Big Ten Spring Football - Leaders, Part One
Illinois DE Michael Buchanan
Illinois DE Michael Buchanan
Posted Mar 27, 2012

The big storylines and the key thoughts for each Big Ten team.

2012 Spring Preview   

Big Ten Leaders - Part 1

Leaders Illinois | Indiana | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin 
Legends Iowa | Michigan | Michigan St | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern 

2012 Big Ten Pre-Spring Preview
- CFN 2012 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Leaders Rankings
- CFN 2012 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Legends Rankings
- Why Every Team Should Be Excited
- Why Every Team Should Be Grouchy
- What Every Team Needs To Work On  
2012 Recruiting Breakdown Big Ten Leaders | Big Ten Legends

2012 Schedule Breakdown
- 2012 Big Ten Leaders Division Breakdown & Analysis
- 2012 Big Ten Legends Division Breakdown & Analysis
- 2012 Big Ten Composite Schedule & Week Rankings 

- Big Ten Leaders Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 1
- Big Ten Leaders Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 2

- Big Ten Legends Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 1
- Big Ten Legends Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 2

E-mail Pete Fiutak
Follow Us ... #ColFootballNews


Illinois, your window is razor-thin and it's going to slam shut in a hurry. The program just came off a coaching change and is in a transition period, but there's no time to try to rebuild or reload. If the program wants to get to the Big Ten championship as the representative of the Leaders, this is the year to do it with Wisconsin not appearing to be quite the team it was last year, Penn State trying to keep its head above water, and Ohio State not eligible to go to the title game.

The Buckeyes could own the division in the near future, and Wisconsin isn't going away, so Beckman's task this offseason is simple: win now. Everything Illinois does have to be with the attitude that the time is now and this is the season to take a step forward.

- Can Tim Beckman coach basketball, too? It hasn't been a good run for coaching hires for Illinois, and that includes Beckman, who was a booby prize with Kevin Sumlin deciding on Texas A&M. Beckman took a while to round out the coaching staff – it wasn't exactly a smooth process – but defensive coordinator Tim Banks should make things interesting with his five defensive back system.

- It's never really a good sign when new coaches limit access. He's not letting anyone into practices, and while that might seem to mean the program is getting down to business, but it also shows that things aren't in place. A good college football team can tell the opponent what it's going to do, and then do it.

- Beckman's offenses rocked at Toledo, and now the pressure is on Nathan Scheelhaase to take the attack to another level. Reilly O'Toole might be in the mix for a little bit of playing time here and there, but it'll be up to Scheelhaase to use his experience and all-around skills to ease in the transition to the Beckman era.

- Who's the next great Illinois defensive lineman? Ron Zook and the old coaching staff managed to do a decent job of developing athletes on the defensive front seven with Whitney Mercilus coming from out of nowhere to become the nation's most productive defensive end. Tackle Akeem Spence has the size and the tools to be fantastic, while Michael Buchanan will be the main pass rushing threat on the end.

- The special teams have to be far, far better. Illinois was dead last in the nation in kickoff returns, 118th in punt returns, and 80th in punting. It should be a bit of a concern that Toledo was great on punt returns, and bad at everything else.


Coach Kevin Wilson openly groused about the program's lack of talent when he took over, and it showed with the worst season of any BCS team – at least on the field. He went with a youth movement where possible, and while there were some good signs of progress with a true freshman backfield, the overall results were disastrous. The Hoosiers beat South Carolina State, and that was it, with embarrassing gaffes against Ball State and North Texas and too many blowouts in conference play.

The program lost out on QB Gunner Kiel, but there's still quarterback talent to build around this offseason, and there's a little bit of hope. Wilson and his staff have had a year to work, and while it's going to take longer to be more competitive, the Hoosiers are taking a few steps back to potentially take a giant leap forward. Eventually. He's changing the culture of IU football in the same way the late Terry Hoeppner tried to do, but he needs more talented players to make it happen.

- Indiana went so young last season that it's still going to be young coming into this year. This is going to be a long process and it's going to take a few more recruiting classes to get the lines where they need to be. And that's why the Hoosiers need a major upgrade at …

- The team's biggest problem – defensive line. There wasn't anything happening in the backfield and the run defense got flattened time game after game. Everyone is back, and there's good size and depth for all four spots, but the Hoosiers can't give up 244 rushing yards a game again if they want to make any sort of an improvement.

- IU didn't get any help up front from the JUCO transfers, but it's hoping for an infusion of ready-made talent to beef up the talent level and depth. The defense needs linebackers Jaccari Alexander and David Cooper to be key factors from Day One, while Justin Rayside will be a part of the end rotation and safeties Tregg Waters and Ryan Thompson should help out the baby-young secondary.

- On the plus side, even with so much youth across the board, there's a ton of returning experience. Seven starters are back on offense and eight return on defense with two of the holes at linebacker hopefully filled by the JUCO transfers.

- Will new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell make a difference? He helped Arizona put up huge passing numbers, but it's not like the Wildcats had a ton of overall success. Tre Roberson isn't Nick Foles, but if Litrell is doing his job, the passing game will be more efficient after finishing 101st in the nation.

Ohio State

It's Urban Meyer's world and everyone else is paying rent. He's pulling out all the typical new head coach clichés, like wanting the players to get into better shape, and be more physical, and show who wants to battle, because Ohio State was apparently slacking when it came to developing loads and loads of top-shelf college talents. But he has a point, and it could and should be the kick in the pants the program needs to go one step further. Under Jim Tressel's reign Ohio State became an elite of the elite program again, but whether it was style or preparations and performances against the USCs and top SEC teams of the world, something was missing. Meyer was able get that little bit of juice needed to take Florida forward, and he just might be able to tweak things just enough to start the process now to come out roaring in 2013.

And that's going to be the issue throughout this season. With no bowl to play in and no Big Ten title to shoot for, without ever saying that this will be a yearlong process to become national title good again, it's going to be a yearlong process to be national title good again. That attitude starts now, and that means full-bore practices, 100% motors, and nothing less than full-time effort all the time. Any sort of playtime there was before is now over.

- Meyer can't get through a conversation without saying the words Tim and Tebow, and now he's doing the same sort of gushing over Braxton Miller. Miller is big – he's 6-3 and 210 pounds – and the coaching staff plans on using him as even more of a passer after he spent last year mostly running. The playbook is open and nothing is going to be held back, mainly because Meyer seems to believe that his sophomore quarterback can handle the responsibility.

- But who will Miller throw to? As much as Meyer praises Miller, that's how grouchy he appears to be about his receiving corps and running backs. This could be a lean year unless a few targets step up and surprise this offseason, and considering Meyer could never seem to get steady production out of his running backs at Florida, the offense could once again be Miller, Miller, and more Miller.

- It'll be fun to see the transformation on the offensive line. To be fair, part of the reason the Buckeyes were 118th in the nation in sacks allowed was because of Miller's inexperience and running, but still, any line with Mike Brewster at center and the beef across the board should've been better. Forget about the massive 320-pound bellybusters; under Meyer the O line is going to be a lean, mean, fighting machine. If you can't move, you can't play on Meyer's front five.

- However, that'll be easier said than done. Ohio State recruited to a type for the front five, and no one can make 6-6, 300-pound linemen quick and agile if that's not how they're built. It's not like there are a ton of options on a line that'll have a hard time finding the right starting five much less depth to count on in a rotation.

- The key to the defense could turn out to be linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier. They have all the talent in the world, and they can move, but they need to make a big leap forward in their consistency. Grant is too promising and has too much upside to merely be average. Regulars Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino are good, but Grant and Shazier could be great.

- Big Ten Leaders Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 1
- Big Ten Leaders Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 2

- Big Ten Legends Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 1
- Big Ten Legends Spring Preview & Thoughts, Part 2