Big Ten: Reggie Spearman

Last week, we presented a poll on the Big Ten players facing the most pressure in 2014. But football, of course, is a team sport. So what about the league units that will be facing the most pressure this fall?

There's little doubt that the No. 1 unit under the gun is Michigan's offensive line. That group was not good last year, to put it kindly, allowing 36 sacks and paving the way for a paltry 3.3 yards per rush. And that was before the two best players on the line, tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, got drafted into the NFL.

Virtually every offseason discussion about whether the Wolverines can improve in 2014 begins with the offensive line concerns. There is an inordinate amount of pressure for players like Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Jack Miller to improve. Michigan had a true freshman early enrollee, Mason Cole, taking first-team snaps at left tackle this spring. The experience level will increase with the return of Erik Magnuson, who missed the spring with a shoulder injury, and Graham Glasgow, who was suspended for part of the spring and for the opener against Appalachian State after being arrested. But there are hardly any proven graybeards around.

[+] EnlargeKyle Bosch
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIKyle Bosch and the Michigan offensive line are one of the units that need to improve this season.
"A lot of it was youth," head coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com this spring about the problems on the line last year. "We've got to make sure we're doing everything we can do to accelerate their development, to put them in positions where they can be successful."

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has simplified many of the blocking schemes, which the players embraced this offseason. Nussmeier -- who recently talked about the offensive line issues in this podcast -- wants to incorporate a downhill running game and a physical style, and that all starts up front. He's not going to turn the Wolverines' line into a carbon copy of the last team he worked for -- Alabama -- but hopefully he can make it into a respectable group.

If not, it will be a long year for Devin Gardner and probably another disappointing one for Michigan.

Here are some other Big Ten units facing pressure in 2014:

Ohio State's defensive backs: The Buckeyes' offensive line has question marks as well, but the secondary will be under the most scrutiny. The Silver Bullets got shredded in the back end down the stretch last season, and that was with future NFL draft pick Bradley Roby around for most of it. Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash from Arkansas to be his co-defensive coordinator and defensive backfield guru, and Ash will try to mold younger players like Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows into a more aggressive, playmaking conglomerate.

Penn State's receivers: Sure, the Nittany Lions' O-line has major concerns, but as @flaveydavie asked on Twitter yesterday: "Penn State lost one of its biggest offensive weapons (Allen Robinson) last year. Who do you see filling that void?" Good question. Robinson was a special player, but he often didn't have much help. With him gone, Christian Hackenberg needs someone to catch his passes, and that could be sophomore Geno Lewis or a true freshman like DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall or Chris Godwin. Penn State has a wealth of tight end options but will need to push the ball down the field to be effective.

Rutgers' secondary: The Scarlet Knights' defensive backfield was hit hard by injuries and transfers last year and got picked apart while fielding the worst pass defense, statistically speaking, in school history. Several players who got thrown into the fire last year return, along with some recruits who could play right away. A new defensive coordinator should equal a more aggressive scheme. But cornerback Ian Thomas' departure -- again -- this summer was not a good start.

Wisconsin's quarterbacks: We could have easily picked the Badgers' group of largely unknown and mostly unproven receivers. But the attention will be focused on who's under center, whether that is returning starter Joel Stave or competitor Tanner McEvoy. Wisconsin hasn't had great quarterback play since Russell Wilson left Madison, and whoever gets the job will be staring down LSU's defense in the opener.

Illinois' defensive line: No Big Ten team was worse at stopping the run last year than the Illini, who gave up a whopping 238 yards per game on the ground. The problems all started with a lack of strength and push up front. Junior college transfers Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu were brought in to help shore up the unit, while there is hope for improvement from the likes of Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell. The Illini are gunning for a return to a bowl game this year, but they'll go nowhere fast if the D-line doesn't make major strides.

Iowa's linebackers: The Hawkeyes like the talent they have here with projected starters Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry. Still, all three are relatively inexperienced, because James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens were such fixtures at linebacker the past few years. That trio of senior linebackers formed the heart and soul of Iowa's defense last year, and now their former backups have to make sure the level of play doesn't drop too dramatically.

Iowa spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
10:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Iowa.

Three things we learned in the spring
Three questions for the fall
  • How will the secondary come together?: Cornerback Desmond King is a bona fide star after his breakout freshman season, but the Hawkeyes need to find a starter at free safety, where Jordan Lomax and Anthony Gair continue to compete. Opposite King, Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper are even, and John Lowdermilk is trying to maintain an edge on Nico Law at strong safety.
  • Who will take the lead at running back?: Iowa knows it can rely on senior Mark Weisman, but he’s fought injuries and likely can’t survive an entire season of pounding between the tackles. Junior Jordan Canzeri offers intriguing athleticism. The New Yorker rushed for 481 yards last season, including a 165-yard performance at Purdue.
  • Can the defensive line live up to its billing?: These guys are good, no doubt. Anchored by tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, both of whom started all 13 games a year ago, the Hawkeyes’ front four likely rates as the strength of the entire team. Juniors Drew Ott and Mike Hardy bring experience to the end spots. If this group improves like it did last season, look out.
One way too early prediction

Brandon Scherff will take home some hardware in December. He was denied a spot by the league’s media on the All-Big Ten first team as a junior. There will be no such worry in 2014. In fact, Scherff will vie for the Outland Trophy and earn a spot on All-America teams from his left tackle spot after opting to turn down a chance at the NFL this offseason.
video
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- No Big Ten coach takes the temperature of his team in spring practice quite like Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. No Big Ten coach has lived in as many different climates.

The dean of the league's coaches knows the sunniness that surrounds teams after redemptive seasons such as the ones the Hawkeyes had in 2001, 2008 or last fall, when Iowa improved its wins total by four. He also knows the polar vortex that exists, at least outside Iowa's football complex, after poor performances like the ones the team delivered in 2007 and 2012.

Ferentz also understands how quickly the weather changes, like it often does on spring afternoons in the Midwest.

So at a recent team meeting, Ferentz detoured from the typical spring minutia -- replacing seniors, creating depth, finding leaders, building identities -- and addressed a macro item: the preseason polls.

"He said we might be ranked," running back Jordan Canzeri told ESPN.com, "and even if we are, no one is to keep that in their head. There were several teams that were ranked and didn't get to go to a bowl game this past year. You never want to be cocky. Even if the stats show you're good, you still want to prepare as you would with any other team, so you don't get satisfied and complacent."

Iowa likely will be ranked when the preseason polls come out. The Hawkeyes appear in some way-too early versions. They return eight offensive starters, including left tackle Brandon Scherff, a preseason All-America candidate, along with three of four starting defensive linemen from a team that flipped its regular-season record in 2013.

The quarterback uncertainty that hovered over the program last spring, when no signal-caller had taken a snap in a game, is no longer there, as junior Jake Rudock has established himself. An unprecedented stretch of running back maladies has subsided as Iowa returns three veteran options (Mark Weisman, Canzeri and Damon Bullock) and two promising young players (LeShun Daniels Jr. and Barkley Hill). There's more explosiveness at wide receiver, and the defensive line, led by senior tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, looks more like the elite units Iowa produced for most of Ferentz's tenure.

[+] EnlargeCarl Davis
David Purdy/The Des Moines Register via USA TODAY SportsWith Carl Davis and others back, Iowa's defensive line should be the team's strongest unit.
"We are a more experienced unit, probably the most experienced unit on the team," defensive line coach Reese Morgan said.

There are enough internal reasons to indicate Iowa will take another step this season, but the biggest factors in the Hawkeyes favor are external. Their new division, the Big Ten West, lacks a clear-cut favorite or a flawless team. And their schedule is undoubtedly the most favorable in the league.

Not only does Iowa miss Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State from the East Division, but it hosts both Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes' toughest league road game should be a Nov. 8 visit to Minnesota.

"It's a pretty favorable schedule for us," wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said, "but every week is going to be a challenge. Nothing that happened last year really matters."

Davis looks forward to visiting Big Ten newcomer Maryland, but he had hoped to play more of the league's traditional powers. The only way Iowa sees Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan is in the Big Ten championship game.

"When the Big Ten started, those are the teams that dominated," Davis said. "You want to be able to play those teams and beat those teams. I really look forward to it.

"I definitely feel we're in contention for a Big Ten championship. Every team says it, but we're hungry."

Ferentz has seen Iowa go from good to great in 2002 and again in 2009. He also has seen the program fall short of expectations, as it did in 2006 and 2010.

The first step to building upon success, Ferentz said, is not taking it for granted. Take Iowa's group of linebackers, which loses three multiyear starters from last year's squad: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens.

"If we're waiting for Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens to give us 300 tackles, that ain't gonna happen," Ferentz said. "Two years ago, we had a disappointing season. Last year was a new year and this year was the flip record-wise, but it's a new year again. This team has to form its own identity, and it starts with our experienced players. We're going to need them to play their absolute best, which is what those seniors did last year."

Iowa's linebacker reset has been a top spring storyline. Quinton Alston has stepped into the lead role, earning high marks from teammates and coaches. Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman, who played as a 17-year-old freshman last fall and doesn't turn 18 until August, are likely starters alongside Alston.

The biggest challenge could be replacing Kirksey, a converted safety who brought defensive back speed to outside linebacker.

"Chris had a different skill set than the guys we have out there now," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "It's been a long time since we had a guy who could run that fast and still have the power and explosion to play in the box, too, or at least on the tight end. We have three or four guys we're trying to look at with that position."

Other uncertainties include the cornerback spot opposite dynamic sophomore Desmond King, free safety and the second-string offensive line, which coordinator Greg Davis lists as the unit's biggest concern.

Iowa players understand that their margin for error remains slim.

"The determining factor is going to be winning those close games," Martin-Manley said.

Iowa won several such contests in 2009, its last truly special season. The 2014 team also could reach rarefied air, but Hawkeyes won't get caught with their heads in the clouds.

"That's what we do here; we work hard," Davis said. "That's something you get used to the longer you're in this program. The grind becomes normal, and I feel like all our hard work will be able to pay off."

Video: B1G shoes to fill, Iowa

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
1:00
PM ET

Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett reports on how Iowa will replace James Morris and a crew of solid Hawkeyes linebackers.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the linebackers.

Illinois: The Illini lose an All-Big Ten player in Jonathan Brown but still have decent overall depth at linebacker. Mason Monheim started every game at middle linebacker in 2013, and Mike Svetina started all but one game at the star position. Both players return as juniors. Svetina will move into Brown's spot on the weak side, while the other position could be filled by T.J. Neal, who recorded 38 tackles last season. Ralph Cooper has logged significant reps as a reserve, and Eric Finney gives Illinois some flexibility after playing the star position (safety/outside linebacker).

Indiana: This becomes a more significant position under coordinator Brian Knorr, who plans to use a 3-4 alignment. Indiana should have enough depth to make the transition as it returns two full-time starters from 2013 -- David Cooper and T.J. Simmons -- as well as two part-time starters in Forisse Hardin and Clyde Newton, who started the final four games of his freshman season. Like Simmons and Newton, Marcus Oliver played a lot as a freshman and provides some depth. The key here will be converting all the experience into sharper, more consistent play.

Iowa: If you're of the mindset that Iowa always reloads at linebacker, you can rest easy this spring. If not, keep a very close eye on what happens as the Hawkeyes begin replacing one of the more productive linebacker groups in team history: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. There are high hopes for sophomore Reggie Spearman, who played in 10 games as a freshman last fall. Spearman, junior Travis Perry and senior Quinton Alston enter the spring as the front-runners to take over the top spots. The biggest challenge could be building depth behind them with Cole Fisher and others.

Maryland: The good news is the Terrapins return three productive starters from 2013 in Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, who combined for 233 tackles, including 19 for loss. The bad news is Maryland loses its top playmaker at the position in Marcus Whitfield, who recorded nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season. But the overall picture is favorable, and the depth should be strong when Alex Twine and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil return from their injuries. Young players such as Abner Logan (37 tackles in 2013) will push for more time.

Michigan: There are a lot of familiar faces in new positions as Michigan not only has shuffled the roles of its defensive assistant coaches, but also its top linebackers. Standout Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while junior James Ross III moves from the weak side to the strong side and Desmond Morgan shifts from the middle to the weak side. Joe Bolden, who had 54 tackles last season, can play both outside and inside, and players such as Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Allen Gant add depth. The talent is there for a big year if the position switches pan out.

Michigan State: It won't be easy to replace the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, not to mention Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth, but Michigan State has some promising options. Ed Davis appears ready to step in for Allen after recording four sacks as a sophomore. Junior Darien Harris and two redshirt freshmen, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, will compete at middle linebacker. Returning starter Taiwan Jones is back at the star position, and Mylan Hicks should be in the rotation. Depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring.

Minnesota: The Gophers lose key pieces in all three areas of the defense, and linebacker is no exception as two starters (Aaron Hill and James Manuel) depart. Minnesota will lean on Damien Wilson, who started in 12 games at middle linebacker in his first season with the Gophers and recorded 78 tackles. Junior De'Vondre Campbell seems ready to claim a starting spot after backing up Manuel last season. There will be plenty of competition at the strong-side linebacker spot, as Nick Rallis, De'Niro Laster and others are in the mix. Jack Lynn is backing up Wilson at middle linebacker but could work his way into a starting spot on the outside with a good spring.

Nebraska: Optimism is building for the Blackshirts in 2014, thanks in large part to the returning linebackers. The three players who finished last season as the starters -- David Santos, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson -- all are back, as Rose will lead the way in the middle. Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry also have starting experience and return for 2014. If younger players such as Marcus Newby develop this spring, Nebraska could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers, a dramatic departure from the Huskers' first few years in the conference. Good things are happening here.

Northwestern: The top two playmakers return here in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who combined for seven interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Northwestern's challenge is replacing the leadership Damien Proby provided in the middle. Ellis has shifted from the strong side to the middle, and Northwestern has moved safety Jimmy Hall from safety to strong-side linebacker. Drew Smith and Hall will compete for the third starting spot throughout the offseason. Sophomores Jaylen Prater and Joseph Jones should provide some depth.

Ohio State: Coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that Ohio State needs more from the linebackers, so it's a huge offseason for this crew, which loses superstar Ryan Shazier. The Buckeyes return starters at the outside spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, although competition will continue throughout the spring and summer. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee surprisingly opened spring practice Tuesday working with Grant and Perry on the first-team defense. Camren Williams appeared in all 13 games as a reserve and will be part of the rotation, along with Trey Johnson. Meyer said last month that the incoming linebacker recruits won't redshirt, which means an opportunity for mid-year enrollee Raekwon McMillan.

Penn State: Linebacker U is looking for more bodies at the position after struggling with depth issues throughout 2013. The Lions lose leading tackler Glenn Carson but bring back two players, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman, who started most of the season. The new coaching staff is counting on Hull to become a star as a senior. Brandon Bell, who appeared in nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a freshman, will compete for a starting spot along with Gary Wooten. Penn State hopes Ben Kline can stay healthy as he provides some experience, and incoming freshman Troy Reeder could enter the rotation right away.

Purdue: Expect plenty of competition here as Purdue loses leading tackler Will Lucas and must get more consistent play from the group. Joe Gilliam started for most of the 2013 season and should occupy a top spot this fall. Sean Robinson also brings experience to the field, and Ryan Russell could fill more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this season. Redshirt freshman Danny Ezechukwu is an intriguing prospect to watch this spring as he aims for a bigger role. Ezechukwu is just one of several younger players, including decorated incoming recruit Gelen Robinson, who have opportunities to make a splash.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a good deal of production here with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder, who combined for 219 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quentin Gause also is back after racking up 53 tackles (8.5 for loss) in a mostly reserve role last season. Gause likely will claim the starting strong-side linebacker spot as Jamal Merrell departs. The starting spots are seemingly set, so Rutgers will look to build depth with Davon Jacobs, who had 30 tackles as a reserve last season, and L.J. Liston, both sophomores.

Wisconsin: Do-it-all linebacker Chris Borland is gone, along with Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill, so Wisconsin must replace three of its top four tacklers from 2013. Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert can be penciled in as starters, along with Michael Caputo, who played mostly safety last season but should slide into one of the outside spots. Marcus Trotter brings experience to the rotation. The spotlight will be on younger linebackers such as Vince Biegel, who had 25 tackles last season, as well as dynamic sophomore Leon Jacobs and Alec James, a decorated recruit who redshirted in 2013.
Tags:

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, Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Damien Proby, Collin Ellis, Michael Trotter, Max Bullough, Jonathan Brown, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Mylan Hicks, Mike Hull, Jake Ryan, Ryan Russell, Joshua Perry, Derek Landisch, Jimmy Hall, Denicos Allen, Ralph Cooper, Curtis Grant, Darien Harris, Quinton Alston, Marcus Trotter, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michael Rose, Joseph Jones, Camren Williams, Vince Biegel, Cole Fisher, Jack Lynn, Nyeem Wartman, Allen Gant, T.J. Neal, David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Joe Gilliam, David Cooper, Jon Reschke, Taiwan Jones, Ben Gedeon, Shane Jones, Brandon Bell, Nathan Gerry, Marcus Newby, Forisse Hardin, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, Eric Finney, Trey Johnson, Leon Jacobs, Reggie Spearman, Alec James, De'Vondre Campbell, De'Niro Laster, Damien Wilson, Josh Banderas, T.J. Simmons, Clyde Newton, Marcus Oliver, Ben Kline, Drew Smith, Nick Rallis, Troy Reeder, James Ross III, Joe Schobert, Raekwon McMillan, Gelen Robinson, Gary Wooten, Ed Davis, Travis Perry, Brian Knorr, Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson, Marcus Whitfield, Jaylen Prater, B1G spring positions 14, Darron Lee, L.A. Goree, Alex Twine, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Abner Logan, Danny Ezechukwu, Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, Quentin Gause, Jamal Merrell, Davon Jacobs, L.J. Liston

Let's look at what to expect this spring in the Big Ten's wild, wild West:

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
  • 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
  • Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
IOWA

Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
  • Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
  • Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
  • Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
  • Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
  • Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
  • Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
  • Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
  • Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
PURDUE

Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
  • Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
  • Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
  • Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
  • New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.

Offseason to-do list: Iowa

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
2:30
PM ET
The interminable offseason is upon us, and we're taking a look at three things each Big Ten team must do in the coming months before the games begin again in late August.

Up next: the Iowa Hawkeyes.

1. Locate linebackers: The good news is Iowa historically finds them, but the Hawkeyes are replacing an exceptional group in James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. The three combined for 322 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, six interceptions and four fumble recoveries last season. Iowa's linebackers were the biggest reason for the upgrade on defense, and it will be very important to see development from younger players like Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman.

2. Create more explosion plays: Iowa's offense established more of an identity in Year 2 under coordinator Greg Davis, but as Davis noted last month, "We have a hard time creating the big run, the big throw." Iowa averaged just 5.3 yards per play in 2013, which ranked 10th in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes lose only one offensive skill-position starter (tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz) and must do a better job maximizing players like Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards per reception and ranked fourth on the team in receiving despite limited work.

3. Improve in red zone, short yardage: It's tough to explain how an Iowa team with a big, physical offensive line and a powerful running back in Mark Weisman struggles so much to grind out the tough yards. Iowa scored only 27 touchdowns on 53 trips inside the red zone in 2013, and ranked last in the league in fourth-down conversions (5-of-17). Predictable play calls could be to blame, but Iowa should improve in this area as all the running backs return along with three starting linemen, led by left tackle Brandon Scherff.

More to-do lists

Big Ten Monday chat wrap

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
5:15
PM ET
Since I'll be traveling to the Orange Bowl next week, today marked the final Big Ten Monday chat of the 2013 calendar year. Did we go out on top? I'll let you be the judge with this full transcript and some choice highlights:

Steve (Gaithersburg): The common belief, voiced by your own Adam Shefter, is that the reduction in the size of Bill O'Brien's buy out is an indication that he might jump ship. I think the opposite is true -- why would PSU agree to reduce the size of the buy out? What's in it for them? The best answer -- B O'B has agreed to NOT jump ship at least this year. What do you think of that logic?

Brian Bennett: Hmmm....maybe. Or maybe Penn State did it to help keep O'Brien happy. Remember that he was blindsided by the NCAA sanctions and certainly was a big fan of that. I think there's a very good chance he goes to the NFL. We shall see very soon.

Tom (Lincoln Park): So it's looking more and more like we're going to see Shane Morris' first start at Michigan. What's the level of PANIC going to be like in Ann Arbor if Morris struggles?

Brian Bennett: Panic? After his first career start, in what amounts to a mostly meaningless bowl game? Unless he looks just entirely incapable of being a QB, I don't see any reason to panic. Especially since Gardner is coming back next year. The Wolverines could very well struggle offensively in this game, however.

Faygo (Silver Spring, MD): Season's over, it's bowl time, you're headed for Florida and Adam is going to the 100th Rose Bowl. This old Spartan will treasure this season, of course, but off the top, what's your five favorite moments from this Big Ten season?

Brian Bennett: Oh, boy. Going to miss some. Nebraska's Hail Mary. The Game. Michigan State's celebration in Indy. Minnesota celebrating with Jerry Kill. Penn State rallying to beat Michigan. Not sure those are my top five, but there's five good ones.

Brett (Iowa City): Alright, let's talk Hawkeyes for a minute. From what you've seen with the younger talent on the team, how do you think the Iowa defense will measure up for the 2014 season after losing the triumvirate of linebackers and cornerback BJ Lowery?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and that won't be easy. The good news is that the defensive line stepped up in a major way this year and should be a strength in 2014. Desmond King looks like the next in a line of standout CBs. When I talked to the three senior LBs last week, they each told me the position would be in good shape with young guys like Reggie Spearman, Quinton Alston and Chad Gilson. But their experience will really be tough to replace. You'd also hope the Iowa offense takes another step forward with Rudock back.

Mike (Psu Class of 13) (NYC): What are some big name coaches Penn State will go after if B.O.B. leaves? Could they go after Narduzzi or maybe someone like Gruden, Cowher, or Dungey? Evenutally they will want to coach again I think.

Brian Bennett: David Jones had a really good piece on that this morning, and he listed Mike Munchak No. 1 on the list. Makes a lot of sense, since Munchak very nearly got the job two years ago. PSU would at least have to feel out Al Golden, but I'm not sure why he'd leave Miami now. Narduzzi would be a very interesting choice.

John (Louisville KY): Who do like to win the Big Ten next year?

Brian Bennett: Penn State volleyball? I haven't analyzed the schedules yet and we have to wait to see which big names go pro and which come back. I'm going to favor Ohio State among the top choices as long as Meyer is around. Michigan State should be really good. Wisconsin loses a lot but has a favorable schedule after the opener. Those jump to mind first.

Big Ten signing day superlatives

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
9:00
AM ET

The Big Ten classes are signed and sealed. You can see ESPN's final class rankings as well as grades for all the Big Ten teams Insider.

As we put a bow on national signing day 2013, let's take a look at some superlatives ...

Biggest winner: Ohio State. The Buckeyes took a great class and made it even better with the additions of elite safety prospect Vonn Bell and four-star receiver prospect James Clark. They also held onto running back recruit Ezekiel Elliott. Plucking Bell out of SEC country made a significant statement, as Ohio State secured the nation's No. 3 class and the best in the Big Ten. Although other Big Ten programs secured strong classes -- Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State -- Ohio State made the most headlines Wednesday.

Best closer: Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers. Although Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is unquestionably one of the nation's top closers, Withers merits a mention here after steering Bell to sign with the Scarlet and Gray. "I've seen some really good efforts," Meyer said Wednesday. "Everett Withers from start to finish, his effort on Vonn Bell, as good as I've ever seen." Bell's high school coach called Withers the "most proficient and professional recruiter we've ever dealt with," according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. Withers played a major role in Ohio State securing five defensive backs ranked in the top 50 by ESPN Recruiting.

Biggest surprise: Indiana and Penn State. The Hoosiers have reached only one bowl game since the 1993 season and boast just five wins the past two seasons, but things are looking up in Bloomington. Kevin Wilson and his staff signed what appears to be a very solid recruiting class, especially on the defensive side, where IU has struggled for years. The Hoosiers signed two four-star defensive linemen from within the state -- Darius Latham and David Kenney III -- and bolstered the secondary with Rashard Fant and others. Penn State overcame NCAA scholarship sanctions and a multiyear bowl ban to sign the nation's No. 24 class, headlined by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, rated by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's top pocket passer.

Who flipped/biggest loss: The only notable intra-league flip on signing day -- and it wasn't a major surprise -- saw linebacker Reggie Spearman, a one-time Illinois commit, signing with Iowa. Ohio State (Taivon Jacobs) and Wisconsin (Marcus Ball) lost commits to Maryland and Arizona State, respectively, while Minnesota made a late flip with junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who was expected to sign with Kansas State. But for the most part, Big Ten teams played good defense on signing day.
The fax machines are collecting dust again around the Big Ten as national signing day is in the books and all 12 classes are signed. Earlier Wednesday, Brian Bennett took a look at the Leaders Division and how teams did in filling their most pressing recruiting needs. Now it's time to take a look at the Legends Division.

IOWA

Needs filled: Iowa's passing game needs a jolt after ranking 99th nationally last season, and the team signed five wide receivers. The Hawkeyes also were mindful that they'll lose all three starting linebackers after 2013 and flipped Reggie Spearman, an Illinois commit. Cornerback Desmond King should provide immediate help in the secondary.

Holes remaining: Offensive line could soon be an issue as Iowa missed out on several targets in this year's class. The Hawkeyes also need some difference-makers along the defensive line and signed only two linemen in this class.

MICHIGAN

Needs filled: The Wolverines got the running back they wanted and needed, Derrick Green, who could contribute immediately. They also continued to address the depth issues coach Brady Hoke inherited on both lines, adding five offensive linemen ranked in the ESPN 300. Although Devin Gardner solidified the quarterback spot late last season, Michigan needed to plan for the future and signed a solid signal-caller, Shane Morris.

Holes remaining: There aren't many obvious weak spots, although Michigan could use a bit more help on the perimeter, especially at wide receiver. Top wideouts Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo depart after the 2013 season, and the depth in the secondary isn't quite where it needs to be.

MICHIGAN STATE

Needs filled: The Spartans signed three running backs -- Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams -- who could compete for immediate playing time at a position with very little depth. They also brought in a likely quarterback of the future in Damion Terry and bolstered the linebacking corps with ESPN 300 selection Shane Jones and Jon Reschke.

Holes remaining: Michigan State's offensive line depth still isn't where it needs to be, and the Spartans signed only one offensive lineman (Dennis Finley) this year. MSU signed only two defensive backs, although the coaches really like what Darian Hicks and Jalyn Powell bring to the field.

MINNESOTA

Needs filled: The Gophers lose a lot at linebacker and filled the gaps with junior college players Damien Wilson and De'Vondre Campbell. They need more playmakers on offense and added some at receiver to go along with an intriguing dual-threat quarterback in Chris Streveler.

Holes remaining: Minnesota loses some key defensive backs and will lose more after the 2013 season. The Gophers signed only two cornerbacks and no safeties in this class, so they could have some depth issues if current sophomores and juniors don't pan out.

NEBRASKA

Needs filled: The Huskers continued to address their depth issues at linebacker with prospects such as Marcus Newby and added more depth to the offensive line with five players. They added a potential quarterback of the future in Johnny Stanton and continued to recruit well at all the offensive skill positions.

Holes remaining: After missing out on several elite defensive linemen, Nebraska is still looking for disruptive players up front. Perhaps junior college arrival Randy Gregory fills the void. The Huskers could have used another elite secondary prospect.

NORTHWESTERN

Needs filled: The Wildcats will need a quarterback after the 2014 season and found an absolutely perfect fit in Matt Alviti. They also addressed the running back spot for the second straight year. Offensive line recruiting continues to be a strength for Northwestern.

Holes remaining: The class lacks an obvious difference-maker on defense, a unit where Northwestern improved in 2012 but still has a long way to go. Northwestern could have picked up another linebacker and another pass-rushing defensive end. Perhaps four-star prospect Godwin Igwebuike, listed as a running back, will contribute on the defensive side.
The letters have all been signed and the faxes sent in. Signing day is officially over. So how did each Big Ten team do in fulfilling its most pressing needs?

Of course, the real answer to that question won't come for another one, two or even three years. But we'll take a stab now at figuring out how league teams addressed some glaring concerns, beginning with the Leaders Division. Adam will look at the Legends teams a little bit later in the blog.

INDIANA

Needs met: It's no secret that the Hoosiers desperately needed reinforcements on defense. They focused on that in this class with 13 of their 22 signees on that side of the ball, plus four players labeled for now as "athletes." That includes six defensive linemen and four linebackers for a team that must improve its front seven.

Holes remaining: After finishing with one of the worst rushing attacks in the Big Ten, Indiana signed only one true running back -- Daryl Chestnut -- in this class.

ILLINOIS

Needs met: After a disastrous 2-10 season where nothing went right, the Illini needed help everywhere, especially at the offensive skill spots. They signed five juco transfers for some immediate assistance and some speed to run the spread offense, including future starting quarterback Aaron Bailey.

Holes remaining: Illinois lost linebacker recruit Reggie Spearman to Iowa and didn't sign anyone at that position, though it had two freshmen starters there last year.

OHIO STATE

Needs met: Speed, speed, speed. Urban Meyer wanted a whole lot more of it, especially at the offensive skill positions. And that's exactly what he got in receivers Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith. The Buckeyes should also be able to stop the pass with defensive backs Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Vonn Bell and Cam Burrows among the standouts in this class.

Holes remaining: Very few, as you'd expect with one of the nation's top classes. Ohio State signed only two offensive linemen, but the Buckeyes addressed that position group in the 2012 class.

PENN STATE

Needs met: The Nittany Lions had to get two quarterbacks in this class, and they managed to land the top-rated quarterback in the land in Christian Hackenberg as well as junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson. The team also needed to add some talent to the secondary and brought in four defensive backs.

Holes remaining: The Lions are bringing in only one running back, though they have last year's signee Akeel Lynch, along with Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak returning. With severe scholarship limitations, Penn State's holes will revolve around depth. The team has to be selective and hope its run-on program produces some gems.

PURDUE

Needs met: The Boilermakers needed reinforcements in the backfield after losing two senior quarterbacks and with a thin tailback corps. Their two top recruits in this class are pro-style QB Danny Etling and running back Keyante Green. The Boilers also added running backs Keith Byars II, David Yancey and Dalyn Dawkins.

Holes remaining: Purdue signed just one offensive lineman in this class (Jason Tretter). That's an area new coach Darrell Hazell will have to address in next year's class.

WISCONSIN

Needs met: The Badgers needed to restock the secondary after losing three starters from the 2012 team. They signed five defensive backs, including early enrollees Keelon Brookins and Sojourn Shelton. Wisconsin also got a potential impact defensive end in Alec James and possibly the latest in a long line of star running backs in Corey Clement.

Holes remaining: Wisconsin could still use a bit more playmaking at the wide receiver position after struggling to find complements to Jared Abbrederis last season. The Badgers will hope Robert Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy provide some help. Neither was a highly rated recruit -- but then again, the highly productive Abbrederis was a walk-on. And although you wouldn't expect Wisconsin to need more offensive linemen, new coach Gary Andersen said the team is a couple of linemen short of the ideal number after signing three in this class.


One thing Urban Meyer has definitely brought to the Big Ten is some serious signing day drama.

Meyer flipped several recruits Ohio State's way last year, and on Wednesday the Buckeyes were one of the big stories on signing day again. They won battles for two key blue-chippers in ESPN 150 safety Vonn Bell and four-star receiver James Clark, while also keeping ESPN 150 running back Ezekiel Elliott in the fold after he took a late visit to Missouri.

"It was a very eventful day," Meyer said. "We went to bed last night with three guys very on edge. I thought, 'If we hit one out of three, it would be all right. Two out of three would be a good day. Three out of three is going to be, knock it out of the park.'"

It turned into another home run day for the Buckeyes, who currently rank No. 3 nationally in ESPN.com's class rankings Insider (and No. 1 in Scout.com's rankings). How good was it? Here's what assistant coach Kerry Coombs tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
"You know that Christmas when you got exactly everything you wanted plus a few extra special bonuses? That's what today was! #bestclassever."

Ohio State did lose previously committed receiver Taivon Jacobs to Maryland, but it was more than happy to trade him for Clark. Landing Bell, a Georgian who was hotly pursued by Tennessee and Alabama, was the sweetest victory. Meyer called it a "street fight." In making his announcement on ESPN, Bell said Meyer was on a mission to beat Alabama and win national championships.

Meyer didn't take the bait when later asked about gunning for 'Bama, saying Michigan would always be Ohio State's rival. But he did acknowledge that there's "a little bit of a chase gong on with the SEC. ... We want to increase the speed on our team little bit."

The Buckeyes definitely did that, while Meyer once again proved he's one of the great closers in college football.

Though Ohio State hogged most of the headlines, the other Big Ten teams also celebrated their 2013 classes while making a little news as well:
  • Nebraska rode the roller coaster with ESPN 300 athlete Tre'vell Dixon, who had already committed, decommited and recommitted to the Huskers during the process before word leaked out this week he would be going to Arizona State. In the end, Dixon signed with Nebraska, which put together a Top 25 class.
  • Minnesota scored a late coup with junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, a one-time Tennessee commit who was expected to sign with Kansas State. Campbell, who was also courted by Texas, has three years of eligibility left.
  • Wisconsin lost committed safety Marcus Ball -- whose older brother, Ray, is a Badgers offensive lineman -- to Arizona State. But new coach Gary Andersen managed to hold most of the class together while adding a few key signees.
  • There was a little intraconference intrigue on signing day as Iowa nabbed linebacker Reggie Spearman, who had been committed to Illinois.
  • Indiana quietly put together one of its best classes ever, and avoided any last-minute poaching.
  • No news was good news at Penn State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions, despite severe scholarship limits, still brought home a strong collection of talent that included the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) and top tight end (Adam Breneman). The bulk of Michigan's class had been assembled for months, and the Wolverines withstood some late drama with defensive tackle Henry Poggi, who stayed on board despite a late push from Alabama.

Michigan didn't get as much attention on signing day as Ohio State, but Brady Hoke still put together a class currently ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN.com. And unlike Meyer, who got so tired of sweating out Bell's decision that he had to go get on the treadmill, Hoke had a drama-free day. The Wolverines announced their entire class by noon ET.

One thing that appears likely after the latest signing day: Michigan and Ohio State are headed for plenty of dramatic collisions on the field in the coming years.

You can see every Big Ten team's signees by going here.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
12:00
PM ET
We're less than 24 hours away from the only day of the year where a fax machine still seems relevant to society.
National signing day is next Wednesday. To get you ready for the big day, we checked in with a pair of ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker shared their thoughts on a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. This is Part II of that discussion; you can find Part I here.

Which teams in the Big Ten have surprised you with this year's class?

Jared Shanker: Indiana definitely surprised me. If you looked at their class last summer [in 2011], when they had Gunner Kiel, you said, "Wow, that's a pretty good class." But then it really fell apart. This one's kind of the opposite. It wasn't looking too strong, and then things really started rolling during the season. They were able to get an ESPN 150 guy from Georgia [Rashard Fant]. They were able to flip Darius Latham from Wisconsin, they flipped David Kenney from Iowa, Antonio Allen was originally committed to Ole Miss. They've done a good job recruiting each state, as well as keeping some of the top talent in Indianapolis. Indiana is a basketball state, but there are some pretty good football players there, and Latham, Kenney and Allen are all four-star players from Indianapolis. So I like what Kevin Wilson has been able to do. This class really turned around, starting in October or so.

Minnesota is doing OK. Penn State is probably a surprise. You see five four-star guys. You see the No. 1 quarterback in the country in Christian Hackenberg. Adam Breneman is the No. 1 tight end. They have some other three-star guys that can contribute and even have some walk-ons who had scholarship offers elsewhere. They just dropped out of the Top 25, but they were hanging on in the Top 25 for a while.

Iowa has traditionally filled its class down the line and kept getting commitments until signing day. For the most part, Iowa was close to done by mid-summer with their class, which was pretty unique for Iowa. It's a stark contrast compared to their 2012 class, which is probably why you haven't heard about Iowa much lately. They've been out of the news. But I think they're generally happy for the most part how things turned out. They did lose David Kenney to Indiana. But if they can flip Reggie Spearman from Illinois and also add one more receiver, I think they'd probably be pretty happy.

Tom Luginbill: Since we mentioned Indiana, I would say that Northwestern continues to impress. Texas continues to be fruitful for the Wildcats. QB Matt Alviti couldn't be a better fit for their offense. If Alviti were taller, I think he would have been a national recruit and has been undervalued. Athlete Godwin Igwebuike is versatile and continues their presence in Ohio. Pat Fitzgerald and his staff may be as good as anyone in college football. They evaluate for them and don't worry about what others think. They identify who is the right fit and attack it.

How do you think Nebraska has done with this class, especially in trying to beef up its defensive front?

TL: The week of January 21st was a rough patch for Nebraska with the loss of two committed prospects in athlete Marcus McWilson and receiver Dominic Walker, who is out of Florida and now committed to Auburn. They did retain Tre'vell Dixon who was originally committed to Nebraska, broke away for a bit and came back. It has been a whirlwind for Bo Pelini and his staff. There are a lot of additions in the defensive front seven both from the high school and juco ranks including defensive end Randy Gregory, who, had he not been injured, may have ended up as our No. 1 ranked juco player overall.

JS: Nebraska might have been able to do a little better. That's not to say their class still isn't good. They have one of the best jucos in the country. Johnny Stanton was one of the better quarterbacks at the Elite 11. He's coming off an ACL tear. They've got a host of four-star guys. I still think it could have been a little bit stronger, all things considered.

They've got Randy Gregory at defensive end. They're pretty strong at linebacker, so they're looking pretty good along the defensive front but maybe not in defensive line depth. The huge numbers aren't there. You have to at least like Gregory and the linebackers, but you can just see the eye test -- they're not there yet with upper teams in the Big Ten. I think they still have some work to do to get there.

Finally, give us a handful of players who might make an immediate impact next season.

JS: I like Derrick Green [from Michigan]. Jalin Marshall at Ohio State, I think he's a guy you put the ball in his hands on a jet sweep, a screen or what have you, and there's a chance he takes it to the house. So those two guys really stick out.

I know the Illinois staff is really high on [quarterback] Aaron Bailey and is looking at him as the future. Maybe something happens with Nathan Scheelhaase and he can step in and get some early playing time. Then there's Corey Clement at Wisconsin. He's kind of a bigger back, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. With Montee Ball gone, maybe at least he breaks into the rotation and sees some touches as a freshman.

TL: Receiver Jalin Marshall, Ohio State; running back Derrick Green Michigan; linebacker Trey Johnson, Ohio State; tight end Adam Breneman, Penn State (if healthy); defensive tackle Darius Latham, Indiana; athlete Rashard Fant, Indiana.

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