leaders division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Braxton Miller, RB Jordan Hall, TE Jake Stoneburner, T Jack Mewhort, DE John Simon, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Garrett Goebel, LB Ryan Shazier, S Christian Bryant, S C.J. Barnett, CB Bradley Roby

Key losses
OT Mike Adams, C Mike Brewster, RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, LB Andrew Sweat, S/LB Tyler Moeller

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Braxton Miller* (715 yards)
Passing: Braxton Miller* (1,159 yards)
Receiving: Devin Smith* (294 yards)
Tackles: C.J. Barnett* (75)
Sacks: John Simon* (7)
Interceptions: Bradley Roby* and Orhian Johnson* (3)

Spring answers

1. System suits Miller: Ohio State's offense will take time to settle in, but it's clear from the spring that the no-huddle, spread system suits quarterback Braxton Miller. The athletic sophomore ran a version of the spread in high school and should flourish in an offense that demands mobility from the quarterback position. Miller completed 24 of 31 passes in Ohio State's spring game; he attempted 37 total passes in his first seven games last fall. Things are changing in Columbus, and Miller should benefit.

2. Simon dazzles: John Simon hasn't played a game for Urban Meyer, but the Buckeyes defensive end already has put himself in an elite group of former Meyer stars. Simon dominated play this spring, so much so that the coaches had to pull him off of the field at times so the offense could get in its work. Meyer made headlines by calling Simon "Tebowish" and later told ESPN.com, "It should be Simonish. He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment. He's elite, elite."

3. Hall, Stoneburner emerge: Meyer spent much of the spring grumbling about Ohio State's lack of offensive playmakers, but he identified two in running back Jordan Hall and tight end Jake Stoneburner. Like Miller, Hall is a player who could flourish more in the spread offense and fill the so-called "Percy position," occupied by former Meyer standout Percy Harvin and others. Stoneburner is a pass-first tight end finally playing in a pass-heavy offense. While he needs to improve his conditioning this fall, he'll play a big role for the Buckeyes.

Fall questions

1. Search for playmakers: Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman are adamant about the need for additional playmakers to emerge around Miller. The Buckeyes might have found one in the spring game in freshman receiver Michael Thomas, who recorded 12 receptions for 131 yards. Whether Thomas can build on his performance in August remains to be seen. Other players to watch include receivers Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Chris Fields, and running backs Carlos Hyde, Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith.

2. Offensive line depth: The Buckeyes appear to have a good starting five up front on offense, but offensive line depth remains a big concern entering the summer. Tight end Reid Fragel moved to tackle this spring, and the Buckeyes will need some of their younger linemen like Chris Carter Jr. and Jacoby Boren to grow up in a hurry. Help is on the way from the recruiting trail, but Ohio State can't afford many injuries to its starters.

3. Studying the spread: While Ohio State will be much more interesting to watch on offense under Meyer and Herman, the fact remains that the new system is a dramatic departure from what the Buckeyes ran in the past. Early this spring Meyer likened the offense's performance to a "clown show," and while things improved, the unit is far from a finished product. Meyer and Herman want to operate at an extremely fast past -- think Oregon -- but can only do so if players can execute without drive-killing mistakes.

Penn State spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
7:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 9-4
2011 conference record: 6-2 (T-first, Leaders division)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LB Gerald Hodges, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, S Malcolm Willis, CB Stephon Morris, RB Silas Redd, WR Justin Brown, C Matt Stankiewitch

Key losses

DT Devon Still, DE Jack Crawford, S Nick Sukay, CB Chaz Powell, LB Nathan Stupar, T Quinn Barham, G Johnnie Troutman, WR Derek Moye, T Chima Okoli

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Silas Redd* (1,241 yards)
Passing: Matthew McGloin* (1,571 yards)
Receiving: Derek Moye (654 yards)
Tackles: Gerald Hodges* (106)
Sacks: Jack Crawford (6.5)
Interceptions: Nick Sukay (3)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line taking shape: Penn State's offensive line has underachieved to varying degrees since 2008, and with only one starter back (Stankiewitch), there were concerns entering the spring. But after a strong winter in the new strength program -- no group benefited more than the offensive linemen -- the front five performed well during the spring session. Junior Adam Gress emerged as the answer at left tackle, and John Urschel locked up a starting spot at right guard.

2. Hodges primed for huge season: After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011, linebacker Gerald Hodges made more strides this spring. He moved to the strongside position -- one he notes previous Lions stars have played as seniors -- and consistently looked like the best player on the field during practices. Penn State could have the Big Ten's top linebacking corps in 2012, and Hodges will be leading the charge.

3. Redd alert: While Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill are the defensive stars, junior running back Silas Redd will be the team's primary offensive weapon for the second consecutive season. Redd already has reinvented himself at Penn State, going from a small, shifty back to a bigger, workhorse type. His next step: "Combine those together -- when I need to stiff-arm a guy, when I need to make a guy miss, when I need to run through an arm tackle -- and become a more complete back," Redd told ESPN.com. He certainly looked like an All-Big Ten back this spring.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback: Penn State entered the spring with a three-man race at quarterback and left the spring with very little resolved under center. New coach Bill O'Brien wants to reduce the candidate pool from three to two, but the competition will continue into the first part of camp. O'Brien is dealing with quarterbacks who are either unproven (Paul Jones) or needing improvement (Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden). Add in the fact the quarterback are still absorbing O'Brien's complex offense and it means a lot of work must be done in August.

2. The Patriot Act: Speaking of O'Brien's offense, it remains very much a work in progress as Penn State's players learn a system used by the New England Patriots in 2011. O'Brien's approach this spring was to throw a very dense playbook at his new team and see what sticks. It'll be important for Penn State to identify what it can run effectively during preseason camp and fine-tune those plays as much as possible before Sept. 1.

3. Filling out the secondary: Penn State's defensive front seven will be the strength of the team in 2012, but the Lions lose all four starters in the secondary and need to build depth there. Some nice pieces return in safety Malcolm Willis and cornerback Stephon Morris, but Penn State will be looking for more from guys like Adrian Amos, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Curtis Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring. If the secondary can hold its own, Penn State's defense could be scary good this fall.

Purdue spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
6:30
AM ET
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (third place, Leaders Division) Returning starters: Offense: 9; Defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
DT Kawann Short, CB Ricardo Allen, QB Caleb TerBush, QB Robert Marve, QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, DE Ryan Russell, WR Antavian Edison, DT Bruce Gaston, OT Trevor Foy

Key losses
LB Joe Holland, S Albert Evans, LT Dennis Kelly, OG Nick Mondek, WR Justin Siller, K Carson Wiggs

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ralph Bolden* (674 yards)
Passing: Caleb TerBush (1,905 yards)
Receiving: Antavian Edison* (584 yards) Tackles: Joe Holland (94) Sacks: Kawann Short* (6.5) Interceptions: Ricardo Allen* (3)

Spring answers

1. Healthy QBs: After two years of dealing with injuries and inexperienced signalcallers, Danny Hope finally had enviable depth at the position this spring. With Robert Marve healthy, last season's starter Caleb TerBush a year wiser, and Rob Henry on the mend from a torn ACL, Purdue has three former starters at quarterback. Hope said the depth made for much improved offensive execution this spring, which should carry over into the fall. Now he just has to figure out whom to play and when, as it's likely more than one will see the field in the same game.

2. Defensive front and back set: The Boilermakers have a chance to be very good up front defensively, and it all starts with defensive tackle Kawann Short. He passed up the NFL draft, and could work his way into first-round status with a big senior season. Bruce Gaston returns along side him in the middle, and sophomore defensive end Ryan Russell looks like a future star after coming on strong at the end of last season. The secondary is also in great shape, with returning cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson possibly forming the best tandem in the league, according to Hope. Nickel back Normondo Harris had a big spring game, and Max Charlot returns at safety. Purdue should have the ability to generate a pass-rush and defend the ball in the air.

3. More confidence: There's little doubt that there's more confidence in the air around West Lafayette. That comes from the team making -- and winning -- its first bowl game under Hope last season, and returning 18 offensive and defensive starters. This is Hope's deepest team, and it should be his best. Some are picking Purdue as a potential Big Ten sleeper, and the players believe that talk is justified.

Fall questions

1. Linebacker Who? While the defense looks stout up front and in the secondary, questions remain at linebacker. Joe Holland, the team's leading tackler a year ago, graduated. Dwayne Beckford missed the bowl game after a DUI arrest, and his status for the fall remains in flux. Will Lucas is the only returning starter guaranteed to suit up in September. There's talk of using some 3-4 looks under new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who implemented his system in practices closed to the media this spring. Does Purdue have enough linebackers to make it work?

2. Offensive line chemistry: The Boilers' offensive line didn't get a lot of hype last season, but it produced two NFL draft picks in Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek. Trevor Foy is moving from right to left tackle, and Kevin Pamphile and Rick Schmeig worked at multiple positions this spring. Purdue will mix in some new faces and some veterans in new places this fall, and how well that unit comes together will have a large say in how the offense flows.

3. X-factors on offense: Some things we simply don't yet know include the following: Can Ralph Bolden successfully return from knee surgery? If not, is Akeem Shavers a capable every-down back? What will happen to leading receiver Antavian Edison after his arrest on weapons charges this week? Will fellow wideout O.J. Ross make it back from academic suspension? Can kick returning dynamo Raheem Mostert make an impact at receiver? Purdue has a lot more options on offense than in the recent past, but there also remains a lot of question marks.

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
6:00
AM ET
2011 record: 11-3

2011 conference record: 6-2 (Big Ten champions)

Returning starters:

Offense: 5; Defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:

RB Montee Ball, LT Ricky Wagner, OL Travis Frederick, WR Jared Abbrederis, RB James White, TE Jacob Pedersen, LB Chris Borland, LB Mike Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie

Key losses:

QB Russell Wilson, OG Kevin Zeitler, C Peter Konz, WR Nick Toon, DT Patrick Butrym, S Aaron Henry, CB Antonio Fenelus

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Montee Ball* (1,923 yards)

Passing: Russell Wilson (3,175 yards)

Receiving: Jared Abbrederis* (933 yards)

Tackles: Mike Taylor* (150)

Sacks: Beau Allen* (4)

Interceptions: Shelton Johnson*, Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus (4)

Spring answers

1. Keep on running: The Badgers are enjoying the luxury of returning last year's Heisman finalist and record-breaking running back Montee Ball, who somehow managed to look a step faster this spring. They also still have the very capable James White, who produced 713 rushing yards a year ago. And while both sat out the spring game -- Ball as a precaution, White with a minor injury -- redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon stepped in and showed he could be the next star tailback in Madison. The Badgers can always run the ball, and this year could be a special season for the ground game.

2. Secondary matters: All-conference performers Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus are gone from the secondary, but Wisconsin was feeling good about its defensive backs this spring. Head coach Bret Bielema said Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson could be the best safety duo he's had during his tenure. Devin Smith is coming back from a foot injury and should fare well as a fifth-year senior starting cornerback. With fifth-year senior Marcus Cromartie also returning at corner, this is an experienced group that is looking to atone for a couple of late breakdowns last season.

3. Strong in the middle: Despite a few snapping problems in a late spring scrimmage, Travis Frederick looked good in replacing star center Peter Konz this spring. Ryan Groy appears ready to become an all-conference type player at left guard. Across from them lies the strength of the defensive line, with Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and the developing Warren Herring looming as potentially disruptive defensive tackles. If football is won in the middle of the trenches, then Wisconsin is well set up to defend its Big Ten title.

Fall questions

1. O'Brien to the rescue: The Badgers' passing game had its share of struggles this spring, with only Joe Brennan and walk-on redshirt freshman Joel Stave healthy at quarterback. Stave moved ahead of Brennan by the end of spring, but neither showed great consistency. Of course, Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien is on the way, hoping to replicate the success of Russell Wilson. That's far from guaranteed, though, and O'Brien will have to play more like he did as a freshman for the Terps than as a sophomore to make Wisconsin's passing game a true threat.

2. Who else at receiver? Abbrederis missed the spring with a foot injury, giving the coaching staff a long look at the possible contenders to complement him in the receiving corps. It was a very young and inexperienced group that had its ups and downs. Players like Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond have good size and ability but need to learn how to compete every down. Isaiah Williams showed some potential late in the spring. Having good tight ends and excellent pass-catchers out of the backfield should help, but the receiving group remains very much a work in progress.

3. Living on the edge: Wisconsin's defensive line was stout in the middle this spring but lacked a dynamic pass rusher on the edge. The coaching staff hopes that junior David Gilbert can fill that role, but he was out all spring with a foot injury that cut his 2011 season short. If Gilbert isn't all the way healthy or falls short of expectations, there aren't a lot of other candidates. The Badgers' defense is going to be solid with an experienced secondary and two stars at linebacker in Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, but it only reaches the elite level if someone can consistently get to the quarterback.

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