Big Ten: Jack Hoffman

By now, you're probably familiar with the story of 8-year-old Nebraska fan and cancer patient Jack Hoffman, who gave a speech at the 2013 ESPY Awards after winning "Best Moment" in sports for his 69-yard touchdown dash during the Huskers' spring game. Big Red fans and well-wishers all around the country rallied behind the kid, with the #TeamJack Twitter hashtag a particular rallying point on social media.

However, Hoffman was dealt a setback recently as the inoperable brain tumor that was previously in remission began to grow again, forcing Jack to start new treatments that begin Thursday in Boston.

Undoubtedly with a heavy heart, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini and his football team created a video this week with words of inspiration and support for their biggest little fan.

video

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini shared some insight on Wednesday into the adjusted format of the Huskers’ Red-White game, set for Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but fans and media apparently won’t get a rundown of the scoring system until shortly before kickoff.

The Cornhuskers will scrimmage, but instead of breaking into two teams, they’ll pit the No. 1 offense against the top defense, the No. 2 offense and the No. 2 defense, and so forth. The offensive and defensive units will be awarded points for good plays.

“I’ve never done this format before,” the seventh-year Nebraska coach said, “but I think it makes a lot of sense, obviously, for where we are as a football team right now.

“It’s the only way we’re going to be able to function and really be able to protect certain guys that we want to protect. Trying to field two teams wouldn’t happen right now. We don’t want to put kids in position to get hurt.”

A breakdown of the scoring system will be posted on scoreboards in the stadium and perhaps distributed to fans on a flyer, Pelini said.

Nearly 50,000 tickets have been sold. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT.

Pelini said the Huskers would run approximately 100 plays in the scrimmage, which will be telecast by the Big Ten Network on tape delay. Don’t expect to see anything too innovative.

“We’re not going to put that on display for everybody to see,” he said, “so it’ll be a little more basic than what we’ve done (in practice), really, on both sides of the football.”

I-back Ameer Abdullah, the nation's top returning rusher, and defensive end Randy Gregory, another first-team All-Big Ten pick in 2013, likely won’t see much action.

The Huskers won’t hit quarterbacks in the pocket. If they run free, they can be tackled. Cut blocking by offensive linemen is also out.

Pelini said he was pleased with the Huskers’ work on Wednesday in their final practice of the spring before the celebrated finale on Saturday.

“I thought the last two days were really good practices for us,” he said. “I thought it went back and forth a lot. I thought the competition was good.

“We went into this spring planning to lay a foundation for the fall. I think we’ve done that. I think we’ve identified a lot of guys. I think we’ve identified areas that we need to grow. I think we’ve identified areas where I feel like we’re pretty strong. We learned a lot. We, as the coaches, learned a lot about our football team.”

Also from Wednesday:
  • Defensive tackle Aaron Curry, who suffered a neck sprain on Monday in practice, will not participate on Saturday. Linebacker Marcus Newby hurt his back on Wednesday, though Pelini said he expected Newby to return for the final workout of the spring.
  • Nebraska gained notice nationally a year ago in the Red-White game by involving 7-year-old brain-cancer patient Jack Hoffman in the festivities. Dressed in full uniform, Jack scored on a 69-yard run in the second half. In July, he won an ESPY award for best moment. Asked if the Huskers had any unorthodox plans for Saturday, Pelini offered a tease. “We have a couple things that we’re going to throw out there and have a little fun,” he said. “But we don’t want to lose sight of why we’re there -- to get better as a football team and execute. At the same time, we want to make sure it’s fun for the fans.”
  • Two years ago, the spring game at Nebraska was canceled because of severe weather. The Saturday forecast calls for a high temperature near 80 degrees and a chance of thunderstorms. If problems surface, Pelini joked that he would just place a call to Tom Osborne, the legendary former Nebraska coach and athletic director. “He can part the skies,” Pelini said, “and we should be good to go.”

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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Six shopping days left.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
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It's good to be back. Let's check out today's links ...
Spring games are typically among the lest memorable events on the college football calendar. They're long on pageantry and short on drama and information. When many of you ask me which spring games I'll be attending in a given year, my standard answer is zero.

But I wish I had been in Lincoln, Neb., on April 6, for the Red-White Game. Nebraska's spring game is one we'll never forget, thanks to Jack Hoffman, a 7-year-old brain cancer patient and Husker football fan. Hoffman's 69-yard touchdown run in the third quarter sent Husker fans to their feet. The inspirational Hoffman quickly became a national celebrity.

Best moment in spring football this year? No doubt. Best moment in spring football history? Probably.

The scoring dash reached another level Wednesday night as Hoffman earned an ESPY award for best moment in sports. Jack and his father, Andy, accepted the award. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who handed Hoffman the ball for his touchdown run, also was on hand.

Hoffman recently went through his last round of chemotherapy.

Congrats to Jack on the ESPY. Well deserved.
The best moment of spring football in the Big Ten this year (any year?) could be named the best moment in sports for the past year.

Jack Hoffman's 69-yard touchdown run in Nebraska's spring game made the 7-year-old brain cancer patient a national celebrity as his incredible story spread through the media. Hoffman's scoring scamper is among the nominees for "Best Moment" at this year's ESPYS, which will air July 17.

Voting for The ESPYS begins right now, and you can vote for Hoffman's run here. Nebraska fans regularly dominate our poll voting, so I expect a strong showing for #TeamJack, who had his last chemotherapy session last week and celebrated by attending the College World Series in Omaha.

The other "Best Moment" nominees are: Andy Murray's gold medal win at the London Olympics after the native son dropped the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer; Chuck Pagano's emotional return to the Indianapolis Colts after going through treatment for leukemia; and Alex Morgan's game-winning goal for the U.S. women's national team in the World Cup semifinal against Canada.
Football didn't have as big a presence as other sports during Wednesday's BTN awards, but one coach and one former player were recognized for their efforts last season.

Penn State's Bill O'Brien was named Men's Team Coach of the Year after guiding the Lions to an 8-4 mark in his first season, including wins in eight of the final 10 contests. O'Brien, who led Penn State through a tumultuous offseason that included severe NCAA sanctions, was both the media's and coaches' pick for Big Ten Coach of the Year and also claimed several national coaching awards.

Former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball earned Most Dominating Performance of the Year after rushing for a career-high 247 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries in a dominating win against Purdue. Ball set the Big Ten career touchdowns record in the game, breaking the mark set by former Badgers star Ron Dayne.

There were several other nominees from the Big Ten football ranks, including Ohio State's 12-0 team and Nebraska fan Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old brain cancer patient who captured national attention with his touchdown run during the Huskers' spring game. Ohio State football lost out to Indiana soccer for Men's Team of the Year, while BTN went with another inspiring story for Most Courageous Performance, that of Purdue women's basketball player Drey Mingo, who survived a bout with bacterial meningitis and also battled back from an ACL tear.

Check out all the BTN award winners here.

Big Ten lunchtime links

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
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Happy hump day.
A group of Big Ten football players, one Big Ten football coach, one Big Ten football team and one unforgettable 7-year-old Nebraska football fan are among the nominees for the BTN awards. The awards show takes place June 26 at 8 p.m. ET.

Here are the football nominees by category ...
  • Penn State's Bill O'Brien is among the nominees for men's coach of the year. He joins Michigan basketball's John Beilein, Indiana soccer's Todd Yeagley, Indiana baseball's Tracy Smith and Penn State wrestling's Cael Sanderson. O'Brien won several national coaching honors after guiding Penn State to an 8-4 mark last season.
  • Northwestern RB Venric Mark and Penn State WR Allen Robinson are nominated for breakout performer of the year. Mark and Robinson are up against two men's basketball players (Michigan's Trey Burke and Indiana's Victor Oladipo).
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and Michigan QB Denard Robinson both are nominated for most dominating performance. Ball had a career-high 247 rush yards and three touchdowns on Oct. 13 at Purdue, as he set the Big Ten's career rushing record. Robinson scored four touchdowns Sept. 8 against Air Force and became the first FBS player to eclipse 200 rush yards and 200 pass yards three times in his career.
  • Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old brain cancer patient and Nebraska fan who became a household name with his touchdown run during the Nebraska spring game, is nominated for most courageous performance. Purdue quarterback Robert Marve, who continued to play despite a third ACL tear and helped the Boilers reach a bowl game, also is up for the award. Just a hunch: Hoffman wins this one.
  • The fourth-down stop by Michigan LB Kenny Demens on Northwestern RB Tyris Jones in overtime to seal a Wolverines victory is nominated for best finish, along with three buzzer-beating men's basketball plays.
  • Ohio State's 12-0 football team is up for men's team of the year, along with Indiana soccer, Michigan swimming, Penn State wrestling and Indiana baseball.

There are no football nominees for game of the year.

The Big Ten also will announce its best male athlete and best female athlete of the year at the awards. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell is among the nominees for best male athlete.

Best of the Big Ten's spring

May, 3, 2013
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Best moment: This one's a no-brainer. Nebraska created the best moment in the Big Ten -- and maybe anywhere, ever, during spring practice -- by allowing 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman to run for a touchdown before a roaring crowd at the Huskers' spring game. It has been quite a month for Hoffman, who got his own trading card and even met President Obama.

Best use of time: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had the number 5:03 plastered on his players' workout shirts this spring, a reminder of how close the 10-3 Wildcats came to going undefeated in 2012. The goal? "Find a way to make that up in the offseason," Fitzgerald said.

Best use of color: Michigan needed non-contact jerseys for quarterback Devin Gardner during the spring game, especially after backup Russell Bellomy went down with a torn ACL. But the Wolverines weren't about to wear red, which is the color of top rival Ohio State. Instead, they chose orange and got an assist from Oregon State, which sent along a top for Gardner to wear. "This is Michigan," Gardner said. "Orange is the only other color that stands out."

Best breakout combo: Ohio State's defensive line entered the spring as a concern and ended it as a potential strength. That's thanks to sophomore defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, who combined for seven sacks in the spring game and wreaked havoc on one of the Big Ten's top offensive lines all spring. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort told ESPN.com he'd "be surprised if Spence didn't lead the Big Ten in sacks this year," while Washington might even be the better player of the two.

Best two-way player: Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough jumped to the other side of the ball to try running back late in spring practice and quickly became the team's main ball carrier. He even threw a pass to older brother Max, the Spartans' star middle linebacker, in the spring game. The younger Bullough could play offense or defense or even both this fall.

[+] EnlargeBrutus Buckeye
AP Photo/Ohio State University Department of Athletics, Will ShillingOhio State's mascot took one for the team at the spring game.
Best hit on a mascot: It looked like a funny bit of spring practice hijinks when Brutus Buckeye lined up to run the ball during an Ohio State practice. But linebacker David Perkins approached the play as if the Rose Bowl depended upon it. He delivered a punishing hit on the mascot, leveling Brutus -- and the student inside it. "I think he lost his mind," teammate Curtis Grant said.

Best debut by a player: Penn State brought in junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson this offseason because it desperately needed depth at quarterback. Ferguson played so well that he ended the spring as No. 1 on the depth chart, prompting presumed starter Steven Bench to transfer. Now, Ferguson has to hold off hotshot incoming recruit Christian Hackenberg this summer.

Best debut by a coordinator: Illinois has a long way to go, but at least the Illini should be more fun to watch this year under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's spread attack. Illinois quarterbacks threw the ball 87 times for 601 yards in the spring game. The Illini threw for a Big Ten-worst 2,026 yards in all of 2012.

Best moves: This is a tough call, as Bo Pelini's rowboat in the Huskers "Harlem Shake"spring kickoff video was unforgettable. But we have to give the award to Wisconsin defensive lineman Warren Herring during the team's post-practice dance competition. Any 6-foot-3, 286-pounder who can pull off the splits and spin his helmet like a basketball deserves our admiration and awe.

Best quote by a player: Never one to mince words, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby had this to say about the Buckeyes' attempt to follow up last year's 12-0 season: "Last year was the commercial. This year is the movie."

Best quote by a coach: Longtime assistant and current Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis put the proper perspective on spring optimism: "Everybody always has a great spring. This is my 40th one, and I've never heard anybody say they've had a bad spring."

Big Ten mailblog

April, 30, 2013
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Your questions, my answers ...

Dave from Nashville writes: Am I the only one that thinks this "parity-based scheduling" (Jim) Delany mentioned is a terrible idea for the B1G? The B1G is already suffering from image problems, and the goal seems to be to put teams in the college football playoff to win NCs. And now the B1G is going to purposefully make their 'top' teams (i.e. the ones most likely to succeed on a high level) beat each other up in the conference schedulewhile giving mid/low tier teams a pass? Isn't that going to reduce the odds that one of the power programs makes it to the college football playoff or high level bowl games, and also increases the oddsa mid-tier B1G team sneaks into a high level bowl game with an artificially inflated record to which they are probably outmatched? If it happens by luck, then so be it; that kind of thing ends up evening out over the years. But to artificially create a situation where your headline, and most powerful, programs are more likely to have losses that would knock them out of the college football playoff? That's absurd. You don't see the SEC making sure Bama, LSU, A&M all play UF, UGA, and Scar all the time. Sounds like another win for the SEC. And don't give me 'strength of schedule' stuff. I'll believe an undefeated OSU, UM, PSU or UNL will get left out of the playoff on basis of an easy schedule when I see it. Is it all for some notion of having 'better' games?

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I totally hear you, and you make some good points about the potential problems with parity-based scheduling. The Big Ten has to keep the College Football Playoff in mind with all of its division/scheduling moves, as the continued drought without a national championship hurts the league's rep more than anything else. That said, this sport remains all about television and providing the most attractive matchups to your television providers. The Big Ten wants to create as much attention for both divisions as possible and recognizes that having Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all in the East creates the potential for the West to be overlooked. While having Nebraska play OSU/PSU/Michigan more often than not might not help the Big Ten's quest for a crystal football, it's a major win for TV and for the league's immediate brand (ratings, interest levels, etc.). The SEC has an advantage in that more of its teams have the ability to contend for a championship in a given year. For years, I've written about the Big Ten's lack of true national title contenders. Therefore, the league has to be mindful not only of the playoff but of featuring its best product as much as possible. That's the idea behind this.


K from Iowa writes: I think one of the "quiet" winners in the B1G's division realignment is Iowa. Hawkeye fans are known to travel and out of all 14 schools, they are the most centrally located in terms of its proximity to each of its six West Division rivals. Purdue is Iowa's farthest West opponent at about 330 miles. No other B1G school's farthest divisional opponent is that close--e.g., at 750 miles, Rutgers is more than twice as far from Indiana. Because Iowa produces so little homegrown talent, the Hawkeyes have always been forced to recruit other states so I don't know that the lack of exposure in the East Division's states will hurt them as much as their West opponents' proximity to Iowa City and the Hawkeyes' increased visibility in the West Division's states may help them.

Adam Rittenberg: K, I agree on all of your points except the last one. It definitely benefits Iowa and its fans to play annual games against Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois. Although the Purdue series was mocked when it became a protected crossover, it's not a bad game for the Hawkeyes to play and for Iowa fans to attend. The proximity component definitely is a win for Iowa, along with having a seemingly easier path to the Big Ten championship. As far as recruiting, it'll be interesting to see if the West Division teams are hurt by having a smaller presence in the East Coast. Iowa has had past success recruiting states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut. The staff has ties to those areas, and they could be fertile for the program. So that could be a potential (not guaranteed) drawback to being in the West.


Jeff from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam, I'm just curious what you think the league might do if the new division alignment proves to be competitively unbalanced? Also, I think the fact that a Big Ten Championship game exists can help to mitigate one division's power. As Wisconsin proved this season, it only takes one really good game to win the championship and punch your ticket to the Rose Bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, that's absolutely right, and a few championship game wins by the West could obscure a fairly obvious imbalance during the regular season. As commissioner Delany pointed out both in interviews with myself and with the Big Ten Network, it ultimately comes down to that one game. I don't think the Big Ten wants to keep shuffling its divisions every few seasons, so unless there's further expansion, which seems less likely at this very moment, I'd anticipate the league letting things play out for at least five years if not 10. It would be a surprise to see the league react dramatically to 2-3 seasons of lopsided results and make a change.


Kevin from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: "The ABC/ESPN prime-time slate features most of the Big Ten teams projected to contend for a championship -- except one. Nebraska". Uh, hello, am I to assume by this that Michigan State is not projected to contend for the championship?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, that's a mistake on my part. Michigan State is in the mix to contend for a championship, primarily because of its defense. The Spartans have more question marks than the other title contenders because the offense is so unsettled coming off of a very poor showing in 2012. But Michigan State doesn't need its offense to be Oregon or Texas A&M. An average offense combined with a nationally elite defense -- which I fully expect from the Spartans -- could get MSU to a Legends Division title.


Ed from Las Vegas writes: In response to the article "Big Ten's worst NFL draft? It's possible" the story sights the B1G's diminished reputation and underwhelming talent as the primary reasons for a poor draft showing. I disagree. NFL teams don't like players from spread offenses. Those offenses don't translate well to the pro game and thus makes evaluating players from those spread schools difficult. Also, spread offenses are adept at isolating defensive players again making it difficult to evaluate a player and possibly retarding a defensive player's development leaving them under-prepared for the NFL. Please, disagree. I have a slew of supporting arguments, but think I'm getting too wordy.

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, although the rise in run-based spread offenses around the Big Ten could be linked to the league's decreased output of NFL quarterbacks, I don't think it can explain the gradual drop in elite talent. Look at programs like Oregon, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, West Virginia and the Florida teams that Urban Meyer coached. They don't have trouble producing NFL talent despite running primarily a spread offense. Plenty of wide receivers from spread offenses make it to the NFL -- but few from the Big Ten. Plenty of cornerbacks who face spread offenses on a regular basis end up as high NFL draft picks -- but few from the Big Ten. It's also important to note that one of the Big Ten's most successful NFL quarterbacks, former Purdue star Drew Brees, played in a spread system with the Boilermakers. I just don't think you can chalk up the drop in draftees to the popularity of the spread around the Big Ten. It's too simplistic.


Ry from Greensburg, Pa., writes: How does ABC/ESPN consider 5 PM a prime-time game? Prime-time on the East Coast is between 7 and 9 PM. A 5 PM kickoff is only good for the fans that drive home after the game and the bars that will see a jubilant or depressed crowd. I am not a fan of these games and I would rather see a 3:30 PM kickoff than a 5 PM kickoff. I just do not understand how 5 PM is a "cool" time for a marquee match-up. I think 5 PM should be for games that are to "hold you over" for the big time games... ie: when the 3:30 PM game is at halftime, one can watch the 5 PM game and when the 3:30 PM game ends, one can watch the end of the 5 PM game until the 7:30 PM or 8 PM games start. It is an awkward time and I am not sure how it is a "Prime-Time" reward time slot.

Adam Rittenberg: Ry, maybe it's the former newspaper beat writer in me (late deadlines are torture), but I disagree about the 5 p.m. kickoffs. I'm not sure exactly when a game becomes prime time in the eyes of TV, but 5 p.m. is usually the start of the prime-time window. I wouldn't have had any issue with the Michigan-Penn State game kicking off at 8 p.m., but I still think the game has a big-time feel to it at 5 p.m. Sometimes 8 p.m. kickoffs can get lost in the shuffle depending on what's happening around the country, but a 5 p.m. game is staggered enough that it will get its own little window, especially in the second half before the 8 p.m. games really get going. The Big Ten has been so set in its ways in terms of start times -- noon ET, 3:30 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. ET -- not just for the regular season but for bowl games. Shaking it up with a 5 p.m. start is fine in my book, and I don't think it's a demotion. Also, it seems a lot easier for more fans (older folks, folks with families) to get to a 5 p.m. game in a fairly remote location like State College than an 8 p.m. game, when they'll be returning home at a very late hour.


Andrew from Omaha writes: Even with limited game experience, I had no doubt a team would take a mid-to-late round chance on a dude with a 69.0 yds/carry average. Jack Hoffman's absence from the draft was shocking. Any word on a free agent deal for the playmaker?

Adam Rittenberg: I agree wholeheartedly, Andrew, although Jack did get a face-to-face with one of the Chiefs -- the Commander-in-chief, that is -- two days after the draft. The kid had a pretty good month, I'd say. And when the 2027 draft rolls around, I'll expect to hear his name called.
What a month for Jack Hoffman.

[+] EnlargeJack Hoffman and President Obama
Official White House Photo by Pete SouzaBarack Obama greets Jack Hoffman who gained national attention after scoring a TD in Nebraska's spring game. Hoffman is battling pediatric brain cancer.
The 7-year-old cancer patient and Nebraska Cornhusker super fan began April by providing the coolest/most inspirational/most memorable play of a spring game in college football history, when he ran 69 yards for a touchdown in the Red-White Game at Memorial Stadium. Hoffman's run quickly became the top play on "SportsCenter" and gained attention far beyond the sporting world. His incredible story of enduring two surgeries for a brain tumor, already known by many Nebraska fans, quickly spread around the country.

Hoffman's April ended with a visit to the White House, where he met President Obama.

"I thought it was awesome," Hoffman told the Associated Press.

He went to Washington with his parents and former Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, Hoffman's favorite player. Hoffman wore Burkhead's No. 22 jersey in the Oval Office.

Obama and Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer had been talking about Hoffman after the President watched Hoffman's run during the spring game. Obama told Fischer that Hoffman should come visit at the White House.

From the AP:
Jack met first with Obama, and then he introduced the president to parents Andy and Bri, little sisters Ava and Reese, and Burkhead. Obama spoke briefly to Burkhead about his NFL prospects and thanked him for all he has done for Jack. The Hoffmans, in turn, thanked Obama for meeting with them.

"It was just such a great opportunity for us to visit him and raise national awareness for pediatric brain cancer," Andy said. "He talked about his commitment to research and science."

It looks like #TeamJack has another new member, a very famous one.

The Hoffmans are scheduled to return home today. The calendar flips to May on Wednesday. For little Jack, it'll be tough to top April.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
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If you haven't done so already, check out the Michigan State spring practice live blog as the spring bus tour rolls through East Lansing.

To the links ...

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
12:00
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Jaime Lannister had no hand in putting together these links:
Every Legends Division head coach, along with a player from each of the six teams, participated in a Big Ten spring teleconference with the media on Wednesday.

Here are some notes and updates from those teams:

IOWA
  • After six practices, the Hawkeyes' three-man quarterback race between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard is "about where we expected," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. All three are receiving equal reps, and all are working with the first-, second- and third-team offenses. "At this point, it's a jump ball for all three guys," Ferentz said.
  • Accountability is a big theme this spring at Iowa after the team endured its worst season (4-8) in more than a decade. Ferentz said he can't bury his head in the sand after a season like last year's. "We have to do a better job in all areas and that starts with me," he said. Linebacker James Morris was candid about the legacy he'd like to leave at Iowa. "The mark we've left so far, if we're being completely honest, isn't a particularly good one," Morris said. "I'm not happy about it, but I'm excited we have one more opportunity to change things."
  • Ferentz said Sunday's open practice in West Des Moines gives Iowa a chance to say thanks to its fans in the central and western parts of the state. Hawkeyes players enjoy the chance to perform in front of their fans. "It's something to break the monotony of spring ball," Morris said. "This will be something different."
  • Morris wants to see Iowa's defense translate its red-zone effectiveness -- the Hawkeyes allowed only 15 touchdowns on 48 red-zone chances in 2012 and held opponents scoreless 10 times -- to the rest of the field. Better communication also is a focal point for the defense this spring.
MICHIGAN
  • Head coach Brady Hoke said the team will explore the possibility of adding a junior-college quarterback or a graduate transfer from an FBS program to address the position. Russell Bellomy, the projected backup, is scheduled for ACL surgery May 1 and could miss the entire season. Walk-on Brian Cleary is working as the No. 2 quarterback this spring behind Devin Gardner, and heralded recruit Shane Morris arrives in the summer. Asked generally about redshirting players, Hoke didn't sound as if he'd hesitate to use a player like Morris. "No matter if they're fifth-year seniors or true freshmen, the best players have to play," he said. "If you don't do your justice on playing the best players, you're going to cheat the kids on this team."
  • Both Hoke and left tackle Taylor Lewan praised the young players competing for the three vacant starting spots on the interior offensive line. Hoke has seen "a lot of progress" with players like Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis, Chris Bryant, Blake Bars and Joey Burzynski. Lewan sees more "maulers" along Michigan's line as the unit aims to be more physically dominant this season in a pro-set scheme.
  • Lewan said the experience of playing for Michigan and the opportunity to win a Big Ten championship led him to decide to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft, where he likely would have been a first-round pick. He said his decision was his own, and that those who haven't played for Michigan can't truly understand the lure of remaining there. "There's no better decision I could have made than coming back to the University of Michigan," he said.
  • Lewan said defensive end Frank Clark could be on the All-Big Ten radar by the end of the season, while Hoke singled out Chris Wormley for having a strong spring with the D-line. Hoke said running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is progressing well as he recovers from leg surgery.
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Replacing Le'Veon Bell at running back remains a work in progress. While Nick Hill, Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins are working there this spring, head coach Mark Dantonio said players from other positions will "slide in and out" at running back to see how they handle the role. The Spartans are also bringing in three tailbacks this summer. "That's obviously a position of concern for us," Dantonio said. "We've got to find a guy you can give the ball to 250 times. I don't know if we have that yet. But that's part of who we are, and we're going to find him."
  • Dantonio said placekicker Kevin Cronin has had an excellent spring and is the No. 1 on the depth chart now. But recruit Michael Geiger will come in this summer and push Cronin for the right to succeed the departed Dan Conroy.
  • Spartans fans always seem to be curious about wideout and former Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett. Here's what Dantonio had to say about him today: "He's a guy who runs great routes but needs to catch ball a little more consistently and be more physical at the point of attack. ... He's a guy who I think will play next year and will add to our offense once he starts moving in a more consistent basis. But I think he's taken big steps this spring, and you can see that coming."
  • Linebacker Max Bullough said going 7-6 last year after two 11-win seasons "put things in perspective for us. We hadn't lost many games the previous two years. Now we have that knowledge and experience that it could happen to us. ... We use that as motivation to move forward."
MINNESOTA
  • Head coach Jerry Kill said injured offensive tackle Ed Olson (ankle) and defensive lineman Roland Johnson (knee) are both progressing well, and he expects both to be ready to go for fall camp.
  • Kill had high praise for safety Brock Vereen, saying he could follow his brother, Shane, into the NFL. "He's gotten better and better since we've been here, and he's turned into a great football player in our minds. We look for him to have a very productive year."
  • Vereen said the team is practicing with a new sense of confidence. "We're finally comfortable with coach Kill's system. We know what they expect from us. And that just makes it a lot easier to show up every day and do what we need to do."
  • Vereen on how far away the Gophers are from contending in the Legends Division: "We are closer than a lot of people think. If you look back to last season, a lot of those games we lost were in the fourth quarter. A loss is a loss, but at the same time, we were in a lot of those games. It's about pushing through, which is something we learned the hard way, but we still learned. ... I think we're going to shock some people this year."
NEBRASKA

  • Linebacker David Santos (arm) will miss a portion of summer workouts but will be back before the Huskers open preseason camp, head coach Bo Pelini said. Defensive linemen Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen, who missed Saturday's spring game, aren't seriously injured and will be fine for workouts and camp.
  • Although Nebraska's defense had its ups and downs this spring, redshirt freshman linebacker Jared Afalava stood out. Pelini expects a lot of production this fall from Afalava, who is "probably further ahead of where I thought he'd be." Pelini also praised senior defensive end Jason Ankrah, saying the coaches gave him more freedom to move around this spring. "Hopefully, his best year is yet to come," Pelini said.
  • Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez expects Nebraska to throw the ball "a lot more" this season, mainly because of the team's strength at wide receiver with Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and others. Martinez said expectations are extremely high for the offense, and that coordinator Tim Beck is more comfortable calling plays. "I'd rather throw the ball 30 times a game … get the football to those guys and let them do their thing," Martinez said. Pelini has no argument, saying "the best is yet to come" with Martinez at quarterback.
  • Martinez said the Memorial Stadium crowd was about as loud as he's ever heard it when 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman ran for a 69-yard touchdown in Saturday's spring game.

NORTHWESTERN
  • The Wildcats won't hold a traditional spring game this year but just a normal practice session. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald said 13 players had surgeries after the season, and the team was limited to eight healthy offensive linemen this spring. "We've had to tweak things, so that's why we've kept the same routine throughout all 15 of our practices," he said.
  • Some of the lesser-known Northwestern players who have had good springs, Fitzgerald said, included backup quarterback Zack Oliver, receiver Mike Jensen, superbacks Mark Szott and Jack Schwaba and defensive lineman C.J. Robbins. Fitzgerald said he's been "very, very impressed" by Robbins, who has been injured the past two years.
  • A question on offering prospects early prompted this response from Fitzgerald: "I have just a fundamental issue with offering a kid a scholarship that doesn't have a driver's license. Just barely shaving. And because he looks good in shorts doesn't mean he's going to be a great Big Ten football player. The glorification of these kids at a young age is unfair to them. It's putting unfair and unrealistic expectations on them."
  • Defensive end Tyler Scott, who Fitzgerald said is "poised to take the next step," said he's worked hard on becoming a more vocal leader this year and on his pass-rushing techniques. "I'm trying to bring more tools to that aspect of the defense," he said.

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