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.

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