Big Ten: Jamal Turner

Summer is a time in college football where the only news is usually bad news. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

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/suspended/encounter Sharknado. 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. The series wraps up Wednesday with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRandy Gregory arrived in the Big Ten with a bang, leading the league in sacks.
Randy Gregory, DE, junior

This selection won't surprise Nebraska fans who fell in love with Gregory during his first season with Big Red. Few defenders have to be accounted for on every play, but Gregory does after leading the Big Ten in sacks (10.5) and tying for second in tackles for loss (17.5). Gregory recorded nine sacks in league games, including three in a road win against Michigan. He led the team with 18 quarterback hurries and recorded a pick-six, a fumble forced and a fumble recovered. Nebraska's defensive end depth isn't great as Avery Moss serves a year-long suspension, and while Greg McMullen looks promising, Gregory undoubtedly is the linchpin. Nebraska's defense needs No. 44 on the field to continue its progress from late last season.

Kenny Bell, WR, senior

Bell no longer has the Big Ten's most indispensable 'fro, but his value remains high for the Huskers. He's one of the nation's most experienced wide receivers with 134 career receptions for 1,901 yards and 15 touchdowns. Although his yards numbers went down from 2012 to 2013, his receptions total went up. Nebraska loses Quincy Enunwa and likely will rely more on Bell, who not only gives quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. a proven target but provides excellent perimeter blocking skills for Ameer Abdullah and the run game. Nebraska is still waiting for Jamal Turner to blossom. Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore are young and Taariq Allen hasn't been in a featured role. Bell contributes in so many ways and would be missed if he's not on the field this fall.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

May, 19, 2014
May 19
5:00
PM ET
I'm back from my Italian adventure (10 days, nine cities and about 25 extra pounds). Let's catch up, shall we?

Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: Brian, what are you looking forward to the most this coming season? Seeing a team coached by James Franklin? Seeing Maryland and Rutgers play their first games in the B1G? Seeing more night games at Michigan? Personally, I can't wait to see Maryland's games in the B1G. The eastward expansion should play havoc on my Saturday TV scheduling, but bring it on!

Brian Bennett: From a big-picture perspective, what I'm most excited about is the new playoff system, and in particular the semifinals on New Year's Day. That could be one of the best days in college football history. From, um, a B1G-picture perspective, I'm really interested in how Maryland and Rutgers fit into the league, how Franklin's Penn State debut will go and how the new division alignment shakes out. But I'm probably most excited about an upgraded nonconference schedule that includes games like Michigan State-Oregon, Wisconsin-LSU and Ohio State-Virginia Tech. There's nothing like high-profile out-of-league games early on to get a read on just how strong the Big Ten might be in 2014.


Grant from San Francisco writes: Hey, Brian. As a lifelong Spartan fan, I am becoming increasingly weary of all the unbridled optimism surrounding the program this coming season. I have experienced this before and know just how fast the wheels can come off. You guys spent some time with the team, so maybe you can provide some insight. With a huge match-up in Week 2 against Oregon, what exactly is Mark Dantonio doing now that the team is starting at the top with everything to lose, rather than starting unranked with nothing to lose? Quotes keep coming out about "we are hungry" ... "We are tired of talking about last year" ... but how exactly are they preventing complacency?

Brian Bennett: Grant, I wrote about this a lot in a piece last month following a visit to East Lansing. Dantonio started warning about complacency in the first team meeting back home after the Rose Bowl, and he pushed the start of spring practice back to late March so he could have the players go through grueling, early-morning winter conditioning longer. That's one way to deflate big heads. I also thought it was an encouraging sign that Michigan State players like Connor Cook told me they were sick of talking about the Rose Bowl and 2013 this offseason and that they wanted to create their own legacy. Add in the fight for playing time at several defensive positions and along the offensive line and other spots, and there is reason to believe this team won't rest on its '13 accomplishments. You never really know. But that Week 2 showdown against the Ducks on the road should be enough to get these Spartans focused on the here and now, or else they're going to learn that lesson the hard way.


Art from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I wanted to get your thoughts on James Franklin's recruiting approach of dominating the state (PA) and Northeast vs. Urban Meyer's approach of recruiting the best players in the country. My feeling is that Coach Franklin has the better long term approach to build a program and wish Meyer would take an approach of getting the best players in Ohio first and then meet other needs from the rest of the country. My thinking is that if you don't put Ohio first, you will start to turn Ohio kids and high school coaches off to the program. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: Meyer does collect top talent from Ohio -- he signed nine players from the Buckeye State in the 2014 class, for example -- but he doesn't just rely on homegrown players. Ohio State wants to compete for national titles, and the way to do that is to get the best players, no matter where they're from. Fact is, Big Ten country doesn't produce as many elite athletes as it once did, and many of those guys are in the South, in Texas and California. Any Big Ten program with legitimate national title aspirations has to recruit outside its region, as well as protecting its own backyard.


Husker from Tucson, AZ, writes: While considering the football playoffs, a thought came to mind. A team which gets a tough loss early in the season but then wins out gets hurt in the rankings (case in point: MSU and the Notre Dame game). This essentially eliminated them from the championship game but they probably would have gotten into the playoffs in the new system. However, it's conceivable to me that there will be teams like this in the future who miss out on even the playoffs. It would be nice if we could somehow reduce the emphasis on numbers like 11-1 vs. 12-0 especially when that one loss comes early in a season before players have really had a chance to develop (Connor Cook to name one for MSU). Do you think we could ever see college football have games "pre-preseason" which have no effect on teams' records? I worry that if this was the case we would get what are essentially spring games as teams rest their best players and go at half-speed, but it might be nice to consider. Any thoughts on this?

Brian Bennett: I firmly believe that one of the absolute best things about college football is the supreme importance of the regular season. Every week, in essence, becomes a playoff. Having a four-team playoff at the end will dilute that slightly but not enough, in my opinion, to hurt the sport. So I'm against any idea that would make games in any part of the season lose their significance.

Michigan State's problem last year was not so much its loss at Notre Dame but the fact that it really didn't play another marquee game until the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. That's why upgraded schedules for the league are so important. A loss (or possibly even two, in some years) will be much easier to forgive if a team has played a grueling schedule and collected impressive wins throughout. I do hope the selection committee pays particular attention to schedule strength and does not get caught up on picking teams who might have simply coasted to a 12- or 11-win season. The in-season polls that the committee will release seem problematic to me, but everything they have said so far indicates they will judge teams on the quality of their résumés.


Luke from Ord, Neb., writes: Brian, first I hope that your vacation is going well for you. I wanted your thoughts on how much will Nebraska's WRs benefit with a quarterback that will be able to deliver the ball with more accuracy and consistency than the past 3.5 years. In my opinion Quincy Enunwa was hurt in draft status because he didn't have QB that could consistently get him the ball in stride and let him move. I think guys like Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner can do wonders if they can get a quarterback with short and intermediate passing accuracy.

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Luke. It was a dream trip, and I highly recommend it. As for Nebraska, I've thought for a while that guys like Bell and Turner could do even more with a consistent passing game. Taylor Martinez was actually pretty solid in 2012, throwing for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns, though his 62 percent completion rate wasn't spectacular. It's no coincidence that Bell had by far his best season in 2012. There was too much turnover and inexperience under center last year for Nebraska once Martinez got injured. Tommy Armstrong simply has to improve on his 51.9 percent completion rate from a year ago, and he's got the playmakers to make big things happen.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska has completed three practices -- 20 percent of its spring workload -- with five sessions set for the next week before a weeklong break. Yes, it goes fast at this time of year.

Already, storylines are taking shape. Here are a few of the most interesting topics from the opening week:
    [+] EnlargeNebraska
    Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsTommy Armstrong Jr. has seized control of the quarterbacks group and taken the most reps with the first team so far this spring.
  • Tommy Armstrong Jr. is taking charge. Perhaps even more than expected, Armstrong has embraced his new role as leader of the quarterbacks. Nebraska coaches have made it clear in practice that he’s the man. Armstrong receives the majority of repetitions with the No. 1 offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is a clear No. 2, and the experiment with Jamal Turner largely fizzled out after two practices. Sure, Turner may still factor in packages next fall, but Armstrong looks like the man for the job to direct this offense after starting eight games a redshirt freshman.

  • Look everywhere for leadership. Sure, teammates look to seniors like Ameer Abdullah, Jake Cotton, Kenny Bell and Corey Cooper. Josh Mitchell has emerged in the secondary. The defensive linemen watch Randy Gregory. Michael Rose, though just a sophomore, is a natural as quarterback of the defense. But key figures on the practice field come from all backgrounds. For example, senior linebacker Trevor Roach and junior receiver Sam Burtch, both of whom came to Nebraska as walk-ons, show up often in practice as two of the Huskers’ hardest workers. Teammates notice them too. Their work ethic makes a difference.

  • As advertised at linebacker. As soon as the full pads came out on Wednesday, the intensity increased. And Nebraska’s linebackers made their presence known. Tackling was not on the agenda, but that didn’t stop senior Zaire Anderson from delivering a few big hits. Anderson looks ready to make the most of his final season. Rose and David Santos have grown comfortable in their roles, and Josh Banderas has settled into a versatile spot. Coach Bo Pelini said the linebackers, as a group, have progressed to “another galaxy” from a year ago. Just wait until redshirt freshmen Courtney Love and Marcus Newby settle into roles.

  • Keep an eye of the young safeties. Even without Cooper, Nebraska’s top tackler last season who’s fighting a foot injury, the duo in the middle of the secondary rates as one of the most promising on the field. Sophomores Nathan Gerry and LeRoy Alexander have worked with the top defense. Both showed flashes a year ago and bring excellent athleticism. Behind them, though, redshirt freshmen Drake Martinez and D.J. Singleton appear just as talented. If new secondary coach Charlton Warren harnesses the potential of these safeties, he may have a special group on his hands by the end of 2014.

  • A crowded backfield. The nation’s top returning rusher doesn’t need to fear for his starting spot. In fact, Abdullah’s prowess is something to behold. But the guys behind him aren’t getting complacent. Top backup Imani Cross, who scored a team-high 10 touchdowns last season, has added weight to more resemble his shape as a freshman two years ago. Terrell Newby looks ready to assume a more important job, particularly as a pass catcher. And the new guy to the mix, redshirt freshman Adam Taylor, might possess the best mix of physical attributes of any back in the group. The Huskers want to get creative with personnel groupings, so don’t be surprised to see more of the two-back sets next seasons.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
12:00
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Spring batted an eyelash toward Chicago on Monday. Wednesday: more snow. That Mother Nature, such a tease.
We've reached October in our 2014 ultimate Big Ten road trip. Keep in mind this is basically pure fantasy because of budget limitations (but if you guys want to contribute to a Kickstarter to get us out to the biggest games every week, well, we wouldn't be opposed).

For those just joining in, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the 2014 season. We aren't tied down by a travel budget or nagging editors. If we want to attend a game -- depending on matchup, location, culinary offerings or any other factors -- we can go.

Here's our menu of selections for Week 6:

North Texas at Indiana
Nebraska at Michigan State
Michigan at Rutgers
Ohio State at Maryland
Purdue at Illinois
Wisconsin at Northwestern

Open date: Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State

Brian Bennett's pick: Nebraska at Michigan State

Well, this one's a no-brainer. While it might be fun to watch Big Ten newbies Maryland and Rutgers play host to the two most storied names in league history, you just can't beat Huskers-Spartans for competitive and entertainment purposes. They are the only two teams to ever represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten title game, and now they'll be playing a cross-division, East-West matchup that could have a huge impact on who gets to Indianapolis this December.

This has been a pretty good series in the last three years, with Nebraska unexpectedly dominating the Spartans at home in 2011, the Huskers pulling off a miracle comeback in East Lansing in 2012 and Michigan State exacting revenge in Lincoln last year in a wild, turnover-filled game. I'd pay money just to watch Randy Gregory and Shilique Calhoun on the same field. Then you've got Ameer Abdullah and Jeremy Langford at tailback, two of the more interesting young quarterbacks in the league in Connor Cook and Tommy Armstrong Jr. and what could be two of the conference's best defenses, if Nebraska's young talent continues to develop.

I didn't have to think twice about this one. Adam, should I save a spot for you at Crunchy's, or will you be checking out one of those titanic tilts in Bloomington or Champaign?

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska at Michigan State

Crunchy's? Yes, please. And before that, we can stop by The Peanut Barrel, where sources tell me colleague Jesse Palmer once ordered the rod-ay-o burger and was rightly panned. I considered staying home for Wisconsin-Northwestern, especially because my son turns 1 a few days later, but I'll be back in plenty of time for a birthday he certainly won't remember.

Although this game loses a bit of luster because it's no longer within the Legends Division (tear), the teams and the storylines make up for it. I've never seen a Michigan State-Nebraska contest and don't want to miss a key game for both squads. You've got two potential All-America candidates at defensive end in Calhoun and Gregory. Abdullah faces a new-look defensive front seven, but one that should still be pretty solid despite departures at both defensive tackle and linebacker. Nebraska has given Michigan State's defense some trouble in recent years, and the Huskers will feature a dual-threat quarterback, whether it's Armstrong, Johnny Stanton or wide receiver Jamal Turner, who has been taking snaps at QB this spring. Cook and the Big Ten's most improved receiver corps take aim at a Nebraska secondary trying to reload after losing two all-conference cornerbacks (Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans).

The game could be a preview of the Big Ten championship, and I've yet to see Michigan State play in this series. There's something about Nebraska that brings us together, Bennett. Meet you in Sparta.

Road trip itinerary

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska
Week 5: Brian at Cincinnati-Ohio State, Adam at Minnesota-Michigan
Nine Big Ten programs will feature true quarterback competitions this spring, and we're taking a closer look at the candidates, the circumstances and the stakes of each race. Today's installment: Nebraska.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Competition means something different to everyone.

It’s a battle for some; for others, a necessity.

For Tommy Armstrong Jr., competition is a way of life. He embraced it last season when many might have withered, grasping the top quarterback job at Nebraska as a redshirt freshman in place of injured, career-long starter Taylor Martinez.

Armstrong fought consistency but came out on top, winning his final start against Georgia in the Gator Bowl.

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesWith eight starts under his belt, Tommy Armstrong Jr. is intent on being Nebraska's starting quarterback in 2014.
And that’s when Kenny Bell was sure about Armstrong.

“You know guys who have that fire inside,” said Bell, a rising senior and the Huskers’ top wide receiver.

Notably, Bell points to I-back Ameer Abdullah, the top returning rusher nationally.

“In my mind, he’s the best running back in the country,” Bell said. “Tommy has that same kind of fire.

“I love Tommy. I’m all in with Tommy. I’ve got nothing but faith in the kid. What he showed me against Georgia, he might not make every perfect read or every perfect play, but the kid will compete. That’s what I care about. That’s most important to me -- guys who genuinely care about this team and compete with everything they have. That’s what I love and respect about Tommy.”

Spring practice began at Nebraska on Saturday with an open quarterback competition among Armstrong, redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton, senior wide-receiver convert Jamal Turner and walk-on sophomore Ryker Fyfe.

Seventh-year coach Bo Pelini said he doesn’t classify the sophomore Armstrong, who started eight games and threw for 966 yards in 2013, in the same category as returners such as Bell or Abdullah.

Realistically, though, Armstrong owns the inside track to start next fall. And he doesn’t plan to give an inch.

“Everything’s a competition,” Armstrong said on Monday after the Huskers’ second of 15 practices this spring. “Anything can happen. Last year, my number was called. This year, I’m the No. 1 guy right now, and I just want to keep that.”

The confident Texan completed 51.9 percent of his throws (68 of 131) and threw nine touchdowns. He also tossed eight interceptions and lost two fumbles.

Freshmen stuff, Armstrong said.

He often repeated mistakes within a game.

“It was a domino effect,” he said.

No more. Armstrong says he is smarter and more in control. He’s poised to serve as a leader of the quarterbacks despite his tenuous position among the group.

Looking back, he said, he wasn’t nearly as ready for last season -- just 15 months out of high school -- as he thought at the time of his first start in September. The competition fueled him.

“Last year it was just a thing that happened,” Armstrong said. “But this year, I’m trying to work as hard as I can to become the No. 1 guy and keep that in control, become better at the game, become better at what I did last year.”

Important people back him. And not just Bell.

“He’s a very confident kid,” said Abdullah, returning for his senior season after rushing for 1,690 yards in 2013. “It doesn’t take you long to see that ... We have a lot of faith in him. I expect a lot out of Tommy.”

Abdullah described Armstrong, six months after his first start, as a “guy with influence” among the Huskers.

“We need him to be a leader,” Abdullah said. “All the guys look up to him, because, let’s face, he touches the ball every play.”

Abdullah won’t let Armstrong rest of his accomplishments. After all, he's not alone in Lincoln as an accomplished quarterback.

Stanton, a state-champion QB from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., earned co-MVP honors at the prestigious Elite 11 competition in the summer of 2012.

Stanton seems to enjoy a good competition, too. So far, like Armstrong a year ago, he’s fighting to prove himself.

Armstrong shared a close relationship last season with senior Ron Kellogg III.

It’s not like that with Stanton.

“We like competing,” Armstrong said. “That’s just how we were taught, growing up when it comes to our football, where we’re from. Texas is big-time football; California is big-time football. That’s the competitive nature of both of us.”

Turner, who came to Nebraska as a quarterback three years ago, adds another element to the mix.

“One thing I try to bring is that swag,” he said. “Everyone else can see that and play a little harder -- play with the swag that I have.”

Armstrong and Stanton directed state championship runs in their home states, as did true freshman Zack Darlington in Florida two years ago. Darlington joined the Huskers in January. Classmate A.J. Bush plans to enroll in August. He won a state title last fall in Georgia.

Clearly, Pelini likes the winning pedigree and the competition it breeds.

“I want each guy to worry about making themselves better each and every day,” he said. “That’s the key. Don’t worry about where you’re repping, who you’re repping with or anything else. Try to play efficient, winning football.

“I think they’re all guys who are athletic. They have the tools to get it done. But across the board, they’ve got a lot to learn.”

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
5:00
PM ET
I had a good time covering Arch Madness this past weekend. My astute, professional opinion: Wichita State is really, really good.

But the hoops moonlighting is over. Back to football -- and more of your emails ...

Luke from Lincoln, Neb., writes: What's your take on Jamal Turner getting reps at QB? I know he has gotten reps in previous years but less significant reps. Will anything come of it, or is it just some spring experiment?

Brian Bennett: First of all, I commend Bo Pelini for giving us media types something interesting to write/blog/debate so early in spring practice. So bravo on that. I suspect this is mostly an experimental thing. Turner is a senior, so he doesn't need a ton of spring reps at QB. But it also gives Nebraska some options, especially in some potential Wildcat alignments. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is not the runner that Taylor Martinez was, at least not yet in his career, and Ameer Abdullah gets enough carries. Turner could bring a speed element to the quarterback spot, a place where the Huskers have no experience behind Armstrong as is. If nothing else, it gives Nebraska's early-season opponents something to think about as they game plan this spring and summer.

 




Kevin from Rock Island, Ill., writes: To me, it seems the Illinois QB race will come down to Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey. If Lunt wins the job (as many expect), does Bailey stay at QB for limited sets, and as a backup, or do they use his athleticism to help fill a position of need at WR? Lunt has had injury issues in his past (why he lost his job at OSU), but Illinois is desperately in need of more playmakers.

Brian Bennett: While I understand why Illinois' coaches want to term this as an open competition, I'd frankly be very surprised if anyone other than Lunt is the team's starting quarterback. His skill set just seems to fit Bill Cubit's offense perfectly. Bailey is an interesting case. He's too good of an athlete for the Illini to keep him off the field, and Reilly O'Toole is a serviceable backup. I think receiver is a natural potential landing spot for Bailey, especially given the team's need there. But prepping him now at quarterback is still a good idea, especially with Lunt's injury history.

 




@HawkFlies via Twitter writes: Any chance there is a QB controversy in Iowa City this spring?

Brian Bennett: I doubt it. Kirk Ferentz said he will let C.J. Beathard compete with Jake Rudock for the job, and there's no question that Iowa needs better play in general from the quarterback position. But as Ferentz also said on signing day, "C.J. still has some catching up to do. Jake has really accelerated." I find it hard to believe that Ferentz will make a switch after Rudock started all 13 games last fall, unless Beathard makes great strides this spring or Rudock really falters. And given that the Hawkeyes play things pretty close to the vest, I doubt we'll see or hear much this spring that would actually lead to any sort of controversy.

 




Jeff from Whitewater, Wis., writes: In your opinion, is Wisconsin a possible darkhorse to make a BCS bowl? Outside of the LSU game, the toughest games the Badgers will have are at Iowa, at Northwestern and then home against Nebraska. If the receivers can be somewhat productive and secondary can eliminate some of their lapses, I think they can run away with the West.

Brian Bennett: The Badgers are a real long shot to make a BCS bowl this fall since BCS bowls no longer exist. What you probably mean is a contract bowl. Time to adjust our college football vocabulary. Really, the goal now has to be the College Football Playoff, though realistically Wisconsin would probably have to beat LSU and then run the table or maybe lose just once to make the four-team event (and remember for this coming season, the Rose Bowl is a national semifinal). The playoff committee will also choose teams for the other four major bowls. But I get your point. Gary Andersen's team has a great schedule in 2014, though some lingering questions about the passing game and the defense must be answered. I could easily see Wisconsin winning nine or 10 games with that schedule, and the Badgers are a major West Division threat.

 




John from Brighton, Mich., writes: I've had this argument with a friend several times. It regards the outlook of the conference over the next 10 years or so. I think projecting forward, Michigan State has overtaken Michigan as a program, and the top of the conference is going to be a battle between the Spartans and Ohio State for the next decade. Am I misguided in my view, and do you think that Michigan is going to be "back" to what it was?

Brian Bennett: Trying to project a decade in advance might make for fun arguments with your friends, but it's nearly impossible to forecast with any level of accuracy or confidence. Boom and bust cycles are just too short. Look at where Florida State and Texas were just a few shorts years ago compared to now. Michigan State is clearly riding high right now and is in better shape than Michigan. As long as Mark Hollis and Mark Dantonio are around, I expect the Spartans to remain a major factor. But will that be the case in 10 years? Who knows? Michigan has resources that only a few programs can match. Eventually that sleeping giant will come to life, whether it's under Brady Hoke or someone else. At least I think so.

 




Corey from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Speaking as a Spartan fan, I can't say UofM switching to a 3-4 is all that scary. My thinking is that they don't have the bodies to put three 300-pound linemen on the field together. Hoke and his staff have recruited for running a base 4-3 and have to stick with it. Mixing in the 3-4 is a nice change of pace possibly, but running it as their base doesn't seem like the answer to me. I'm more interested to see if more Big Ten teams don't start copying Pat Narduzzi's aggressive 4-3 zone schemes, especially since Urban Meyer is coming out and saying he wants to be more aggressive. What do you guys see happening in the near future?

Brian Bennett: Some teams have borrowed bits and pieces from the Spartans' defensive scheme, but for as successful as Narduzzi has been with it, you'd expect even more copycatting. Part of the reason is that most coaches and defensive coordinators don't have the stomach (or the personnel, for that matter) for playing as much man-to-man pass coverage as Michigan State does. As Narduzzi told me in late November, "People know what we’re doing, but they don’t know how we do it. We’re the only team in the country that does zone pressure like this. There’s a risk to it if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Defenses in the Big Ten need to be big enough up front to take on the power run game but also have enough speed to counter the proliferating spread offenses. Whether that comes out of a 4-3 or 3-4 isn't really as important as having great athletes, a consistent philosophy and experience within the system. One of the overlooked aspects of Michigan State's success was how so many guys had learned and practiced just one position in the same system for years and years. It's often not so simple as changing a scheme and expecting a quick fix.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- How’s this for a surprise on the opening day of spring football practice? Nebraska has a new quarterback.

Well, Jamal Turner is not new; the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior caught 60 passes over the past three seasons. And he has played quarterback -- in high school.

[+] EnlargeJamal Turner
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJamal Turner will workout at both receiver and quarterback this spring.
Turner shared time at QB on Saturday with several others behind Tommy Armstrong Jr. as the Huskers completed the first of 15 spring practices at their indoor practice facility.

Coach Bo Pelini said Nebraska plans “significant reps” for Turner in March and April.

Turner has tried the position in the past at Nebraska, Pelini said, but never in such an expanded role.

“This spring is a time for us to experiment and maybe take it to a different level," Pelini said. "He likes it. He thinks he’s [NFL quarterback] Russell Wilson. Jamal isn’t lacking for confidence.

“I thought he handled some things pretty well. He was further ahead than I thought he’d be. But when you play wideout, you kind of get how the offense runs.”

Turner also spent time at receiver on Saturday. He accounted for more than 10,000 yards in his high school career at Arlington (Texas) Sam Houston.

Armstrong performed well on Saturday with the top offensive unit. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton also worked at the position in addition to walk-ons Ryker Fyfe and Tyson Broekemeier. Freshman Zack Darlington, who joined the team in January, wore a green jersey to restrict contact in his first workout.

Senior I-back Ameer Abdullah said he liked the element that Turner adds.

“We’re just trying every new wrinkle we can to make this offense more dynamic,” Abdullah said.

Pelini said he was pleased with the opening day.

“I liked the tempo, the enthusiasm,” the seventh-year coach said. “Obviously, different guys are at different levels right now, as far as their knowledge, but I thought it was a good start.”

The Huskers have installed changes this spring to terminology and other logistics in an attempt to simplify aspects of the offense.

Pelini said he expected more mistakes than occurred.

“I was surprised how smooth it went,” he said. “There were very few missed assignments and alignment errors.”

Other Notes

Secondary matters: Senior safety Corey Cooper, Nebraska’s top tackler in 2013, sat out on Saturday with turf toe, Pelini said. Cooper suffered the injury last week in a conditioning drill.

“I’m not going to push Coop at this time of year,” Pelini said. “We want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Sophomores LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry, a converted linebacker, played safety with the top defense in Cooper’s absence.

Pelini said the Huskers used juniors Charles Jackson and Byerson Cockrell, a newcomer out of junior college, at nickel, the spot manned last season by versatile defender Ciante Evans. Junior Jonathan Rose performed well at cornerback opposite returning starter Josh Mitchell.

Getting bigger: All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory has made important strides in recent weeks, Pelini said, as the junior attempts to add weight.

The 6-6 Gregory, who recorded 10 ˝ sacks last season, looked especially thin in January. But Gregory is back up to about 235 pounds, the coach said.

“His offseason has only begun,” Pelini said. “He’s got a long way to go before we play a game.

“Every day is important for Randy to get bigger.”

Time to reflect: Senior receiver Kenny Bell caught 52 passes for 577 yards last season and remains on track to shatter school records in both categories.

He’s not resting on his accomplishments, though.

“I was disappointed in my year last year, for selfish reasons," Bell said. "I wanted to perform better.”

Bell’s production dropped from his sophomore season, when he caught 50 passes for 863 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns.

“I had a lot of time to self-reflect and think about it over these past three months,” he said.

Spring football is often unenjoyable, Bell said, but he’s determined to improve.

“I’m here to work, definitely. I want to win football games with my team. I want to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, and that’s win a conference championship."
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
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Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Football Recruiting, Maryland Terrapins, Jacob Pedersen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Devin Smith, Tony Jones, Tony Lippett, Corey Brown, Jeremy Gallon, Duwyce Wilson, Keith Mumphery, Justin Sinz, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Evan Spencer, Gabe Holmes, Kofi Hughes, Jared Abbrederis, Kyle Carter, Nick Stoner, Jordan Fredrick, Sam Arneson, Matt LaCosse, Ted Bolser, Steve Hull, Kenzel Doe, Christian Jones, Jon Davis, Jamal Turner, Shane Wynn, Josh Ferguson, Kenny Bell, Devin Funchess, Josiah Price, Cody Latimer, Drew Dileo, Quincy Enunwa, Stefon Diggs, Jordan Westerkamp, Aaron Burbridge, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, Jesse James, MacGarrett Kings, Austin Appleby, Michael Thomas, Adam Breneman, Tevaun Smith, Isaiah Roundtree, Isaac Fruechte, Drake Harris, Cameron Dickerson, Dominique Booth, Jalin Marshall, Jake Duzey, Danny Etling, Allen Robinson, Dan Vitale, Danny Anthrop, Martize Barr, Damond Powell, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, Robert Wheelwright, Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky, Taariq Allen, Richy Anderson, Sam Burtch, Chris Godwin, Deon Long, Garrett Dickerson, Johnnie Dixon, Saeed Blacknall, Alex Erickson, Maxx Williams, Geronimo Allison, Cethan Carter, Cameron Posey, DeAngelo Yancey, Geno Lewis, Brandon Felder, Brandon Coleman, B1G spring positions 14, Jordan Fuchs, Miles Shuler, Levern Jacobs, Nigel King, Amba Etta-Tawo, Dave Stinebaugh, Marcus Leak, Tyler Kroft, Quron Pratt, Leonte Carroo, Ruhann Peele, Carlton Agudosi, Andre Patton

Nebraska redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong will start for the third consecutive game on Saturday at Purdue in place of injured senior Taylor Martinez, Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said Thursday after the team completed its week of practice.

"Taylor is still day to day, and he is getting better," Pelini said of the school's all-time leader in total offense, who has been hobbled by turf toe on his left foot. "He is a lot better than he has been."

Martinez, the fourth-year starter, has not played since Nebraska's Sept. 14 loss to UCLA. Nebraska (4-1) is off next week. By the time it plays Oct. 26 at Minnesota, Martinez would have sat for five weeks.

Armstrong will again share time with senior Ron Kellogg III, Pelini said. Kellogg played in the first halves of Nebraska wins against South Dakota State and Illinois.

To read complete story click here.

Bye week to-do list: Nebraska

September, 25, 2013
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The bye week for Nebraska comes at an opportune time, allowing the Huskers to assess problem areas after a roller-coaster ride of a non-conference season. Additionally, the extra week benefits quarterback Taylor Martinez, who missed his first start last week because of a turf-toe injury after a streak of 32 in a row.

As the Huskers (3-1) turn their attention to Illinois and the Big Ten opener on Oct. 5, here’s a look at the internal areas on which they’re likely to focus.

[+] EnlargeShaquelle Evans
AP Photo/Nati HarnikOnly winless New Mexico State has allowed more plays of 10 yards or more than Nebraska.
1. Identify the leaders: Interesting that in the year coach Bo Pelini assigned captains months ahead of schedule and distributed Blackshirt practice jerseys before the season opener for the first time in his six seasons, the Huskers enter Big Ten play without a clearly defined core of leaders. Yes, offensive guard Spencer Long, receiver Quincy Enunwa, Martinez and cornerback Ciante Evans have all done a nice job in their own ways, but look what has happened when adversity struck. Against UCLA, no one stepped up. Against Wyoming, the clock may have saved the Huskers. Against South Dakota State, youngsters like David Santos and Randy Gregory on defense made big plays. Ameer Abdullah has the personality of a leader, but he’s still working to cut his fumbles. Look for the usual suspects to take on a bigger leadership role over the next eight games but also for some of the youngsters to assert themselves.

2. Determine a cause of the defensive woes: The poor play of Nebraska’s young defense has hindered the overall progress of the team. It impacts everything. When the defense can’t get off the field, the offensive players feel the negative energy. It permeated the stadium on Sept. 14, aiding the Bruins’ 38 unanswered points after Nebraska took a 21-3 lead. Defensively, the stats look bad. The Huskers are 106th in total yardage allowed and 109th in yards allowed per play. Only winless New Mexico State has allowed more plays of 10 yards or more than the Huskers’ 79. More than that, the defensive mindset is lacking. Pelini noticed it against UCLA and South Dakota State. Nebraska’s defense lacks a killer instinct. It leads to tentative play and missed assignments. The coach said this week he thinks his players are embarrassed. Best way to cure that is to play better.

3. Clean up the special teams, penalties and turnovers: It has been better this year, but problems still exist. Nebraska has fumbled 11 times; only Auburn, Florida and Idaho have dropped the football more often. Nebraska ranks 119th nationally in yards per opponent punt at 46.1. Some of that is a result of unlucky bounces, but the Huskers – notably Jamal Turner -- have shown a tendency to pick the wrong moments to act aggressively and passively. It has cost the Huskers field position and cost Turner his role as the top return man. On the bright side, Nebraska ranks 16th in turnover margin. Penalties continue to be a problem as the Huskers’ 28 rank as more than all but 19 teams nationally.

Nebraska season preview

August, 14, 2013
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Nebraska has averaged 9.8 wins per season under Bo Pelini, but it has also lost exactly four games in each of his five seasons. Can the Huskers break the pattern this year and deliver a long-awaited championship? Let's take a look at what to expect from Big Red:

NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

Coach: Bo Pelini (49-20, fifth season)

2012 record: 10-4 (7-1 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB Rex Burkhead, LB Will Compton, DE Eric Martin, DE Cameron Meredith, S Daimion Stafford, TE Kyler Reed, K/P Brett Maher

Key returners: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, WR Kenny Bell, OG Spencer Long, DB Ciante Evans, OT Jeremiah Sirles, DE Jason Ankrah, WR Jamal Turner

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelNebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez returns for his senior season.
Newcomer to watch: Defensive end Randy Gregory was rated by some as the top junior college defensive lineman last year. Though he did not arrive on campus until recently, Gregory could at the very least provide the Huskers with a much-needed situational pass rusher, and the 6-foot-6, 230-pound athlete has the potential to do even more than that.

Biggest games in 2013: Nebraska has it relatively easy in September and October, aside from a visit from UCLA on Sept. 14. The first three weeks of November will decide the Huskers' season and likely the Legends Division, as they open the month with Northwestern at home before going to Michigan and then hosting Michigan State.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Defense, defense, defense. The Huskers got steamrolled in losses at UCLA, at Ohio State, vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, allowing 214 points combined in those defeats. Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis have an extremely young defensive front seven and must replace both starting safeties. The coaching staff is optimistic that the defense will be much more athletic, especially on the perimeter and at linebacker, and that that improved speed will make up for some youthful mistakes. But there are only a handful of proven players, and the defensive line in particular must take a step forward.

Forecast: The expectation at Nebraska is that the team wins championships, and it has been a long 13 years in Lincoln without so much as a conference title.

The Huskers have come close under Pelini, and they played in the Big Ten championship game last season (though saying they actually competed in that game -- a 70-31 Wisconsin whitewash -- might be too kind). They will be one of the top contenders again in the Legends Division this year, but they'll need a young defense to rise up if they're going to clear that last hurdle.

The good news is that Pelini doesn't need his defense to be a top-10 national unit. That's because the offense, which averaged 34.8 points per game and led the Big Ten in total yards in 2012, returns most of its key pieces, including senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, 1,100-yard back Ameer Abdullah, a deep receiving corps led by Kenny Bell and an experienced offensive line captained by All-American guard Spencer Long. Turnovers have been a problem for Martinez and the offense as a whole, but ball security was an area they emphasized heavily in the spring.

"I wouldn't trade our offense for anybody's," Pelini said at Big Ten media days. "I really like what we're doing."

With that high-powered attack, the Huskers just need their defense to play respectably, especially in the big games away from home where things have been very shaky the past two years. Luckily, Nebraska gets its first five games at home, plus two byes in the first eight weeks of the season. That should help young players, like linebackers David Santos and Jared Afalava and defensive linemen Avery Moss, Aaron Curry and Greg McMullen, gain some early confidence.

That schedule should allow the Huskers to come roaring out of the gate. If they can handle UCLA at home, the team has a great chance of being 7-0 by the time that key November stretch arrives. Pelini's team should once again be right in the thick of the conference race. Nebraska still needs to prove it can separate itself from the pack.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

We're in the process of projecting the Big Ten's statistical leaders for the 2013 season. After forecasting the league's top rusher, today's Take Two topic is: Who will lead the Big Ten in passing this year?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten hasn't been loaded with premier passers and loses its only 3,000-yard performer from 2012 in Penn State's Matt McGloin. Although the league's next three top passers return, two of them, Indiana's Cameron Coffman and Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell, are fighting to retain their starting jobs for the season. Although there's no shortage of quarterbacks with starting experience or significant playing time around the league, few have shown the ability to consistently put up big passing totals.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Taylor Martinez passed for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
My pick comes down to three quarterbacks: Michigan's Devin Gardner, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. If I knew Indiana's or Penn State's starting quarterback, I might include them in the race because of those teams' strength at wide receiver and tight end. But that's too risky right now. Gardner started just five games for Michigan, but averaged 243.8 pass yards in those contests. His numbers could go up as Michigan moves away from the spread and into a pro-style system. Gardner had a strong spring, and Michigan wants to keep him in the pocket more often than not. Miller also should up bigger passing totals as he enters his second year in Ohio State's offense and should have more help at the wide receiver spot. He's such a talented runner, but the Buckeyes don't want to take too many chances with his health, and the coaches see good potential for his growth as a passer.

Gardner and Miller are solid choices, but I'm going with Martinez here. His passing numbers soared from 2011 to 2012, as he completed nearly 6 percent more passes, nearly 800 more yards and threw 10 more touchdowns. He's fully comfortable with the offense under coordinator Tim Beck and should enter the season at 100 percent, health-wise. Nebraska also returns top wide receivers Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. The Huskers need some help at tight end but have recruited well at tight end and have warmed up more and more to the pass under Beck. Martinez will finish his career with every significant Nebraska passing record, and he'll also top the Big Ten's passing yards chart as a senior.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

If I were confident Indiana would go with one quarterback all season, my pick would be the Hoosiers' starter. Don't forget that Coffman is the leading returning passer in the league (in terms of yards per game), or that IU led the conference in passing yards this season. But I suspect Kevin Wilson will end up juggling quarterbacks and using some combination of Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. Can I say my choice is Cam Roberfeld?

I guess not. So I'll go with the next best option: Michigan's Devin Gardner. As Adam mentioned, Gardner posted big passing numbers last year after taking over for Denard Robinson down the stretch, and that was without a lot of practice during the year at quarterback (he split time there and at receiver). By all accounts, Gardner has had a fantastic offseason, and Al Borges must be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of finally unleashing a true pro-style offense.

Gardner's five-game numbers last year project to more than 3,000 yards passing over a full 13-game season. I don't know if he'll get all the way there, and losing veteran receiver Roy Roundtree doesn't help. But he's still got big-play man Jeremy Gallon to target, as well as promising young receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, plus talented tight end Devin Funchess. Gardner completed 59.5 percent of his passes last year, a rate I expect to go way up with a full offseason as the starting quarterback under his belt. Michigan will look to run the ball a lot as well. But the Wolverines won't have to accommodate the talents of Robinson, and Gardner won't run as much as Nebraska's Martinez.

Plus, Michigan doesn't have any other experienced options, so Gardner will likely take just about every snap. That makes him a safe pick to lead the league in passing yards.
Brian Bennett has been projecting the Big Ten's top statistical performers in 2013, including 3,000-yard passers, 1,000-yard rushers and 1,000-yard receivers.

Now it's your turn to forecast the Big Ten's top offensive triumvirate in 2013. Which Big Ten team has the best chance of producing a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver this season? Penn State was the only Big Ten squad to record the feat in 2012, as quarterback Matt McGloin led the league in pass yards (3,266), wide receiver Allen Robinson led in receiving yards (1,013) and running back Zach Zwinak finished with an even 1,000 rush yards.

SportsNation

Which of these Big Ten teams will have the best offensive triple threat in 2013?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,247)

Here are the candidates for the Big Ten's top offensive triple threat in 2013 ...

Indiana: The Hoosiers lose just one starter from an offense that finished second in the league and 34th nationally in yards. Indiana also has multiple candidates for the milestones, whether it's Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson or Nate Sudfeld at quarterback; or Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn or Kofi Hughes at receiver. Coffman passed for 2,734 yards in 2012 after taking over for the injured Roberson, who is back from a broken leg. Latimer looks like a superstar after eclipsing 800 receiving yards as a sophomore. IU wants to be more explosive on the ground and Stephen Houston would be the best bet to reach 1,000 rush yards after finishing with 749 last season.

Michigan: Although the Wolverines lose a record-setting individual offensive performer in Denard Robinson, they could have a deeper arsenal of weapons this fall as they transition to a more traditional pro-style system. Devin Gardner averaged 243.8 pass yards as Michigan's starting quarterback for the final five games last season. If he keeps that up for an entire season, he could reach the 3,000-yard mark. The Wolverines receivers also benefited from Gardner's presence, and a guy like Jeremy Gallon could approach 1,000 receiving yards if things go well. The bigger question is running back and whether Fitzgerald Toussaint, coming off of a broken leg, or dynamic incoming freshman Derrick Green could approach 1,000 rush yards. Michigan hasn't hit all three statistical milestones in the same season since 2003.

Nebraska: Like Indiana, Nebraska returns familiar names from a powerful offense that led the Big Ten in yards and finished second in points last season. Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez enters his fourth year as the starter after making significant strides as a passer in 2012, when he passed for 2,871 yards. The Huskers also had two 1,000-yard rushers in Martinez (1,019) and Ameer Abdullah (1,137), who returns. Dynamic sophomore Imani Cross also is in the mix after averaging 5.9 yards per carry as a freshman. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver, but Kenny Bell came fairly close in 2012 (863 yards) and Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner also return.

Ohio State: Quarterback Braxton Miller is the biggest name coming back for the Buckeyes, but he's also the biggest question mark in Ohio State's quest for these offensive milestones. Ohio State shouldn't have much trouble producing a 1,000-yard rusher with Miller (1,271 rush yards in 2012) and Carlos Hyde (970) back in the fold. But Miller has to upgrade his passing to get near 3,000 yards after completing just 58.3 percent of his attempts in 2012. The Buckeyes are building more depth at receiver as Corey Brown progresses alongside big-play threat Devin Smith. Ohio State has had just four 1,000-yard receiving seasons and none since Michael Jenkins in 2002.

Penn State: The good news is Penn State achieved the milestone in 2012 and returns two of the reasons why in Robinson and Zwinak. The Lions also have other options at running back in Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, the redshirt freshman who stood out during the Blue-White Game, along with the Big Ten's best group of tight ends, led by Kyle Carter. The bad news is Penn State's quarterback will be taking his first snaps in an FBS game this season. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson passed for 2,650 yards and 26 touchdowns for College of the Sequoias in 2012, while decorated incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg threw for 2,144 yards and 24 touchdowns for Fork Union Military Academy. Whoever wins the job will have to ride the fast track to 3,000 pass yards, but Penn State's starter will be surrounded by one of the league's best pass-catching groups.

It's your turn to vote on the Big Ten's top offensive triple threat for 2013. Make yours count.
2012 record: 10-4
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first in Legends Division, lost in Big Ten championship game)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, WR Kenny Bell, OG Spencer Long, DB Ciante Evans, OT Jeremiah Sirles, DE Jason Ankrah, WR Jamal Turner

Key losses

RB Rex Burkhead, LB Will Compton, DE Eric Martin, DE Cameron Meredith, S Daimion Stafford, TE Kyler Reed, K/P Brett Maher

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ameer Abdullah* (1,137 yards)
Passing: Taylor Martinez* (2,871 yards)
Receiving: Kenny Bell* (863 yards)
Tackles: Will Compton (110)
Sacks: Eric Martin (8.5)
Interceptions: Daimion Stafford (4)

Spring answers

1. Loaded on offense: Nebraska has a great chance to rank among the top-scoring teams in the country this year. Almost everybody is back from what was an already potent attack, and senior quarterback Taylor Martinez appeared to take another step forward with a steady, mistake-avoiding spring. The Huskers might already have the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, and Jamal Turner looks poised to raise his game to another level. Starting running back Ameer Abdullah missed most of the spring with a knee injury, but that gave Imani Cross more opportunities. Cross should emerge as a strong complementary option in the backfield. Add in some other emerging weapons like wideout Alonzo Moore, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck has to feel like he has a full toy box to play with.

2. Emergency plan in place: Though Nebraska hopes that Martinez plays every meaningful snap at quarterback, the Huskers don't have to fear the worst if that doesn't happen. Backups Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg each played very well during the spring game, and Armstrong showed some nice zip on his throws. Of course, a spring game is a lot different than an actual fall Saturday. But at least Nebraska might not have to completely panic should Martinez miss any time.

3. Santos stands out: There are many questions about Nebraska's defense, which we'll get to in a minute. But linebacker David Santos isn't one of them. The sophomore proved to the coaches this spring that he's ready to step into a much larger role, and despite his youth he is becoming a leader of the green linebacker corps. Right now, he's the starting middle linebacker, though he has the speed and versatility to play on the outside as well.

Fall questions

1. Defensive front seven: Spring practice did little to calm questions about the inexperienced defensive line and linebacker crew. Defensive end Jason Ankrah was the only returning starter among the group this spring, and it showed, especially in a lackluster spring game performance. The defensive line is particularly worrisome, though the expected healthy return of tackle Thad Randle and the arrival of junior-college star Randy Gregory should help matters. The linebackers will no doubt make mistakes but the hope is that their speed erases problems. There's no doubt that the defensive front is Nebraska's No. 1 question, especially after a group of veterans couldn't prevent last year's massive breakdowns.

2. Ball security: The Huskers tried to address their 2012 turnover problems this spring by making every player in the offensive lineup do up-downs as physical punishment any time the ball hit the ground. Martinez showed good decision-making this spring in avoiding bad throws. Nebraska hopes the extra focus on ball security will help this fall, but that remains to be seen. Martinez has had a bad habit of fumbling during his career. Cutting down turnovers will be key, because the Huskers offense can often only be stopped by itself.

3. Kicking concerns: Replacing Brett Maher, who was one of the best in the Big Ten at both punting and field goals, won't be easy. The strong-legged Mauro Bondi will take over place-kicking and hopes to continue in the tradition set by Maher and Alex Henery. But he'll have to prove it when the lights come on. Nebraska also struggled on kickoff returns down the stretch last year. With the defense still a question mark, the Huskers need to make sure they're rock solid on special teams.

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