All week, we've been examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it could potentially be repaired in 2015.

Last but not least: Indiana Hoosiers

Problem position: The secondary

Why the secondary was a problem in 2014: Honestly, we could have picked the entire defense as a problem spot for the Hoosiers. Again. Despite the hiring of a new defensive coordinator (Brian Knorr) and an infusion of more athletes on that side of the ball, Indiana once again struggled to stop anybody in the Big Ten. Knorr's unit gave up more passing yards per game (250) than anybody else in the conference, and opposing Big Ten quarterbacks completed 63.9 percent against the Hoosiers. That's an indictment on the lack of a pass rush up front and linebackers who can cover in space as well, but we'll focus on the defensive backs for these purposes.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Safety Mark Murphy and cornerback Tim Bennett, two of the leaders of the defense, used up their eligibility. Meanwhile, the team's other starting cornerback, Michael Hunter, decided not to return for his final year. That leaves the Hoosiers thin on experience going into 2015. Safety Antonio Allen, who was an important recruit for the Hoosiers, needs to continue to improve as a junior, and Chase Dutra likely joins him as a starter. Cornerbacks Rashard Fant and Donovan Clark saw action last fall as freshmen, and Kenny Mullen returns from an injury.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Hoosiers have a pair of safeties -- Jonathan Crawford and Tyler Green -- ready to sign next week, as well as several athlete types who could play either linebacker or defensive back. They could still be in the market for a late addition at corner.

Early 2015 outlook: There is talent on hand here. Allen and Fant, for example, are two of the top-rated recruits Kevin Wilson has signed. The defensive backfield roles are actually more settled than wide receiver, which is a worrisome area on the offense. Again, the secondary was by no means the only weak link in the defense. But until Indiana can figure out a way to strengthen every aspect of the defense and become competitive on that side of the ball in the Big Ten, we could be talking about the same problematic positions for the Hoosiers in 2015.
This week, we’re taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with Texas Tech.

Position to improve: Linebacker

Why it was a problem: The Red Raiders didn’t have a dominating force in the middle of their defense. Sam Eguavoen (73) and Micah Awe (69) finished second and third in tackles for Tech yet neither guy was a unquestioned playmaker for a defense that allowed 259.5 rushing yards per game and 5.19 yards per carry. Arkansas dominating win in Lubbock in mid-September featured 438 rushing yards and was a early sign that the Red Raiders defense just wasn’t well-equipped to handle a strong running game and a lack of playmaking linebackers was a main culprit.

How it can be fixed: Awe is the Red Raiders' leading returning tackler at the position but Tech needs to add talent and depth at the position, which is losing several departed seniors including Eguavoen. Three-star linebacker D'Vonta Hinton is the lone linebacker on Tech’s commitment list so the answer will largely have to come from the players on campus. Thus, all eyes will be on Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell, who has the pedigree and talent to slide into the Red Raiders defense and start transforming the linebacker spot after spending the past season on Tech's scout team defense. A member of the ESPN300 in the Class of 2013, Mitchell can make plays from sideline-to-sideline and could develop into the dominant force Kliff Kingsbury's defense has been searching for during his first two seasons in charge.

Early 2015 outlook: Mitchell brings plenty of hope to the position as he provides an immediate talent upgrade. Tech is losing a lot at linebacker, which means they could be even worse in 2015 but Mitchell brings a combination of talent, upside and excitement to the position. He could become the face of the linebacker corps in Lubbock but he will need help from Awe and the rest of the Red Raiders' linebackers to make the overall unit a more productive group.
Texas A&M's 8-5 season had its fair share of ups and downs. That also means there were some areas that shined and some that need work. We look at one area in particular that needs improvement heading into 2015:

Position to improve: Linebacker.

Why it was a problem: Depth was perhaps the biggest reason for the struggles because the Aggies ran thin on linebackers with actual SEC playing experience. One preseason dismissal (Darian Claiborne) and two early-season injuries (to A.J. Hilliard, for the season, and Shaan Washington, for the first three games) cut into the team's depth. During the first half of the 2014 campaign, the Aggies found themselves being ineffective at the position as well. After a 59-0 loss to Alabama, Texas A&M injected some youth into the lineup, giving starts to true freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, both of whom looked promising in their time as starters. Overall, the Aggies still need all the experience they can get at the position. Texas A&M was last in the SEC in rushing defense in 2014 and linebacker play is a part of that.

How it can be fixed: Recruiting is one quick way to fix it and fortunately for the Aggies, they already have two linebacker recruits on campus. Junior college linebacker Claude George, the nation's fourth-ranked junior college outside linebacker, enrolled for the spring semester as did Cedar Hill (Texas) High School outside linebacker Richard Moore. Getting Hilliard back healthy next season will be huge: the TCU transfer was vying for a starting spot and has the ability to play all three positions in the Aggies' 4-3 alignment. Washington, who had a solid season, also returns. The Aggies have three more linebacker recruits in their 2015 class: three-star prospects Landis Durham, Riley Garner and Dwaine Thomas.

Early 2015 outlook: With a healthy returning quartet of Alaka, Hilliard, Walker and Washington, the Aggies have a group of players who have seen the field and are talented. Alaka's late season stretch was solid, including a good performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl where he won defensive MVP. Jordan Mastrogiovanni, who started the season at middle linebacker but struggled, also provides some experience and depth. Sprinkle in the early-enrollees, George and Moore, and the Aggies have a group of talented playmakers. The biggest asset here though comes from the sideline, not on the field: new Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis. In his more than two decades as an SEC defensive coordinator, Chavis oversaw the linebackers at Tennessee and LSU. It stands to reason his presence can help upgrade linebacker play in Aggieland.
Washington will be losing a significant load of defensive star power in 2015, so it'll be even more imperative for the Huskies' offense to develop a more ferocious punch. Here's a look at a key position to address moving forward.

Position to improve: The marquee spot: quarterback.

Why it was a problem: Cyler Miles didn't turn the ball over much (well, except for when he fumbled), but Washington truly struggled to threaten with consistent explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Only Utah featured a less productive aerial attack than the Huskies, who managed only 200.1 passing yards per game. Washington rarely mustered over seven yards per pass attempt against decent defenses -- heck, the Huskies even finished at a measly 3.3 yards per attempt against the best defense on their schedule (Stanford) -- and this obviously became a major source of frustration in Seattle.

How it can be fixed: On the stat sheet, Miles generated some improvement over the numbers he posted in limited action as Keith Price's backup in 2013. His completion percentage rose from 60.7 to 66.6, and he averaged 7.3 yards per attempt in 2014 compared to 6.9 in 2013. But the big picture still suggested that the Huskies' offense lacked the vitality necessary to be a serious contender in the Pac-12 North. That's why there are rumblings that freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels, who redshirted this past season, has a shot to start in 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: We'll diligently monitor the quarterback competition in Seattle this offseason. The Huskies return top rushing threat Dwayne Washington, so next year's starter should be able to operate with the benefit of a credible rushing attack. Outside of that, it's wait-and-see time for Chris Petersen's program as he enters his second year at the helm, and the quarterback position looks to be the most essential piece of the puzzle moving forward.
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: The reactions came swift after Michael Brewer led the Hokies to a road upset of Ohio State that the transfer quarterback was going to solve the QB issues in Blacksburg. However, that game was probably the highlight of Brewer’s season as the newcomer was up and down over the final 10 games. Brewer ranked eighth in the conference and 88th nationally in passer rating. The biggest issue for Brewer was ball security, as he threw 15 interceptions, many of which came in close losses. He threw two in a seven-point loss to ECU and three (and no touchdowns) in a three-point loss to Georgia Tech. With so many injuries, especially at running back, the Hokies needed Brewer to protect the football, and he did not do that, especially early in the season.

How it can be fixed: Before moving on to any other part of his game, the Hokies need to drill into Brewer’s mind how important the football is to an offense built on the back of a strong defense. It wasn’t just that Brewer was throwing interceptions, it’s that they came in bad situations and on poor decisions. Seasoning with the Virginia Tech coaches this offseason could help that, especially now that there should be some pressure off Brewer this fall with the offense getting healthy. The Hokies need to work on Brewer’s accuracy, too. Twice he finished with a completion percentage below 50 percent, and seven times he fell below 60 percent.

Early 2015 outlook: Brewer played well in spots last year, and he made several big plays when asked. Against Virginia, despite struggling all game long, Brewer orchestrated a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. So it’s not as if Brewer cannot get the job done. He’ll have the rest of his backfield with him, too, so he won’t be asked to do as much in his second year as the starter. And of course, the Hokies should be very good on defense once again, which could give Brewer short fields to work with. Virginia Tech can win with Brewer as long as he grows from the mistakes of a season ago.
video Byron Cowart's recruiting process is almost over.

"Byron has committed to eight schools in his mind since this process begun," said Woodrow Grady, Cowart's mentor and 7-on-7 coach. "There was Auburn, Florida, FSU, Alabama, Oregon and so on. Byron finds the best in every school. That's what he looks for. He's not looking for the speed traps. That's why he's been all over the place in where he may go."

SEC tipping point classes 

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Signing day is just around the corner, and most SEC teams have a chance to finish in the top 40 of the ESPN class rankings. Two schools, however, could make or break their overall recruiting classes in this last week.

Auburn and Florida are in a unique situation that could certainly have an effect on both of their recruiting classes. Former Florida coach Will Muschamp is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn, and several top recruits from the state of Florida grew up Gators fans but have a great relationship with Muschamp. Here’s a closer look at how these two teams could finish.


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Brandon Martin surprised observers by coming out of nowhere to become one of the nation’s most highly-coveted prospects. He also surprised many when he made a commitment to Missouri last weekend. However, Martin showed us with his latest move, the surprises aren’t over yet.


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We continue our look at what positions groups need to improve between now and next season.

USC Trojans

Position to improve: offensive line

Why it was a problem: It's not necessarily that the offensive line was a problem, but there were certainly growing pains up front. The group opened the season with two freshman starters (Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn) and started three in the final five games. To find the last time USC started a pair of freshmen on the offensive line in a season opener would require you look back to before World War II. With that much youth involved, it would have been unfair to expect much more than what USC got in 2014. That changes next year.

How it can be fixed: Get rid of the offensive line coach! Kidding, of course. With offensive line coach Tim Drevno off to Michigan to be Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator, USC remains without an offensive line coach. Whoever Steve Sarkisian hires as Drevno's replacement will be tasked with helping good players take the next step. It's a great situation as far as the talent the next O-line coach inherits, but the pressure will be high as the offensive line's development figures to play an important role in USC's ability to compete for a conference title and beyond.

Early 2015 outlook: With quarterback Cody Kessler and USC's usual stable of talented receivers returning, the offensive line is where there is the most room for improvement. Everyone that started a game will be back, including center Max Tuerk, who was voted the team's offensive lineman of the year. Left tackle Chad Wheeler, who started the first eight games before tearing his ACL, will be expected to regain his spot at left tackle, while right tackle Zach Banner will return after a strong sophomore year. However, with four freshmen that started games over the course of the season -- Lobendahn (13 starts), Viane Talamaivao (11 starts), Mama (four starts), Khaliel Rodgers (three starts) -- there is a strong potential for some shuffling.

Recruit breakdown: OT Martez Ivey 

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video What he brings: Martez Ivey is a long and flexible O-line prospect with tremendous upside. He's tall with almost other-worldly length and possesses a lean, athletic build with a frame that can continue to be developed. His strength at this stage is as a run blocker with the ability to come off with low pads and quickly get into a defenders and drive them back. He is agile and athletic for his size and possesses excellent range as a second-level blocker. He is a little less experienced as a pass blocker but possesses the tools to be outstanding in this area. With his length and ability to quickly set, he can mirror rushers with ease. This is a big man with excellent physical tools. And while he's a good football player at this stage, there is still room to grow and improve.


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Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Virginia Cavaliers

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Injuries and inexperience plagued the Hoos all season long. It started in the fall, when projected starting tackle Jay Whitmire injured his back, forcing him to miss all of 2014. Without Whitmire, Virginia had a combined 36 career starts entering the season, seventh-fewest among Power 5 schools. The injuries kept piling up: versatile Jackson Matteo was lost for the year against Kent State; tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju missed four games with injury; guard Ryan Doull started the first six games at left guard before missing five of the final six games. The Hoos ended up with five different starting offensive lines and struggled in the run game as a result, ranking No. 13 in the ACC in rushing offense. Backs averaged 3.7 yards per carry, fourth worst in the league. On the bright side, Virginia did well at pass protection despite the juggled lines, allowing just 16 sacks.

How it can be fixed: The hope, of course, is the Hoos stay healthy. The biggest hope of all is for Whitmire to return to form, but there are no guarantees that will happen at this point. But there should be a little more experience with this group in 2015. Six players with at least one start return. Virginia also has a new offensive line coach in Dave Borbely, in his second stint with the Hoos. His experience as run game coordinator in his last two stops should be a positive. The Hoos also have targeted offensive linemen on the recruiting trail, with four commitments so far.

Early 2015 outlook: Olanrewaju, Matteo and Doull are expected back and healthy. Virginia is keeping its fingers crossed on Whitmire. Starting guards Conner Davis and Cody Wallace are gone to graduation, but Burbank, tackles Michael Mooney, Jack English, Eric Smith and Sean Karl are back. Finding starters at guard, and backups, too, is paramount. Burbank, as one of the few seniors in the group, will also be expected to take the next step.

Position that needs improvement: Texas

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This week, we're taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with Texas, which must resolve its concerns up front regardless of who plays quarterback for these Longhorns.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Going into the 2013 season, Texas had the most experienced offensive line in the country. Just a few games into the 2014 season, Texas had perhaps the least experienced line in the country. Losing senior center Dominic Espinosa to a season-ending injury after one game was a devastating blow. The projected starting tackles, Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle, were kicked off the team. What remained was a group that redefined the label "patchwork line."

Left tackle Marcus Hutchins had never started a game and was a reserve defensive tackle a year earlier. Five different players earned at least one start at right tackle. Taylor Doyle made his first-ever start at center in the Oklahoma game. Only one player -- left guard Sedrick Flowers -- held down the same job for the full season. In all, Texas tried six different offensive line combinations over 13 games and had the No. 94 rushing attack in FBS despite featuring two five-star running backs.

How it can be fixed: Addition and competition. Joe Wickline, hailed as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches when he was hired away from Oklahoma State, must have been as frustrated as anyone by what he witnessed in 2014. He’s assembled a nice recruiting class which features several linemen who can help immediately. Juco transfer tackles Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson are on campus and will be given every opportunity to become starters. Two more freshmen have already enrolled, and ESPN 300 guard Patrick Vahe might be the best of the bunch. The newcomers must push the seven linemen with starting experience who are slated to return. Texas had no depth and few options last season. Every starting job is probably fair game.

Early 2015 outlook: Flowers, Doyle and guard/tackle Kent Perkins probably stand the best chance of retaining their spots this fall so long as they stay healthy. There will be pressure on Hodges and Nickelson this spring. They need to prove they can provide at least starter-caliber play. Then it’s all about finding out who raises their game. Can guys who were in and out of the lineup like Camrhon Hughes, Darius James and Jake Raulerson take a big step forward? Can Hutchins improve off 13 starts? There are a lot of question marks to be addressed over these next seven months.
As Tennessee continues to search for a new offensive coordinator, the potential candidates have to be intrigued with the young nucleus of talent on the roster. From quarterback Joshua Dobbs, to running back Jalen Hurd, to a deep wide receiver corps, there is a lot to like about this offense going forward.

So with all that talent, why did Tennessee finish No. 11 in the SEC in total offense? The easy answer is inexperience and more specifically, inexperience up front.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Butch Jones knew the offensive line was going to be an issue in 2014. After all, he had to replace every starter from the year before, a group that featured first-round draft pick Ja'Wuan James and three other players who made the NFL. The offensive line that Tennessee rolled out in the season opener against Utah State had zero combined starts between them. The inexperience showed. The Volunteers finished dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed (43) and tackles for loss allowed (101), and they struggled to create running room for Hurd, who averaged less than 4 yards per carry through the first eight games. The unit did improve as the season progressed, and finished on a strong note against Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but it will have to be even better in 2015 if this offense wants to take the next step.

How it can be fixed: More experience. It’s that simple. Tennessee allowed 20 sacks in the month of October, and just 10 in November. The players didn’t change. They just gained more experience and grew together as a unit. They were a different offensive line at the end of the season compared to where they were at the season opener. There also seemed to be a rise in production when Dobbs took over at quarterback. Maybe it’s easier to block for Dobbs because of his athleticism, or maybe there was extra motivation. Whatever it was, it should be there again next season when Dobbs is the full-time starter. This was never going to be an easy fix. It takes time. But a full year of experience, even if it wasn’t great, will help immensely in 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: Unlike last season, Tennessee’s offensive line should look very familiar to fans next fall. Four starters return including All-SEC freshman Jashon Robertson, who started every game at right guard for the Vols last season. The only loss was senior right tackle Jacob Gilliam, but his backup, Coleman Thomas, played in 11 games and started five. Between Robertson, Coleman, Mack Crowder, Marcus Jackson, and Kyler Kerbyson, Tennessee should have a pretty formidable line in 2015. It’s a group that not only has experience, but also has chemistry. However, after 23 true freshmen played last season, don’t rule out the possibility of a 2015 signee coming in and earning playing time. The most likely candidate is ESPN 300 offensive tackle Jack Jones, who will benefit from enrolling early.
Utah's resurgent 2014 campaign generated plenty of good feelings in Salt Lake City. That optimism has already created palpable buzz for the 2015 season, electricity that's amplified by the Utes' first game: a Thursday night home contest against Jim Harbaugh's Michigan program. There's room for improvement within Kyle Whittingham's program before then, though.

Position to improve: Quarterback. Utah enjoyed a sack-happy defense and the Pac-12's third-most productive rushing attack behind Devontae Booker in 2014, but their passing attack languished in the conference cellar.

Why it was a problem: Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, who both saw action under center for Utah, were far from impressive. Both completed about 60 percent of their passes, but Thompson really wasn't much of a threat to throw at all -- he averaged only 46 passing yards per game. Wilson threw much more frequently, but he also finished with a rather meager average (166.9 yards per game). Both quarterbacks did some damage with their legs, but they ultimately didn't pack the desired aerial punch necessary to make Utah's attack balanced. Despite Booker's massive 1,500-yard year, the Utes finished last in Pac-12 total offense. That simply shouldn't happen.

How it can be fixed: It looks like it'll be either Wilson or Thompson (coming off a leg injury) at quarterback next year, so Utah will have to see tangible improvement from either of those two when it comes to the downfield passing game. This will be tough, especially since top receiving target Kaelin Clay has exhausted his collegiate ability. The Utes would be best served to hire a new offensive coordinator with quarterback-developing experience soon. That position is still vacant following Dave Christensen's departure for Texas A&M, and it's likely a key toward boosting quarterback productivity next year.

Early 2015 outlook: At the very least, Utah fans can take solace in the fact that Wilson took solid care of the football in 2014: He threw 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions. But unless he develops into a more consistent aerial threat while throwing to new primary targets, the Utes will have to again rely heavily on that workhorse named Booker, who made his living after contact running against stacked boxes in 2014.
Our week-long examination of positions that need improvement at every Big Ten school focuses next on the Northwestern Wildcats.

Problem position: Wide receiver

Why receiver was a problem: The trouble started in August when Christian Jones, the Wildcats’ 2013 leader in receiving yardage, went down with a knee injury. The Wildcats felt his loss in 2014 as wideouts Kyle Prater and Tony Jones were effective at times but did not account for Christian Jones’ production. Superback Dan Vitale caught 40 passes, while the season of Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler was shortened by a head injury suffered in October against Nebraska. The Wildcats struggled with drops and generally required more from the receivers to operate as needed in the Northwestern spread system.

How it can be fixed: Shuler and Vitale are back as seniors, as is Christian Jones, who took a redshirt in 2014. The Wildcats need leadership from the trio as the quarterback position goes through a transition to Zack Oliver, Matt Alviti or Clayton Thorson. With a veteran corps of receivers that includes several additional upperclassmen -- Northwestern needs more from rising senior Cameron Dickerson -- the inconsistency of 2014 must give way to reliability, starting this spring.

Early 2015 outlook: If the QB job goes to Alviti or Thorson -- both in the dual-threat category -- the job description shifts a bit for the receivers. In a best-case scenario, Northwestern finds a weapon at quarterback and running back Justin Jackson builds on a strong rookie season. Among the Wildcats’ top recruits is receiver Cameron Green, the son of ex-Chicago Bears running back Mark Green. Despite the presence of veterans, the Wildcats would benefit from new blood on the edge. The more bodies, the merrier. With Jones back, though, look for a rebound performance from the receivers.

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