Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 6, 2015

Spring football ended across the Big Ten almost two weeks ago. The long offseason is here-but work remains. All 14 league teams enter the summer with some nagging questions.

First up: The Big Ten West.


1. Is the d-line better? Tim Beckman brought in Mike Phair from the NFL to coach the line and co-coordinate. He has been in the pros the last 13 years. This D needs help after ranking 94th, 105th and 107th in the nation in scoring in Beckman?s first three seasons. And it starts up front.

2. Can the offensive line get a push? This unit has made slow and steady progress the last three years, as depth and talent have been issues. It will be important to get a push up front to help a ground game that ranked 13th in the league (117.5 ypg) in 2014.

3. Is there depth at running back? Josh Ferguson is a known commodity. But he needs help. Is JC transfer Henry Enyenihi the answer? Maybe it?s freshman Ke?Shawn Vaughn, the Illini?s top signee in February? Regardless, Illinois needs a complement to Ferguson.



1. How will offense look with C.J. Beathard as the guy? Beathard has a big arm, but his gunslinger mentality can be dangerous. Be careful what you wish for, Hawkeye fans.

2. Will the offensive line reload? Tackles Brandon Scherff (first-round pick) and Andrew Donnel (fourth-round pick) are gone, leaving yawning holes. Sophomores Ike Boettger and Boone Myers are penciled in to start. Stay tuned. At the least the interior returns intact.

3. Can the tackles help out the ends? Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat were bellwethers on the inside. Now, they are gone. Into the void steps Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata, among others. The good news up front is that ends Nate Meier and Drew Ott are good.



1. Will the passing game continue to evolve? The Gophers made some strides in the spring with QB Mitch Leidner-who hit just 51 percent of his passes in 2014. His cause will be helped with the emergence of some playmakers at wideout for an attack that ranked 13th in the Big Ten (141.8 ypg) in passing in 2014.

2. Will the no-huddle help? The staff installed a no-huddle attack that Minnesota will use from time to time to change the pace and keep defenses off balance. It will help if redshirt freshman wideouts Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant and Melvin Holland, Jr., emerge. Jeff Jones looks like a legit wideout after converting from running back.

3. Can Gophers replace David Cobb? Cobb is off to the NFL, but the staff still thinks it has many good options in Rodrick Williams, Rodney Smith and Berkley Edwards. Only week-in, week-out game-testing will prove this.


1. Is Tommy Armstrong a fit? The new staff uses a pro-style attack. Armstrong is a veteran, but he never has completed more than 53 percent of his passes in a season. Armstrong also has tossed 20 interceptions the last two years. He has a lot to prove.

2. Who steps up on offensive line? Speaking of a lot to prove ? with players like guards Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy and center Mark Pelini gone, the front need to develop. Tackle Alex Lewis and guard Chongo Condolo look strong. After that? Keep an eye on players like Ryan Reeves, Givens Price, Zach Sterup and Tanner Farmer, among others.

3. Who will rush the passer? No way Nebraska replaces DE Randy Gregory. There just doesn?t appear to be many dynamic options off the edge. Greg McMullen is more suited to battle the run, while Jack Gangwish is a former walk-on who is limited. NU may have to blitz to get heat.


1. How will things play out under center? NU has a three-man battle waging to assume command. Clayton Thorson is a former four-star recruit who could be special and is taking on Max Alviti and Zack Oliver.

2. Is there big-play ability at receiver? Who will scare defenders and stretch defenses on the perimeter? If opponents can focus on stunting a nice collection of running backs led by Justin Jackson, this offense could bog down. Speaking of the ground game, watch the line. It has been sub-par of late. Time to get tough.

3. What is the mind-set of the team? The Wildcats endured a unionization effort last year that had to have been a divisive force. Not a good atmosphere for a program coming off consecutive 5-7 seasons that followed a breakout 10-win season in 2012 that saw the Wildcats win their first bowl in 64 years.



1. Are there any answers at wideout? The best bet-WR Danny Anthrop-is coming off a serious knee injury. WR DeAngelo Yancey needs to regain his freshman form. Are there any tight ends in the house? What about the running back? Is sawed-off sophomore D.J. Knox really the answer?

2. Who will be next Purdue pass-rusher? DE Ryan Russell is gone, off to the NFL. Who will bring the heat? The staff admits depth on the edge is an issue. Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson may have to turn to blitzes to get pressure.

3. Who should start at quarterback? This oh-so-critical position needs some stability. Play under center has been too lackluster for too long. Neither Austin Appleby nor Danny Etling impressed in 2014. Are they better? Could redshirt freshman David Blough be a hidden gem?



1. Is there enough depth on the offensive line? The Badgers must replace three starters in guards Kyle Costigan and Dallas Lewallen, along with right tackle Rob Havenstein. The No. 1 line could be Tyler Marz at left tackle, Ray Ball at left guard, Dan Voltz at center, Michael Deiter at right guard and Hayden Biegel at right tackle. How thin is this crew? Jon Dietzen might be the best of the backups and he is an early enrollee.

2. Will another play-maker develop at WR? Wisconsin has a keeper in Alex Erickson. Who will be his sidekick? Robert Wheelwright and Jordan Fredrick are veteran options. Jazz Peavy, Krenwick Sanders and George Rushing are promising youngsters. Tanner McEvoy, a starting safety and ex-QB, is a wild card.

3. How will the linebackers look? Two new starters must develop quickly. The good news-Leon Jacobs and T.J. Edwards looked good in the spring. What?s behind them?


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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