Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, March 26, 2012

Big week in Big Ten football, as the last three schools begin spring practice this week. Penn State kicks off today; Michigan State on Tuesday; Ohio State on Wednesday. If you can believe it, the first spring games will begin on April 14. Clean up your Weber Smokey Joes and mark your calendars.

Look for a Roundtable discussion on Penn State soon. I also am talking to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz for a Q&A this week. He has a lot on his plate as he begins his 14th season in Iowa City with an overhauled coached staff.

SPEAKING OF PENN STATE: Penn State begins practice this week. And will there be a more watched program in the nation? Maybe not, as the school turns the page on the iconic Joe Paterno era and takes the wraps off the Bill O?Brien regime.

What will O?Brien?s offense look like? Will the former New England Patriot offensive coordinator have an attack that is pro-style? And will he make heavy use of the tight end, like he did with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez?

The defense of new coordinator Ted Roof also will be scrutinized. Early word is that Roof?s defense will be more aggressive than predecessor?s Tom Bradley. It?s going to be interesting to see how things unfold in State College, Pa.

Oh, and what?s gonna happen at quarterback, a position that has been an issue for several seasons? On that note, here?s a Tweet from Harrisburg Patriot-News writer Bob Flounders on the subject:!/BobbyFlo7/status/184331502744641536

The Nits are waiting to see if they win the sweepstakes for the Maryland signal-caller. If they do, many feel he would instantly become the starter over Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. Of course, O?Brien still is looking at schools like Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin, in addition to Penn State. Stay tuned. This is huge.

ULTIMATE COMPLIMENT: On the subject of transfers, check out this Tweet from Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune:!/TeddyGreenstein/status/184330287843512320

If Colter, the Wildcat quarterback, is correct about the USC transfer, then it?s great news for a NU attack that always can use an injection of playmakers. But, wow ? Megatron? Really?

NEW MICHIGAN LEADERS: Jordan Kovacs and Will Campbell are among the new Michigan leaders. This is a team that needs some leaders to step up with players like Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen gone. Brady Hoke is amping up the talent level, and the Wolverines have a lot of momentum entering 2012. But leadership is a question. Spring is the time for the leaders to begin to emerge.

HELLO, HAWKS: Keep an eye on these unproven Hawkeyes. Oh, it?s a long list. Players like running back Jordan Canzeri; defensive tackle Darian Cooper; strong safety Nico Law; left offensive tackle Brandon Scherff; defensive end Riley McMinn, among others, need to step up this spring in what?s a critical point in the tenure of Kirk Ferentz, the longest serving coach in the Big Ten (arrived in 1999). The coaching staff has been overhauled with new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and Iowa plays in a tough division with Michigan and Michigan State expected by most to be the front-runners as the Hawkeyes search for answers at running back, offensive line and-most importantly-defensive line.

SOLID RAPPORT: Chemistry between Thomas Hammock and Matt Canada dates to their days at Northern Illinois The two were part of some good teams at Northern Illinois. And they have their work cut out for them in Madison. Canada will coordinate an offense that must replace Russell Wilson, who left as one of the school?s best quarterbacks ever. And he only played one season. The signal-caller situation won?t be resolved in the spring, however. Sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave will get most of the reps, as junior Jon Budmayr recovers from an elbow issue and senior Curt Phillips gets over a knee injury. Other concerns for Canada: rehabbing an offensive line that lost three starters and replacing receiver Nick Toon. Good think running back Montee Ball opted to return.
This Tweet from @BadgerFootball offers some insight into the offensive line situation:!/BadgerFootball/status/184335116343054336

NO EARLY CUPCAKES: Nebraska?s non-conference foes have proven coaches. It?s an interesting mix of coaches who will face off with Bo Pelini. In fact, three of the coaches will be in their first years on the job: Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State; Ellis Johnson at Southern Miss; Jim Mora at UCLA. (Idaho State is the fourth non-league foe.) This could be the Cornhuskers? toughest collection of non-conference opponents since 2007, when Nebraska faced Nevada; at Wake Forest; USC; or 1996, when the Huskers had Michigan State; at Arizona State; Colorado State. It will be a good test for a program looking for its first conference title since 1999 and first BCS bowl since the 2001 season.

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for and will post his Daily Links on weekdays. You can subscribe to the Daily Links RSS here, find Dienhart?s work at, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.