Big Ten: newcomers watch 022609
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The spring practice primer continues today with five newcomers to watch as Big Ten teams return to the field next month.
All five of these men could play critical roles come September.
Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier -- The true freshman from San Diego, who enrolled early, is considered the frontrunner for the starting job after incumbent Steven Threet transferred earlier this month. Forcier boasts the skill set to run Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. If he catches on quickly this spring, he'll likely be the man to beat when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives in the summer.
Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol -- Nichol sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma and will begin competing this spring for the starting job alongside Kirk Cousins. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Nichol ran Michigan State's scout team last year and fits the Drew Stanton-like mold as an adept runner as well as a passer. Cousins enters the spring with a slight edge after backing up Brian Hoyer last year, but Nichol isn't too far behind.
Ohio State guard Justin Boren -- He's hardly a newcomer to the Big Ten, but the news-making transfer from Michigan hits the practice field this spring seeking a starting job. The 6-3, 320-pound Boren, who started all 13 games for Michigan in 2007, may very well emerge as Ohio State's best offensive lineman this spring. He could cement himself as a starter on a line that underperformed last fall.
Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips -- A heralded recruit from Tennessee, Phillips joins a wide-open competition under center after redshirting last season. Named Wisconsin's offensive scout team player of the year in 2008, the strong-armed Phillips could be the long-term answer at quarterback that the Badgers sorely need. He'll compete alongside incumbent Dustin Sherer, Scott Tolzien, James Stallons and true freshman Jon Budmayr, another key newcomer.
Minnesota tackle Jeff Wills -- As the Gophers resurrect the power run game this spring, Wills should play a key role on a line that struggled for much of last season. Coming from the same junior college that produced Bryant McKinnie, Wills has excellent size (6-7, 350) and will compete for a starting position right away. "He may be one of the biggest humans I've ever been around," head coach Tim Brewster said of Wills.