Big Ten: 2014 Big Ten spring team wraps

Illinois spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
11:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Illinois.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • Maybe the Illini don’t need to rush at quarterback: The assumption heading into camp was that even with the coaching staff evaluating multiple quarterbacks, Wes Lunt was a lock to win the starting job. Maybe the transfer from Oklahoma State still has the inside track, but Reilly O'Toole shined in the spring game and he and Aaron Bailey have done enough to keep the battle going into August.
  • Concerns linger about who will catch those passes: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit was quick to point out before practice even started that he was more worried about finding receivers than picking a guy to throw to them, and that issue hasn’t been entirely put to bed. Even after a spring game that featured productive outings for former walk-on Peter Bonahoom and Justin Hardee, Cubit still expressed concern about broken routes and drops from the unit.
  • The pass rush is showing signs of life: The bar is low to show improvement, but the Illini appear well on their way to adding some bite in the trenches and making more plays in the backfield. Collectively the defense racked up seven sacks in the spring game, led by a dynamic outing from Paul James III, who chipped in a pair of those sacks, added two more tackles for loss and also recovered a fumble.
Three questions for the fall

  • How will the secondary hold up?: V'Angelo Bentley provided a hint that better things are on the way with an 89-yard interception return in the spring game, but the Illini still need to prove they’ve overcome the youthful mistakes that popped up while allowing more than 480 yards per game overall a year ago. Coach Tim Beckman wasn’t thrilled with some deep shots the cornerbacks allowed as spring closed, and the defense will have to hold up its end of the bargain to get the program on track.
  • Will the offensive line improve?: The Illini might be serviceable enough to provide pass protection for Cubit’s attack, but unless the offensive line can start consistently getting some push up front for the tailbacks, there won’t be enough threat from the running game to keep talented defenses off balance. Spring games aren’t perfect barometers, but neither squad averaged more than 2.9 yards per attempt on the ground in the exhibition, a discouraging sign for a team that finished No. 10 in the conference in rushing last year.
  • Is there a new toughness to go with the new look?: The rebrand on the uniforms gives Illinois a sharp new look. Now it needs to prove those upgrades aren’t just superficial. The tests for the guys inside those jerseys come one after another on the road in the Big Ten, and the Illini will have to embrace the challenge of playing in hostile venues like Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State if they're going to return to being contenders in the league again.
One way-too-early prediction

The Illini aren’t ready to compete with the powerhouses in the Big Ten, but assuming they can get three wins outside the league and defend Memorial Stadium against Purdue, the chance to earn a bowl bid could be well within reach heading into November. It may still come down to the final weekend of the regular season and a trip to Northwestern, but Illinois has the talent to get the job done and return the postseason.

Indiana spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
10:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books, and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Indiana.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Moving to the 3-4 defense: Brian Knorr has taken over as defensive coordinator, and he's bringing along his philosophy from Wake Forest. The Hoosiers and Badgers are now the only Big Ten teams to run the 3-4 defense, and Indiana has switch some players' positions as a result.
  • WR Shane Wynn is stepping up: With the departures of Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, the Hoosiers moved Wynn to the outside, hoping he'd make up for some of the lost production. Thanks to his speed, the adjustment seems to be going well. He had five catches for 141 yards in the spring game.
  • The offense once again looks strong: Running back Tevin Coleman had a breakout 2013 season, and he wants to be "the leading rusher in the Big Ten." That's a tall order, but he's looked good this spring and the offensive line is pretty solid. IU had the No. 2 offense in the conference last season, and the Hoosiers showed this spring that they likely won't stray too far from that ranking.
Three questions for the fall
  • Who gets the most snaps under center?: Even head coach Kevin Wilson doesn't know who will end up with more playing time: pocket passer Nate Sudfeld or dual threat Tre Roberson. The two will likely split time again this season, and there's no telling who will start when. This is one of the more unique QB battles in the Big Ten, but both players obviously are talented.
  • Special teams: Gone is four-year starting kicker Mitch Ewald, Indiana's all-time leader in field goals (53), field goal percentage (80.3 percent) and extra points (161). Indiana will have to find a replacement among three redshirt freshman walk-ons, but that's not the only question on special teams. IU also needs improved play from its punters.
  • Will this defense ever even reach "average?" The Hoosiers allowed 38.8 points per game last season, and they've been a defensive doormat for what seems like ages. Since 2008, Indiana has allowed at least 34 point per game in all but one season (2009: 29.5 ppg). Indiana lost only safety Greg Heban over the offseason. Can the Hoosiers finally find some semblance of success here?
One way-too-early prediction

The defense finally takes a step in the right direction. It can't get much worse after all, and Knorr seems like the right man for the job. After spending the past few seasons regressing, Indiana finally improves this fall. It still won't be a good defense -- but it will be a better defense.

Iowa spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
10:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Iowa.

Three things we learned in the spring
Three questions for the fall
  • How will the secondary come together?: Cornerback Desmond King is a bona fide star after his breakout freshman season, but the Hawkeyes need to find a starter at free safety, where Jordan Lomax and Anthony Gair continue to compete. Opposite King, Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper are even, and John Lowdermilk is trying to maintain an edge on Nico Law at strong safety.
  • Who will take the lead at running back?: Iowa knows it can rely on senior Mark Weisman, but he’s fought injuries and likely can’t survive an entire season of pounding between the tackles. Junior Jordan Canzeri offers intriguing athleticism. The New Yorker rushed for 481 yards last season, including a 165-yard performance at Purdue.
  • Can the defensive line live up to its billing?: These guys are good, no doubt. Anchored by tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, both of whom started all 13 games a year ago, the Hawkeyes’ front four likely rates as the strength of the entire team. Juniors Drew Ott and Mike Hardy bring experience to the end spots. If this group improves like it did last season, look out.
One way too early prediction

Brandon Scherff will take home some hardware in December. He was denied a spot by the league’s media on the All-Big Ten first team as a junior. There will be no such worry in 2014. In fact, Scherff will vie for the Outland Trophy and earn a spot on All-America teams from his left tackle spot after opting to turn down a chance at the NFL this offseason.

Maryland spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
9:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall at Maryland.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • There are options in the backfield: Brandon Ross made the most of the final opportunity to impress the coaches in April, but his 90-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring game wasn’t enough to clinch a starting job in a crowded derby at running back. Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii weren’t far behind with a combined 154 yards, and Wes Brown remains a candidate heading into the offseason as well.
  • The defensive backs can make life difficult: Randy Edsall was obviously disappointed in the turnovers by his quarterbacks, but the flip side is the Maryland coach can find reason to be excited by a secondary that nabbed three interceptions in the closing exhibition. Cornerback Will Likely snagged two of them for a group that Edsall still wants to be more consistent but seems to have enough talent to slow down passing attacks.
  • The Terps could use their weapons back at receiver: Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were healthy enough to appear in some 7-on-7 drills, but the talented receivers weren’t cleared yet to play in the spring game itself. Without those two, starting quarterback C.J. Brown tossed a couple interceptions and didn’t quite meet Edsall’s expectations as spring came to a close. Having that tandem to throw to will surely help.
Three questions for the fall
  • Is the program ready for the Big Ten?: The Terrapins aren’t exactly a stranger to tough competition, but transitioning to a new league can still be a challenge for a variety of reasons. Their new league didn’t throw its stiffest test at them with Indiana on the schedule to open up conference play, but Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin are all on deck after that to see if the Terrapins are up for the test in the Big Ten.
  • Who else will step up at wide receiver?: Once Diggs and Long are fully cleared and resume working out this summer, their spots are safe at the top of the depth chart at receiver. But Maryland can use a couple more targets for Brown to throw to, starting with a third wideout. Marcus Leak sat out the spring game with an injury of his own, but once his hamstring heals, he could provide some needed assistance in the passing game.
  • Can the veterans take the next step on defense?: Experience won’t be an issue for a unit that brings back nine starters and 18 players from its two-deep last season. But the Terrapins did leave room to grow last year, finishing No. 8 in the ACC in total defense and allowing more than 25 points per game. How much the veterans have grown since then will likely determine how successful Maryland’s first campaign in the Big Ten will be.
One way-too-early prediction

Maryland has enough pieces to work with to be a tough out in the Big Ten right away, and it shouldn’t be overlooked even when it has to hit the road. The Terrapins pay visits to established league heavyweights Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan -- and will spring at least one upset.

Michigan spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
9:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Michigan.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • Front seven, front and center: The Wolverines didn't stand pat on defense this offseason. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is now coaching the linebackers, while Mark Smith moved down to take over the defensive line. They also shuffled their linebackers, switching Jake Ryan to the middle and emerging star James Ross III to the strong side. The moves seemed to work out well this spring, with Ryan looking like his old playmaking self a year removed from ACL surgery. The defensive line could be one of the team's strengths, led by senior defensive ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and improving youngsters Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Willie Henry. Mattison wants to blitz more this season and hopes the defensive line can get more pressure on its own.
  • Early enrollees, immediate impact: When players skip the final half of their high school senior years to enroll in college in January, the hope is that they will be more advanced than most freshmen. Wide receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole exceeded those expectations. Both impressed the coaching staff right away, with Canteen drawing raves and Cole getting a lot of first-team reps at left tackle. Both were with the starting unit during the spring game and figure to have roles on the team this fall.
  • More QB clarity: Brady Hoke talked of a quarterback competition this spring, and Devin Gardner wasn't originally expected to do a whole lot while recovering from a broken foot. But Gardner surprised the coaches by fulling participating in all 15 spring practices and asserting his hold on the position. Hoke said Shane Morris closed the gap a bit on Gardner and that the competition would continue. But even though Gardner didn't play well in the spring game, it's pretty clear that this remains his team.
Three questions for the fall

  • Can O-line be less offensive?: New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has brought a simplified blocking scheme and a focus on running downhill. Players said there were times this spring when that was effective. But concerns about the youth and chemistry on the line remain, and not just because of another shaky performance in the spring game. When a mid-year enrollee (Cole) is starting at left tackle, that raises serious red flags. The return of Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski from injury and Graham Glasgow from his one-game suspension will help the experience and talent level. But for now, the line is full of young, unproven players who must find a way to raise their games between now and late August.
  • Skill position suspense: With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo graduated, Devin Funchess is the only returning receiver with more than 15 career catches. Canteen's emergence provided another option at the position, but a lot of question marks remain at wideout. Michigan is hoping Jehu Chesson, Csont'e York, Da'Mario Jones and Dennis Norfleet step forward, Amara Darboh successfully returns from injury and freshman Drake Harris can contribute. But there are few sure things. At running back, the team is hopeful that Derrick Green breaks out as a sophomore and De'Veon Smith joins him for a powerful duo. Again, though, it's mostly optimism and little track record at this point.
  • Enough leadership? Hoke has suggested that he wasn't thrilled with the leadership during last season's 7-5 team. He and the players have said that the chemistry and accountability have been good this spring. The fact remains, however, that this team has only 12 seniors, and only seven of them are position players who see the field a lot. Leadership will also have to come from the junior class and elsewhere if Michigan wants to get over the hump of mediocrity.
One way-too-early prediction

Jabrill Peppers immediately becomes the team's best defensive back. That's a bold call, as Peppers isn't even on campus yet. But he was the No. 2 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 for a reason, and he should be the kind of physical, cover corner that Michigan has lacked. The Wolverines could try him in several different positions, but if he's the real deal, he can start quickly at cornerback. Program insiders believe his ceiling could be in the Charles Woodson neighborhood. No pressure, kid.

Michigan State spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
8:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Michigan State.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Cook in command: Last year's spring was dominated by talk of a quarterback competition, one that was never finally settled until late September. Things are much different this year, as Connor Cook entered the offseason as the unquestioned starter for the first time. By all accounts, Cook came into the spring riding a wave of confidence, as he should have after MVP performances in the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl. Michigan State has enviable stability in its backfield with both Cook and 1,400-yard tailback Jeremy Langford returning.
  • Tight-ening up: Tight ends didn't play a huge factor in the offense last year, as the Spartans were really young at the position after Dion Sims left a year early for the NFL. But that could turn back into a strength this year. Josiah Price, who had the big touchdown catch in the Big Ten title game, is a year older and wiser. Jamal Lyles made a major impression this spring and could be a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds. Redshirt freshman Dylan Chmura might be ready to contribute. Look for the tight ends to take on a larger load in the passing game this fall.
  • Tackling the issue: When people talk about the Spartans' losses on defense, they usually mention Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis. Makes sense, as all four of those were All-Big Ten performers. But Michigan State also has to replace its starting defensive tackles from a year ago, fifth-year seniors Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds. That would be a major area of concern for a lot of teams, but both guys were under-the-radar players last year and the Spartans feel very comfortable with Joel Heath, Damon Knox, Brandon Clemons and former Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge stepping in at those spots. Heath has the physical skills to be a star and highly touted recruit Malik McDowell arrives this summer to add some more depth.
Three questions for the fall
  • Offensive line makeup: The Spartans' offensive line is by no means in dire straits. Yet three starters (Blake Treadwell, Fou Fonoti and Dan France) are gone from a position that was the team's secret strength. The coaching staff likes what it has in sophomore Jack Conklin, junior Jack Allen and senior Travis Jackson, and expects more from junior Donavon Clark and sophomore Kodi Kieler. But Michigan State is still searching for the right mix up front and hopes to build the kind of depth and versatility it had there last season.
  • Replacing Dennard: Few players are harder to replace than Dennard, the All-American and Thorpe Award-winning cornerback who looks like a surefire NFL first-round pick. Sophomore Darian Hicks is the leading candidate to do so after emerging on top of a heated spring competition involving Arjen Colquhoun, Ezra Robinson and Jermaine Edmondson. Hicks played in very limited duty as a freshman in 2013 and has to continue to hold off the others this summer. And then he'll have mighty big shoes to fill in the fall.
  • Linebacker lineup: The Spartans will have a much different look at linebacker after the departures of three-year starters Bullough and Allen and Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth. Taiwan Jones appears to be the heir apparent to Bullough at middle linebacker, but Jon Reschke is pushing for playing time. Darien Harris logged time at that position in the Rose Bowl and is in good shape to start at an outside spot along with Ed Davis, who was injured this spring. Riley Bullough, Max's younger brother, will also be in the mix. There's talent and speed here, but the standard they have to match is awfully high.
One way-too-early prediction

With so many new faces and different roles on defense, Michigan State will finish outside of the top 10 nationally in total defense for the first time in four years. But just barely, as Pat Narduzzi's crew comes together in time to be a dominant unit in Big Ten play.

Minnesota spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
8:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books, and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Minnesota.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Mitch Leidner is the man in Minneapolis: Once Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers, it seemed as if Leidner was a lock to become the starter. Sure enough, he held off Chris Streveler this spring and cemented his status as the Gophers' No. 1 QB. And he's quickly become "the undisputed leader of the offense."
  • Plenty to be happy about with the ground game: Redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards impressed during the spring game and flashed breakaway speed, and Rodrick Williams is playing as if he has something to prove after losing his job last season to David Cobb. With an experienced offensive line returning, this rushing attack has even more going for it this season.
  • Defense is strong -- again: Despite the departures of Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys still has a lot to work with. There's no shortage of healthy cornerbacks this year, and big things are again expected out of linebacker Damien Wilson and defensive end Theiren Cockran. During the spring game, the defense kept the offense out of the end zone for the first five drives.
Three questions for the fall
  • How much will Minnesota pass?: Leidner has reportedly improved his accuracy and timing, but it's still unknown just how much the Gophers will rely on his right arm. He threw 78 passes last season compared to 102 rushes, and there are questions as to how one-dimensional this offense might be.
  • New corps of linebackers: Wilson is the leader of the defense, but Minnesota still has two other starting spots to fill. De'Vondre Campbell appears to be one, but the other spot (perhaps filled by Jack Lynn) is not yet totally settled. There's also quite a bit of depth here this season, so the second team could have a lot of different looks.
  • Developing offensive playmakers at wideout: This was an emphasis of the Gophers this spring, but there's still no check mark next to this on Jerry Kill's to-do list. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones both return and could give the Gophers a shot at some big plays, but they'll have to continue to progress. They combined for 416 yards last fall.
One way-too-early prediction

The tight ends will become an even more valuable weapon for Minnesota's offense. Maxx Williams was the leading receiver last season, but he shouldn't be the only tight end to make an impact. Eleven tight ends are listed on the roster, including 6-foot-10 Nate Wozniak, who seems like an intriguing red-zone target. There's also returnees Drew Goodger and Lincoln Plsek, along with Duke Anyanwu, who is finally healthy. Expect at least one of them to step up.

Nebraska spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
7:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Nebraska.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • Nebraska boasts an embarrassment of riches at running back: If there’s a better group of backs in the Big Ten, good luck to any defense tasked to stop it. The Huskers return the nation’s top yardage producer in Ameer Abdullah with a stacked group of runners behind him, led by Imani Cross.
  • Nathan Gerry’s position shift solidifies the secondary: After an inconsistent freshman season at linebacker, Gerry moved to safety, a more natural fit, and looked comfortable from the first practice. With Corey Cooper sidelined, Gerry and LeRoy Alexander more than held their own. That trio offers an upgrade over 2013.
  • The left side of the offensive line looks nasty: Jake Cotton at left guard already fits as the line’s leader. Cotton brings a mean streak. But the addition of Colorado transfer Alex Lewis at left tackle gives the Huskers an attitude that has long been missing up front.
Three questions for the fall

  • Who’s going to step up at linebacker?: Coach Bo Pelini challenged this group after the spring to find a big-time player or two. Nebraska has plenty of depth in the heart of its defense and a few potential stars in the making. But who’s going to do it now? Keep an eye on senior Zaire Anderson.
  • Who’s the backup QB?: Tommy Armstrong Jr. diffused the top storyline at the start of the spring by taking control at quarterback. While Johnny Stanton or Ryker Fyfe could still challenge Armstrong in August, their battle offers more intrigue. Stanton shows the higher ceiling, but Fyfe was more consistent through the spring.
  • Can the fun feeling carry over?: Pelini unveiled a side of his personality seen in the past only by Nebraska staffers and players. He was inviting and open to fun. The fall will surely bring a return of buttoned-up Bo, but can the lightened atmosphere of spring help the Huskers deal with scrutiny and pressure situations?
One way too early prediction

Nebraska’s streak of four-loss seasons will end in 2014. Six straight years of 9-4 or 10-4 have led to some feelings of unrest about the program’s direction. This is the year the Huskers move out of neutral. Will they shift into drive or reverse? The pieces are in place to make a run at the Big Ten title, but a stretch of five consecutive night games that starts on Sept. 13 at Fresno State could prove treacherous.

Northwestern spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
7:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Northwestern.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • The offense has a quarterback and an identity: The two-quarterback system Northwestern used with mixed results in 2012 and 2013 is dead, at least for now. Senior Trevor Siemian established himself as the top signal-caller and a team leader with a strong spring. Siemian has less mobility than recent Wildcats signal-callers but a stronger arm. Northwestern likely will return to its pass-first roots this season after never establishing a consistent identity last fall.
  • The secondary should be a strength: Northwestern historically has struggled in the back end of its defense, but it returns all four starters from a decent group last season and boasts unprecedented depth. The emergence of redshirt freshmen like Godwin Igwebuike, Kyle Queiro and Keith Watkins II this spring allows the Wildcats to go two or three deep at all four positions. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell leads the group, which will be expected to generate takeaways.
  • Shuler, Prater add to receiving corps: This group has teased us before, but the combination of returning players, newcomers and a pass-driven quarterback/offense suggests big things are on the way. Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler is a natural playmaker who could star at the slot position, like Jeremy Ebert did in 2010 and 2011. Another one-time transfer, former USC Trojan Kyle Prater, is finally healthy and turned in a solid spring at the outside spot. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Prater provides size on the edge.
Three questions for the fall

  • Defensive line health: Like the offensive line last spring, Northwestern's defensive front went through the session with limited bodies following offseason surgeries to four players, including tackle Sean McEvilly, a projected starter, and ends Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson. Everyone will be healthy for a vital preseason camp as Northwestern tries to firm up its run defense, a weakness during Big Ten play last season.
  • Venric Mark's role: A 1,300-yard rusher and All-America punt returner in 2012, Mark essentially has played one full game since the 2013 Gator Bowl. He should be a major addition on special teams, but his role in the offense remains to be seen. Mark had his most success running the zone read with Kain Colter, but Siemian has different strengths. Northwestern needs a stronger inside run presence, a role Mark relishes despite his size. Above all else, the Wildcats need Mark to stay on the field throughout the season.
  • Firming up the offensive line: The line took a significant step backward in 2013, possibly because of all the injury issues in the previous offseason. Northwestern had all of its linemen on the field this spring and ramped up the competition, as senior tackle Jack Konopka, a two-year starter, worked with the reserves. Center Brandon Vitabile and tackle Paul Jorgensen provide leadership for the group, but most spots remain open entering the summer.
One way-too-early prediction

Northwestern returns to the postseason and makes some noise in the West Division. Just about everything went wrong for the Wildcats from an injury and fortune standpoint in 2013. They had leadership issues that players acknowledged this spring. They had no identity on offense. Most of the core pieces return and the leadership appears much stronger. If Northwestern remains relatively healthy, it should win at least seven games and possibly challenge Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska in the West.

Ohio State spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
6:30
AM ET
Spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall from Ohio State.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • The rebuilding job in the secondary is progressing: The spring game didn’t leave all that much to truly evaluate, but in workouts leading up to it, the Buckeyes showed their dedication to becoming more aggressive defending the pass by playing virtually every snap in press coverage. Led by senior cornerback Doran Grant, there’s enough talent on hand to play that style.
  • The spread has its hybrid weapon: The inevitable comparisons with Percy Harvin might still be premature, but Urban Meyer does appear to have somebody he believes can fill that vaunted role in his offense. Dontre Wilson’s shift to becoming a full-time receiver with occasional appearances as a rusher produced a prolific camp and raised the bar for him after largely playing a decoy role as a freshman.
  • The defensive line is loaded: There surely isn’t a deeper, more athletic defensive line in the Big Ten than what the Buckeyes are bringing back, and Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett might have a case to be considered among the nation’s most terrifying starting units. The quartet was so disruptive during spring practice, Meyer held them out of the spring game to help ensure there might be something to evaluate on offense.
Three questions for the fall

  • How far has Braxton Miller come mentally?: The two-time defending Big Ten player of the year had nothing to prove physically, so the shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring practice wasn’t that big of a deal. If anything, it might be a blessing that he used all the extra mental reps to take his game to a higher level in terms of reading defenses and making better decisions.
  • Will the offensive line come together?: Meyer only named two starters coming out of spring, and considering he had four established seniors in the lineup at this time a year ago, that level of uncertainty is no doubt a bit uncomfortable for the Buckeyes. Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein offer a nice foundation, but Ohio State needs to settle on three more regulars quickly to develop some chemistry.
  • Is Darron Lee ready for the big time?: After emerging as a surprising starter on the first day of camp, the converted high school quarterback kept that job at linebacker all the way until the end of spring. The sophomore has no shortage of athleticism and has filled out to 225 pounds, but he’ll have big shoes to fill for a unit that must replace all the production Ryan Shazier left behind.
One way-too-early prediction

The rise of Tom Herman’s star in the coaching profession is not exactly a secret, but after one more prolific season guiding the Ohio State offense, he’ll be off to lead his own team. Herman has the personality to be the face of a program, and his thirst for knowledge and ability to learn under Meyer for three years will make him an ideal candidate for a major program with an opening next winter.

Penn State spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
6:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books, and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Penn State.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Christian Hackenberg is as good as advertised: Few Penn State quarterbacks have ever had the arm strength or the potential of Hackenberg, and he's only gained more hype this offseason with a strong spring. Whether it was throwing bullets on the run or staying poised in the pocket, he's made a lot of fans excited. Sporting News already wondered if he might be the NFL's top pick in two years.
  • The secondary is looking much better: This was the Achilles' heel of the Nittany Lions the past two seasons, but those days appear to be over. Cornerback Jordan Lucas is an established player who now has taken on a vocal role with the defense, and Adrian Amos is much more comfortable at safety. PSU didn't have that comfort at this point last season, and the Lions have some talented freshmen coming in over the summer.
  • James Franklin is "dominating the region" in recruiting: Since ESPN started keeping track of recruiting in 2006, Penn State never garnered more than five commits before April 10. Well, this year, it already has a dozen -- including six in the ESPN 300. Franklin promised on Day 1 that he would dominate the state and region in recruiting. And it would be hard to argue with his results; Penn State is currently ranked No. 3 nationally with its 2015 class.
Three questions for the fall
  • What will happen on the offensive line?: Between depth and inexperience, assistant coach Herb Hand will have to work some magic in his first season with Penn State. The most experienced returner, Miles Dieffenbach, is reportedly out for the season with an injury while key backup Anthony Alosi is "indefinitely suspended." Even if the rest of this group stays healthy, there's no telling what it might look like when one player needs a breather.
  • Emerging players at wideout: Penn State has to replace two-time B1G receiver of the year Allen Robinson, and it can't rely solely on redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis. As a result, three of the Lions' prized freshman receivers, all of whom made the ESPN 300, could make an immediate impact: De'Andre Thompkins, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Only Thompkins is on campus already.
  • New defensive schemes: Franklin recently alluded to a "star" base defense -- basically, the nickel -- which replaces a true linebacker with a "big safety." Franklin and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop admitted at the spring game they're not yet sure whether they're going to go with that or the 4-3, but that eventual decision is going to set a critical tone.
One way-too-early prediction

Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel will have a breakout season for the Nittany Lions. He played a backup role the past two seasons, switching between defensive end and tackle. But now he's starting inside -- and he has the kind of speed that could really frustrate quarterbacks and opposing linemen. Expect to hear his name a lot as the season progresses.

Purdue spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
5:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April, sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Purdue.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • The quarterback competition continues: Danny Etling, who started eight games as a true freshman last season, apparently enters the summer months with a slight edge over fellow sophomore Austin Appleby. Neither took command of the position in the spring, leaving the door open for early enrollee true freshman David Blough.
  • Ryan Russell is ready for a big senior season: Much has been expected from the 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive end since he arrived in West Lafayette out of Carrollton, Texas, in 2010. He’s started all but two games over the past three seasons but has yet to play at an elite level. This may be the year after his strong spring.
  • The Boilermakers should run the ball better: That’s not saying much after Purdue ranked as arguably the worst team in the nation last season on the ground, averaging 67.1 yards per game (better than only Washington State) and 2.5 yards per attempt (better than only Florida International). Running backs Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt performed well in the spring.
Three questions for the fall
  • Can Purdue muster some offensive firepower?: No one expects Darrell Hazell’s group to line up and hammer Big Ten foes. Purdue must spread the field and rely on the big-play potential of Mostert, the Big Ten's 60- and 200-meter dash champion, and receiver Danny Anthrop. Perhaps tight end Dolapo Macarthy, named the most improved offensive player of the spring, can help here.
  • How can this team improve defensively?: As poorly as the offense performed last season, the defense wasn’t much better, allowing 38 points and nearly 460 yards per game. Russell offers a start. Fellow end Antoine Miles and tackle Michael Rouse III played well in the spring game, and the secondary shows promise behind cornerback Frankie Williams and big-hitting safety Robert Gregory.
  • Who has the highest ceiling at QB?: There’s an argument to make that it’s the 6-foot-1 Blough, who came to Purdue from the same Texas high school as Russell. Of course, he is the most inexperienced. Etling (2012) and Appleby (2011), like Blough last summer, showed well at the Elite 11 finals, so all three come from a strong pedigree. After throwing for 1,690 yards last fall, Etling will be tough to overcome.
One way too early prediction

Purdue will win a Big Ten game next fall. Yes, that’s bold. In all seriousness, the schedule was brutal last season as Purdue faced six straight foes that won nine or more games, then got Iowa and Penn State as a reprieve. Still, the Boilers were not competitive after a seven-point loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 14. Next year will be different. Remember, Purdue won its final three games in the Big Ten in 2012 before last season. A return to better days are near.

Rutgers spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
5:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books, and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Nova separates from the pack: The big story going into spring practice was Rutgers' three-way quarterback competition. Senior Gary Nova would start if the season began today. That shouldn't be a surprise, as Nova has 28 career starts while junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano have never taken a college snap. But Nova will have to show that he's improved from a rocky 2013 season.
  • The Peoples champion: Running back Desmon Peoples hasn't played a huge role so far in his Scarlet Knights career, but he could be in line for a lot of carries this fall. He had a standout spring and gained 85 yards and scored two touchdowns in the spring game. He's only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, but his quickness could make him a nice complement to starting tailback Paul James, who was out this spring with an injury.
  • D-line is fine: Darius Hamilton closed last season on a tear and did more damage during spring practice. The junior defensive tackle has become a leader on defense. Julian Pinnix-Odrick returned from a torn ACL, and he showed his ability this spring. Senior defensive end David Milewski won a team award for his mental toughness and hustle during spring ball, and redshirt freshman Kemoko Turay looks like a promising pass rusher. Rutgers' defensive line is small by Big Ten standards, but this should be an area of strength for the Scarlet Knights.
Three questions for the fall
  • Opening the Fridge: The vanilla play calling of the spring game didn't tell us much about how new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen's attack will look -- and Friedgen wasn't even at the game because of kidney stones. There's no question that the Scarlet Knights need more consistency and explosiveness on offense, and that side of the ball has been overhauled -- not just with Friedgen but new offensive line coach Mitch Browning. With the whole O-line back and an experienced quarterback, there's no real reason not to see major improvement -- especially in a ground game that averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season (95th in the FBS).
  • More playmakers on offense: For Friedgen's offense to work, Nova will need to feed the ball to playmakers. Rutgers has some good ones in guys like James and receivers Leonte Carroo and Ruhann Peele. But with Peele and Carroo out for the spring game, the team's lack of depth at wideout was exposed by several drops by their fill-ins. Speedster Janarion Grant could become a major weapon and not just a special-teams ace if he can improve his hands. The Scarlet Knights need him and others to step forward.
  • Secondary concerns: Defensive backs Anthony Cioffi, Nadir Barnwell and Delon Stephenson all were baptized by fire last year as true freshmen -- and they were burned often. Rutgers' pass defense ranked No. 120 in the FBS a year ago. The cornerback situation shouldn't be as desperate as it was at times last season, and the experience should make the trio much better. But there still is a lot to prove, and finding the right mix in the secondary will be a big key for new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
One way-too-early prediction

With an unforgiving inaugural Big Ten schedule that includes crossover games against Nebraska and Wisconsin along with East Division powers Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan -- plus nonconference road games at Washington State and Navy -- the Scarlet Knights will finish with a losing record and miss a bowl game for just the second time since 2005.

Wisconsin spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
4:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for each Big Ten team.

We begin with Wisconsin.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • The quarterback race is down to two: Wisconsin entered spring practice with four candidates and reduced the pool by 50 percent. Joel Stave, who has started 19 games the past two seasons, missed much of the session with a throwing shoulder injury. Stave will compete this summer with Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college transfer who played safety and wide receiver for parts of last season. McEvoy looked sharper this spring at quarterback and brings a run threat to the pocket. D.J. Gillins likely will redshirt, while Bart Houston remains in a reserve role.
  • The coaches aren't afraid to take chances: Gary Andersen and his staff shuffled pieces on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, where they want more speed on the field. Most players saw time at multiple positions, and several young players put themselves in position for significant playing time, including redshirt freshmen defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, safety Austin Hudson and center Michael Deiter.
  • Melvin Gordon and Derek Landisch are the leaders: Gordon, the All-Big Ten running back who turned down the NFL for another year at Wisconsin, not only is the team's best player, but much more of a leader. He talked openly this spring about elevating Wisconsin to elite status and the initial College Football Playoff. Landisch, the only returning starter in the defensive front seven, is the undisputed leader of the defense and takes the torch from Chris Borland.
Three questions for the fall

  • Who emerges at wide receiver?: The Badgers lose a huge piece in Jared Abbrederis and went through most of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. Although senior Kenzel Doe is stepping up, many others must emerge in the summer. Alex Erickson returns from injury and Jordan Frederick and Robert Wheelwright will be in the mix, but Wisconsin needs at least two of its five incoming freshmen wideouts to contribute. Keep an eye on Dareian Watkins.
  • The starting quarterback: Unlike other Big Ten spring quarterback competitions, Wisconsin ended the session with no obvious leader. Stave's injury made it tough to gauge his progress, and the limited number of receivers made the passing game look worse than it probably will be. McEvoy has a great opportunity to win the job, especially with the coaches looking for more mobility at the position. This race likely will last well into camp.
  • Defensive playmakers: Borland's loss not only hurts Wisconsin in production, but playmaking ability. No one defender can replace what Borland brought, so the Badgers need several to improve during the summer months. Leon Jacobs moved from outside linebacker to inside and has the speed to be a difference-maker. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton had four interceptions as a freshman, and the coaches are counting on players such as linebacker Joe Schobert and linemen Obasih, James, Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring.
One way-too-early prediction

McEvoy will be the starter by Big Ten play, if not earlier. Andersen's recruiting suggests he values dual-threat quarterbacks more than his Wisconsin predecessors, and the potential concerns at wide receiver accentuate the need for another backfield weapon alongside Gordon and Corey Clement. McEvoy must continue to develop as a passer, but his athleticism trumps Stave, who struggled for stretches last season despite having an elite target in Abbrederis.

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