There’s no shortage of newsworthy Big Ten items right now, what with Ohio State headed to the Final Four in New Orleans, spring practice in full swing and ex-Maryland QB Danny O’Brien deciding to commit to Wisconsin over Penn State, among other schools.
Do you think Ohio State can win the national championship? – Chip
I think this is a motivated Buckeye team that has revenge on its mind. No. 1, Ohio State lost at Kansas earlier this year when it played without Jared Sullinger. No. 2, the Buckeyes would love to meet–and beat–Kentucky after the Wildcats unceremoniously dumped Ohio State from last year’s Big Dance in the Sweet 16 when it was the No. 1 overall seed. The Buckeyes haven’t forgotten. But my question: Can Ohio State match the firepower of the Wildcats should they meet on Monday night? Fascinating.
Who is going to catch passes for Ohio State? – Bill
It’s still very much up in the air. Recently, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer were listed as the top wideouts in spring drills. But other players remain in the mix, including Verlon Reed, Philly Brown and Chris Fields. The lack of proven playmakers on the edge is stunning for a program that has a storied recent history of producing primo wideouts. Anyone remember guys like David Boston, Terry Glenn, Anthony Gonzalez, Ted Ginn, Jr., Joey Galloway, Santonio Holmes, Michael Jenkins, Cris Carter? Yes, not bad. It just doesn’t look like there’s anyone even remotely close to any of those luminaries.
How big of a blow was it to Penn State to not get Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien? – Nate
It hurts—a lot. But the Nits still at least have two players with experience to turn to in Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. Paul Jones also is in the mix. And incoming freshman Steven Bench also could be a factor when he arrives after graduating from high school. But, still, can any of these guys run Bill O’Brien’s offense, which figures to be pro-oriented? It all puts more pressure on running back Silas Redd and the ground game that will work behind a rebuilt line.
That’s two years in a row that Wisconsin has landed a transfer quarterback. Do you think that will hurt them in recruiting? – Matt
I guess I don’t think so. Right now, the depth chart is packed with Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips, who are coming off surgeries and not taking part in spring drills. Joel Stave and Joe Brennan are getting the reps now. And Bart Houston will arrive in August from high school. Of course, Danny O’Brien figures to rise to the top of the depth chart the moment he snaps his chinstrap, just as Russell Wilson did last year. Bret Bielema still will take one quarterback each Signing Day. And I don’t know what prep signal-caller wouldn’t want to be part of this dynamic offense.
John Groce? What do you think? – Phillip
I know Illinois’ hiring of the Ohio coach may not be wildly popular with many in the Illini Nation, but I like it. Yes, I know Illinois was rebuffed by upward of six coaches—Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Anthony Grant, Lorenzo Romar, Stan Heath—and Groce was only 34-30 in MAC play. I know he never finished higher than third in the conference during the regular season. But Groce was “money” when it mattered in tourney play. He led the Bobcats to a pair of MAC tourney titles. And in the Big Dance, he overplayed his seed twice. In 2010, Ohio dumped Georgetown in its first game. This March, the Bobcats upset Michigan and South Florida before taking North Carolina to the limit in the Sweet 16. And Groce has shown he can recruit all-important Chicago, as Ohio’s best player—D.J. Cooper—hails from the Windy City. And Groce is the guy who reeled in talent like Greg Oden and Mike Conley to Ohio State when he was an assistant under Thad Matta with the Buckeyes. So, please, give Groce a chance, capice?
What are the 3-4 “biggest shoes to fill” in spring football in your mind? – Terry
Good question. Here is a list of one guy per team who left a massive pair of shoes to fill this spring.
David Molk, C, Michigan
Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Kirk Cousin, QB, Michigan State
Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State
Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
Carson Wiggs, K, Purdue
Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
Da’Jon McKnight, WR, Minnesota
Jeff Thomas, LB, Indiana
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at www.btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.