Big Ten: Darius Millines

Now that spring practice is solidly in the rearview mirror, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or had to go battle White Walkers north of The Wall. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Let's turn now to the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Jonathan Brown, LB

Don't forget that Brown might never have been 100 percent healthy in 2012, when the Illini defense struggled mightily. He played in nine games but lacked the production he showed in a breakout sophomore campaign. Would Brown have made a huge difference in Illinois' final 2-10 record? Most likely not, since the team had so many other problems. But don't discount just how valuable a player he can be. This is a guy, after all, who had 108 tackles, six sacks and 19.5 TFLs in 2011. While Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina turned in promising campaigns as true freshman linebackers last year, defensive coordinator Chris Beatty would love to have a healthy Brown as a defensive difference maker in 2013.

Donovonn Young, RB

Frankly, it's a tough call finding two truly indispensable Illini because of how undistinguished most of the returning players are. That happens on a 2-10 team. We believe that the offense is better off with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase starting, but that Reilly O'Toole or even freshman Aaron Bailey could handle the reins without him. Illinois will likely need Martize Barr and Miles Osei to stay healthy among a thin receiving corps, especially after the dismissal of Darius Millines. But Young is a guy who looks like a potential centerpiece of the offense, especially after he ran for 86 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. He's a physical runner who could provide the punch in Bill Cubit's spread offense and improve a ground game that ranked last in the Big Ten in yards per carry last year. Josh Ferguson is a solid option at running back as well and brings a lot of speed to the table. But he's also been injury prone during his career, making Young look even more indispensable.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Penn State
Illinois' search for playmakers to spark its sputtering offense in 2013 won't include wide receiver Darius Millines.

Head coach Tim Beckman confirmed to The (Champaign) News-Gazette that Millines and defensive lineman Darrius Caldwell are no longer members of the Illini program because of an unspecified violation of team policy. Millines was suspended in March for violating team policy and missed spring practice, and Caldwell also sat out the spring because of academic issues.

"We gave them both opportunities," Beckman told The News-Gazette.

Millines, a senior, started three games as a true freshman in 2010 and had been pegged to be a major contributor, but injuries limited his production the past two seasons. He still finished second on the team last season with 319 receiving yards on 32 catches despite being hobbled.

Caldwell appeared in all 12 games last season in a defensive end/linebacker hybrid role, and showed some promise with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. He could have been in the mix to start at the "Leo" position, but that job likely will go to Houston Bates this season.

Beckman didn't specify why Millines and Caldwell aren't playing this season, and didn't say where they could transfer.

Illinois made Miles Osei and Steve Hull full-time receivers this spring, and both players should be part of a rotation that will include Ryan Lankford, last season's leading receiver, junior-college transfer Martize Barr, and Spencer Harris.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman has made no secret of his team's need for more playmakers at the receiver spot. And now one of the team's few proven players there has been suspended.

Beckman announced Monday that he has suspended junior Darius Millines for a violation of team policy. Beckman didn't offer any further details but said that Millines' status would be re-evaluated in May.

Millines finished second on the team last year with 319 receiving yards on 32 catches. Those are modest stats, but the Illini's leader in receiving yards in 2012 was Ryan Lankford with just 469, while running back Donovonn Young had the most receptions with 38.

Millines wasn't going to be a big part of spring practice for Illinois, anyway, as he was recovering from a shoulder injury that would have limited his practice work. But the opportunity to run some routes and learn new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's system on the field was a valuable one for him as he enters his final season. Beckman said Millines will spend his time instead rehabbing and working with tutors.

It doesn't sound as if Millines' transgression was serious enough to get him booted off the team, assuming he can get his problems solved in the next couple of months. So he could still be back and ready to go this fall. Beckman also said Monday that Miles Osei, who served as a backup QB/jack of all trades last season, is working out exclusively at receiver. Senior Steve Hull has also moved from safety to receiver, and the Illini are hoping junior college import Martize Barr can provide some immediate help.

So the Millines news might not prove to be a huge problem. But the state of the Illinois receiving corps right now is such that any setback is magnified.

Spring previews: Leaders Division

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:00
AM ET
Spring practice is under way in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the six teams in the Leaders Division.

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.

2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players such as Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.

3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.

INDIANA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 passing yards and seven TDs. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.

2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.

3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players such as Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.

OHIO STATE

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)

What to watch:

1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.

2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.

3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he has gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.

-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation

PENN STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?

2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.

3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.

-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation

PURDUE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.

2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.

3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.

WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.

2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.

3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior college All-American Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.
After a brief break for signing day, the postseason position rankings return with the wide receivers and tight ends. The Big Ten had only one team (Indiana) rank in the top 30 nationally in pass offense, and the league's overall depth at receiver and tight end wasn't good at all, but a few groups of pass-catchers stood out.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season and factor in both star power and depth. Here's a look at our preseason rundown.

There's clear separation with the top three groups, while the bottom four could be rearranged just about any way you want (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Now let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Cody Latimer should have a productive season in Indiana's pass-oriented system.
1. Indiana (Preseason ranking: 8): The Hoosiers attempted 58 more passes than any other Big Ten team, but they had plenty of reasons to do so and merit top billing here. Speedster Shane Wynn led the squad in receptions with 68, but Cody Latimer emerged into the star of the group, recording 51 receptions for 806 yards and six touchdowns. Like Latimer, Kofi Hughes stretched the field and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. Tight end Ted Bolser also made nice contributions (41 catches, 445 yards). IU had five receivers or tight ends finish with at least 23 receptions.

2. Nebraska (Preseason ranking: 2): The Huskers' multitude of big-play threats nearly put them in the top spot, as they helped Nebraska finish with the Big Ten's top offense (460.8 ypg). Wideout Kenny Bell led the way with 863 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 50 receptions (17.3-yard average). Receiver Jamal Turner and tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton all averaged at least 13 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa became a nice No. 2 target with 42 receptions for 470 yards.

3. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 7): Few saw this coming before the season, and our preseason capsule about the Nittany Lions began with, "Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option." Whoops. Even though Brown transferred in the wake of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State found surprise stars in wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Robinson won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award after leading the league in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,013) and touchdown catches (11). Carter (36 catches for 453 yards) might have been the league's top tight end, a position where Penn State had unparalleled depth. Players like wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder and tight end Matt Lehman emerged later in the season.

4. Purdue (Preseason ranking: 5): There's definitely a drop-off after the top three groups, but Purdue had a nice crop of receivers who likely would have put up bigger numbers if quarterback Robert Marve had stayed healthy all season. Wideouts O.J. Ross (56 receptions, 454 yards) and Antavian Edison (58 receptions, 682 yards) both finished in the league's top five in receptions, while Gary Bush also eclipsed the 40-catch mark. Young wideout Dolapo Macarthy showed promise, and tight ends Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright combined for 47 receptions.

5. Michigan (Preseason ranking: 6): No offense to Denard Robinson, but Michigan's receiving corps truly got its chance to shine once Devin Gardner took control at quarterback. Michigan became a much more pass-oriented offense and stretched the field with several players. Jeremy Gallon turned in a very solid junior season with 49 receptions for 829 yards and four touchdowns (16.9-yard average). Roy Roundtree came on strong late in the season and made the catch of the year in the league against Northwestern to force overtime. Michigan received nice contributions from wideout Drew Dileo and young tight end Devin Funchess (five touchdowns), and Gardner himself made some plays early on before switching permanently to QB.

6. Ohio State (Preseason ranking: 9): Coach Urban Meyer is looking for much more from Ohio State's perimeter players, but in a pass-challenged league like the Big Ten, Ohio State's receivers and tight ends finish in the middle of the pack. Corey Brown quietly produced a 60-catch season, finishing fourth in the league in receptions (5 rpg). Devin Smith had half as many receptions as Brown but finished with nearly the same yardage total (669-618) as he became Braxton Miller's top deep threat. Jake Stoneburner had four touchdown catches, while sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman showed some promise.

7. Northwestern (Preseason ranking: 1): Thanks to the emergence of Venric Mark, Northwestern became a much more run-driven offense than we anticipated before the season, although the receiving corps underachieved a bit. The Wildcats had no true stars, although they boasted some nice balance as four players recorded at least 29 receptions. The big bright spot late in the season came from freshman tight end Dan Vitale, who recorded 28 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns. USC transfer Kyle Prater wasn't much of a factor (10 catches, 54 yards). Quarterback Kain Colter might have provided the best performance from a Northwestern receiver when he moved there against Indiana and recorded career highs for both receptions (9) and receiving yards (131).

8. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 11): It says something about the Big Ten when Michigan State's receivers, who received heavy criticism for much of the season, finish in the top two-thirds of the rankings. But the Spartans simply produced a lot more than the groups below them. They had arguably the league's top tight end in Dion Sims, who recorded 36 receptions for 475 yards before opting to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged at receiver during Big Ten play (29 receptions, 364), and the Spartans had three receivers record at least 36 receptions and two -- Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler -- with more than 500 receiving yards.

9. Wisconsin (Preseason ranking: 3): Wisconsin had a major shortage of depth, which hurt during a season where three different players started at quarterback. The Badgers had one of the league's best wide receivers in Jared Abbrederis (49 receptions, 837 yards, 5 TDs), and Jacob Pedersen won the Big Ten's Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award, albeit in surprising fashion. But no other players recorded 20 receptions and Wisconsin ended up finishing last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing.

10. Iowa (Preseason rank: 4): The Hawkeyes struggled to consistently pass the ball, and getting into the end zone proved to be nearly impossible as they finished with just seven receiving touchdowns. Kevonte Martin-Manley, the group's bright spot with 52 catches for 571 yards, was the lone Hawkeye with multiple scoring receptions in 2012. Keenan Davis fell short of expectations and while C.J. Fiedorowicz put up nice numbers for a tight end (45 receptions, 433 yards), many expected more from him as well. Like several Big Ten squads, Iowa struggled with depth at receiver.

11. Illinois (Preseason ranking: 10): We had concerns about Illinois' skill-position talent and depth before the season, and it proved true. Although the Illini had four players record at least 25 receptions, two of them -- receptions leader Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- play running back. Ryan Lankford was the team's top wideout with 469 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Darius Millines once again struggled to stay healthy. Spencer Harris contributed 21 catches for 252 yards and two scores, but Illinois needed much more to spark the league's worst offense.

12. Minnesota (Preseason ranking: 12): Like many of their Big Ten brethren, the Gophers lacked playmakers on the edge to provide balance on offense. Their best threat, A.J. Barker, left the program in not-so-quiet fashion after a spat with head coach Jerry Kill. Barker appeared in only eight games but still had 11 more receptions than any other Minnesota player. Receivers like Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Devin Crawford-Tufts showed flashes, and tight end John Rabe had four touchdown grabs, but Minnesota needs a lot more from this group going forward.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
3:45
PM ET
We already covered the Mark Weisman news at Iowa earlier. Here are some other personnel nuggets from around the Big Ten ...

Purdue

Standout DT Kawann Short is questionable for Saturday's game against Penn State after suffering an ankle injury last week at Minnesota. Coach Danny Hope is optimistic Short will return and Short told local reporters he's around 90 percent but won't get the final word until later this week. Hope said CB Ricardo Allen (ankle) is improving. Robert Marve will start at QB this week primarily because of his strong passing performance at Minnesota, Hope said.

Michigan

Head coach Brady Hoke sounded more optimistic about having starting QB Denard Robinson (elbow) for the Minnesota game on Saturday. "He should be fine," Hoke said Tuesday. "It's just one of those things that flutters up now and then. ... He's getting better every day." Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said Tuesday that backup Russell Bellomy was adequately prepared for the Nebraska game but struggled after entering the game in a difficult situation. Devin Gardner hadn't been taking many reps at quarterback in the weeks leading up to Nebraska but is taking more this week.

Minnesota

Top WR A.J. Barker (ankle) won't practice today but has a chance to return Saturday against Michigan. Barker had 135 receiving yards and two touchdowns before leaving the Purdue win with the injury, which has coach Jerry Kill concerned. LB Mike Rallis (ankle) and S Derrick Wells (leg) also won't practice today, but both are expected back for the Wolverines.

Penn State

Lions TE Kyle Carter, who ranks second on the team with 35 receptions and 441 receiving yards, is "day-to-day," according to coach Bill O'Brien, after suffering an ankle injury in the fourth quarter of the Ohio State loss. O'Brien expects to know more about Carter later this week.

Ohio State

Coach Urban Meyer downgraded LB Etienne Sabino (leg) to doubtful Tuesday -- he had listed Sabino as questionable Monday. Defensive back Zach Domicone, a special-teams ace, could be back this week against Illinois, although he won't practice today.

Illinois

Miles Osei, who saw some time at QB early this season, is working exclusively at WR as the Illini try to find more weapons to surround top signal-caller Nathan Scheelhaase. Illinois also demoted punt returner Tommy Davis after the Indiana loss and will use Darius Millines or Terry Hawthorne instead. The Illini rank 117th nationally in punt returns.

Indiana

Although freshman QB Nate Sudfeld continues to provide a boost off of the bench, the Hoosiers aren't changing their approach at the position for this week's game against Iowa. Coach Kevin Wilson noted Tuesday that both Sudfeld and Cameron Coffman are backups -- starter Tre Roberson broke his leg in Week 2 -- who need to keep pushing one another. Even though Sudfeld relieved Coffman fairly early in the Illinois win, it doesn't change how the two players are viewed.
Illinois could have beaten woeful Charleston Southern with its B or C team.

It did.

Tim Beckman's squad thrashed Charleston Southern 44-0 on Saturday despite missing a large group of key players. Starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury, and he was joined on the sideline by senior center Graham Pocic, who has a knee injury. Top running back Josh Ferguson (concussion), starting linebacker Houston Bates (leg) and projected starting safeties Steve Hull (shoulder) and Supo Sanni (knee) also sat out.

Making matters worse, starting wide receiver Darius Millines, already dealing with an ankle injury, played Saturday but spent the end of the game on the sideline with his left arm in a sling.

Illinois didn't need any of the players to crush Charleston Southern and received nice performances from several reserves, including quarterback Reilly O'Toole (5 TD passes) and linebacker Mason Mondheim (1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception).

But the Illini need to get healthy in a hurry, first for this week's tricky test against Louisiana Tech and then next week as Big Ten play kicks off against Penn State.

As of Monday, Beckman isn't certain whether any of the players would be back this week. Some of them missed practice last week.

"I can't say that anybody for sure right now," Beckman said. "... That will be determined as we go through Tuesday, Wednesday."

Scheelhaase continues to practice and make some progress with the ankle, but Beckman isn't sure the three-year starter will return for Louisiana Tech.

"We're not going to put Nathan out there unless he can better this football team," Beckman said. "... We're not being cautious with anybody. He's just not ready."

Big Ten Monday personnel roundup

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
4:15
PM ET
It's time to go around the Big Ten and check out some key personnel news.

ILLINOIS
  • Coach Tim Beckman said Monday that starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase (ankle) could have played at Arizona State in an emergency situation and could return this week against Charleston Southern. Scheelhaase participated in Sunday night's practice. Beckman said the quarterback situation is "wide open" with Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei in the mix.
  • Safety continues to be an area of concern, as starter Steve Hull suffered a different injury to his surgically repaired shoulder against Arizona State. The other starter, Supo Sanni, didn't travel to ASU and is doubtful for this week's game with a leg injury.
  • Wide receiver Darius Millines is listed as a co-starter on this week's depth chart after leaving the Arizona State game with an ankle injury.
OHIO STATE
  • The news is mostly good on RB Carlos Hyde, who suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee during Saturday's game against UCF. Coach Urban Meyer said Hyde's knee didn't swell up, which is a positive. It's unlikely Hyde will play this week against California, and freshman Bri'onte Dunn is listed as the starter on the depth chart. Jordan Hall, Ohio State's projected starter before a foot injury this summer, has been medically cleared, but his status for Saturday's game is unknown.
  • DE Michael Bennett will miss a few more weeks with a groin injury that is more serious than originally thought. DE Nathan Williams, who played a good amount in the opener but missed the UCF game, likely will be questionable for the coming weeks because of the nature of his knee surgery (microfracture). True freshmen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington logged plenty of snaps against UCF with both Bennett and Williams out.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Starting CB Nick VanHoose, who left Saturday's win against Vanderbilt on the second play because of a lower back injury, could return this week against Boston College. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said VanHoose has some stiffness in his back, but Fitzgerald is "hopeful" the redshirt freshman will play and start against BC.
PURDUE
  • Coach Danny Hope had no update Sunday night on QB Robert Marve, who left Saturday's loss to Notre Dame with a knee injury. Marve, who has suffered two ACL tears during his college career, is listed as the team's No. 2 quarterback on this week's depth chart.
  • There seems to be some confusion about why top CB Ricardo Allen wasn't on the field for Notre Dame's game-winning drive Saturday. Hope called it a coaches' decision, while Allen pointed to an ankle injury. Allen tweeted Monday: "No everyone I'm just walking around in a boot because of "coaches decision." The junior also tweeted that his ankle is improving and that he'll be ready this week against Eastern Michigan.
WISCONSIN
  • Starting SS Shelton Johnson is out approximately six weeks after suffering a broken arm against Oregon State and undergoing surgery, coach Bret Bielema said Monday. Johnson could return in less than six weeks. Sophomore Michael Trotter will start in Johnson's spot this week against Utah State.
  • Top wide receiver Jared Abbrederis could return this week as he has no structural damage following a chest injury sustained at Oregon State. Abbrederis was taken to a local hospital but released the same day and returned with the team to Madison.
MICHIGAN
  • Reserve DE Brennen Beyer will miss several weeks with a right knee injury suffered in Saturday's win against Air Force. DE Richard Ash, who missed the Air Force game with an undisclosed injury, could return this week against Massachusetts, coach Brady Hoke said.

Best Case/Worst Case: Illinois

August, 13, 2012
8/13/12
4:00
PM ET
Now that the season is just around the corner, it's time to take our annual look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.

Last year, we did this in video form, but you'll have to read words this time around. We'll go in alphabetical order in this series, and try to have a little fun along the way. First up is Illinois.

Best Case

It's Beck-mania! The Illini have long been seen as underachievers, but first-year coach Tim Beckman is able to wring the best out of the talent Ron Zook collected in Champaign. Beckman inherited a strong defense that turns things up a notch in 2012, and his spread system is the cure to what ailed the offense in the second half of 2011. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fully embraces the spread, using his legs and arm to become one of the Big Ten's most dynamic playmakers. The skill position question marks become answers as Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young and Darius Millines all make the leap. Defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Jonathan Brown battle for the national lead in sacks, while defensive tackle Akeem Spence plays up to his first-round potential.

The Illini cruise through the nonconference schedule, waxing another first-year coach at a major program by winning handily at Arizona State. They beat Penn State by two touchdowns in the Big Ten opener, after which several Nittany Lions players are seen talking to Illinois assistants about a possible 2013 transfer. Illinois loses at Wisconsin the following week but pulls a stunner in Ann Arbor by catching Michigan looking ahead to the Michigan State game. It loses at Ohio State on Nov. 3, but ends the season with a four-touchdown win at Northwestern as Rahm Emanuel presents Beckman a key to the city. Since Wisconsin finishes with three losses, the Illini clinch the title in the probation-saddled Leaders Division. Hungry Illinois fans flock to Indianapolis, where their team knocks off Michigan a second time to advance to the Rose Bowl. Just like that, it's a football school again.

Worst Case

They fired Ron Zook for this? Beckman finds that he's not in Toledo anymore, as his transition to the Big Ten is a rough one. While the defense is solid, it misses Whitney Mercilus and Vic Koenning more than anyone realized. The spread system is an odd fit for a team that lacks many playmakers at receiver or running back, and neither Scheelhaase nor Reilly O'Toole is fully able to master it in a seesaw quarterback competition. Much like the second half of last year, Illinois simply can't score, and its special-teams play hasn't improved much.

The Beckman era gets off to a shaky start when Western Michigan -- which played a close game in Champaign a year ago -- springs the upset in the opener. The Illini are 0-2 after a loss at Arizona State. They rebound to win the next two but are crushed at home by a Penn State team that's angry about all those Illini assistants sniffing around State College this summer. That begins a spiral of losing, as the next two games are blowouts on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan. Illinois beats Indiana but falls at Ohio State, drops another home game to Purdue and ends the year getting pushed around by resurgent Northwestern. The Wildcats somehow win the Big Ten and prompt Chicago to dye the river purple. Meanwhile, the Illini sit at home after a 4-8 season, wondering what the future holds.
On Wednesday, we ranked the top individual wide receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten heading into 2012. So of course that means it's time to look at the position group as a whole throughout the league. Remember, we're weighing past performance heavily here with consideration given to potential.

It's go time.

1. Northwestern: We didn't rank a single Wildcat in our top 10 individual receivers or tight ends, yet we have the group No. 1. Have we lost our minds? Well, maybe. But we really like the depth of this group, even with star Jeremy Ebert off to the pros. Demetrius Fields, Christian Jones, Tony Jones and Venric Mark are all very good, and if Kyle Prater gets eligible this might be the deepest receiving corps in the league. The drawback is the lack of an experienced tight end to take over for Drake Dunsmore, but that's less important in a spread offense.

[+] EnlargeChristian Jones
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireNorthwestern's Christian Jones helps form one of the best wide receiver groups in the Big Ten.
2. Nebraska: The Huskers might not be the most prolific passing team, but they've got a lot of options. Kenny Bell emerged as a real weapon last season, and Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner and Tim Marlowe all bring something to the table. Add to that one of the league's top tight end duos in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, and this is a strong group.

3. Wisconsin: Bonus points here for star power, as receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen enter the season as the top-rated players at their respective position. There are a lot of other question marks at receiver, though the Badgers have a large cast of candidates. And they're loaded at tight end.

4. Iowa: Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley form one of the best returning receiving tandems in the Big Ten. C.J. Fiedorowicz could become a star at tight end. Marvin McNutt is gone, but James Vandenberg should still have plenty of targets.

5. Purdue: The Boilers bring back three of their top four pass-catchers from a year ago, led by Antavian Edison. They need to stretch the field more, and perhaps star kick returner Raheem Mostert can add more playmaking ability to the group. They have a deep group of tight ends that could be one of the strengths of the offense.

6. Michigan: Junior Hemingway is gone, but the Wolverines are hopeful Roy Roundtree can fill his role. Jeremy Gallon is tiny but manages to make big plays. Michigan will need a third receiver to emerge and for someone to take over for Kevin Koger at tight end. Brandon Moore is the top candidate for that.

7. Penn State: Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option, but the loss of Curtis Drake and Devon Smith hurt the depth. Penn State's tight ends have mostly been anonymous, but that -- along with overall passing game production -- should change with the new staff.

8. Indiana: There's talent here, if the Hoosiers can harness it. Kofi Hughes can be one of the league's top receivers and is complemented by Duwyce Wilson, Cody Latimer and the diminutive Shane Wynn. Ted Bolser had a nice spring and looks ready to be very productive at tight end.

9. Ohio State: By now, you know the stat. No Buckeye had more than 14 catches last year. No matter how many times you hear it, it's still a little hard to believe. At least Ohio State has talented players to work with in guys like Corey Brown, Devin Smith and freshman Michael Thomas. And Jake Stoneburner could thrive under Urban Meyer at tight end. Expect the group's numbers to soar.

10. Illinois: It was almost A.J. Jenkins or bust for the Illini receivers last year. They'll need to find new playmakers in the spread offense. Darius Millines has to step up, along with Spencer Harris. Jon Davis had a promising freshman year at tight end.

11. Michigan State: The Spartans lost their top three receivers and their starting tight end, so no wonder they're so low on this list. The addition of Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett helps, and Andre Sims Jr. and Keith Mumphery had good springs. Still, playing time here is wide open, and true freshmen will get a chance to contribute. Dion Sims has as much physical talent as any Big Ten tight end.

12. Minnesota: Quick, name a Minnesota receiver. If you're not a Gophers fan, you probably are still thinking. This is a group of largely unknown guys who'll have to raise their profile this fall. Brandon Green, Malcolm Moulton and Devin Crawford-Tufts are the leading returning receivers. Transfer Isaac Fruechte and some youngsters will be counted on to contribute. Senior John Rabe brings experience to the tight end spot.
During the course of spring practice, Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett visited 11 of the 12 league schools, getting an up-close look at the players and coaches who will shape the 2012 season.

Now it's time for them to share their thoughts on what they saw and learned this spring, and you can follow along as they exchange emails. First, they'll discuss the teams in the Leaders Division. A Legends Division email exchange will arrive in the near future.

Brian Bennett: Adam, I guess the biggest story in the Big Ten this spring was the culture change at both Penn State and Ohio State. You went to both places. What was your sense of how different things are there now, compared to your previous visits to State College and Columbus?

Adam Rittenberg: There's definitely a new energy in both football complexes, Brian. Change can be tough on fans, especially at a place like Penn State where they've only known their program under Joe Paterno's watch, but the players seem to be excited about the new ways things are operating. At Penn State, they're excited to play for a coach (Bill O'Brien) who comes straight from the NFL and has made some much-needed modernizations to certain areas of the program (strength program, offensive philosophy). The enthusiasm about strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald and his philosophy really stood out to me at Penn State. I was also impressed by some of the younger players like freshman tight end Jesse James and redshirt freshman defensive end Deion Barnes.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWisconsin is one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten, thanks in part to running back Montee Ball returning for another season.
The changes aren't as dramatic at Ohio State because Urban Meyer retained so many assistants from the previous staff. On the other hand, the thought of Ohio State running a true no-huddle, spread offense amazes players as much as it does the rest of us after so many years of TresselBall. One welcome change with both programs is greater accessibility for the media (and, through us, the fans). I had to pinch myself a few times while watching a Penn State practice.

You made your first visit to Madison, where, judging by the pictures you posted on Twitter, you likely gained 15 pounds and lost that Kentucky twang. What stood out about your time in Mad-city?

Brian Bennett: I'm just now shedding the last of those cheese curds from my system. Change was not really a buzzword with the Badgers, even with a slew of new assistant coaches and some turnover at key positions. This program has a system it believes in and will continue to do the same things year in, year out with new faces.

Wisconsin is still all about running the ball, and Montee Ball looked terrific during the practice he participated in while I was there. If possible, he's even a step faster, and backup Melvin Gordon is going to be a star someday as well. The quarterbacks and receivers weren't nearly as impressive or consistent, but Danny O'Brien wasn't there and Jared Abbrederis was out with his foot injury. I am intrigued by the size of some of the Badgers wideouts, like Marquis Mason (6-foot-4) and Chase Hammond (6-5). The Badgers could be effective throwing some jump balls to those guys, and with their tight ends and offensive line, their offense is going to be just fine.

There are more questions on the defense, but I liked what I saw from the defensive tackles and the secondary, which looks a little more athletic. We know the linebackers will be good with Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. If David Gilbert or someone else can come back and give them a pass rusher from the defensive end spot, this team should be loaded for a run at repeating in the Leaders Division.

I see Illinois as a bit of a mystery team in the division, with a new coach and a new system. How much progress did the Illini make in learning the spread under Tim Beckman, and do they have enough offensive playmakers to run it?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think they do, although running back Josh Ferguson's performance in the spring game raises hope. Illinois also has some versatile players in cornerback Terry Hawthorne and quarterback Miles Osei who can fill in at receiver and/or running back if need be. But Beckman has been candid about the lack of depth at running back, and we both saw how that offense fared after opposing teams limited A.J. Jenkins' effectiveness. I do think quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase could end up being a good fit for the spread. He obviously has the mobility you need at that position, and while his arm strength is a question mark, he should be able to spread the ball around if enough weapons emerge. I think it's critical for receiver Darius Millines to stay healthy. He really had stood out in practices, but he just can't stay on the field.

I liked what co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said about the offense needing to regain its swagger. It's still hard to pinpoint exactly what happened to the unit last year, but I know when a spread offense establishes a nice tempo, it's awfully hard to stop. But here's the thing with Illinois: it might only need to score 20-24 points a game. The defense should be really, really good, and potentially better than last year's crew. The coaches are really excited about Michael Buchanan at end, and the front seven could be the best in the Big Ten.

You also spent some time in the Hoosier State this spring. Purdue coach Danny Hope feels this is his best team. Things couldn't get much worse for Kevin Wilson at Indiana after a 1-11 clunker in 2011. What sense did you get from being in West Lafayette and Bloomington?

Brian Bennett: I sensed quite a bit of confidence coming out of Purdue's camp. That will happen when you have 18 starters back, three healthy quarterbacks and are coming off a bowl win (granted, only against Western Michigan, but it beats the alternative).

The Boilermakers didn't let reporters watch any meaningful parts of spring practice because they're installing Tim Tibesar's new defensive system, so I didn't learn as much about them as I'd like. Still, it's clear this team has experience and some major talent with guys like Kawann Short and Ricardo Allen on defense. I think Purdue is very much a sleeper in the division, though we're going to need to see this team cut down some of its mental mistakes and play with far greater consistency than it has in the Danny Hope era.

The best thing I saw from Indiana was competency on defense. Wilson played so many freshmen last year, and the benefit is that those guys are now a year older and know the system. They were able to execute it much better this spring, and the juco kids will help a lot. The Hoosiers have some nice players on offense, like young quarterback Tre Roberson, running backs Stephen Houston and Isaiah Roundtree and tight end Ted Bolser, and I think Seth Littrell's system will play well to their strengths. Yet you look at the roster and compare it to the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and it's clear that Indiana has a long way to go to catch up and be any sort of factor in the league race.

I came away from the spring still thinking Wisconsin will win this division, but I also believe it will be a tight race and that Penn State could very well take it. Ohio State might end up being the best team in the Leaders but can't play for the league title. Did your spring visits make you feel any differently about the division?

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that Wisconsin remains the team to beat, but I came away thinking the division could have greater depth. The Legends still looks stronger with Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska up top, and every Leaders Division team has some flaws. But Wisconsin knows how to win, returns a nice core and added a key piece in O'Brien. Ohio State will be a better defensive football team -- end John Simon is poised for an enormous senior season, and hopes are high for tackle Johnathan Hankins, too -- and while there will be some growing pains on offense, it's not as if the Buckeyes set an impressive benchmark in 2011. They were mostly awful.

Penn State and Illinois are very similar teams to me. Both have new coaches whose hiring elicited some skepticism. Both look extremely strong in the defensive front seven. Both retained excellent D-line coaches from the previous staff (Larry Johnson, Keith Gilmore). Both have standout linebackers (Gerald Hodges, Jonathan Brown) and stout defensive tackles (Jordan Hill, Akeem Spence). And both have major question marks on offense: Penn State more so at quarterback, Illinois more so at running back/receiver. Still, if the defenses perform to their capability, Penn State and/or Illinois could really make some noise in a wide-open division.

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.

Spring game preview: Illinois

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
3:00
PM ET
Seven Big Ten teams hold their spring games Saturday, and we're taking a closer look at each one of them.

Next up: The annual Orange and Blue Spring Game at Illinois. Here are all the vitals:

When: 3 p.m. ET (2 p.m. local time), Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Admission: Free. All seating will be in the east stands. Free parking is available in the lots surrounding the stadium and Assembly Hall.

TV: The game will be streamed live on both BTN2Go and the Big Ten Digital Network. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the game on tape-delay at 7 p.m. ET Sunday.

Weather forecast: Partly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms possible, temperatures between 66-76 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain, winds at 19-20 mph.

What to watch for: Illinois should have one of the more entertaining spring games in the Big Ten. New head coach Tim Beckman said players will approach it "as if it's a real game." The team's seniors were divided into two groups and drafted teams earlier this week. The game will be played with a normal clock in the first half and a running clock in the second half (except if the game is close in the final two minutes). Another unique tidbit: Beckman will go into the stands and select Illinois students to call two plays per half for both teams.

Beckman wants to put on a show for the fans, who should get a decent sense of the new systems Illinois is using on both sides of the ball. The Illini are employing an up-tempo spread attack on offense, and it will be interesting to see how quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole are adjusting. There are depth issues at both wide receiver and running back, and Illinois is bolstering the spots with players such as Miles Osei, a reserve quarterback who could see time at both receiver and running back Saturday, and starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who will see time at receiver. Another defensive back, Justin Green, is being used as a running back. Top wideout Darius Millines (foot) is out, so plenty of others will have opportunities to make plays.

The changes aren't as dramatic on defense, as coordinator Tim Banks uses a similar scheme to his predecessor, Vic Koenning. Illinois looks very strong in the defensive front seven, and coaches have praised players such as Michael Buchanan, Jonathan Brown and Justin Staples. Safeties Supo Sanni and Steve Hull, both projected starters, are out for the game.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- After the 2011 season, Illinois center Graham Pocic sat down with his linemate, Jeff Allen, to compile a highlight tape for Allen to show NFL talent evaluators.

It sounded like a fun exercise. And for a little while, it was.

Pocic and Allen took great joy in reviewing the first six games from the past year. Illinois was winning and scoring points. Life was good.

Then Week 7 arrived. Cracks began to form as Illinois lost 17-7 to an Ohio State team that completed only one pass.

Pocic's and Allen's review session soon made them want to avert their eyes.

"It was really depressing," Pocic said. "All the great opportunities we had, especially after starting 6-0. Mostly I was trying to figure out what went wrong with the offensive line, with the running game, why we couldn't run the ball like we did with Mikel [Leshoure] the year before.

"It was hard to find a reason why certain things happened."

Illinois dropped six consecutive games after its record 6-0 start, and the offense bore the brunt of the struggles. After scoring 33 points or more in four of the first six games, including a combined 79 points in the first two weeks of Big Ten play, Illinois failed to tally more than 17 points during its six-game slide and finished three games with just seven points.

Even when Illinois ended its slide in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA, it was hardly an offensive explosion (20 points).

The Illini finished the season ranked in the top 15 nationally in several major defensive categories, including points allowed and yards allowed. While the team had other problems, namely special teams, its evaporating offense was most disheartening.
[+] EnlargeReilly O'Toole
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireQuarterback Reilly O'Toole (4) and running back Donovann Young are entering their sophomore seasons with a brand-new offense.
Chris Beatty knew all about Illinois' season of extremes on offense, even though he didn't witness it firsthand. And while Beatty and Billy Gonzales, the team's new co-offensive coordinators, are spending spring practice installing their system, they're also trying to foster something less tangible.

"You get beat down a little bit when you struggle at the end of the year," Beatty said. "So you want to get some kind of swagger back. The only way to do that is to lay a good foundation as far as making some plays, getting a good knowledge base. Confidence comes with some success and knowing what you're doing.

"Those things, we're trying to build up because obviously, the last six games, there were some struggles."

When Beatty reviewed the final six regular-season games, he saw some issues along the offensive line and with the running game, and few consistent skill players aside from receiver A.J. Jenkins. But he also saw a group that lacked confidence.

"It's hard to have a swagger," quarterback Reilly O'Toole said, "with no points on the board."

The offense won't be able to light up the scoreboard until September, but spring practice has provided the platform to rebuild morale. Players like O'Toole and Pocic are excited about the multiple spread offense being installed.

Pocic said he's never been in such a complex offense. O'Toole said that while other Big Ten teams run spread offenses, Illinois' system will be unique in its flexibility and the number of angles from which the offense can attack.

"Unpredictable," wide receiver Darius Millines said of the new offense.

"We may run a play, and someone may think we're coming back with the same play, like a running play to the left. And we may play-action with it and throw deep over your head," he continued. "The defense has to be on their P's and Q's at all times."

And while the installation process is gradual and Illinois must build depth at running back, receiver and along the offensive line, there are mini-breakthroughs, like the one at Monday night's practice.

"We made some good plays and the offense was getting hyped, and we actually got rolling for a little bit," Millines said. "We actually felt how we felt in the beginning of last year. We got into a little rhythm, and our whole offense, we took that into consideration, that, 'OK, if we keep making plays, we can't be stopped.'"

Illinois wide receiver Darius Millines talks about the team's new offense, the quarterback competition and his expectations for 2012.

SPONSORED HEADLINES