Wisconsin never has won three Big Ten titles in a row, but that will change if it can finish on top again this fall. Still, Bret Bielema’s squad has issues to address this spring. The chief one: assimilating six new assistant coaches. Still, this is a program with lots of momentum that presses on without offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who left to take the head coaching job at Pitt. The year before, defensive coordinator Dave Doeren left to coach Northern Illinois, so Bielema is used to change.
Michigan State is coming off consecutive 11-win seasons. The Spartans won a share of the Big Ten crown in 2010 and captured the Legends Division title in 2011 before falling to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten title game. Some heady accomplishments under Mark Dantonio. But something is missing—a trip to a BCS bowl, which is a destination that Michigan State never has enjoyed. In fact, the Spartans haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since after the 1987 season.
The building continues in Minnesota for second-year coach Jerry Kill, who is coming off a 3-9 season and last-place finish in the Legends Division. Hope floats in Minneapolis, but Kill has a long to-do list if he wants to get the Golden Gophers back to the postseason since Tim Brewster took them to consecutive bowls in 2008-09. The top priority? Improving a porous defense that finished 11th in the Big Ten vs. the run (186.4 ypg), ninth against the pass (216.7 ypg) and 10th overall in the Big Ten (403.1 ypg).
Change is the operative word in Iowa City this spring. There three new assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Phil Parker. And each is tweaking the schemes they inherited from the departed Ken O’Keefe (offense) and Norm Parker (defense). Also, Brian Ferentz (Kirk Ferentz’s son) was tabbed to coach the offensive line and LeVar Woods was promoted to linebackers coach, while Reese Morgan was moved from offensive to defensive line coach.
Kevin Wilson’s debut was a rough one as the Hoosiers skidded to a 1-11 mark overall and an 0-8 Big Ten record. But it’s a building process and Wilson knows that. He spent most of last season implementing his schemes—and trying to get players to buy into what he wants and demands from them. In my ongoing series of Big Ten Spring Football writer roundtables, I talked to three writers who cover the Hoosiers to get their views on Indiana’s top priorities this spring.
It is four straight bowls (Alamo, Outback, TicketCity, and Meineke Car Care) and counting for Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald, but he’s still looking to sip from the postseason championship cup as he enters his seventh season in Evanston. It could happen this year, if the Wildcats can answer some key questions this spring.
Danny Hope broke through in Year Three last season with his first bowl appearance as Boilermaker coach, capping a 7-6 season with a victory over Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Now, he’s looking to take Purdue to the next level. And, it may happen in 2012, if some key issues get resolved. I talked to three writers who cover Purdue to get their thoughts on the Boilermakers’ spring to-do list. See what Mike Carmin, Brian Neubert and Pete DiPrimio all have to say about the Boilermakers in this post.
As far as debuts go, Brady Hoke’s was a hit at Michigan. Hoke sauntered into Ann Arbor and ripped off a stunning 11-2 mark, finishing second in the Legends Division and capping the remarkable season with a triumph over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. It almost made memories of the mercurial three-season Rich Rodriguez tenure vanish. Almost. Now, the question begs: What will Hoke do for an encore? I talked to three top writers who cover Big Blue to gather their thoughts on Michigan’s to-do list this spring.
For the first time since 1965, Penn State will have a new coach prowling the sideline. Joe Paterno was forced out amid scandal late in the 2011 season—and subsequently died. In steps Bill O’Brien, a first-time head coach who comes freshly minted from the New England Patriots, where he served as offensive coordinator for arguably the NFL’s top franchise.
The Urban Meyer era has dawned at Ohio State. And with it comes big dreams—national championship dreams. Why not? Meyer led Florida to BCS titles in 2006 and 2008. Yes, Ohio State is ineligible for the Big Ten title and a bowl this season as it serves probation incurred under Jim Tressel. But Meyer still wants to lay the foundation for future greatness for a team that went 6-7 last season, the program’s first losing season since going 4-6-1 under John Cooper in 1988 and the school’s first seven-loss season since 1897.
I pulled together a virtual roundtable of three prominent writers who cover Nebraska to get their thoughts on the program as it works through spring drills and into 2012. Here are their thoughts, and I’ll do more of these as spring ball continues and I file my Football Fix posts.
Illinois is the midst of spring practice under first-year head coach Tim Beckman, who was hired from Toledo to take over for Ron Zook. Beckman’s goal: Lead the Fighting Illini to the Big Ten championship, which they haven’t won since 2001 under Ron Turner. Zook couldn’t do it, going 34-51 overall and 18-38 in the Big Ten with three bowl bids in seven seasons. He was dismissed after a bizarre 2011 that saw the Illini open 6-0, then lose six in a row before winning their bowl game.