Coach: Mark Dantonio (seventh year); 2012 record: 7-6, 3-5; bowl game: Michigan State 17, TCU 16 (Buffalo Wild Wings); starters returning: offense 9/defense 7
Spring star: LB Max Bullough. Ranked sixth in the Big Ten last year with 111 tackles and anchors a strong defense.
Biggest concern: RB Le’Veon Bell, DE William Gholston and TE Dion Sims all left early for the NFL draft. Bell was the biggest loss; he rushed 382 times last year for 1,793 yards.
Telling quote: Running back “obviously is a position of concern for us. We’ve got to find a guy you can give the ball to 250 times. I don’t know if we have that yet.” — Dantonio
Schedule analysis: The Spartans play Notre Dame Sept. 21. They miss Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in conference play. Their five Big Ten losses were by a combined 13 points.
Coach: Jerry Kill (third year); 2012 record: 6-7, 2-6; bowl game: Texas Tech 34, Gophers 31 (Meineke Car Care); starters returning: offense 10 /defense 7
Spring star: DT Ra’Shede Hageman. The senior contemplated a jump to the NFL but returned, knowing he still has a lot to prove in college. Teammates and coaches repeatedly say they’ve never seen him so focused.
Biggest concern: Philip Nelson started the final seven games at QB last season and was inconsistent. Behind him, there is nobody on the roster with any in-game experience.
Telling quote: “Let’s be honest, a lot of people outside of here don’t think that we can make it to a Big Ten championship. We do, and that’s what matters.” — Senior safety Brock Vereen
Schedule analysis: In Big Ten play, they’ll get Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin at home. They don’t have to play Ohio State, but they also don’t get to play Illinois or Purdue. Fans will remain skeptical until their conference record improves.
Coach: Bo Pelini (sixth year); 2012 record: 10-4, 7-1; bowl game: Georgia 45, Nebraska 31 (Capital One); starters returning: offense 7/defense 5
Spring star: QB Taylor Martinez. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last year, and Pelini said, “This spring, he’s a better football player, by far, than what I saw last year.”
Biggest concern: After giving up 70 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and 589 yards to Georgia in the bowl game, the Huskers need to rediscover their defensive identity.