- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Spring practice is in the books around the Big Ten, and before we take an in-depth look at the last seven weeks, it's time for a new installment of the power rankings. I know you missed them.
There's still clear separation at the top of the Big Ten with Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. Same goes for the bottom of the league with Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, although those three are about even. The middle of the conference, not surprisingly, is a bit muddled. There's not much movement from the last rundown, but a few things I saw this spring prompted changes.
1. Ohio State: It was business as usual this spring for the Buckeyes, who are used to lofty expectations and boast experience on both sides of the ball. The offense rebounded nicely in the spring game after setting off alarm bells in the jersey scrimmage. Cameron Heyward leads a talented defense that found some answers along the line and at linebacker.
2. Iowa: Aside from a bunch of banged-up running backs, Iowa had a very solid spring. A very good defensive line got better, players stepped up at linebacker, quarterback Ricky Stanzi worked on his interceptions and the offensive line saw some separation occur. Like Ohio State, Iowa has veterans who can handle the high expectations this fall.
3. Wisconsin: Not surprisingly, spring ball seemed quiet in Madison, as Wisconsin returned plenty of starters on both sides of the ball. A knee injury to backup quarterback Curt Phillips was the big negative, while the defensive line made strides and the secondary finished strong. Injuries prevented the offensive line from truly coming together.
T-4 Michigan State: The Spartans move into a tie with Penn State after a very solid spring. Quarterback Kirk Cousins made strides and should have a ton of weapons at his disposal this fall. A greater emphasis on the 3-4 defense seems to suit Greg Jones and his teammates. Offensive line, secondary and kicker are the big question marks entering the fall.
T-4 Penn State: The Blue-White Game set off alarm bells for many folks, as quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin struggled behind a shuffled offensive line. But I still give Penn State the benefit of the doubt. The Lions always will be very good on defense, and if they can move the ball with running back Evan Royster, they'll buy some time for a young quarterback to get settled.
6. Northwestern: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald called this the healthiest spring his team has gone through, a good sign after a rough season on the injury front in 2009. Quarterback Dan Persa embraced a leadership role, and the defensive front seven turned in a solid spring. Running back and the secondary are the big unknowns.
7. Michigan: A pivotal season for the Maize and Blue could come down to Denard Robinson and an improved offensive line. If Robinson builds off a strong spring, wins the starting quarterback job and gets some room to roam, Michigan should score plenty of points this fall. There's still a lot of work to do on defense and especially in the kicking game.
8. Purdue: The injury bug hit Purdue very hard this spring, as the Boilers practiced without 20 players and 10 starters during one stretch and had to postpone two practices because of all the health issues. Running back Ralph Bolden's torn ACL was the Big Ten's most significant spring setback, though Purdue is holding out hope that he can return this fall. Quarterback Robert Marve was a big bright spot for the Boilers this spring.
9. Minnesota: Quarterback Adam Weber answered the challenge this spring and likely will retain his job as the starter. Minnesota also saw growth from the offensive line, and new coordinator Jeff Horton and his simplified scheme clicked well with the players. The Gophers had some setbacks on defense, including safety Kim Royston's broken leg, and still have to replace replace a whopping nine starters.
10. Illinois: The Illini still have a long way to go, but players responded well to new coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning this spring. Illinois has enough talent at the skill positions, and it built some depth along the defensive line during spring ball. The young quarterbacks had their ups and downs, but Nathan Scheelhaase looked impressive for most of the session.
11. Indiana: This isn't so much a knock against the Hoosiers as it is a wait-and-see approach, especially regarding the defense. Indiana will pass the football very well this fall, but two things still concern me about this team: its struggles with the run game, and whether a chronically poor defense can replace key contributors like Jammie Kirlew and Matt Mayberry. If the Hoosiers can meet those two challenges, they should surprise a lot of folks this fall.