Tom Dienhart offers one post-camp takeaway for all 14 Big Ten teams
The 2015 BTN camp tour is over after 17 days crisscrossing the interstates from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Piscataway, New Jersey.
I still have not caught up with laundry and or reintroduced myself to my family, but I thought I’d offer one takeaway from every stop along the way.
Here are my final thoughts from each stop:
Good energy at Camp Rantoul—along with some good teaching. QB Wes Lunt looked good, but coming up with explosive/big plays may be a challenge. The RB spot is especially worrisome. The d-line looks better equipped to stop the run. No more big plays. The overall depth is better than my first visit here in 2012. A return to a bowl may be possible.
Can the 3-4 scheme stop the run vs. some of these physical Big Ten East clubs? As usual, Indiana may have to outscore teams to win. And the attack looks capable of that. I like the offensive line and think Nate Sudfeld is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. The defense does look better; the linebackers can run. But it will be key for the secondary to come together. A bowl game is possible, but it will be a tightrope walk.
It’s C.J. Beathard or bust for the Hawkeyes at QB. He is a potential boom-or-bust. Still, he gives the squad its best shot for big plays, which the offense so desperately needs. The play of the new OTs is key. They are developing. The route to success figures to be: control the ball with a run game, limit turnovers, play good defense. The margin for error will be slim in Iowa City.
As far as “meat on the hoof” goes, the Terps seemed to lag. Three quarterbacks battled at the scrimmage we watched. Perry Hills looked the best. Some key defensive players were missing, along with two top offensive tackles. The o-line has something to prove, especially the freshman tackles. The front seven on defense is coming together. I like the athletic ability in the new 4-3. The secondary is legit.
The college football paparazzi can’t get enough of Jim Harbaugh. It has been all Harbaugh, all the time since the first whisper of his hiring rustled across the plains last winter. He inherits some talent. Job No. 1: fix an ailing quarterback spot. Will both Jake Rudock and Shane Morris play? Hmmm. No reason not to expect success right out of the gate for Harbaugh. It has happened at his other stops. He has his finger prints all over this program. His control is palpable. The defense looks good; the offense could use some more playmakers. Still, only two teams in the league have more talent: Ohio State and Michigan State.
If Ohio State is a 20-ounce steak, the Spartans are a 19-ounce steak. Both are deliciously talented. Freakish athletic ability drips from the Michigan State roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Impressive. This squad has arguably the best offensive and defensive lines in the league. And the top QB in Connor Cook. The CBs? Keep an eye on them. They are key and must develop. This staff was impressive with how it instructed. Very organized. Smart. A tough, physical practice—just what you would expect from a Mark Dantonio squad.
No team is coached better than this squad. The talent level has improved—and depth is good. The defense is impressive with its athletic ability and speed. The secondary is the Big Ten’s best. But is there enough size up front on defense to deal with physical, downhill teams? I still think this may be the best team in the West, especially if the passing game improves.
This is always an impressive team physically, especially in the trenches. That was no different this year on our visit, as Mike Riley assumes command. Can he make his West Coast/pro style work with this personnel? The pass game must improve. But if the Cornhuskers are going to win the Big Ten West, they must get a steady passing game from QB Tommy Armstrong and the defense needs to get a rush and good play from the linebackers, which lack depth. A simplified defensive package could help the Huskers. A West title is possible.
A big change from last year when we visited Camp Kenosha, when myriad players missed practice. Don’t be shocked if over 10 true freshmen play. They are that good—and the team needs the help. Better QB play is needed. Didn’t see Zack Oliver, who was at class. I liked Clayton Thorson at QB. He is the best combo runner/passer. The o-line still has something to prove. Running some option will help the front. The defense could be solid. I like the DBs.
If there ever was a doubt about the validity of the hype surrounding the Buckeyes, this visit cleared it up. Ohio State is a well-oiled machined with no chinks in its armor. The linebackers are especially talented. The safeties, too. And so it goes, from position group to position group. The QB decision is inconsequential. They both can play. The biggest issue: Staying hungry, motivated and focused.
The team is at about 80 scholarships, but youth is still prevalent. QB Christian Hackenberg looked good. And I loved the wideouts. But, notching big plays may be an issue. Plus, the o-line has something to prove, especially at left tackle. The big boys will determine the fate of the 2015 season in State College. The defense will be good, once again. I like the secondary and DTs, but a pass rush is needed.
The talent and depth have improved by leaps and bounds since we first visited in 2013. The offensive line is impressive. But, there is still work to do across the board. The offense has some playmakers at wideout led by Danny Anthrop. And a “tempo” offense with spread sets and multi-wideout formations has jazzed up the attack. QB Austin Appleby has the intangibles and has improved his passing. The d-line has work to do, especially on the edge. This team must avoid myriad injury.
This team continues to develop physically. I was impressed by the size up front. And at other positions, too. Hayden Rettig has been named the starting QB for now, but don’t be surprised if we see Chris Laviano. This was a fun scrimmage with lots of mojo. But several days after we left, a bomb shell went off involving Kyle Flood and an email he sent to a professor. And several players were suspended for the first half of the opener, including Laviano and WR Leonte Carroo. How will all of this impact?
We watched a physical practice. This may not be a vintage Badgers team in Paul Chryst’s first season in Madison. Why? The offensive line is dotted with youth. And depth is an issue, too. How will that impact an always-physical Wisconsin offense? QB Joel Stave is a nice fit for what Chryst wants to do. Some good teaching going on in Madison, especially by DC Dave Aranda.
|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.|