Dienhart: 25 things I learned this Spring
The Big Ten put a bow on spring practice last Saturday, but many questions still loom as the schools enter the offseason.
Let’s dive into the 25 things I now know coming out of spring drills. And if you need them, we’ve got video highlights from any of the 12 games: Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota.
Here we go.
1. Ohio State is gonna be good–REALLY good–if the offense can develop more proficiency in the passing game. Is Braxton Miller—who threw more than 25 passes in a game once in 2012–up to the task? Or will he run if his first passing option isn’t open? Are there big-play receivers?
2. Nebraska will have the best offense in the Big Ten. Period. End of story. The receiving corps will be tops in the conference, the line will be strong and Taylor Martinez will be a seasoned senior quarterback who knows this offense. There also is a nice collection of running backs. Sit back and watch the points pile up.
3. The Michigan offense will be better without Denard Robinson. It’s true. Robinson’s inability to pass was a huge issue vs. quality foes. Last year’s debacle vs. Notre Dame (four INTs; lost fumble) encapsulated Robinson’s career in big games. Devin Gardner can pass and will make this a fully functional Wolverines offense that finally will have legit run-pass balance.
4. Christian Hackenberg will start at quarterback for Penn State. There, I said it. I don’t think that’s too bold of a proclamation, is it? With Steven Bench chased off, JC transfer Tyler Ferguson is all that stands between the much-hyped Hackenberg and the starting spot.
5. Wisconsin’s defense will be fun to watch. I like coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme that can quickly morph into different looks and will feature plenty of pressure. It’s about creating negative plays and turnovers. This is a big change from the previous staff.
6. Purdue will play smarter and not beat itself. Will that translate into more wins? Probably not right away. But, in the long haul, a more disciplined program will pay dividends for a Boilermakers team under the stewardship of rookie coach Darrell Hazell.
7. If there is a better linebacker in the Big Ten than Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, I haven’t seen him.
8. The Golden Gophers will be just fine at quarterback with Philip Nelson. We saw that last season, and he continued to show he’s a good fit for this offense in the spring. Beware Goldy.
9. Illinois’ offense still has a lot to prove. Pick an area of the attack—and it’s a concern. But new coordinator Bill Cubit will maximize the talent he has, meaning the Illini won’t go winless in the Big Ten again. There was no better Big Ten assistant coach hire in the offseason.
10. Wisconsin won’t miss Montee Ball—at all. James White and Melvin Gordon et al will do just fine. Better than fine, actually.
11. Northwestern will have one of the better defenses in the Big Ten. Talent wise, this could be the Wildcats’ best defense—ever. What’s it all mean? NU could win the Legends Division. It came close last year, blowing leads in its three losses.
12. Speaking of defense, Michigan State’s will be better than last year’s—and that’s saying a lot, since it was No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 4 in the nation in 2012. The unit showed no ill effects of not having corner Johnny Adams or end Will Gholston. Thank you, Pat Narduzzi.
13. After a run of horrible luck, Iowa looks loaded at running back with the likes of Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Barkley Hill, Michael Malloy and Damon Bullock. Finally. Now, are there any receivers?
14. Even with starting cornerbacks Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter gone, Minnesota will have a strong secondary again. Converted safety Derrick Wells and Eric Murray looked good in the spring at corner. Love Brock Vereen at safety.
15. Indiana will have a strong offense—again. Tre Roberson looked good coming off a broken leg, adding yet another weapon to a go-go Hoosiers offense that will move the ball and have to outscore foes for Indiana to win.
16. Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell did nothing this spring to quell concerns about the position in East Lansing. Uh-oh.
17. Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman is unblockable.
18. Wisconsin has reason to be worried about its quarterback spot. Ditto Iowa. This summer, the Badgers will welcome touted JC transfer Tanner McEvoy, who could end up winning the job. The Hawkeyes have three uninspiring choices in Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard.
19. Continuing the quarterback theme: Who will pull the trigger at Purdue? Tell ya what: True freshman Danny Etling looked good in the spring after arriving early as the gem of Darrell Hazell’s first recruiting class.
20. Penn State is going to have a good defense—again—even without the likes of Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Sean Stanley and Stephon Morris, and with a new coordinator in John Butler.
21. Nebraska has some terrific young linebackers in Jared Afalva, Michael Rose, Thomas Brown and David Santos. JC Zaire Anderson also looks good. These guys could be special. Will the line do its part?
22. Ohio State’s defensive line lost all four starters—but it won’t matter. In fact, the front may end up being better than last year with young studs Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence leading the way.
23. Jared Abbrederis is nice, but the Badgers need more big-play ability at receiver. Right now.
24. Michigan State may be in trouble at running back with Le’Veon Bell gone. Look, I like big Riley Bullough. But if he’s the best MSU has at running back, the Spartans are in trouble. Maybe an incoming freshman can help.
25. Michigan has issues at running back, too. Can Fitz Toussaint regain his 2011 form? Incoming freshman stud Derrick Green better arrive on campus with his chinstrap buckled.
|GAME DAY||SCHOOL||SPRING FOOTBALL STORIES & VIDEO|
|April 6||Nebraska||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 12||Illinois||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 13||Michigan||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 13||Ohio State (Cincinnati)||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 13||Indiana||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 13||Purdue||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 13||Northwestern||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 20||Penn State||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 20||Michigan State||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 20||Wisconsin||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 27||Iowa||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|April 27||Minnesota||GAME NOTES | VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS | BTN.COM PREVIEW|
|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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