What’s being said about Big Ten football on this glorious Thursday? Here are the top stories. Enjoy.
GET HIM ON THE FIELD: Has Wisconsin switched speedy running back James White to receiver?
It looked that way at a recent practice, writes Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal. But White insists otherwise.
“I’m still a running back,” said White. “(Receiver) is just a second thing. It’s a backup thing.”
Yes, but it’s all a part of the coaches’ hopes of getting White and stud running back Montee Ball on the field together. Why not? They are both spectacular playmakers who provide headaches for defenses.
“Great idea,” said Ball. “Leaving him on the sideline, you can’t do that. He’s too great of a player to do that. He can play somewhere and I’m glad to see they’re utilizing him.”
GRADING THE DEFENSE: Nebraska’s spring practice if finished. That’s why Brian Christopherson of Lincoln Journal Star is reviewing the Husker defense.
Linebacker is a key area to monitor, as it’s unknown how the arrival of four recruits in the fall will impact a unit that needs help. Will Compton is the only veteran linebacker who seems assured of a job. The secondary? It doesn’t have as many issues, as Bo Pelini was pleased with the play of Daimon Stafford and Mohammed Seisay, among others. Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler are building blocks on a line that needs a playmaker with Jared Crick gone.
Bottom line: This is a Nebraska defense with something to prove after ranking just seventh in the Big Ten in 2011 (350.7 ypg). More big plays (sacks, tackles for loss) are needed for this to be a Legends Division championship squad.
DEFENSIVE DEPTH: Michigan State is loaded with competition at linebacker, says Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News.
This time last year, the Spartans’ linebacking crew was littered with questions as MSU tried to replace the loss of 450 career tackles (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon). But there are no such issues this spring for a unit led by Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Chris Norman that will rank among the best in the Big Ten—if not the nation.
“I don’t think pressure is the right word, it’s more excitement,” Bullough said. “With a lot of guys coming back, we just have the same players with another year of experience. It’s an opportunity to prove that we’re better than we were last year and an opportunity to be one of the best football teams in Michigan State history.”
This could be Mark Dantonio’s best defense yet. And that should be a scary thought for Big Ten foes.
POSSIBLE MYSTERY TEAM: Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald-Review thinks this Illinois football team is a tough sell.
Why? The spring didn’t give Tupper much to look at. New coach Tim Beckman’s team is largely a mystery. Good? Bad? Who knows?
Tupper writes: (Beckman) lacks the proven pedigree to suggest game-changing offensive fireworks (he’s not his former boss, Urban Meyer) or the natural excitement to make fans want to start tearing down goal posts (he’s not P.T. Barnum, or even Lou Holtz).
Still, the coaching change offers hope for a new beginning at Illinois. The hope of a more consistent program that can one day challenge for the Big Ten title on a consistent basis.
The big key: Developing a consistent and explosive offense, two traits of Beckman’s teams at Toledo.
BUYING INTO O’BRIEN: The Penn State players are learning the Bill O’Brien way: fast and focused.
Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News says star running back Silas Redd is buying in. So is rising fullback Zach Zwinak. O’Brien wants to set a new tempo, establish a new attitude in addition to the new schemes he’s installing on both sides of the ball.
So far, it seems to be working. But we’ll obviously know more in the fall for this program in the midst of a massive transformation.
Is this a bowl team?
MUCH-ANTICIPATED GAME: Few spring games will be more anticipated than Ohio State’s, which will take place this Saturday. Sure, new coach Urban Meyer won’t show his full arsenal. But look for the Buckeyes to focus on the passing game, as Ohio State wants to work on amping up a passing attack that needs quarterback Braxton Miller to improve his accuracy and some receivers to step up.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be caught a lot,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
The game also will provide a chance for Meyer to watch his team in a game-like setting, as big crowds typically are the norm in Columbus.
TWEETS that matter
My take: Yes, any improvement in the passing game will be welcomed in Columbus after the Buckeye aerial game ranked last in the Big Ten in 2011 (127.0 ypg). Making bigger plays in the passing game will help augment the moribund attack.
My take: This is yet another reason why I love Brady Hoke. The guy doesn’t run away from challenges. Besides, what does Michigan have to lose by playing the defending national champions? Nothing, really. Bama will be the favorite, so there will be no shame in losing—as long as it’s not a blowout. And a Wolverine victory would be a huge boost to the surging program and stamp it a national title contender in 2012. Not a bad deal, huh?
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.