- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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The last Big Ten team to open spring practice, Rutgers, gets started Monday. And Michigan, the first to finish, wraps Saturday at the Big House. The practices of February and March have shed light on the offseason direction of programs across the league.
As April approaches, here’s a look at five notable spring developments in the Big Ten:
Jake Rudock nears departure from Iowa: Rudock, the Hawkeyes’ two-year starting quarterback who was demoted behind C.J. Beathard in January, is free to leave Iowa City, with “no strings attached,” according to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. Scheduled to graduate in May, Rudock visited Michigan this spring and could be eligible, under NCAA rules, to play in 2015, though the Big Ten may pose an obstacle with its intraconference transfer rule. The QB has yet to announce his intention. If he lands in Michigan, he would join an inexperienced group headed by junior Shane Morris; Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone own no college experience.
Harbaugh-mania accelerates: This phenomenon, of course, began long before spring practice. But the excitement that follows Jim Harbaugh at every turn has advanced to a new level since practice opened. While the Michigan workouts have produced few details, the coach continues to generate headlines away from the field -- for his roadside help for two women involved in a rollover car accident to his stint as first-base coach of the Oakland A’s. For his latest trick, Harbaugh finished fourth in U-M’s Central Student Government presidential election -- a post for which he did not run, of course. Needless to say, Harbaugh brings more to the Big Ten than just his coaching acumen.
Pro-style offense takes hold at Nebraska: New coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have introduced a series of foreign concepts during the first half of spring drills. At a school that built its reputation on power offensive football, the new coaching regime will bring much of the scheme that produced strong QB play at Oregon State. Langsdorf, who rejoins Riley after one year with the New York Giants, got a taste this month of the challenge ahead. Nebraska quarterbacks, led by Tommy Armstrong Jr., have been trained to gain yards with their feet as often as their arms. The transition figures to endure a few rocky moments.
Key Spartans missing: Michigan State opened practice last week without running back Delton Williams and receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. Both are facing legal issues after incidents that occurred in the past month. Coach Mark Dantonio offered little on their status. Neither player is listed on the MSU spring roster. Their standing in the program before next season looms large for Michigan State. Williams was the Spartans’ third-leading rusher as a sophomore in 2014, behind the departed Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. Kings, as a junior, worked as the top MSU punt returner and accumulated 404 receiving yards as Connor Cook’s third-leading target.
Buckeyes maintain their edge: Complacency ranks as the No. 1 enemy of a defending champion. Through four practices, Ohio State appears on track to stay hungry in the chase to repeat. Plenty of competition for positions exists in Columbus, a factor that figures to drive the Buckeyes through the offseason. Early reports indicate that Gareon Conley and Damon Webb look set to wage a solid battle for the open cornerback position. Two vacant spots on the defensive line also have generated attention. And what’s that, you ask, about the most high-profile battle of all? Nothing much has happened at quarterback, what with Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett held out of most drills while Cardale Jones runs the show. It’ll get intense in August. And Urban Meyer already is feeling the heat.
598dAdam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett