Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 25, 2014

The Big Ten will conduct its final three spring games this weekend, with Iowa, Michigan State and Rutgers putting a bow on things. Here?s a look at what to watch for on Saturday as the Big Ten heads into the offseason with its eyes on 2014.

What to watch: How is the passing game?
The Hawkeyes must re-tool their linebacking corps, which has lost stalwarts in Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Reggie Spearman, Quinton Alston and Travis Perry have impressed. But adding oomph to the passing game is more vital. The attack tied for ninth in the Big Ten last season (197.1 ypg). Only three teams threw fewer than the Hawkeyes? 19 touchdown passes. QB Jake Rudock needs to take the proverbial next step in his development. He showed flashes last season. This Saturday, keep an eye on the tight ends with C.J. Fiedorowicz gone. The Hawkeyes also need more playmaking ability at wideout. Guys like Kevonte Martin-Manley, Jacob Hillyer and Tevaun Smith must step up. Perhaps some youngsters will help. Damond Powell is a speedy former JC transfer who could emerge. Redshirt freshmen Derrick Willies, Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris will get a shot to impress and have looked good in spring drills to date. The better the vertical passing game, the better the strong Iowa ground game will be.

What to watch: How does the defense look?
Yes, the offensive line also is a concern with three starters gone. And watching dynamic quarterback Damion Terry will be fun. Can he forge a role? But the defense has been the bellwether during the Spartans rise over the past four seasons. That said, last year?s standout crew lost several key players, including linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, corner Darqueze Dennard, safety Isaiah Lewis and tackles Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover. The linebacking unit was hit hardest, as even key reserve/Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth is gone. Strong-side linebacker Taiwan Jones is back. Darien Harris looks ready to take the next step and could be a factor inside at ?mike.? Keep an eye on youngsters Shane Jones and Jon Reschke on Saturday. Ed Davis figures to play a key role on the weak side. Chris Frey enrolled early and could be a factor, and keep an eye on Riley Bullough, Max?s brother, who is moving back to defense from offense.

[ MORE: Did you see what Rutgers did at the end of a recent practice? It's terrific! ]

What to watch: How is the offensive line looking?
As Kyle Flood puts the finishing touches on spring practice and heads toward the Scarlet Knights? Big Ten debut, he needs to develop depth up front. Rutgers has five starters back up front but needs to cultivate other options. In addition to the line, watch running back. With Paul James and Justin Goodwin out, the spring game will be a good chance for Desmon People to punctuate what has been a terrific spring and make a case for a role in the fall. On defense, the battle at free safety continues. Will it be Delon Stephenson or Johnathan Aiken?

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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