Spring 2014 - Big Ten Team-By-Team Analysis
BIG TEN EASTWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Start: March 8, Spring Game: April 12
Okay, Indiana, enough is enough. The Hoosiers aren’t going to win the loaded East this year, but it’s time to go bowling. This spring, the team has to start figuring out how to generate more pressure and do more defensively - duh. The Hoosiers haven’t played a lick of defense in decades, but now with a thrilling offense, the D has to occasionally hold serve. The problem last year was a scoring D that got worse as the season went on, just as the offense lost its mojo against Wisconsin and Ohio State. Head coach Kevin Wilson talked a great game, and it’s a massive rebuilding job being done, but now is the time when the results have to start.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Think about what life might be like if your offense wasn’t going 1,000 miles per hour. Keeping defenses on their heels is one thing, but far too often the IU attack came up with a three-and-out in about 15 seconds. Time of possession on the year? Opponents 34:12 – Indiana 24:48. That has to even up a wee bit.
This spring will be a success if … the Hoosiers can identify more defensive playmakers. The quarterback situation will sort itself out and the O will run just fine with nine starters returning, and there’s hope for the D with ten starters coming back, but who can play? All the experience in the world won’t matter if the run defense is getting ripped apart again.
Start: March 1, Spring Game: April 11
Enjoy the money grab A healthier team, lots of experience, and several new coaches in the mix should make for a fun and lively spring – that and a new conference. There would actually be plenty of reason for excitement in most normal years for a program that should be hitting its stride under Randy Edsall – and there will be. The Terps are playing in a bigger, badder, better league now, but that also mean there’s more of an opportunity to grow on a bigger stage. Yes, playing against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in the division is going to stink, but at least there’s no more Florida State to deal with. This spring, it’ll be time for the team to start acting like it’s one of the big boys, too. Or, at least it can be.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - It doesn’t matter what else happens this spring or the upcoming campaign if the offense doesn’t figure out how to stop giving the ball away in bunches. Turnover margin was an absolute killer for this error-prone team, giving it away 28 times on the year. There’s no way the Terps will be better in the new surroundings if the mistakes keep happening.
This spring will be a success if … everyone gets out alive and healthy. The potential is there for this to be a very good, very solid, very annoying team in the Big Ten East race. There’s enough experience and enough talent to be dangerous, and with some key parts to the puzzle returning – especially WR Stefon Diggs – there’s reason to be excited as long as the summer isn’t about looking for possible replacements for starters.
Start: February 25, Spring Game: April 5
But there’s always pressure at Michigan 7-6 doesn’t keep Michigan coaches around for very long, especially if the new offensive coordinator is making so much. It’s not like Brady Hoke is going to magically put it all together in one big shot here this spring, but OC Doug Nussmeier is expected to change things around. Last year was a major disappointment for a team that should’ve been a lot more effective, but it was a transitional season with all the great young prospects stepping in. This year, though, with so much experience and so much potential talent, ten wins has to be a given. This spring, this team needs to set a tone – that might be too cliché, but it’s the truth. If there’s no attitude, a third place finish – or worse – could come very easily.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Get physical. It’s hard to be a nasty team when the offensive line is struggling so much. Hoke’s teams generally skew towards the finesse side offensively, and now the O line is losing Taylor Lewan and fellow tackle Michael Schofield. Finishing 102nd in the nation in rushing isn’t okay for Michigan.
This spring will be a success if … Devin Gardner puts the kid on hold. The last thing the middling Michigan offense needs is a whole summer’s worth of quarterback controversy, but no one will complain if Shane Morris is outstanding. QB should be an easy area, and it should be No. 98’s attack to run. First he has to prove it.
Start: March 25, Spring Game: April 26
Was it a start or a finish line? The program had been pushing to get among the elite for so many years, and it was so achingly close to going to the Rose Bowl three years ago, but now this is the star of the conference. It doesn’t matter how much confetti is falling on Mark Dantonio’s head, Michigan is still going to be the bigger program, and Ohio State is always going to be better. Dantonio’s key this spring will be to convince his Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion team that it’s the underdog. “No one believes in us,” can and will be the cry, and now it’s time to ramp up the swagger to take the first step to show championship staying power.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Make the offense pop. With nine starters and all the skill players returning, that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s easy to keep things simple when the defense is allowing six points or fewer per game five times out of a six game stretch, but MSU has to make teams scared on both sides of the ball. Don’t be afraid to start taking more chances – the D will clean up the messes – and that means …
This spring will be a success if … QB Connor Cook progresses into an NFL prospect. The defense will be amazing again and the offensive line should be fine with a little time, but the reason Michigan State went from great to Pasadena was the improved quarterback play as the year went on. It was almost a surprise whenever he made big things happen last year. This time around, he has to be steady – there can’t be any fear to turn him loose to open up the offense a bit more.
Start: March 4, Spring Game: April 12
0-2, 0-2, 0-2, 0-2. After an entire year of arguments about whether or not the Buckeyes really were as good as their amazing run of two straight unbeaten regular seasons under Urban Meyer, the answer still might be yes. The loss to a great Michigan State team and a loaded Clemson squad soured the season, but it also helped set the tone for what should be an amazing run for the next several years. It’s Ohio State and it’s Urban Meyer – win the national title, or the season is a failure. A few defensive tweaks and the ultimate goal really might not be that far away.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - The pass defense might need a wee bit of tightening, and that’s where assistant coach Chris Ash comes in. Even with a fantastic pass rush and a great all-around D, the secondary couldn’t slow anyone down late in the year giving up 300 yards or more over the final four games and 14 touchdowns. The overappreciated Bradley Roby is gone at one corner and Corey Brown and C.J. Barnett have to be replaced at safety.
This spring will be a success if … the offensive line comes together in a hurry. The defense will be fine – there’s more than enough talent to tighten things up – and the offense will eventually be solid, but Carlos Hyde is gone after carrying the team at times, and four starter are gone up front. It’s Ohio State, the line will be terrific, but it would be a huge plus if the starting five up front is established come April 12.
Start: March 17, Spring Game: April 12
There are no excuses. James Franklin won’t allow them. A sheer force of will in terms of attitude and energy, Franklin is the perfect guy at the right time for a Penn State program that’s one coach removed now from the nightmare. Scholarship restrictions? Continued NCAA sanctions? Nothing to really play for? Same division as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State? Franklin doesn’t care, and he’s not going to let his players use anything as reason to not win, either. Every team wants to bring the A effort and fire, but it starts with Practice One for Penn State – Franklin won’t let the Nittany Lions take it easy for a second.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Offensive consistency, especially with the passing attack. The running game wasn’t all that bad, and the passing game was fantastic at times considering it was a true freshman under center, but Christian Hackenberg is no ordinary passer. With Allen Robinson gone, the go to safety valve is done. All Robinson did is catch 97 passes for 1,432 yards and six scores, and the No. 2 target, Brandon Felder, is also done. The leading returning wide receiver is Geno Lewis, who caught just 18 passes for 222 yards and three scores. There’s work to do.
This spring will be a success if … Franklin gets the offensive line together in a hurry. Getting everyone familiar with the new coaching staff will be vital, and getting all the ins and outs of taking over a program have to be settled, but on the field, the O line is the biggest concern losing Adam Gress and John Urschel on the right side along with center Ty Howie. The depth is a little bit lacking overall, but if the front five isn’t solid this spring, it’ll be the biggest concern this fall.
Start: March 25, Spring Game: April 26
Welcome to your new world. Prepare for a rough ride. It wasn’t a pretty end to life in the American losing four of the final five games and six of the final eight. The Scarlet Knights didn’t beat a team that finished with a winning record. For a program that has the bar set on a bowl game or bust every year, anything less will be a major disappointment, even in the new league and nasty division, but it’s going to take a few big upsets and a lot of luck to make any noise. This spring, the attitude has to be there from the start that the team isn’t going to be a pushover – easier said than done.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - The secondary might want to tighten up a wee bit after giving up over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight scores. Everyone got fat on the Scarlet Knight defensive backs with Eastern Michigan, Connecticut and just about everyone else hitting the 300-yard mark. Rutgers allowed fewer than 300 just four times – and won all four games. Three starters are back, and now they have to be better.
This spring will be a success if … the team forms a better offensive identity. Gary Nova is the odds-on favorite to take the quarterback gig back after leading the team with 2,159 yards, but threw 14 picks and didn’t exactly make the offense hum. The offense needs more from the running game when Paul James isn’t handling things, and the passing game needs more downfield pop after losing Brandon Coleman to the NFL early.
BIG TEN WESTWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Start: March 5, Spring Game: April 12
Is this a lame duck session? Things aren’t exactly going well in the Tim Beckman era. The recruiting hasn’t been great, there was a big defection – DE Hunter Bates – and there’s a general sense that a new era might be starting next year at this time unless something changes in a hurry. No coaching staff will ever say there’s a sense of desperation, but Beckman has always handled things like there needs to be an instant upgrade. After going 1-7 to close out last year, nothing less than a bowl appearance will keep Beckman around.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Generate more of a pass rush. The defensive front has to be tougher and nastier against the run, but it was an equal opportunity disaster on D. The secondary could be a big plus, but it needs help from a pass rush. That might be tough to do after losing Bates, who wanted to be closer to home in Louisiana, and Jonathan Brown and Tim Kynard. 11 of the 14 sacks generated last season are gone. Even though there was a little pressure and an uptick in sacks over the second half of the season, it wasn’t enough.
This spring will be a success if … Wes Lunt is the real deal. The former Oklahoma State starting quarterback has talent, but he wasn’t able to stay healthy. The Illini need more from the ground game, and the receiving corps is a potential mess if a few key targets don’t shine right away, but with Nathan Scheelhaase gone, Lunt needs to be more than just a replacement; he has to be an upgrade.
Start: March 24, Spring Game: April 26
The Hawkeyes pulled up out of the nosedive. After going 4-8 in 2012, was this the real start to the end of the Kirk Ferentz run? Did this mean it was time for a change? As it turned out, it was an aberration as Iowa came up with a nice eight-win season, but that’s the problem with the program – it’s coming up with nice seasons, not great ones. 2009’s great run to the Orange Bowl is now four full seasons ago, but are things building back up for another big run? The schedule isn’t all that bad, the team has improved, and the West division is the easier of the two. It’ll take a few big breaks, but this spring has to be sharp to have any dreams of getting into the double-digit win range again.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Find even more of a downfield passing game. After a disastrous 2012, the offense started to stretch the field a little bit more last season with Jake Rudock doing a decent job from time to time, but it wasn’t enough. The passing attack hit the 200-yard mark just once over the final six games – throwing for 239 yards in the win over Michigan. The running game, after cranking out 200 yards or more in each of the first five games, hit the mark just once over the final eight. Rudock has to pick up the slack.
This spring will be a success if … there isn’t a major panic attack at linebacker after losing Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris, the team’s top three tacklers who combined for 322 tackles with each going over the 100-stop mark. It’ll be an open casting call for the three spots, but the linebacking corps will be helped by a strong defensive front with everyone back.
Start: March 4, Spring Game: April 12
Well that answers that question. Minnesota ended the debate in a big way. Is Jerry Kill still going to be the head coach, and will the program rely on a guy with a few massive health issues to deal with? With a raise from $1.2 million a year to $2.1, and with an extension through the 2018 season, the program is committing to Kill – even if he’s still far below several other Big Ten head coaches on the pay scale. However, according to the contract, if he has to take time off because of health problems, depending on the length of absence, he might not get paid for that time, but as long as he’s okay, he’s the Minnesota head coach. That’s about as stable as the situation can get.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - A downfield passing game would be nice. It might not necessarily fit with the style of pounding offense, but when the Gophers had to throw last year in a pinch, they couldn’t. There’s experience returning, but unless the receivers become more explosive – there’s no one who can take the top off a secondary – the running game will occasionally stall. For a team that scored 27 points over the final three games last year – all losses, more O is a must.
This spring will be a success if … Mitch Leidner takes a big leap forward. There’s no replacing Ra’Shede Hageman in the middle of the defensive front, but with Philip Nelson transferring, the biggest hole to fill might be at quarterback if Leidner doesn’t become more of a passer. Leidner finished second on the team with 407 rushing yards and seven scores – Nelson was third – but he only completed 43-of-78 passes on the tear for 619 yards and three scores with a pick.
Start: March 8, Spring Game: April 12
You still have Bo Pelini to kick around Husker fans might be angry the program isn’t back to its national championship-level status of the past, but it’s been more than ten years since winning the whole ball of wax was realistically on the radar. Winning nine games and beating an SEC team in a bowl game should be good enough – especially considering the loss of Taylor Martinez early on – but the relationship between coach and fan base is a bit strained. With a little boost of a pay raise, he’s now over the $3 million mark and the program is committing to him. It remains to be seen if the fans are on board, too. They will be with a Big Ten championship, but probably nothing less.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Everything about the spring has to be focused on holding on to the ball. Among the worst teams in the country in turnover margin, Nebraska was on the negative side of the stat in every game over the final seven in the regular season before finishing a +1 against Georgia. The Huskers were 3-0 last year when they’re on the plus side of the turnover, and they’re 29-1 since 2007 when they’re in the positive.
This spring will be a success if … the secondary comes out looking bright. RB Ameer Abdullah needs a revamped offensive line to pave the way, and getting even more out of the defensive front would be nice, and Tommy Armstrong Jr. has to show he’s ready to be the full-time star under center, but the team needs the most help in the secondary, especially at corner. Safety Corey Cooper is the only returning starter.
Start: February 26, Spring Game: April 12
NOW you want to unionize? After THAT year? It might have been a disastrously disappointing season for a program looking to show a little staying power, but there are more than enough pieces in place – even if several of them are banged up after a rough year - to rebound quickly and be a factor again. The Wildcats never seemed able to get the right breaks, but they didn’t exactly make their own good fortune, either. As long as the fight to unionize doesn’t become a major distraction, the 2014 team could be very, very good. However, this was a team that didn’t seem to have its eye on the ball throughout last year – focus will be vital.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Tighten up the secondary. The pass rush was okay, not great, but the secondary didn’t help itself throughout the rough second half of the season. The defensive backs gave up too many big plays a year after allowing a few huge deep balls that kept the fantastic 2013 from being truly epic. Teams were completing close to 60% of their passes on NU, but the Wildcats can’t take a lot of chances to sell out on the short stuff – the safeties aren’t good enough to handle the speedier deep receivers.
This spring will be a success if … Trevor Siemian becomes even more of a factor. He always had to look over his shoulder waiting to see if Kain Colter was going to be healthy enough to play, but now the offense is all his to run. With ten starters back on offense – eventually, when RB Venric Mark returns healthy – there’s experience and potential, but Siemian isn’t the playmaker that Colter was. He has to use his arm to make everyone around him better while elevating the inconsistent attack.
Start: March 7, Spring Game: April 12
The redshirt year is over. Okay, so the 1-11 2013 season didn’t work out quite as well as planned for first-year head coach Darrell Hazell, and now the team has to find something it can do well this spring. The defense was awful, the offense worse, but 15 starters are back and Hazell is a good enough coach to tweak things just enough to get a few wins out of a team that needs a little bit of luck.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - After allwging 39 sacks, get the offensive line working. It’s not this simple, but the better the O line, the better the nation’s second-worst running game can be. The better the running game, the better the offense can be overall without having to deal with so many long second and third downs. The better the offense, the better the ball control for a team that only had it for under 28 minutes per game. The defense didn’t do its part – it couldn’t seem to get off the field – but with the interior of the line back, and the tackles needing to be replaced, it’s up to the offensive front five to set the tone.
This spring will be a success if … there’s hope. The team needs players and producers, and it needs weapons. There’s experience, but are there enough talented options to start improving a woeful offense and a soft defense? It’ll be hard to tell how good any of the units are – if the offense rocks, it might be because the D is still bad, and vice versa – but by April 12th, the coaching staff needs to see something to build off of going into fall camp.
Start: March 5, Spring Game: April 12
August 30th, 2014. Houston, Texas The Badgers will know where they stand right away when they face LSU in the season opener. The rest of the schedule is a relative piece of cake, so if they can knock out the big boy from the SEC, it might be lookout time for one of the big four spots in College Football Playoff. However, for a team that came up with a weird finish with an odd gameplan in the loss to Penn State and a tough defensive day against South Carolina in the bowl loss, going cliché and taking it one game at a time is a good thing, especially if that first game is against a true national title contender. There are a lot of pieces that need to be put in place before the Badgers can think about taking the Tigers.
Unsolicited advice on what to work on this spring - Somehow find a pass rush among the new guys. Six of the starters on the defensive front seven are gone including the entire front four, and now there’s work to do to get into the backfield. The sacks came in bunches, highlighted by the seven coming in the stomping of Northwestern, but there wasn’t any pressure on Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, and there wasn’t enough happening behind the line in the losses to Arizona State and South Carolina, not to mention the first half against Ohio State.
This spring will be a success if … a wide receiver emerges. The quarterback situation will be fine as long as Joel Stave can somehow show this spring that he’ll be more consistent and can hit the open man, and the defense should reload in a hurry. But if a go-to target doesn’t emerge to replace Jared Abbrederis, a big season could fizzle immediately.