Best of the spring in the Big Ten

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Spring practice has wrapped up in the Big Ten, and it's time to look back at some of the superlatives from the last eight weeks.

Best spring game performance -- The quarterbacks made this a tough choice, but I've got to go with Michigan State tandem Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Both players passed for 357 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the Green-White Game. Honorable mentions to go Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Illinois defensive end Jerry Brown and Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips.

Best performance by a freshman -- Early enrollee Tate Forcier left Michigan fans feeling a bit more comfortable about the quarterback position after the spring game. Forcier tossed four touchdown passes and ran for another to complete an encouraging spring in Ann Arbor. He still has a ways to go, but he impressed the coaches this spring with his playmaking ability and willingness to learn the system. Honorable mentions go to Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray and Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson.

Best out-of-the-blue performance -- No one saw Ralph Bolden coming this spring, including Purdue's defenders, evidently. Bolden not only put himself in the mix for the Boilers' starting running back spot, but he might enter the summer as the frontrunner. A virtual unknown before the spring, Bolden rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns in Purdue's spring scrimmages, including 153 yards and two scores in the Black & Gold Game.

Best position change -- Indiana's Kellen Lewis might have fit here if not for his dismissal days after spring ball ended. The nod goes to another quarterback-turned-receiver, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, who impressed the coaches and shot up the depth chart this spring. McNutt brings excellent size and athleticism to the wide receiver position, and should be one of Ricky Stanzi's top targets this season.

Best spring game atmosphere -- A spring game record crowd of 95,722 filled Ohio Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday for the spring game. Packing one of the nation's biggest stadiums for a glorified scrimmage definitely adds some atmosphere. Michigan and Penn State also drew impressive crowds for their spring games.

Best story of the spring -- The development of quarterbacks around the league this spring bodes well for the Big Ten come September. Holdovers Daryll Clark and Juice Williams looked polished, while Iowa's Stanzi and Ohio State's Pryor build off strong first seasons as the starters. Teams like Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin can feel better about their depth at quarterback, and Michigan was pleased with Forcier.

Best non-story of the spring -- Greg Paulus' brief flirtation with Michigan generated a ton of buzz, though the possibility of the former Duke point guard joining the Wolverines as a quarterback always seemed remote. The Paulus story has gone away (thankfully), but it kept Michigan in the news and might have helped Paulus generate attention from other schools.

Best quote -- "If we've got a room full of guys that think, 'Well, that's what you do. You come to Ohio State and you're Big Ten champs,' if that's the reality in their mind, then we're going to have a problem," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "Because it is hard. People that know just how hard it is are gone. Because they're the ones that traversed that mountain.

"It's our job to get guys to understand how difficult it's been. It's not, 'Wish upon a star and I'm entitled to that.' That's the fun of raising kids up, helping them understand that goals are wonderful, but the plan and the action taken toward those goals it what it's all about."

Best quote II: "I don't want to have a quarterback controversy, but I also want to provide equal opportunity for everybody involved," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "I don't want it to be, 'He played well one time, so he's the guy.' What we're building for is consistency and performance over the long term."

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