Friday, January 20, 2012
Offseason to-do lists: Leaders Division
By Brian Bennett
The offseason is here, and while teams are focused on recruiting right now, they will soon turn their attention to fixing problem areas and gearing up for 2012.
With that in mind, we present the offseason to-do lists for every Big Ten club, beginning with the Leaders Division. We're not going to talk about recruiting needs here, as we'll focus on that in the very near future. Instead, we're taking a look at a couple of areas each team needs to repair or restock in the coming months.
- Spread it on: An Illini offense that needed a GPS to find the end zone the last half of the season is in for a jarring change. New head coach Tim Beckman will implement the spread offense and demand a higher tempo. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase must regain his freshman-year form if he is to hold off Reilly O'Toole for the starting job, and Illinois must replace its best receiver in A.J. Jenkins. Finding a reliable running back is high on the priority list as well. This offense will get a total makeover and needs to make the most of the spring and summer to get ready.
- Locate defensive leaders: We wondered this time last year how Illinois would replace Corey Liuget. Then Whitney Mercilus jumped up with an All-American season. Who will be the next big playmaker now that Mercilus is off to the NFL? Can Michael Buchanan replicate Mercilus's production off the edge? Will Jonathan Brown capitalize on his potential? New defensive coordinator Tim Banks needs to keep up the level of performance this defense had in '11.
- Build toughness on defense: This one is obvious, as the Hoosiers ranked 114th in points allowed (37.3) and 109th in total defense in Kevin Wilson's first season and gave up at least 40 points in five of their eight Big Ten games. Wilson played a ton of youngsters in 2011 and has a promising future leader in rising sophomore Mark Murphy. But Indiana simply must get more physical up front and tackle better to have any hope of making significant strides.
- Develop Tre Roberson: One of the bright spots in IU's 1-11 season was the emergence of freshman Roberson at quarterback. His athleticism allowed him to make plays in and out of the pocket. With Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker leaving the program, the offense now solely belongs to Roberson, with juco transfer Cameron Coffman his likely backup. Roberson must continue to make progress as a sophomore, or else it could be another long year in Bloomington.
- Urban renewal: Jim Tressel may have been gone last season, but his influence was still heavily felt as former Tressel assistant Luke Fickell and most of Tressel's staff remained in place. So the Buckeyes players are about to experience a whole new way of doing things under Urban Meyer. Most of the change will come on offense, where there will be a new system and new terminology, and spring practice will prove critical for getting everything installed. Meyer's biggest challenge may be reshaping an offensive line that lost three longtime starters in center Mike Brewster and tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts.
- Upgrade the passing game: Braxton Miller improved as a passer as the season went on, but the Buckeyes' passing game still left a lot to be desired most of the time. Miller will need to spend as much time as possible with new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman to improve his throwing, and a group of young Buckeyes receivers like Devin Smith, Corey "Philly" Brown and Chris Fields needs to come of age and turn into reliable playmakers.
- Come together: New coach Bill O'Brien's most daunting task likely will come off the field, where he'll be responsible for repairing a fractured community. He can begin to do so by embracing former players, building bridges to the alumni on the speaking circuit and being more open than his famous predecessor. O'Brien must show recruits that it's OK to come to State College again. Fans will be hungry for football by the spring, and O'Brien should use that optimism to his advantage.
- Fix the offense: There's little question that a Stone Age offense was holding Penn State back, and O'Brien seems intent on being his own offensive coordinator. He'll need to settle on a quarterback, whether that's Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden or someone else, and ingrain his NFL concepts to a bunch used to a vanilla scheme. O'Brien has a solid building block in star tailback Silas Redd but must replace top receiver Derek Moye and an offensive line gutted by graduation.
- Establish an identity: The Boilermakers were the epitome of a mediocre team in 2011, going 6-6 and never winning back-to-back games in the regular season before edging out a MAC team in a lower-level bowl. What exactly is the defining trait of Danny Hope's team? It's time to create an identity, especially on defense where Purdue was inconsistent last season. Old defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel is out and Tim Tibesar is in from the CFL to take over. Tibesar needs to maximize the talent of budding stars like Kawann Short and Ricardo Allen and put his stamp on that side of the ball.
- Create a quarterback pecking order: After dealing with crippling quarterback injuries the past two seasons, Hope must be thrilled by the new-found depth at the position. Robert Marve received a sixth year of eligibility and will be back alongside 2011 starter Caleb TerBush. Meanwhile, projected '11 starter Rob Henry makes his way back from a knee injury. Competition should make the position better, but Purdue must figure out who and how it wants to play at quarterback.
- Find a quarterback: Russell Wilson leaves large cleats to fill after just one season in Madison, and there is no obvious heir apparent. Will Jon Budmayr's elbow allow him to compete for the job? Will Joe Brennan take the next step in his development? Will hyped incoming freshman Bart Houston be ready? The Badgers went to the Rose Bowl the past two seasons with seasoned, senior quarterbacks. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada won't have that luxury this year and has some work to do in the offseason. At least he can lean on a stout running game led by Montee Ball while the quarterback situation crystallizes.
- Build staff chemistry: Canada will be one of six new coaches on Bret Bielema's staff in 2012 and will be part of an almost entirely new offensive brain trust. The Badgers have their style of play on that side of the ball down to a science at this point, but it's not easy to blend that many new coaches and personalities into a program all at once. Bielema has to get them all up to speed and on the same page in a hurry, and the new coaches have to establish rapport with the players right away. That might be one of the Badgers' biggest obstacles on the way to a second straight division title.