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The Ohio State Spring game that took place on Saturday, April 23rd will be the last time Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel will be on the sidelines for any type of meaningful game for a while, and he didn’t even have his signature sweater vest.
Though Tressel wasn’t sporting the sweater vest, he did make a classy move by wearing camoflauge pants and a hat commemorating the Ohio National Guard families and members that attended the game.
On the field, quarterback Terrelle Pryor stood with a headset on and watched the younger guys take reps as he continues to recover from foot surgery he had this offseason, and Ohio State is making no bones about it—this is anyone’s competition to win.
Coach Tressel implemented four new quarterbacks with the first unit, all of whom threw a touchdown pass. The leading candidate to take over Pryor’s spot—at least, the one that we chose—appears to be Braxton Miller, a standout freshman who was a hotly contested high school recruit. Per reports, Miller was the “most impressive” quarterback of the day, completing seven of his 12 pass attempts for 73 yards, a touchdown, and showed off his ability to make plays on the run as well.
Head coach Jim Tressel thought the young Miller looked the most comfortable of the quarterbacks, and didn’t exactly have glowing reviews of the other signal callers:
“I thought Braxton probably played a little more relaxed and had a little bit more fun than he has, in part because we really limited what we were doing today,” Tressel said. “Joe and Kenny showed they’ve been around and are able to manage our offense and know what’s going on. Taylor had a big home-run throw, but he took a couple too many minus-yard plays.”
DeVier Posey is also one of the suspended Buckeyes, but he has no intentions of sulking during his off time. Posey voiced his pride for how the Ohio State receivers performed on Saturday:
“I felt like a proud dad watching them score touchdowns and make plays,” Posey said. “To me, that shows growth. At the beginning of the spring, I didn’t know if they would make those plays. Now I can look forward to the next four months.”
Reports indicate the Buckeyes’ performance was encouraging, but there are major issues with their depth on the offensive line, and it remains to be seen whether or not the crew that people saw on Saturday can translate their game to victories come game day.
Oh what a difference a QB makes.
The Illinois Fighting Illini were expected to be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten in 2010. That was, until they discovered they had a gem at the quarterback position in Nathan Scheelhaase. The freshman sensation showed he could make plays with both his arm and his legs, and brought a lot of excitement to a high-scoring Illinois offense.
This team will lose a lot of key players, namely running back Mikel LeShoure who had an outstanding junior season and led the team in rushing. LeShoure was the catalyst for the offense, absolutely punishing defenders and creating opportunities for others.
This is going to be a team looking for someone to step up, and that man has to be the sophomore quarterback. Scheelhaase is going to be the leader of this team, which has a lot of question marks.
Illinois will play their Spring game on Saturday, April 23rd. You can follow me on Twitter @SayreBedinger
Would it be a Big Ten Spring Preview without a quarterback controversy at this point? Perhaps when we get to Michigan State, but for now, we will keep focused on Purdue.
2010 was a season full of injuries and inconsistency for the Boilermakers, whose biggest win last season came on the road against Northwestern. Purdue finished the season 4-8 and near the bottom of the Big Ten, but that doesn’t mean they lacked talent.
Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan was an absolute terror for teams to block off the edge, and he capped off a stellar career at Purdue with a likely first round grade. However, Kerrigan is gone, and the Boilermakers will start anew.
Obviously, the position of focus with Purdue is at quarterback, where a pair of “Robs” will battle for the starting position. Robert Marve, a former transfer from Miami, was by all accounts a huge disappointment for the Boilermakers last season, and is in danger of losing playing time all together to Rob Henry, a freshman who really provided a spark to the Boilermaker offense toward the end of last season.
The best bet is that the younger Henry will win the job over Marve, as disappointing as that will be for him. Henry has more upside going forward than Marve, and the Boilermakers want to contend for bowl games in the present as well as the future. I think Henry will win the job outright.
This is a team that—not surprisingly—needs to really step it up all across the board. Defensively, they were giving up almost 30 points last year, and in the suddenly offensive juggernaut that is the Big Ten, that is just not going to cut it, and the loss of Kerrigan does not help.
2011 could be a tough season for Purdue, but I think a full season with Rob Henry as the team’s starting quarterback gives Purdue fans hope that bowl season will come sooner rather than later.
The Iowa Hawkeyes—like their rival Wisconsin Badgers—are going to be a team that will undergo a lot of transition in 2011. Ricky Stanzi, the team’s quarterback for the last three years, is moving on to the NFL. Three running backs that led the team in rushing the last two years have been either dismissed from the team or transferred away. The best receiver in school history—Derrell Johnson-Koulianos—was suspended for the Insight Bowl and will never play for the Hawkeyes again.
So what can we expect from the Hawkeyes in 2011?
Well, it’s going to be an uphill battle in a tough conference, but they have a favorable schedule this year. Iowa’s new quarterback James Vandenberg is already battle tested having nearly brought the Hawkeyes from behind on the road at Ohio State two years ago when Stanzi went down with injury, and he has ice running in his veins.
The Hawkeyes also return an All-American left tackle in Riley Reiff and a very solid linebacker corps, and possibly one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory.
This is an Iowa team full of young talent, so I expect them to be very competitive this year. Vandenberg is a cool customer and he has a nice arsenal of weapons at his disposal, including running back Marcus Coker, the breakout star of last year’s Insight Bowl.
This could be a tough season for the Hawkeyes, but based on their talent level alone, I think they could easily win nine games. Coach Ferentz is going to need to rally the troops after some offseason controversy, but this is a school whose players always come to work on Saturdays, and they are right back where they want to be—under the radar.
The Wisconsin Badgers—like many teams in the Big Ten—are going to undergo an array of changes in 2011, including replacing half of their entire starting lineup. The Badgers lose key players on both sides of the ball, but most notably offensively where quarterback Scott Tolzien and offensive linemen John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi are all headed to the NFL along with eight other former Badgers.
The key for Bret Bielema’s program this year is going to be the running game, where the Badgers feature a potent duo in tailbacks James White and Montee Ball, who combined for over 2,000 yards rushing last season.
In addition to the running game, the Badgers also bring back wide receiver Nick Toon, a playmaker who will be the focal point of the passing game for young quarterback Jon Budmayr, a sophomore and former three-star prospect. Budmayr has very little playing experience, which is to be expected when you have a guy like Scott Tolzien playing in front of you. It could be an interesting year for the Badgers simply because of the turnover at the quarterback position. Budmayr has big shoes to fill.
On the defensive side of the ball, this is nothing short of a re-loading year for the Badgers who have serious questions at the linebacker position, and they lost J.J. Watt early to the draft as well, and he was a key player for them last year.
I think Wisconsin peaked a little bit last year, but Bret Bielema has proven that he is one of the best coaches and recruiters in the conference. He will keep his team competitive on a weekly basis, and I think his presence alone means Wisconsin is a threat to win eight games this year. A lot will depend on the quarterback position, and whether or not the Badgers can re-tool properly after losing so many key players.
I think with two All-Conference running backs and a good head coach, this team could surprise some people in 2011.
A new regime, a new beginning. For the Michigan Wolverines, the quicker the 2011 season starts, the better. After a 2010 season that saw them finish a dismal 108th in total defense, the new regime is ready to erase those memories and put the maize and blue back where they feel they belong—on top of the Big Ten.
It is all going to start with quarterback Denard Robinson, one of the most electrifying players in the Big Ten. In his first full year as the starting quarterback, the load proved to be a little too much for Robinson and when the Wolverines entered the meat of Big Ten play, he got dinged up and it cost Michigan in a couple of games.
Still, the sophomore had a Heisman caliber season and was one of the most exciting players in the country to watch, so that is where the Wolverines will build their offense—the ball must be in Denard Robinson’s hands every play.
That doesn’t change the fact that Robinson is going to have to get better as a passer, in which case he has some great receivers to throw to, led by Roy Roundtree. Roundtree is a playmaker in every sense of the word, and came up big on multiple occasions for the Wolverines.
This is a team whose prime focus is not going to be on their elite level offense, but the porous defense which simply could not be relied upon whatsoever last year. New head coach Brady Hoke will make fixing the defense a priority, and to help do that, he brought in former Ravens assistant Greg Mattison.
I think Michigan is a team that will be much better than expected this year. If you can’t keep pace with them offensively, it will be a long day for you, and if their defense can improve even to the top 80, it will be a much better season for them.
I can see the Wolverines winning 8, maybe 9 games and making it to a bowl game, while challenging for the Legends side of the Big Ten all season long. I think the defense will take more time to get fixed, though, and that could be another hindrance this season.
Welcome to the Big Ten.
For years, Big Ten fans have longed for the opportunity for their team to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, one of the most popular teams in all of the midwest. Can they hang with the big boys? On the surface, it certainly appears so. Though they are a different brand of football, Nebraska’s option offense will bring another potent ground attack to the Big Ten conference. New offensive coordinator Tim Beck is expected to pick up the intensity on that side of the ball for the Huskers, who also return three of the nation’s top defensive prospects in Jared Crick, Lavonte David, and Alfonzo Dennard.
Understandably, the Huskers saw a decrease in production from their defensive line without Ndamukong Suh last year, but for 2011, the defensive front line should be an area of great strength. Every starter and backup will return this season except for Pierre Allen, who has moved on to the professional level.
The key for the Huskers is going to be at the quarterback position. Freshman sensation Taylor Martinez showed he can definitely make plays with his legs, but if the Huskers get down quickly, can he bring them back through the air? In all of last season, Martinez only threw 34 more passes than he had rushing attempts, and 12 rushing touchdowns compared to 10 through the air. Nebraska fans will not have too much to worry about in this regard, as their offense is “Taylor” made for Martinez’s skill set.It’s been speculated though that Martinez will have serious competition this Spring with Cody Green and Jamal Turner, who is generating a ton of hype among Nebraska circles right now.
Despite Nebraska’s extreme popularity already, they will be more heavily scrutinized than ever. Where a game previously against a team like Oklahoma or Texas was considered huge, one cannot even quantify the magnitude of Nebraska’s schedule this year, which features, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, and Iowa already. They are certainly not getting anything handed to them in their new conference.
If the Huskers can get consistency from the quarterback position (meaning the Taylor Martinez of the first 7 games last year) they could come into the Big Ten and win it outright right away. They are a very deep team from top to bottom, and they have the personnel to hang with all of the running that goes on in this conference, specifically on the defensive line.
A huge factor in Martinez’s consistency will be the play of the offensive line. The Huskers will lose three key components of their offensive line. Can the Huskers live in the spotlight, and if they can, how long can they do it?
It will be surprising if Nebraska doesn’t feel some of the pressure of moving to a prime time conference. They have an extremely tough conference schedule and the uncertainty facing their quarterback situation is troubling right now. That being said, Nebraska is one of the Big Ten’s newest teams and already one of its top contenders for a BCS bid.
Watch out for the Nebraska Spring game on April 12th.
Projected Finish: 10-2
After one of the worst seasons in school history, the Minnesota Gophers are a team in search of an identity. Things will be much different from last season, as the Gophers will have a new head coach and coaching staff, a new quarterback, and hopefully a renewed spirit.
As bad as Minnesota was in the 2010 campaign, they finished the season with a victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes one of the more gutsy wins in the Big Ten last season. The Hawkeyes had everything to play for, and the Gophers had nothing but pride. Former quarterback Adam Weber led his team into the winner's circle one last time before the team would undergo wholesale changed this past offseason. So what can we expect from the Gophers in 2011?
New head coach Jerry Kill comes to Minneapolis from Northern Illinois where he turned around a, let's say "less than par" program into a perennial powerhouse. Can he be that for the Gophers?
The biggest key for the Gophers' offense is going to be Marqueis Gray, the quarterback/wide receiver slash. As of right now, we don't know whether or not Gray will be playing QB or staying at receiver. The biggest factor to the outsider would be--who is the guy that, when the ball is in his hands, gives the Gophers the best chance to win. Right now, it appears as though that player is Gray, a 6'4" 230 pound kid who has great athleticism and is undoubtedly the Gophers' most exciting player.
There was not much on the defensive side of the ball last year for the Gophers to inspire any confidence, but what they do have is nine returning starters. The returning leader is linebacker Gary Tinsley, a senior who should be a lock to lead the team in tackles. The loss of Kyle Theret will hurt the Gophers' secondary, but they have a solid young crop of players, and perhaps a new coaching staff will revitalize them.
I definitely don't expect the Gophers to play as poorly as they did in 2010, when they lost to lowly South Dakota on their home field. 2010 may have been an all-time low for the university in terms of football. However, a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a defense returning nine starters could be just what the doctor ordered for this Minnesota program to get back on track.
Toughest non-conference game: @USC
Projected finish: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)