Big Ten spring football:  Offseason of change welcomes two more

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2014 - 12:30 PM
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Quarterback Mitch Leidner advanced the ball on a keeper during the Gophers' spring game.

The Big Ten wraps up spring prac­tice Sat­ur­day, when I­o­wa, Rut­gers and Mich­i­gan State hold their annu­al spring games. It’ll be a new-look con­fer­ence this fall, with the ad­di­tion of Mar­y­land and Rut­gers, giv­ing the league 14 teams split into East and West di­vi­sions. Here’s a glance at where each team stands now and how that might change by this fall:

Big Ten West

GO­PHERS

Coach: Jer­ry Kill (fourth year).

2013: 8-5, 4-4 Big Ten. Bowl game: Lost to Syracuse 21-17 in Texas Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 8, defense 7.

Top re­turn­ees (2013 stats): RB David Cobb (1,202 rush­ing yards), DE Theiren Cockran (7 ½ sacks).

Spring news: LB Cody Poock looked like a po­ten­tial start­er at out­side line­back­er but tore the ACL in his right knee and is ques­tion­able for the sea­son.

Sched­ule notes: The Go­phers play at Texas Chris­tian (Sept. 13) and drew two tough Big Ten East cross­overs: at Mich­i­gan (Sept. 27) and vs. O­hi­o State (Nov. 15).

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 60. The Go­phers are com­ing off their best fin­ish since 2003. This team might be bet­ter, but the big test comes with this No­vem­ber fin­ish: I­o­wa, O­hi­o State, at Ne­bras­ka, at Wis­con­sin.

IL­LI­NOIS

Coach: Tim Beck­man (third year).

2013: 4-8, 1-7.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 7, defense 8.

Top re­turn­ees: RB Josh Fer­gus­on (779 rush­ing yards), S Earnest Thomas (101 tack­les).

Spring news: De­spite a shaky spring game, Will Lunt, a trans­fer from Oklahoma State, is the favorite to take over at quarterback. He’ll re­place Nathan Scheelhaase, who qui­et­ly led the Big Ten in pass­ing last year.

Sched­ule notes: Il­li­nois plays at Washington (Sept. 13) and faces O­hi­o State and Penn State in its Big Ten East cross­o­ver games.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 45. An un­her­ald­ed re­cruit­ing class did little to quell fans’ angst about Beck­man, who is 6-18 at Il­li­nois, in­clud­ing 1-15 in the Big Ten. Beyond Scheelhaase, this team must re­place line­back­er Jon­a­than Brown, the con­fer­ence’s se­cond-lead­ing tack­ler.

I­O­WA

Coach: Kirk Ferentz (16th year).

2013: 8-5, 5-3.

Bowl game: Lost to LSU 21-14 in the Outback Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 8, defense 5.

Top re­turn­ees: QB Jake Rudock (18 TD pass­es, 13 inter­cep­tions), RB Mark Weis­man (975 rush­ing yards).

Spring news: Sev­er­al top play­ers re­turn, but there’s a hole at line­back­er, where the Hawk­eyes lost three longtime start­ers.

Sched­ule notes: The non­con­fer­ence slate brings Northern I­o­wa, Ball State, I­o­wa State and Pitts­burgh. The Hawk­eyes got a fa­vor­a­ble draw from the Big Ten East, with games against In­di­an­a and Mar­y­land.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 70. The Hawk­eyes re­stored faith last year, re­bound­ing from a 4-8 fin­ish in 2012. I­o­wa should en­ter the fall as a strong can­di­date to win the Big Ten West.

NE­BRAS­KA

Coach: Bo Pelini (sev­enth year).

2013: 9-4, 5-3.

Bowl game: De­feat­ed Geor­gia 24-19 in the Ga­tor Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 5, defense 8.

Top re­turn­ees: RB Ameer Ab­dul­lah (1,690 rush­ing yards), DE Randy Greg­o­ry (10 ½sacks)

Spring news: Pelini has light­ened up a bit, at least pub­lic­ly, and the Corn­husk­ers hope to turn a cor­ner as they be­gin the post-Taylor Martinez era with Tommy Arm­strong Jr. run­ning the offense.

Sched­ule notes: Af­ter open­ing with Flori­da Atlantic and Mc­Neese State, the Huskers play at Fres­no State and Mi­am­i (Fla.). Their cross­o­ver games are at Mich­i­gan State and home against Rut­gers.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 75. In­stead of fir­ing Pelini, Ne­bras­ka gave him an ex­ten­sion through 2018. His teams have lost ex­act­ly four games in each of the past six years.

NORTH­WEST­ERN

Coach: Pat Fitz­gerald (ninth year).

2013: 5-7, 1-7.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 9, defense 9.

Top re­turn­ees: RB Venric Mark (in­jured last year), LB Chi Chi Ariguzo (106 tack­les).

Spring news: Form­er QB Kain Col­ter has tried un­ion­iz­ing this team, an is­sue that has over­shad­owed ev­er­y­thing else, but the cur­rent play­ers are ex­pect­ed to re­ject the i­de­a.

Sched­ule notes: Northwestern opens with Cali­for­nia and will play at Notre Dame (Nov. 15). Cross­o­ver games are at Penn State and home against Mich­i­gan.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 50. Trev­or Siemian, who split time with Col­ter, now has the QB job all to him­self, and he is far less mo­bile. Mark’s re­turn should help en­er­gize an offense that re­turns most of its oth­er key play­ers.

PUR­DUE

Coach: Darrell Hazell (se­cond year).

2013: 1-11, 0-8.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 10, defense 8.

Top re­turn­ees: QB Danny Etling (10 TD pass­es, seven inter­cep­tions), RB Akeem Hunt (464 rush­ing yards).

Spring news: An of­fen­sive line that al­lowed 38 sacks last sea­son con­tinued to show its fu­til­i­ty in the spring game, as Etling was sacked four times.

Sched­ule notes: The Boiler­makers play Notre Dame in In­di­an­ap­o­lis on Sept. 13. The Big Ten cross­overs are home against Mich­i­gan State and at In­di­an­a, pre­ser­ving that ri­val­ry game.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 40. The Boiler­makers were lousy last year, and some of their best play­ers are gone, in­clud­ing DT Bruce Gas­ton, CB Ri­car­do Allen and P Cody Webster. This team looks too thin on the of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive lines to ex­pect much im­prove­ment this year.

WIS­CON­SIN

Coach: Gary Andersen (se­cond year).

2013: 9-4, 6-2. Bowl game: Lost to South Ca­ro­li­na 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 6, defense 3.

Top re­turn­ees: RB Mel­vin Gordon (1,609 rush­ing yards), CB So­journ Shelton (4 inter­cep­tions).

Spring news: Joel Stave’s in­jured right shoul­der has op­ened the door for dual-threat QB Tanner Mc­E­voy to take over as the start­er.

Sched­ule notes: The Badg­ers open with LSU (Aug. 30) in Houston and are host to de­fend­ing MAC cham­pi­on Bowl­ing Green (Sept. 20). Their cross­o­ver games — Mar­y­land and at Rut­gers — seem to be a gift from reconfigured Big Ten.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 75. Gordon is back, but it’s un­clear how this team will re­place wide re­ceiv­er Jar­ed Abbrederis and sev­er­al key de­fen­sive play­ers, in­clud­ing Chris Bor­land and Beau Allen.

Big Ten East

IN­DI­AN­A

Coach: Kev­in Wil­son (fourth year).

2013: 5-7, 3-5.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 8, defense 10

Top re­turn­ees: RB Te­vin Coleman (958 rush­ing yards), WR Shane Wynn (11 TD re­cep­tions).

Spring news: Need­ing a de­fen­sive make­o­ver, the Hoo­siers switched to the 3-4 un­der new de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian Knorr.

Sched­ule notes: The Hoo­siers face Bowl­ing Green and Mis­sou­ri in non­con­fer­ence play and play I­o­wa and Pur­due from the Big Ten West.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 50. In­di­an­a lost some top-flight re­ceiv­ers, in­clud­ing Cody Lat­i­mer, but this still will be a le­thal offense with quarterbacks Tre Ro­ber­son and Nate Sudfeld and a heal­thy Coleman. The Hoo­siers went 1-11 in Wil­son’s first year but in­creased their win total to four in 2012 and five in 2013.

MAR­Y­LAND

Coach: Randy Ed­sall (fourth year).

2013: 7-6, 3-5 ACC. Bowl game: Lost to Mar­shall 31-20 in the Mil­i­tar­y Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 9, defense 9.

Top re­turn­ees: QB C.J. Brown (13 TD pass­es, seven inter­cep­tions), WR Stefon Diggs (587 re­ceiv­ing yards in seven games).

Spring news: Mar­y­land of­fi­cial­ly moves into the Big Ten on July 1, af­ter 61 years in the ACC.

Sched­ule notes: Af­ter non­con­fer­ence games against West Virginia and Syracuse, Mar­y­land plays its first Big Ten game at In­di­an­a on Sept. 27. The Terra­pins play cross­o­ver games against I­o­wa and Wis­con­sin.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 55. The Terra­pins have some good skill play­ers in Brown, Diggs and a sta­ble of run­ning backs that should at least make their move into the rough-and-tum­ble Big Ten East in­ter­est­ing.

MICH­I­GAN STATE

Coach: Mark Dantonio (eighth year).

2013: 13-1, 8-0. Bowl game: De­feat­ed Stan­ford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 7, defense 5.

Top re­turn­ees: QB Connor Cook (22 TD pass­es, six inter­cep­tions), RB Jer­e­my Lang­ford (19 touch­downs).

Spring news: The Spar­tans must re­place three of­fen­sive line­men, in­clud­ing Blake Tread­well, and sev­er­al key de­fen­sive play­ers, in­clud­ing CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough and S Isiah Lewis.

Sched­ule notes: The Spar­tans play at Or­e­gon (Sept. 6) and face Ne­bras­ka and Pur­due from the Big Ten West. Their re­match against O­hi­o State comes Nov. 8.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 85. Af­ter win­ning its first Rose Bowl in 26 years, Mich­i­gan State should be a top-10 team in most preseason polls.

PENN STATE

Coach: James Franklin (first year).

2013: 7-5, 4-4. Bowl game: In­eli­gible.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 7, defense 7.

Top re­turn­ees: QB Chris­tian Hackenberg (134.0 ef­fi­cien­cy rat­ing), RB Zach Zwinak (989 rush­ing yards).

Spring news: Franklin, the form­er Van­der­bilt coach, has cre­at­ed quite a buzz since tak­ing over for Bill O’Brien, who bolt­ed af­ter two years for the Houston Tex­ans.

Sched­ule notes: The Nit­ta­ny Lions open with Fi­es­ta Bowl win­ner Central Flori­da in Dub­lin, Ire­land. The cross­o­ver games are against Northwestern and Il­li­nois.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 75. The spring game drew 72,000 fans, but this squad still must play with 10 fewer schol­ar­ships than oth­er teams this fall. Of­fen­sive line depth is a big con­cern, and WR Allen Robinson left a year early for the NFL.

MICH­I­GAN

Coach: Brady Hoke (fourth year).

2013: 7-6, 3-5. Bowl game: Lost to Kan­sas State 31-14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 7, defense 9.

Top re­turn­ees: QB De­vin Gard­ner (21 TD pass­es, 11 inter­cep­tions), TE De­vin Funchess (748 re­ceiv­ing yards).

Spring news: Gard­ner threw two more inter­cep­tions in the spring game. WR Freddy Can­teen en­rolled early and had an elec­tri­fy­ing camp.

Sched­ule notes: Mich­i­gan plays Ap­pa­la­chi­an State, Notre Dame, Mi­am­i (O­hi­o) and Utah in non­con­fer­ence play, and Minnesota and Northwestern from the Big Ten West.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 70. Hoke, whose teams have gone back­ward since 2011, hired of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Doug Nussmeier away from Al­a­bam­a. The Wol­ver­ines’ big­gest ques­tions are on the of­fen­sive line, with Taylor Lew­an head­ed to the NFL.

O­HI­O STATE

Coach: Urban Meyer (third year).

2013: 12-2, 8-0.

Bowl game: Lost to Clem­son 40-35 in the Or­ange Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 5, defense 8.

Top re­turn­ees: QB Brax­ton Miller (24 TD pass­es, seven inter­cep­tions), DL Noah Spence (eight sacks).

Spring news: O­hi­o State must re­place RB Carlos Hyde and four start­ers on the of­fen­sive line.

Sched­ule notes: The Buckeyes open against Navy (Aug. 30) in Bal­ti­more, fol­lowed by Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cin­cin­nat­i. They play Minnesota and Il­li­nois from the Big Ten West.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 80. Af­ter win­ning his first 24 games at O­hi­o State, Meyer hopes to re­bound strong from two sea­son-end­ing loss­es. The Buckeyes must shore up a defense that ranked 11th in the Big Ten last year against the pass.

RUT­GERS

Coach: Kyle Flood (third year).

2013: 6-7, 3-5 AAC.

Bowl game: Lost to Notre Dame 29-16 in the Pin­stripe Bowl.

Start­ers re­turn­ing: Offense 9, defense 7.

Top re­turn­ees: RB Paul James (881 rush­ing yards), LB Steve Longa (123 tack­les).

Spring news: Phil­ip Nelson must sit out this sea­son af­ter trans­fer­ring from Minnesota. Mean­while, Rut­gers has a three-way quarterback bat­tle a­mong Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano.

Sched­ule notes: The Scar­let Knights open at Washington State (Aug. 28) and play their first Big Ten game Sept. 13 against Penn State. They also play Wis­con­sin and Ne­bras­ka from the Big Ten West.

Football fe­ver tem­per­a­ture: 60. Rut­gers went 9-4 in its first year un­der Flood, be­fore slip­ping to 6-7 last sea­son.

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