Fiu, Cirminiello, Mitchell on TV - Campus Insiders | Buy College Football Tickets

2011 Big Ten Spring Preview
Wisconsin RB James White
Wisconsin RB James White
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 19, 2011


The big questions, the top position battles, the early buzz, and the attitudes for every Big Ten team going into spring practices.


2011 Big Ten Spring Preview

Click for each team's spring preview
Leaders Illinois | Indiana | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin 
Legends Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern 
 
2011 Big Ten Spring Preview  
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Buzz
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Buzz
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Attitudes
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Attitudes
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Key Positions
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Key Positions   
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Questions 
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Questions    
- Big Ten Pre-Spring Rankings

LEADERS

Illinois

Spring Practice Begins: March 29
Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... Is Ron Zook on a hot seat? He did the change-the-assistants thing last year, and it all worked out better than expected, but now more results have to start coming. Illinois hasn’t made a major move to being back in the hunt for the Rose Bowl, even with a strong bounceback season in 2010, and he has to come up with more before the program might want to start looking around. 7-6 and treading water might not get it done for Zook, and he’s still making moves. Trying to improve the secondary with the addition of coach Mike Gillhamer from the Carolina Panthers is another good get for a staff that’s becoming among the best in the league.

The big spring question is ... Can the Illini get more out of the passing game? Some strong receivers have come through Champaign under Ron Zook’s watch, but the passing game has never been a major mode of transportation for an offense that’s going to keep on pounding away with the ground attack. Nathan Scheelhaase is a tremendous runner and has a good passing touch, but he has to be more consistent and has to be more efficient. Getting more from the mediocre receiving corps would be a plus to balance out the attack, but it’s up to Scheelhaase; this is his offense.

The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Can the Illini find another Rashard Mendenhall or Mikel Leshoure? At 6-0 and around 230 pounds, Ford is built like Leshoure and he has been a strong No. 2 back. Now he’ll get his turn at bat as the main ball carrier for an attack that doesn’t normally spread the carries around. If it’s not Ford, it should be sophomore Bud Golden, a zipping back who doesn’t have the bulk of some of the recent Illini stars, but he has the talent to bust out and become a special player with a bit more work.

Spring attitude... The Illini have to get off to a hot start. The annual loss to Missouri is off the schedule this year, and with five home games to kick things off and with six in the first seven games, with the lone road game at Indiana, there’s no reason to not begin well. Mikel Leshoure might be gone, and the early departure of star DT Corey Liuget takes away some of the star power, but seven starters are back on each side of the ball and there’s more than enough talent to take advantage of one of the nation’s most favorable schedules. When your second toughest road game is at Purdue, there’s reason to be fired up.

Indiana

Spring Practice Begins: March 8
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The Kevin Wilson era has officially gotten underway and it’s going to take every minute of every practice to get used to the new no-huddle attack. Fast, fast, fast is the idea for an offense that’s going to quicken the tempo in a big way, while new defensive coordinators Mike Ekkler and Doug Mallory will release the hounds in a far more aggressive D. The talent level might not be there compared to the rest of the Big Ten, but the Hoosiers are hardly going to be meek. The coaching staff’s plan is to make Indiana a team to worry about and gameplan for, but that might take a while for everything to come into place.

The big spring question is ... Will Darius Willis be a part of the fun? The one-time star running back recruit has been solid when he’s been on the field, but injuries have been a problem missing time last year with a groin problem. He could blow up in the new no-huddle attack, but he has to be on the team this fall after being hit with domestic assault charges from a few months back. He’s being allowed to practice until the case plays out, and if he can’t go, the speedy Nick Turner might become the main man for the ground game.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Head coach Kevin Wilson is used to dealing with big-time quarterbacks at Oklahoma, and now the question will be who’ll get to be the triggerman who gets to pile up the big stats? Ben Chappell wasn’t always great, but he always pressed and always pushed the ball down the field. Edward Wright-Baker has good skills and can move a little bit, but Dusty Kiel will get ever shot to take over the job. Whichever quarterback is the quicker decision maker will likely get the No. 1 spot going into fall camps.

Spring attitude... Get to a bowl game. Had the Hoosiers not dropped the ball in the crushing loss to Iowa they would’ve ended up going bowling and they’d probably still have Bill Lynch as the head man. With Ball State, South Carolina State, and North Texas in the first month, there should be a nice base of three wins before diving into the Big Ten. If IU can win its home game against Virginia, then six wins and a post-season date will be a must. For now, it’s all about getting the new schemes down and being ready to do what the coaching staff wants. It’s going to be a process, but the coaches are good, enough talent is in place to get by, and the expectations shouldn’t be lower than a winning season.

Ohio State

Spring Practice Begins: March 31
Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... Anything interesting happen this offseason? Even with the suspension of the Tattoo Five for five games, and with Jim “Junk Folder” Tressel getting a nice little sabbatical for his shenanigans, it’s easy to forget that this still might be a national title contending team that should, at the very least, be in the hunt for the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes still have more talent than anyone else and they’re getting the star players back in time for the meat of the conference slate, so spring ball will be all about getting everyone through the storm of the first half of the season. Get to Lincoln, Nebraska at 5-0 or 4-1 with a decent performance against Miami, and it’ll be Game On.

The big spring question is ... Who’s going to play quarterback? Obviously it’s Terrelle Pryor’s ship to sail come October 8th, but is it going to be Joe Bauserman under center as the steady, safe option or will super-recruit Braxton Miller be thrown to the wolves right away? Everyone in America but the Ohio State coaching staff knew that Pryor was a better option as a true freshman than Todd Boeckman, and the same might be true in this case. If it’s Miller, he’ll have two games against Akron and Toledo to figure out what he’s doing. It could be the biggest spotlight position battle in all of spring football.

The most important position to watch is ... Besides quarterback, defensive back. It’s Ohio State, so the second team secondary is full of NFL talent and is probably better than about 100 other defensive backfields, but the 2011 group will need some time and some seasoning. Three starters are gone including top cover-corner Chimdi Chekwa, and while there isn’t a passing game to worry about until October 1st against Michigan State, the faster the new secondary can come together, the better. Fortunately, there’s an all-star in the making in Orhian Johnson at safety to build around.

Spring attitude... No excuses. It’ll be easy to blame problems this year on the suspensions and the off-the-field distractions, but the Buckeyes are still better than Miami, Nebraska, and everyone else on the schedule. The problem, though, as always, is that OSU will be everyone’s bull’s-eye game, and the craziness around the program could be just enough to allow an Illinois or a Penn State to pull off a win. No one is going to feel sorry for this team and no one is going to give it a break. Also, no one is going to predict a run to the national title. It’s the rare case that Ohio State can make itself out to be a bit of an underdog, in a way, but there still aren’t any excuses for a team this talented.

Penn State

Spring Practice Begins: March 18
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... Take a guess at what continues to be the biggest storyline around Penn State? It’s the quarterback situation, but it’s also, as always, the status of Joe Paterno who’s 84 and continues to keep on rolling. Whether or not this is Penn State’s last spring session with the legend at the helm overshadows several issues up and down the board for a team that needs to get back into the Big Ten elite. The running backs should be fine, the receivers are strong, and defense can’t help but be better. It doesn’t matter. All the talk will be about the succession plan until a defined one is in place.

The big spring question is ... Can the lines be any better? Penn State’s struggles last year can almost all be pointed to mediocre line play with little push for the ground game and not enough dominance. The defensive front was 101st in the nation in sacks and didn’t do nearly enough against the run. A typical Penn State top-shelf pass rusher has to be found after injuries were a problem at end, and Devon Still and the tackles have to be stronger.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Matt McGloin wasn’t actually all that great, but he happened to produce against some mediocre defenses and people thought he could play. If Penn State is going to be great, Robert Bolden has to keep progressing and has to be allowed to live through his mistakes. That might not happen with McGloin still the main man, interception issues and all, and with Kevin Newsome in the mix – after being expected to possibly be the man going into last year – and Paul Jones a sleeper in the race. The job is wide open.

Spring attitude... It shouldn’t take that much to be in the mix for the Big Ten title. The running game was awful, the quarterback situation was a mess, the lines were awful, there wasn’t any pass rush, and there were too many mistakes. Even so, the Nittany Lions went to a New Year’s Day bowl and were in the thick of the hunt against Florida until the final moments. This isn’t going to be one of the league’s elite teams, but there’s no reason to not get off to a huge start, especially is there’s at least a spit in the Iowa/Alabama showdowns, before a brutal November with Nebraska, at Ohio State, and at Wisconsin to close.

Purdue

Spring Practice Begins: March 1
Game: April 9


The early spring buzz ... Purdue has already started spring ball and will spread it out over a two month span. It’s a brilliant move by Danny Hope and the coaching staff, and it’s a shocker that more programs don’t do this. Instead of packing in spring ball into a few intense weeks, the staff wants the newer players to have time to absorb what they’re learning while also allowing the players to rest up a bit between practices. On the field, the spotlight is on the knees of RB Ralph Bolden and QB Robert Marve. Bolden is getting a little bit of work, and outside of a few light drills, Marve is still being held aside to heal up.

The big spring question is ... Will Robert Marve and Ralph Bolden be ready to go? The Boilermakers should be decent at quarterback if Marve’s injured knee isn’t ready, but the backfield could desperately use a back with the explosion and talent of Bolden. Rob Henry, Sean Robinson, and possibly Caleb TerBush are all in the hunt for the starting quarterback job, but Marve should be ready this summer to go full-tilt. Bolden is being eased back into the fun, and while JUCO transfer Akeem Shavers and recruit Akeem Hunt could be good enough to shine right away, they’re untested.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive end. The quarterback situation is interesting and the running backs will be in the spotlight, but eyes will also be on defensive end with pass rushing terror Ryan Kerrigan off to the NFL. The tackles, led by rising star Kawann Short, should be good, but the key to the line will be the emergence of Gerald Gooden. He’s going to try to be the No. 1 pass rusher, but the hope will be for Adam Brockman and/or Robert Maci to show something worth getting excited about.

Spring attitude... Stay healthy, figure out the lineup, and fly under the radar. The Boilermakers have a light and bouncy first half of the slate with Middle Tennessee, Rice and SE Missouri State to kick things off, and with home games against Notre Dame and Minnesota, 4-1 is possible and 5-0 isn’t crazy. This was a good team last year that got gutted by injuries, but if the starting lineup can be figured out right away, and if everyone can stay healthy, and if everyone gets time to jell in their defined roles, this could be one of the sneaky-good teams in the Leaders.

Wisconsin

Spring Practice Begins: March 23
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The Badgers have their defensive coordinator. With Dan Doeren taking over the Northern Illinois head coaching gig, Wisconsin needed to figure out who was going to be the main man to run the defense after head coach Bret Bielema first wanted to make defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and secondary coach Chris Ash co-coordinators. Now it’s just going to be Ash in the job with Partridge taking a secondary role while being named an assistant head coach. With a good nucleus coming back from last year’s solid defense, getting the coaching pecking order in place before spring ball started was vital.

The big spring question is ... Can the defensive front get into the backfield? Even with J.J. Watt wreaking havoc, the Badgers were still 76th in the nation in sacks and 91st in tackles for loss. Watt bolted early for the NFL meaning Louis Nzegwu, David Gilbert, and young prospects Pat Muldoon and Tyler Dippel – who’ll miss spring ball with a shoulder problem – have to combine forces to replace a guy being talked about as the prototype 5-technique NFL end. The defense might have to manufacture pressure from several spots, and it’ll all start this spring with figuring out how to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

The most important position to watch is ... Offensive tackle. With Outland Winner Gabe Carimi gone and one-time super-recruit Josh Oglesby trying to overcome a knee injury, the Badger line needs a new star at left tackle. Casey Dehn was the understudy last year and he has the prerequisite size and skills to be solid, but it’s still asking a lot to replace a talent like Carimi. Can Ricky Wagner move over from the right side to the left? Will Robert Burge make a push for a job? It’s Wisconsin and the line will be fine, but the combination has to start to come together this spring.

Spring attitude... Win the Leaders. Ohio State is the best team in the division – and possibly the conference – but the program is having a wee bit of a problem this offseason and should be distracted throughout. Penn State should be better, but it’s not back to being Penn State, Illinois is fine, but it’s hardly a world-beater, and Purdue and Indiana are Purdue and Indiana. In other words, even with all the turnover, and even with all the question marks, and even with games against Nebraska and a rough stretch of four road games in five weeks including dates in Columbus and East Lansing, Wisconsin still has to consider itself a favorite to win the Leaders. After last year, it’s time to act like a Big Ten superpower.

LEGENDS

Iowa

Spring Practice Begins: March 23
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... It’s been a rough offseason with the Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Adam Robinson controversies that rocked the team at the end of 2010 that led to a negative spotlight on the program, and then came the workout that sent 13 players to the hospital and raised all sorts of red flags and caused the message board world to blow up with rampant and unfounded rumors and speculation. However, with everything that’s happening at Ohio State, Oregon, and other big programs, the Iowa storm appears to have passed. As long as everything is fine on the field, which isn’t a given with plenty of turnover on both sides of the ball and coming off a disappointing year, the off-the-field issues will quickly be forgotten.

The big spring question is ... Can the offense be better? The consistency wasn’t there last year, but it was quickly forgotten that the consistency wasn’t there in 2009, either. The difference was that Ricky Stanzi and the offense pulled out almost every close game two years ago and lost almost every tight battle last year. On the plus side, as disappointing as the 8-5 season might have been, all five losses were by seven points or fewer and four of them were by a grand total of 11 points. With a not-that-bad schedule, a more balanced, steady attack could mean a quick return to double-digit wins.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive lineman. The most disappointing aspect of the 2010 season might have been the mediocre play of a line that included NFL talents Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, yet struggled to make things happen in the backfield. The Hawkeyes were sixth in the nation against the run, but they were shockingly dead last in the Big Ten and 110th in the nation in tackles for loss while only coming up with 22 sacks. Tackle Mike Daniels is the only starter coming back, and while there are some decent prospects waiting for their turn, the talent drop off will be massive.

Spring attitude... Take the us-against-the-world stance. Kirk Ferentz teams don’t seem to come through when everyone is looking for big things, but when a group of no-names get their chance to fly in under the radar, then WHAM. That’s when the program rocks. With six starters gone off the offense and seven lost on defense, the Hawkeyes will be predicted to finish in the middle of the Legends pack. However, the schedule is relatively light and fluffy until late November and with only two rough road games at Penn State and Nebraska.

Michigan

Spring Practice Begins: March 19
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The coaching change has meant a change in philosophy. While Brady Hoke and new offensive coordinator Al Borges will still use Denard Robinson as a runner, the Rich Rodriguez era will likely be swept aside in a hurry with the running backs getting more involved than before with a bit more of a traditional attack. In the West Coast offense, Robinson isn’t going to be asked to throw the ball down the field all that much and will need to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry, and he also won’t have to carry the entire workload. Borges and Hoke are planning on spreading it around and won’t pin the hopes of the entire year on just one guy.

The big spring question is ... The offense will go through a mega-change, but does that mean it’ll be better? Rich Rodriguez might be a punchline and his era will go down as a stunning disaster, but lost in all the failures and all the problems was that the offense actually worked. Michigan led the Big Ten and was eighth in the nation in total yards and was 13th in rushing. Fine, so it didn’t work late with Ohio State and Mississippi State shutting things down, but it was still a dangerous attack that was just starting to find its legs. The new Michigan attack needs to be better against the stronger teams and it needs to be more consistent, but if you told Brady Hoke right now that his offense would finish the year averaging 239 rushing yards and 250 passing yards per game, he’d probably take it.

The most important position to watch is ... the entire defense. Every story about Michigan this offseason will involve Denard Robinson in some way, and while he won’t put up the record numbers he did last year, he should be even more effective now that he won’t have to do everything for the offense. The question will be whether or not defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can turn chicken spit into chicken salad and make the Big Ten’s worst defense decent. The call will be out to simplify, simplify, simplify. The D is full of veterans and has real, live athletes. Mattison will try to keep things basic to start and won’t try to do anything too funky. Make plays. That’s it.

Spring attitude... Michigan, your long national nightmare is over. Brady Hoke will benefit from not being Rich Rodriguez, and all he has to do is be decent and the bouquets will be flowing in. However, lost in the coaching change and lost in all the RichRod bashing was that this was supposed to be the year when everything came together. With ten starters returning on offense, Denard Robinson to play around with, and with nine starters back on D, the expectations will quickly be cranked up. After all, this is Michigan, and yes, with Nebraska coming to The Big House, the Legends really is winnable.

Michigan State

Spring Practice Begins: March 29
Game: April 30


The early spring buzz ... After the disastrous bowl loss to Alabama, the team has to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild a bit on both sides of the ball. However, while 2010 was one of the program’s best seasons ever, at least until January 1st, the general attitude appears to be that it was the beginning of big things and not a culmination. Even with six starters gone on offense and five needing to be replaced on defense, the overall talent level is as high as it’s been in several years led by a defensive front that might be the best in the Big Ten. There’s talk that the way the year ended might be a motivating factor, but more than the ugliness of the Capital One Bowl, not going to the Rose Bowl appears to be on a lot of minds.

The big spring question is ... Can the defense generate any sort of a pass rush? Mark Dantonio’s defenses don’t get too crazy and don’t throw a lot of bells and whistles at teams, but they’re very good and very sound. The problem, though, is that if there isn’t a killer pass rusher on the line, the production in the backfield doesn’t come without throwing in a few quirky wrinkles. The Spartans were 90th in the nation in sacks and 91st in tackles for loss, and the defense needs to be more disruptive after allowing 22 points or more in five of the final six games. With three starters back up front, the pressure will be on to start hitting more quarterbacks.

The most important position to watch is ... Offensive tackle. The line wasn’t exactly a rock in pass protection, and while the ground game was effective, it only averaged 152 yards per game. Now the offense has to move on without D.J. Young on the left side and J’Michael Deane on the right. They weren’t exactly world beaters, but they were fifth-year seniors who knew what they were doing. Throw in the loss of the center John Stipek, the quarterback of the line, and the Spartans have work to do up front to have any hope of being far more effective and far more efficient, especially on third downs.

Spring attitude... 49-7 was just a score. Michigan State might have gone 11-1 in the regular season, and it might have won a share of the Big Ten title and it might have come up with a great win over Wisconsin, but the balloon went pffffffffft in the first 20 minutes against Alabama and it overshadowed all the positives. Simply being more motivated won’t mean much unless the team starts to play better. The record might have been good, but the 2010 team had some major holes. Outside of the punting game and punt returns, it didn’t do any one thing at a high level and it needs to start to be more explosive and more disruptive defensively. Being sharper is a must, and that means being better on third downs after converting a mediocre 37.5% of the time. Limiting penalties is a must after finishing 91st in the nation.

Minnesota

Spring Practice Begins: March 24
Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... Jerry Kill might not be glitzy and he might not be full of fire and brimstone, but unlike former head coaches Tim Brewster and Glen Mason, he doesn’t come across like a used car salesman. Minnesota needs to find an identity again, and Kill should bring that with a powerful running game and a more aggressive defense the goal right away. Kill has had major success everywhere he has gone, and he made Northern Illinois a powerhouse after a few down years. He’s the type of coach who could quickly become a folk hero at a place desperate for Gopher football to matter again.

The big spring question is ... Can the defense get into the backfield? It’s not like Northern Illinois was the 1985 Bears, but the defensive front did a nice job of making things happen behind the line on a regular basis and helped the D finish 14th in the nation points allowed. Minnesota’s defensive front was a disaster finishing dead last in America in sacks and struggling to make anything happen against the run. With all four starters returning up front, and a nice young nucleus among the backups to work with, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has some experience to work with.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Adam Weber had an interesting four-year career and he might end up hanging out in the NFL for a little while as someone’s third-string quarterback. As good as he was, there was always a sense that the real star of the show was busy doing something else. MarQueis “O.J.” Gray was one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback recruits a few years ago, but after needing a year to get eligible, he wasn’t used much and ended up turning into one of the team’s most dangerous receivers. Now the 6-4, 230-pound junior might be another Chandler Harnish, the ultra-productive Northern Illinois quarterback who came to his own last year. Gray is far, far more talented than Harnish, and the team’s season might completely and totally hinge on whether or not he’s ready to show what he can do.

Spring attitude... The coaching staff is in place. Tim Brewster was a controversial hire at the time, but the belief was that he had the chance to be a whale of a college football head man with his enthusiasm and recruiting ability. It didn’t work. Jerry Kill has the systems and the ability to create a rock-solid team that will eventually put together one of the Big Ten’s better ground games. It’s not going to all kick in overnight, and starting out at USC isn’t a plus, but the schedule isn’t all that bad and a winning season is possible with a few breaks. Call this the stepping stone season, but with nine starters returning on defense and good skill position players to work around, the expectations will be set a bit higher.

Nebraska

Spring Practice Begins: March 12
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... Welcome to the new league. The Huskers are expected to step in to their new league and challenge for the Big Ten title right away. The team is undergoing some major internal changes with a few big coaching hires that will be under the microscope all offseason. The big move was at offensive coordinator where Tim Beck comes in for Shawn Watson, and the plan is to run a version of the spread and to attack even more. Head coach Bo Pelini is looking for more explosion, and Beck plans to provide it. With a few other coaching changes, things are being shaken up even though the team didn’t exactly have a bad 2010.

The big spring question is ... Can the defense start getting into the backfield more? The 2009 defense, led by Ndamukong Suh, finished second in the nation in sacks, 28th in tackles for loss, and ninth against the run. The Huskers also closed out the year No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense. Last year, Nebraska was 45th in the nation in sacks, a pathetic 112th in tackles for loss, and 63rd against the run. Overall, the defense wasn’t bad, but Nebraska under Bo Pelini isn’t doing what it’s supposed to unless it’s blowing up offenses by camping out in backfields. Pierre Allen is gone, but everyone else on the two-deep defensive line returns.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Taylor Martinez, Taylor Martinez, Taylor Martinez. One of college football’s breakout stars over the first half of last year, his toughness was question and injuries became a power. The job is open for battle with passing option Cody Green looking to show a bit more in the new offensive system, and newcomer Jamal Turner is reportedly worth the hype and more. The passing game was 113th in the nation averaging just 151 yards per game, and the coaching staff is looking to change that immediately.

Spring attitude... Get ready to be everyone’s big game. Nebraska is used to be in the spotlight, but it’ll be a bit different now as every game in the Big Ten will be magnified. It all starts on October 1st at Wisconsin, and it doesn’t slow down from there with Ohio State coming up the following week and with dates at Penn State, Michigan, and Iowa in November. Give Bo Pelini credit; he’s not taking it easy. 10-4 with a Big 12 North title would be phenomenal at most places, but losing three of the final four games didn’t sit well and the attitude, evidenced by several assistant coaching changes, is that nothing less than greatness will do.

Northwestern

Spring Practice Begins: March 7
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The end of 2010 doesn’t appear to be sitting too well. Star quarterback Dan Persa went down at the end of the Iowa game, but his Achilles injury seemed to have the biggest impact on a run defense that all of a sudden got blown away by a stiff breeze. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who’s already a hard nails coachy coach when it comes to toughness, is demanding more out of a veteran defense and isn’t allowing anyone to get comfortable. It doesn’t matter who you are; you have to fight for your job if you’re not bringing the lumber and toughness with every play.

The big spring question is ... Will the Wildcats be able to run the ball? The run defense is a huge concern after getting ripped up in November, and the pass rush has to come up with something that works after struggling to get to the quarterback, but the offense needs a ground game if and when Dan Persa isn’t back at 100%. The problem last year was 1) a line that was a disaster in pass protection and 2) a slew of running backs who probably shouldn’t have been in the Big Ten. Mike Trumpy had a wrist problem, but he had his moments and could be the featured back if Adonis Smith doesn’t become a more dynamic option. By the time the season stars, true freshmen Jordan Perkins and Nick VanHoose might be the best options, so if anyone wants to take over the job, it’s time to show it.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive end. The line had the beef and the upside to come up with a good season, and it had a few good moments, but the pass rush was non-existent and the ends were erased way too easily. With competition open for all the jobs, the focus will be on Vince Brown and Kevin Watt on the outside to see if they can show more moves and be more disruptive. They’re big defenders with decent skills, but they’ll be pushed by Tyler Scott and Quentin Williams. If the ends don’t get the job done, then the coaching staff will start using the outside linebackers more when they should be worrying about holding up against the run.

Spring attitude... Get nastier. It’s not like the Wildcats didn’t have any fight in them last year; Pat Fitzgerald teams always bring the effort. They were inconsistent and had a bad habit of always playing to the level of the competition – at least when Dan Persa was healthy. A team good enough to beat Iowa and push Michigan State should’ve have needed everything in the bag to get by Central Michigan and Minnesota. Considering the talent level, a seven-win season and a bowl game is a good goal, but Fitzgerald wants his team to compete for the Big Ten title. A 13th game isn’t enough.

Click for each team's spring preview
Leaders Illinois | Indiana | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin 
Legends Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern 
 
2011 Big Ten Spring Preview  
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Buzz
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Buzz
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Attitudes
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Attitudes
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Key Positions
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Key Positions   
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Spring Questions 
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Spring Questions    
- Big Ten Pre-Spring Rankings