Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, January 7, 2014
It?s not too early to start thinking about the 2014 season, right? Right. Others already are in on the action, with super-early top 25 polls. So, here?s why you should be excited about your team?s prospects for next season. Smiles, everyone!
Fans are jacked out of their mind to see Oklahoma State transfer quarterback Wes Lunt, who could take this improving offense to another level. Don?t forget about Aaron Bailey, too. RB Josh Ferguson is a special jack-of-all-trades. All of the young talent on defense that took its bumps and bruises in 2013 has to be better, right?
As long as Kevin Wilson is sitting in the captain?s chair in Bloomington, the offense will be plenty explosive. Triggermen Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson are back. And there aren?t many running backs better than Tevin Coleman. The young defense has some talent. Honestly, it does. And, it finally may show it in 2014.
The Hawkeyes have lots of mojo under the steady hand of Kirk Ferentz, going from 4-8 to 8-5. You know QB Jake Rudock is only going to improve. And he will have myriad running backs to hand off to in Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri, and still will throw to Kevonte Martin-Manley. When aren?t the offensive line and defense good in Iowa City? Exactly. Brandon Scherff may be the top OT in the Big Ten. The d-line should be especially strong with guys like Ts Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat back.
Despite a 2-6 finish, there still is reason for optimism. This was a largely young team whose best days are ahead. Guys like QB Shane Morris, DE Frank Clark, TE/WR Devin Funchess, LB James Ross, CB Blake Countess and QB Devin Gardner, among others, all are back. There?s great potential for growth. And the interior of the offensive line has to be better, right? Plus, don?t discount how motivated this team will be coming off a disappointing season.
No team is hotter, as the Spartans will ride into the 2014 season off of a 13-1 mark and riding a 10-game winning streak. As for positives, where do I start? The offense will teem with skill talent, led by QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford. And many top wideouts are back. Hello, Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, Jr. The defense loses several key cogs, but MSU can build another strong unit around E Shilique Calhoun, CB Trae Waynes and LB Taiwan Jones. Just watch.
The Gophers are energized by a rebirth in 2013 that saw them win eight games-the program?s most victories since 2003. The offense should improve based on the experience guys like RB David Cobb, TE Maxx Williams, QBs Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner and WR Drew Wolitarsky received in 2013. Tight end and o-line also teem with veteran talent. The defense is loaded with vets like LB Damien Wilson, CB Eric Murray and E Thieren Cockran, as athletic ability continues to improve across the board.
The Gator Bowl win will serve as a catapult, no doubt. A young defense really came on late. The front seven could be very good, with guys like E Randy Gregory and T Vincent Valentine up front and myriad athletic LBs like Michael Rose, Josh Banderas, Nathan Gerry, among others. RB Ameer Abdullah led the Big Ten in rushing. If he returns, look out. If he bolts, talent remains. Tommy Armstrong is a seasoned signal-caller who will have some nice targets in Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Jordan Westerkamp et al.
One of the Big Ten?s biggest disappointments should be ultra-motivated. This presumably is QB Trevor Siemian?s team now. And he?ll have some good targets in WRs Christian Jones and Tony Jones, in addition to SB Dan Vitale. Lots of options at running back, too, with Treyvon Green and Venric Mark, who should get a medical hardship. The o-line is back but must improve. Gotta love some of this defensive talent, like LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, S Ibraheim Campbell, S Traveon Henry and E Ifeadi Odenigbo. The talent on defense never has been better in Evanston.
Yes, the Buckeyes lost their last two games of 2013 to ruin Big Ten and national title hopes and a 24-game winning streak to open the Urban Meyer era. Still, this offense and team will remain at or near the top of the league with QB Braxton Miller apparently back. Yes, the bleeding must stop on defense, but a veteran front seven led by what may be the top line in the Big Ten is a good place to start. This team is hungry for a title.
The search for a coach continues, but we know this: QB Christian Hackenberg isn?t going anywhere. Nope, he?ll be back for his sophomore season and will be the Big Ten?s top passing quarterback. All the key running backs return; gotta love Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. And no school has better tight end talent. Geno Lewis is a nice young wideout. The defense? Myriad starters are back: S/CB Adrian Amos, LB Nyeem Wartman, E Deion Barnes, LB Mike Hull. Should I go on?
Things can?t be any worse than they were last season, which went down as perhaps the worst in school annals. At least that?s the hope. However, growing pains may continue as the staff turns over the roster. QB Danny Etling looks like a keeper. Ditto WR DeAngelo Yancey, who?s part of a gaggle of promising young wideouts. The Boilers also will benefit from the positive vibe of coach Darrell Hazell and his uber-cool hat.
Where to start? How about the offensive line, where all the key components return highlighted by C Dan Voltz, T Tyler Marz and T Rob Havenstein? RB James White has left, but no worries. The Badgers still can hand off to Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Boffo. QB Joel Stave is back but needs to improve-a lot. The defense? Well, it has lots holes to fill. Did I mention the offense has a lot of veteran talent?
|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.|