Web links: Michigan's No. 1 jersey, spring ball & more

It was a big weekend for spring football games, with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State holding events. So, let’s start daily links there. Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News has some final thoughts on Penn State’s spring game right here.

Among them: The quarterback derby remains close between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg will arrive this summer. Yes, Bill O’Brien has said the offense continues to expand. And, we know it’s difficult to pick up. No matter, I don’t care if Hackenberg may be behind in learning the system—if he’s the most-talented quarterback, I think he will start. It would be foolish to start less-talented Bench or Ferguson over Hackenberg just because they know the plays a bit better. Why not scale things back for Hackenberg and let him learn on the job?

Oh, and here are five Nittany Lions who helped themselves in the spring game. I am eager to see LB Nyeem Wartman and RB Akeel Lynch.

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We all know the Iowa offense needs some playmakers in the passing game. But who beyond tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz figures to fill the bill? The great Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register has some names for you, Herky.

  • Kevonte Martin-Manley a 6-foot, 205-pound junior, led Iowa last season with 52 catches for 571 yards.
  • Jordan Cotton (6-1, 192 senior) started once last fall and finished with 12 receptions for 172 yards.
  • Don Shumpert (6-3, 200 senior) and Tevaun Smith (6-2, 200 sophomore) saw limited action a year ago.

If not that trio, maybe five receivers in the most recent recruiting class will help. Maybe?

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Illinois coach Tim Beckman isn’t saying what his two-deeps will look like. But a Champaign News-Gazette writer has taken a stab at it. Have a gander.

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Wisconsin had its spring game on Saturday. And a much-maligned passing game made some progress.

Joel Stave completed 15 of 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown with a long gain of 24 yards.

“I thought Joel was poised today,” Andersen said, acknowledging the practice was Stave’s best of the spring. “I thought he wasn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. They caught the ball good for him. I thought we were getting in and out of our routes better. Protection was much better.”

Phillips hit 8 of 13 attempts for 82 yard.

“He had composure, like he’s had and you would expect from a cagey veteran, which he is,” Andersen said. “Threw the ball. He got some balls down the field and did some good things. He probably had a couple he’d like to get back, but so does Joel.”

Phillips and Stave will continue their battle for the No. 1 job in camp, when junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy joins the team.

Stay tuned. That’s all I’m gonna say.

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Did you miss the Michigan State spring game? No sweat. The Lansing State Journal tells you what it learned on offense here.

Is Andrew Maxwell REALLY the answer at quarterback? I’m still not sold. But I like the receivers a bit more. The running backs? Hmmm.

And what it learned on defense here.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: This will be a REALLY good defense.

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Minnesota will play its spring game this Saturday. But the Golden Gophers showed a brief preview of an explosive running game in a recent scrimmage.

This is good. You see, big runs were too few and far between for Minnesota in 2012. In 13 games last season, Marcus Fuller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes that the Gophers had only five runs 25 yards or longer. The Gophers had five of those in their spring scrimmage alone Saturday.

The quarterback will run less this season—staffers felt the attack became too reliant on that with MarQueis Gray—and work from the shotgun less often, as the Gophers look to develop a physical ground game. It’s all about setting up play-action for big plays. At least that’s the idea.

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You know that famed No. 1 jersey at Michigan? Well, coaches use it as a recruiting tool.

No wideout has worn the jersey since Braylon Edwards in 2004. Could incoming recruit Drake Harris be the next?

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That special week that comes just once a year is here: It’s NFL draft week! The national celebration begins on Thursday. And, Ohio State surely will have several players picked. One is big defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. But could a drop in production in 2012 hurt his stock?

Most every draft analyst with Internet access has Hankins as a second-round pick. At one time, he looked like a first-rounder. What happened?

“What he did as a sophomore was special. But he had a more impactful role this year and he didn’t step up and take over that role, and I think that’s a big part of it,” CBSSports.com Dane Brugler told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “The production wasn’t there. He played a lot of snaps, and it’s not that he takes plays off, but that he wears himself out.”

***

Nebraska may not have many draft picks this week; or next season, for that matter. What has happened to all of the studs in Lincoln?

The Huskers had just three players invited to the Combine: Rex Burkhead, Daimion Stafford and Brett Maher—a KICKER! In 2014, guard Spencer Long looks like he could be Nebraska’s highest drafted lineman since Toniu Fonoti went in the second round in 2002. Others like QB Taylor Martinez, CB Ciante Evans, OT Jeremiah Sirles and DE Jason Ankrah don’t rank too highly.

Speaking of Nebraska, coaches know the offense may lose some of its luster unless turnovers are trimmed. In fact, Nebraska had a Big Ten-high 35 turnovers last season—and still won the Legends Division. Amazing. And 16 of those turnovers came in Nebraska territory. Here are some other numbers to ponder with spring football in the rear-view mirror for Nebraska.

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The great Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette takes a look at spring practice attendance around the nation to date. This conclusion: They like football in the SEC. A lot.

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We all know a college football playoff is coming in 2014. But, what will it be called? We soon will find out. This should be good.

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I have to give you at least one hoops story, right? Well, here you go: Who will start for Michigan next season?

Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas are givens. But, who will join that dynamic duo? Could it be freshmen  Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton? We’ll have to wait and see, of course.

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TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: I hear that.

My take: Even the pecking order at quarterback for Wisconsin may not mean much with stud JC Tanner McEvoy arriving this summer.

My take: Defense typically always is a struggle at Minnesota. These guys need to continue surprising in the fall.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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