Big Ten: Big Ten home run 12

Home run summer: Michigan

June, 27, 2012
6/27/12
1:00
PM ET
Our home run summer series is rounding third and heading for the plate. We've been looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp opens. For the final time in this series: Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Michigan

Who needs to step it up: Defensive tackles

Mike Martin isn't walking through that door in 2012. Neither is the underrated Will Heininger. Defensive line play was such a key part of Michigan's 11-2 season last year, especially up the middle, and now both starters at tackle need to be replaced. There's a lot of pressure on senior Will Campbell to live up to his talent level, but he didn't exactly engender a lot of confidence with his April arrest for hurling his 322-pound body on a stranger's car hood. Still, Campbell is expected to start at nose guard and has the size and ability to be a valuable space eater. He needs to have his best summer ever and finally fulfill his potential. Junior Jibreel Black is slated to start at the other defensive tackle spot, and he'll need to continue to get stronger if he's going to hang in there at 260 pounds. Behind them is a lot of inexperience, with guys like Richard Ash, Quinton Washington and Kenny Wilkins, who have barely seen the field. Incoming freshmen Ondre Pipkins and Matt Godin could work their way onto the two deep if they show the coaching staff something this summer. This position lacks proven commodities, but Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison were able to turn the defensive line from a relative weakness into a strength last season. Campbell, Black and others will have to do their part this summer to make sure the Wolverines don't have too much of a dropoff up front.

Home run summer: Michigan State

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
9:00
AM ET
Our series looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp opens is winding down. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Michigan State

Who needs to step it up: Andrew Maxwell and the receivers

Michigan State has just about every ingredient necessary to be a championship team. The Spartans have an elite defense that is deep, talented and experienced. The offensive line could be the best Mark Dantonio has fielded in East Lansing, and the running game should be strong behind breakout candidate Le'Veon Bell. The major question mark hanging over this team is the passing game. Quarterback Maxwell takes over for three-year starter Kirk Cousins and has some big cleats to fill. This is Maxwell's fourth year in the program, and the redshirt junior has a similar makeup to Cousins when it comes to leadership. Yet Maxwell lacks game experience and missed valuable time this spring with a knee injury. He needs to get completely healthy and build as much chemistry as possible with a very young group of receivers. Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett qualify as the veterans there, but both were out for extended periods this spring. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett won his appeal for immediate eligibility and must get a handle on the new (for him) offensive system. Andre Sims Jr. and Keith Mumphery made strides this spring, and need to continue to develop this summer. And the incoming freshmen -- some of whom could be asked to play right away -- have to acclimate quickly to the college game and the college life. Michigan State doesn't have to be one of the best passing teams in the country in order to win the Big Ten. But if Maxwell and his receivers can build a competent passing game, then the Spartans will be awfully tough to beat in 2012.

Home run summer: Northwestern

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
11:00
AM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Northwestern

Who needs to step it up: The veterans on defense

The easy answer here would be the unproven players on both sides of the ball, or a guy like quarterback Kain Colter, or a running back group that hasn't produced a star since Tyrell Sutton exited after the 2008 season. But if Northwestern doesn't have better leadership and communication on defense, its victory total will continue to decline, and its streak of bowl appearances will end. Communication issues plagued the Wildcats' defense throughout 2011, especially with the secondary and in games like a 41-31 loss at Iowa. As more young players step into key roles at positions like cornerback, Northwestern has to make sure everyone is on the same page. The responsibility falls on players like senior linebacker David Nwabuisi, junior defensive end Tyler Scott and sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell. While Campbell is just a redshirt sophomore, he has to be a leader for the secondary after recording a team-high 100 tackles in 2011. It's a big summer for the leaders on defense to unite the unit and make sure everyone is on the same page. Younger players like cornerback Nick VanHoose and end Deonte Gibson showed potential during spring ball, and Northwestern could be a less experienced, but more talented overall defense in 2012. But missed assignments kill any defense, and it's up to the veterans to limit them as much as possible this season.

Home run summer: Iowa

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
3:45
PM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Iowa

Who needs to step it up: The defensive linemen

After years of producing All-Big Ten players and NFL draftees, Iowa's defensive line looks dangerously inexperienced and undermanned entering the 2012 season. The Hawkeyes' spring depth chart lists two redshirt freshmen (Darian Cooper and Riley McMinn) in starting positions, alongside two seniors (Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione) who combined for 32 tackles last season and haven't been a big part of the plan. Help is on the way as tackles Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis return from injuries, but the overall group has many more questions than answers. Iowa should be solid and potentially very good in the defensive back seven, but most defenses sink or swim with their lines. This summer is huge for Iowa's younger defensive linemen, players like Cooper and McMinn and Louis Trinca-Pasat and Melvin Spears. They're going to be thrown into the fire to varying degrees, and they're going to need to perform. It's also big for a player like Bigach to establish himself as a leader. We talked about that this spring, and Bigach understands the responsibility on his shoulders and the importance of upholding the tradition along the front four. I was a bit skeptical at first about assistant Reese Morgan moving from offensive line to defensive line with so much youth there, but Morgan's veteran expertise should help the young players. Iowa's defensive line will be a work in progress for much of the season, but a strong summer could raise the ceiling for the group this fall.

Home run summer: Penn State

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
10:15
AM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Penn State

Who needs to step it up:
Quarterback Matt McGloin

You could argue the secondary, which replaces all four starters from a year ago, or the offensive line, which must break in new starters at both tackle and both guard spots, might need the best summers. But I think it's even more important that McGloin assume command of this team and improve his level of performance. First-year coach Bill O'Brien anointed McGloin as his starting quarterback earlier this month, allowing the senior to take on the leadership role this summer. McGloin doesn't have to worry about playing in a rotation with Rob Bolden anymore, so he can concentrate on just football and mastering the new offensive system. O'Brien will put a lot on his quarterback's shoulders, and while no one is predicting that McGloin will play like Tom Brady, he simply must do become a more accurate passer. McGloin has been the best choice under center the past two years but hasn't completed even 55 percent of his throws in that time. That can't happen in an offense that will likely emphasis more short passes. Penn State looks like it will field another strong defense in 2012. The problem of late has been scoring points, and a home run summer by McGloin could go a long way toward solving some of those issues.

Home run summer: Wisconsin

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
3:10
PM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Wisconsin

Who needs to step it up: Receivers not named Jared Abbrederis

One of the most memorable moments of my spring trip to Wisconsin came after several dropped passes by Badgers wideouts during a scrimmage. An obviously frustrated Bret Bielema yelled out, "Somebody step up at receiver. You'll play!" While that seemed to light a fire under some of the receivers during the rest of that practice, spring definitely was an up-and-down time for players at the position with leading pass-catcher Abbrederis sitting out drills because of an injured foot. Abbrederis should be full go by August, but he'll need some help to keep defenses honest, because he is not the type of player who can impose his physical will on defensive backs. Wisconsin has some intriguing options in the passing game, including rangy receivers like Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond. Isaiah Williams and 5-foot-8 jitterbug Kenzel Doe bring different things to the table, and Big Ten championship game hero Jeff Duckworth will look to put together a full season of productivity. The wideouts will need to develop more consistency this summer while building chemistry with presumed starting quarterback and recent Madison arrival Danny O'Brien. The Badgers are pretty well set at just about every other position. Can Wisconsin win a lot of games without excellent play from receivers beyond Abbrederis? For sure, because of its outstanding running game. But to win another Big Ten title and chase greatness, the team likely will need those players to have a home run summer.

Home run summer: Indiana

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
11:00
AM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Indiana

Who needs to step it up: Junior college arrivals on defense

If Indiana's defense takes a step toward respectability in 2011, its junior college arrivals will play significant roles. After finishing between 109 and 118th nationally in four major statistical categories last season -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense -- the Hoosiers looked to the juco ranks and signed five players on the defensive side (six overall). IU didn't sign these players to sit on the bench in 2011, and several stood out during spring practice. All five juco players -- linebackers Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper, safeties Tregg Waters and Ryan Thompson, and defensive end Justin Rayside -- should play significant roles on a defense that lacks experience despite starting seven freshmen (four true, three redshirt) in 2011. It's important for the juco players to build on the spring and establish themselves not only as reliable contributors, but as potential leaders for a unit that needs more direction this season. Cooper and Thompson are among those in contention for starting positions coming out of the spring.

Home run summer: Ohio State

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
10:30
AM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Ohio State

Who needs to step it up: The wide receivers

They've been called out repeatedly by Urban Meyer and his assistant coaches. When I asked Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman this spring who had impressed him in the pass game besides running back Jordan Hall and tight end Jake Stoneburner, he gave me a priceless look, as if to say, "You're serious?" It's no secret that Meyer and Herman want to pass the ball more after taking over an offense that had one of the more anemic aerial attacks (115th nationally, 127 ypg) last year. It's no secret both coaches like Braxton Miller's potential as more than a running quarterback. And it's also no secret that both coaches are looking for someone to step up at receiver to help Miller. This is a very big summer for the entire receiving corps to take a step forward and build chemistry with Miller in the new spread offense. Freshman Michael Thomas had Buckeye Nation buzzing with his big spring game performance (12 receptions for 131 yards), which is an encouraging sign. Perhaps Thomas will be Miller's top receiving option, but it'd be nice if older wideouts like Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Verlon Reed and Chris Fields elevate their play.

Home run summer: Illinois

June, 14, 2012
6/14/12
3:30
PM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Illinois

Who needs to step it up: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase

Aside from Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez, no Big Ten quarterback boasts more starting experience than Scheelhaase, who has held the top job for the past two seasons. New Illinois coach Tim Beckman has said Scheelhaase is his No. 1 guy right now, although backup Reilly O'Toole also is expected to take some snaps. After the struggles Scheelhaase and the entire offense had in the second half of the 2011 season, it's important for Scheelhaase to re-establish himself as the undisputed leader of the offense. He's learning a new system, which always brings challenges, but his skill set as a dual-threat quarterback with the ability to make throws on the move should help him in the spread. He doesn't have many proven weapons around him, and we saw what happened last season when defenses started focusing on star wideout A.J. Jenkins. But Scheelhaase can make those around him better, and it starts with accuracy on the short to intermediate routes, which spur the spread offense. Scheelhaase raised some concerns in the spring game by completing just 11-of-26 pass attempts in wet and blustery conditions. Some question his arm strength, and others wonder how he'll fare without Jenkins on the field. As veteran columnist Loren Tate put it in April, "To be good, Illinois needs Scheelhaase to step up." A strong summer from the junior could go a long way to getting Illinois' offense back on track.

Home run summer: Nebraska

June, 13, 2012
6/13/12
11:00
AM ET
Our series continues looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home-run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Nebraska

Who needs to step it up: The young defensive tackles

Big Ten defenses are typically only as good as their lines. Nebraska has two proven veterans in end Cameron Meredith and tackle Baker Steinkuhler, who have combined for 53 starts the past two seasons. Eric Martin, Jason Ankrah and Joe Carter add depth at defensive end, which could emerge into a strong point for the Huskers this fall. But the tackle position, where Nebraska had plenty of star power earlier in coach Bo Pelini's tenure (some dude named Suh), needs several players to make strides during the summer. The Huskers were thin at tackle during spring practice as injuries limited or sidelined Chase Rome, Thaddeus Randle, Todd Peat Jr. and Kevin Williams. Rome logged significant time last fall after Jared Crick's injury, and he should be a big part of the plan this fall. The other three certainly have an opportunity to be in the rotation. As I've written several times during the offseason, Nebraska can survive the loss of star power on defense by fostering better overall depth. While all three defensive units have some question marks, the easiest solution, particularly in this conference, is to have a solid front that can go two or three deep. Solidifying the interior line before Sept. 1 is a huge priority for Big Red.

Home run summer: Minnesota

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
4:05
PM ET
Poaching an idea from my esteemed colleague Andrea Adelson, I'm going to take a look at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home-run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

Leading off: Minnesota

Who needs to step it up: The running backs and receivers

MarQueis Gray has a chance to be a very good quarterback for Minnesota this fall. He'll be entering his second full season as the starter after spending most of his time as a receiver in his first two years. Gray rushed for 966 yards and showed flashes as a passer at times. He also should have greater comfort in his second year in Matt Limegrover's offense. Here's the problem: on paper, Gray might have the weakest supporting cast in the Big Ten entering the season. Minnesota's leading returning receiver, Brandon Green, had 15 receptions last season. The Gophers' top returning running back, Donnell Kirkwood, averaged just 3.6 yards per rush on 63 carries in 2011.

Although Gray has the skill set to make a lot of things happen, he'll need some help and some reliable options before the Aug. 30 opener at UNLV. Who will fill the receiving production void left by the underrated Da'Jon McKnight? Green seemingly has been around forever, but whether he can fill the role of reliable veteran remains to be seen. Marcus Jones showed promise as a true freshman and made an incredible recovery from a torn ACL, but he remains largely unproven at receiver. There also are some exciting incoming players like Jamel Harbison. Equally important is Minnesota's ability to complement Gray in the run game. Kirkwood and David Cobb both dealt with injuries this spring, while junior college arrival James Gillum generated some buzz with his performance. It's a big summer for all three men as they try to restore Minnesota's rep as an elite rushing team.

Minnesota needs some home-run threats around Gray, but it also needs some singles and doubles hitters.

SPONSORED HEADLINES