Big Ten: Adam DePietro

2012 record: 10-3
2012 conference record: 5-3 (third in Legends division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Venric Mark, QB Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, C Brandon Vitabile, WR Christian Jones, TE Dan Vitale, S Ibraheim Campbell, CB Nick VanHoose, DE Tyler Scott, LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, K Jeff Budzien

Key losses

G Brian Mulroe, T Patrick Ward, DT Brian Arnfelt, LB David Nwabuisi, DE Quentin Williams

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Venric Mark* (1,371 yards)
Passing: Trevor Siemian* (1,317 yards)
Receiving: Christian Jones* (417 yards)
Tackles: Damien Proby* (112)
Sacks: Tyler Scott* (9)
Interceptions: David Nwabuisi and Nick VanHoose* (3)

Spring answers

1. Secondary options: Northwestern has had major issues in the secondary during the past 15 years or so, but the group took a step forward in 2012 and should take another one this fall. Improved recruiting efforts throughout the defense are starting to pay off, and it showed up at both the cornerback and safety spots this spring. Young players such as safety Traveon Henry and cornerback Dwight White had strong springs, and the Wildcats are able to go at least four deep at both spots. "Our secondary runs as well as it has at all four positions," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

2. Depth emerging at WR, RB: The Wildcats bring back almost every offensive skill player from 2012, but they saw depth at both wide receiver and running back improve this spring. Fitzgerald and his offensive staff were pleased with the spring performances of veteran receivers Christian Jones and Rashad Lawrence. Jones and sophomore tight end Dan Vitale should boost the passing game in the middle of the field. The Wildcats also have plenty of insurance behind All-Big Ten running back Venric Mark. They can go four deep at the position as redshirt freshmen Stephen Buckley and Malin Jones both showed flashes this spring.

3. Living on the edge: Like the secondary, Northwestern's defensive line made progress last season, especially with the pass rush. There's a chance to make more this season, especially at the defensive end spot. Tyler Scott returns after tying for the Big Ten sacks lead, and the Wildcats boast three young speed rushers -- Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo -- who had some impressive moments this spring. Lowry is the furthest along in his development, but both Gibson and the ultra-athletic Odenigbo will be part of the rotation.

Fall questions

1. Walk that line: Offensive line is undoubtedly the biggest question mark for Northwestern entering the season. Several projected starters missed spring practice following postseason surgeries, which allowed younger players like tackle Shane Mertz and guard Adam DePietro to get a bunch of reps in practice. The Wildcats are set at left tackle (Jack Konopka) and center (Brandon Vitabile), but there will be plenty of competition at the other three spots in preseason camp. Northwestern needs to set its starting rotation fairly early and then build that all important chemistry before the season kicks off.

2. Filling gaps on defense: There's more overall depth on defense entering 2013, but Northwestern has to fill gaps in all three areas of the unit. Henry likely locked up a starting safety spot this spring, but the cornerback spot opposite Nick VanHoose will feature plenty of competition in camp between White, C.J. Bryant and Daniel Jones. Northwestern also needs a third starting linebacker, where Drew Smith and Collin Ellis will compete. And defensive tackle might be the team's thinnest spot on defense. It'll be important to see some progress there in camp.

3. Shaping the offensive identity: Northwestern seemed to run two or three different offenses in 2012 and endured a midseason identity crisis that, in my view, cost it at least one game and maybe two. That's the danger of using a two-quarterback system, which will remain for the 2013 campaign. Northwestern is looking for a bit better run-pass balance as it has enough weapons at receiver and tight end to attack defenses more through the air. Fitzgerald thinks he can win a Big Ten title with both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at quarterback, but figuring out exactly what the offense will be remains a challenge that continues in preseason camp.
Spring practice has begun in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what to expect from each Legends Division team this spring.

IOWA

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Questions at quarterback: The Hawkeyes played James Vandenberg for every snap last season, and now that he's gone, they have no quarterbacks on the roster with any game experience. Sophomore Jake Rudock has been viewed as Vandenberg's successor, but he's still a mostly unknown quantity who should get pushed in the spring by former junior college transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Whoever wins the job will be tasked with improving an Iowa passing game that finished with a Big Ten-worst seven touchdown passes in 2012.

2. Skills competition: While the quarterback race is vital, Iowa also needs standouts to emerge at the other skill positions to fix an offense that sputtered under first-year coordinator Greg Davis. The wideout corps, which struggled to get separation or make big plays, now is without departed senior Keenan Davis, who tied for the team lead with 571 receiving yards. There's a reason why Iowa signed five receivers in the 2013 class. The running back position has strength in numbers, with Damon Bullock, Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill all competing for carries this spring. The Hawkeyes just need to finally get some luck in the health and off-field departments at that position while hoping one player emerges as the go-to back.

3. Transition game: Iowa long had one of the most stable staffs in the country. But coach Kirk Ferentz added three new assistants this offseason for the second straight year, giving the program some fresh voices but also causing some potential bumps in transition. The offense in particular didn't mesh well last season under Davis, who'll look for solutions this spring. Ferentz has new coaches overseeing the running backs (Chris White) and receivers (Bobby Kennedy) and a new defensive assistant who'll work with the linebackers (Jim Reid). The Hawkeyes hope they can inject some life into a program that has seen its fortunes dip the past couple of seasons, including last year's 4-8 disaster.

MICHIGAN

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Devin Gardner as starter: Denard Robinson is gone and Gardner is the presumed Michigan starter for the first time. How he adjusts to that -- and how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges develops more of a pro-style offense around him -- are a major launching point for the Wolverines next season.

2. Offensive line play: Michigan is replacing the entire interior of its offensive line and while there is a lot of young talent there, none of the potential candidates have any experience. Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk said he would like to have at least one of the three slots, if not two, settled by the end of spring.

3. Linebacker competition: The deepest position on Michigan’s roster also has the most competition. Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker is almost a given, but the middle and weak side slots are wide open. A bevy of freshmen and sophomores, along with returning starter Desmond Morgan, will vie for playing time in what will be a likely increased rotation in the fall.

-- Michael Rothstein, WolverineNation

MICHIGAN STATE

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Still Maxwell's house?: Senior Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season at quarterback but was pulled in favor of freshman Connor Cook for the deciding drive of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Spartans will open up the competition under center, with Tyler O'Connor and eventually incoming freshman Damion Terry joining the fray. Though he has a big edge in experience, Maxwell will have to prove that he can greatly increase last season's 52.5 completion percentage to hold onto the job through the spring.

2. Replacing Bell: Saying running back Le'Veon Bell was a big part of the 2012 offense is like saying Tom Hanks had substantial role in "Cast Away." Bell carried the ball 382 times last year, more than any back in the country, and gained 1,793 yards. There is no ready-made in-house replacement, as leading returning rusher Nick Hill had just 21 rushing attempts last year and may be too slight (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) to be an every-down back. Junior Jeremy Langford will move back to the backfield after seeing time at receiver. Signees Delton Williams, Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton might wind up with the job.

3. New playcaller in town: Mark Dantonio has yet to officially announce a replacement for former offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, who recently left for an assistant's post with the NFL's New Orleans Saints. But reports are that former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman has been tapped to lead the Spartans' offense. Can Bollman, whom Buckeyes fans criticized as being too conservative, find the solutions for what was a dreadful attack in 2012? The Spartans' defense once again enters spring ball with very few question marks. Michigan State's hopes rely heavily on how much progress it can make on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Defensive back end: The Gophers lost two outstanding cornerbacks in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, as well as starting linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Jerry Kill has tried to address this during recruiting, adding a pair of well-regarded junior college linebackers (De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson) as well as touted high school corner Jalen Myrick. But some holdovers from last season's roster will have to step into bigger roles this spring.

2. The full Nelson: True freshman Philip Nelson took over the quarterback job midseason and now will enter practice as the starter. He showed flashes of immense potential but still has a lot of things to learn. Kill has said Nelson is no lock to start in 2013 and that he'll face legitimate competition from redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and incoming freshman Chris Streveler. Nelson has the inside track for now but must hold onto it.

3. Receiving line: The Gophers don't have a returning wideout who had more than 375 receiving yards last year, though Derrick Engel showed promise with a 100-yard day in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. You can blame some of that on the turnover and youth at quarterback. But Minnesota needs much better play at receiver to become a more balanced offense. Improvement by guys like Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte this spring will help, as would some immediate contributions from recruits Eric Carter and Drew Wolitarsky.

NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. Youth movement on defense: The Cornhuskers lost eight starters from last season's defense and will hope that some athletic young players are ready to step in. Guys like Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose and Thomas Brown will be given long looks this spring. Nebraska coaches are hopeful that what they lack in experience, they'll make up for in speed. There's no bigger key for Big Red than having its young defenders make great strides in the spring.

2. Safety issues: The safety spot is an important one in Bo Pelini's scheme, and the Huskers lose both starters and a couple of top reserves from that position. Jackson will be given a look there, and the staff is high on Corey Cooper. But no starting jobs are locked down.

3. Martinez's progression: Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez won't be involved in a lot of live drills, and the spring will be a time to get freshman Tommy Armstrong some reps. But Martinez still needs to fine-tune a few parts of his game, most notably his tendency to force throws in key spots. He made great progress last offseason through extra hours of hard work; a similar leap this spring would make Martinez one of the very best players in the country.

NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. The quarterback duo: The Wildcats spent large parts of last season rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, using Siemian for more obvious passing situations. Will that continue this season? Colter needs to improve as a passer to become a better option as an every-down quarterback, and Northwestern's downfield passing game must get better. You can bet there will be a lot of eyes on Colter and Siemian this spring to see what offensive coordinator Mick McCall has planned.

2. Secondary concerns: The news that cornerback Nick VanHoose won't practice this spring because of injury could be a blessing in disguise. The Wildcats' secondary struggled when he was hurt last season, so this may provide an opportunity for others to get better without him. Jimmy Hall and Traveon Henry are youngsters who should see plenty of reps this spring in the defensive backfield.

3. Offensive line makeover: Three starters are gone from last season's offensive line, including both guards and left tackle Patrick Ward. Jack Konopka is the favorite to succeed Ward but will miss the spring with injuries, while 2012 signee Adam DePietro is among those who could step in at guard. Northwestern should have one of the best running games in the Big Ten in 2013 but will need its line to begin to take shape this spring.
After a flurry of Big Ten recruiting news in recent days, I decided to share some thoughts Thursday afternoon.

Guess I should have waited a few more hours.

A surge of commitments continued throughout the evening, making Thursday the most productive recruiting day for the league in recent memory. The Big Ten added 13 verbal commitments on Thursday, spread between seven different squads. We likely won't see such a large league-wide haul on one day for quite some time.

Some highlights from the day ...

NORTHWESTERN

The Wildcats added three commitments Thursday night, bolstering its blocking for the future.

Offensive tackle prospects Adam DePietro and Eric Olson committed together on a conference call with Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald. DePietro was deciding between Big Ten schools Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan State, and also recently visited Illinois.

From Rivals.com:
DePietro committed first and Fitzgerald "went crazy," he said. Then, DePietro said "I have a surprise for you," and Olson, the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder from Cambridge (Mass.) Buckingham Browne & Nichols, came on the line and committed.

Northwestern also landed a commitment Thursday from Jack Schwaba, who will play superback (tight end/fullback) in Evanston. The Wildcats now have 11 commitments for 2012.

INDIANA

After failing to a secure a verbal commitment through the first part of June, Indiana now has eight players on board. The impressive surge continued Thursday as wide receiver Kevin Davis and linebacker Jordan Wallace pledged for the Hoosiers.

Davis and Wallace are stepbrothers and played together at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, one of the state's top programs.
"It's a dream come true,” Wallace told The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. "We've always wanted to play with each other since little league. Even academically it fits for both of us. We won't find it anywhere else. We can both do what we want to do."

Indiana also secured a commitment Thursday from linebacker Mike Cotton after adding receiver Caleb Cornett on Wednesday.

MICHIGAN STATE

After making a big splash nationally by securing a commitment from defensive end Se'von Pittman last week, Michigan State added three more recruits this week, including two on Thursday.

Linebacker Jamal Lyles and tight end Josiah Price committed Thursday, following receiver Kyle Kerrick, who gave his pledge Wednesday. Lyles had offers from Iowa and Illinois, among other schools.

Michigan State now has nine commitments for 2012: five Ohio prospects, two from Michigan and one from both Pennsylvania and Indiana.

OTHER NUGGETS
  • Both Iowa and Nebraska secured verbal commitments Thursday from coveted defensive prospects. Iowa added Chicago prospect Maurice Fleming, a four-star player rated as the nation's No. 36 athlete by ESPN Recruiting. Fleming will play defensive back at Iowa but also could be used as both a receiver and a return man. Nebraska added three-star defensive end Greg McMullen from Akron, Ohio, a promising sign as the Huskers likely will focus more of their recruiting on Ohio as a Big Ten team. McMullen visited Nebraska four times and never heard much from Ohio State, which he described as a "black hole" because of the recent turmoil.
  • Wisconsin added two defensive recruits from the Pittsburgh area, tackle Arthur Goldberg and defensive back Reggie Mitchell. Goldberg had several Big East offers, including Pitt, while Mitchell reportedly received his first offer from the Badgers.
  • Purdue doesn't have to worry about recruiting specialists for some time. A day after kicker/punter Thomas Meadows committed, another specialist, Paul Griggs, gave his pledge to the Boilers. Purdue will need to replace the bionic-legged Carson Wiggs after the season.
Recruiting news is picking up around the Big Ten, and I have a few thoughts to share.
  • ESPN Recruiting has updated its 2012 class rankings, and only two Big Ten squads appear in the new Top 25. Michigan checks in at No. 6, as Brady Hoke and his staff continue their incredible start to recruiting. Penn State is listed at No. 18, thanks to a class already featuring several standout linemen. Who's missing? Ohio State. The Buckeyes have fallen out of the rankings after Kyle Kalis decommitted and several coveted in-state prospects went elsewhere.
  • Michigan's recruiting surge is notable, and things could get better if Kalis and fellow Ohioan Chris Wormley, a standout defensive end from Toledo, pick the Maize and Blue. Although Ohio State shouldn't panic so early in the process, it's a bit unsettling to see a number of homegrown prospects go elsewhere. I figured the ongoing turmoil around the program would impact Ohio State's national recruiting more than its local recruiting. While the Buckeyes should continue to scour the Southeast and other areas, they must place a premium on keeping the best Ohio players at home.
  • The Wolverines might not be the hottest Big Ten squad on the recruiting trail. That would be Wisconsin, which has picked up three commits in the past 24 hours and could soon add another in offensive lineman Adam DePietro. The Badgers last week bolstered their offensive line with Ohio tackle prospect Kyle Dodson. Wisconsin can't be too far away from cracking some of the national recruiting rankings. The overall quality of recruits seems to be improving for a team that still labels itself as a developmental program.
  • Some Michigan State fans were getting restless about recruiting several weeks ago, as archrival Michigan piled up commits and the Spartans seemed to be stuck on four. As coach Mark Dantonio told me last week, "We'll get our guys." Well, they have. Michigan State now has doubled it number of commits and added coveted prospects like defensive end Se'von Pittman. The Spartans also have added two verbals in the past day.
  • After securing no verbal commits through May, Indiana has added five since June 12, including linebacker Nick Mangieri. Northwestern also is on a surge, adding four commits since June 7.
  • It likely will take at least a year to evaluate Nebraska's recruiting as a Big Ten member. The Huskers are expected to sign a very small class in February, and they're having to be very picky with their scholarship offers. We might not get a full read on how Nebraska's recruiting strategy will change in its new league until the 2013 cycle.

Here's the latest recruiting scorecard of 2012 verbal commits for Big Ten teams ...

Michigan: 16
Michigan State:
8
Penn State:
8
Ohio State:
8
Northwestern:
8
Wisconsin:
8
Minnesota: 7
Indiana: 5
Illinois: 4
Iowa: 3
Purdue: 3
Nebraska: 3

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

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