Big Ten Spring Football - Legends, Part One
Iowa QB James Vandenberg
Iowa QB James Vandenberg
Posted Mar 28, 2012

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

2012 Spring Preview   

Big Ten Legends - 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

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Is this going to be one of those seasons that doesn’t look like much, only to turn into something special under Kirk Ferentz’s watch? Probably not. The Hawkeyes have a ton of issues and a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball, but Ferentz and his staff have pulled rabbits out of a hat before and have a decent base to work with this season. However, it’s starting to look more and more like 2009 was an aberration and 2005 to 2007 and 2010 to 2011 are more of the norm.

The talent level is decent, considering Iowa doesn’t rely on a slew of four-and-five-star prospects, but this offseason there are plenty of new starters across the board and a lack of sure-thing playmakers. Defensive line is a problem, receiver is an issue, and there’s a ten-mile wide hole at running back, but this is Iowa. It’ll roll out of bed and go bowling, but it’s just a question of whether or not the program can be relevant in Big Ten play again this year. This offseason is very, very important.

- And the running back will be … ? The Marcus Coker fiasco was a killer for the Hawkeye running game, but at least the coaching staff has a full season to fix the glitch. Jason White and Jordan Canzeri weren’t exactly great backup options, but at least they were live bodies. White is gone, but Canzeri is back. Even so, the starting running back probably won’t emerge until late this summer.

- As if the running back situation wasn’t a big enough issue, losing top target Marvin McNutt adds even more problems to the offensive mix. Keenan Davis is a good target who should pick up the slack and be a go-to playmaker, but it’s not like the passing game blew up when he and McNutt were a tandem. 6-7 tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is a promising safety-valve, but the offense could use a second wide receiver who takes advantage of all the attention paid to Davis.

- Penn State and Ohio State might get all the attention this year when it comes to the coaches, and Wisconsin suffered some major losses from its staff, but Iowa has to overcome a few coaching changes of its own with defensive coordinator Norm Parker retiring and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe leaving for the Miami Dolphins. Phil Parker will take over the D after coaching the defensive backs, while Greg Davis – more of a spread coach - will be interesting fit for an offense with a dropback passer in James Vandenberg.

- The defensive line has to be far more aggressive and has to do far more to get into the backfield despite the loss of three starters up front. The Hawkeyes only came up with 62 tackles for loss and struggled to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. Turning up the heat this offseason under Parker is a must.

- That means the spotlight will be on Carl Davis, a great-looking defensive tackle prospect with 6-5, 310-pound size and a world of upside. His freshman year was a wash making just two tackles as a backup, but now he needs to be the anchor with Mike Thomas and Thomas Nardo gone from the inside.


The expectations will be interesting over this spring and summer. It’s not like anyone is thinking Michigan can win the national title – unless it comes up with a victory over Alabama in the opener, which would obviously change the dynamic of the 2012 campaign – but with the rest of the Big Ten looking down, rebuilding, or just plain awful, Brady Hoke has to win the conference title. Last year was about the new coaching staff getting the program away from the Rich Rodriguez era, but even with a team coming back that should finish up in Pasadena, this is still going to be another year of adjustments.

Michigan got back to among the top programs by getting to the Sugar Bowl and winning it – even if Michigan State deserved the nod more – but it’s Michigan. This is supposed to be a program that’s in the mix for the national title on a regular basis, and Hoke appears to have things back on track to get there. It just might take one more year. However, that doesn’t mean anything less than a second BCS appearance in two seasons will be accepted.

- Denard Robinson isn’t the quarterback Hoke would like to have under center. Oh sure, Robinson is a big-time talent and Hoke and his staff will adjust to his skills, but ideally, the offense would have a 6-4 pro-style dropback passer running the attack. That’ll have to come down the road.

- With the rest of the Big Ten down, Ohio State not eligible to play for the Big Ten title, and most of the top programs like Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State needing a major rebuilding job, so it might be Rose Bowl or bust for the Wolverines. So what’s missing? What does Michigan need to do to be as good as advertised? The turnover margin has to continue to be a plus. Robinson is going to throw picks, but the defense was terrific at coming up with takeaways with 20 fumble recoveries and nine picks. Michigan has to be on the right side of the margin again in the bigger games.

- Gut feeling – watch out for Fitzgerald Toussaint to have a phenomenal season. At Ball State, Hoke’s offense was able to open up ten-mile wide holes for the diminutive MiQuale Lewis, who ran for 1,736 yards and 22 scores. San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman is a smallish back who ripped off 1,532 yards and 17 scores in 2010 under Hoke. With a year to get the system in place, watch out for the 5-10, 195-pound Toussaint to come up with huge numbers.

- One of the biggest keys to the season will be another good year from the defensive line, but it’ll have to go on without tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger, two of the biggest keys to the defensive turnaround. Is Will Campbell ready to be the anchor he was supposed to be from the moment he set foot on campus? At 6-5 and 322 pounds he has terrific size, and a world of potential, but he’s just been okay so far. 6-4, 302-pound junior Quinton Washington is bigger than Heininger and needs to grow into a rock against the run.

- Michigan needs to work on the special teams. Will Hagerup only averaged 36 yards per kick to open the door for Matt Wile, who was used early on last year averaging over 41 yards per kick. More is needed from a kickoff return game that averaged just 18.4 yards per try.

Michigan State

A case could be made that over the last two seasons, Michigan State has been the best program to not get to a BCS game. The Spartans have gone 22-5 over the span, but last season’s team was built to win a Big Ten title. It was full of talent, experience, and depth, and while Mark Dantonio has come up with a good formula and enough nice recruiting classes to keep MSU among the league leaders, this offseason will be more about reloading and teaching than it will be about tweaking, at least on offense.

The Spartans lose almost the entire passing game with quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol, and Keshawn Martin all gone. Fortunately, the Big Ten is going to be just mediocre enough that MSU should be able to get away with the newcomers in key spots, but there won’t be any adjustment period with Boise State coming in to kickoff the season. If Sparty wants that BCS-level game is hasn’t been in since the 1987 season, getting everything in place this spring to beat the Broncos, and Notre Dame soon after, is a must.

- The Michigan State pre-spring depth chart is out, and it’s not like there are a slew of major surprises. This is Andrew Maxwell’s offense to fly, listed as the No. 1 quarterback, with Connor Cook the backup – there’s no “or” like there almost always is in spring practices. Wide receiver is one of the team’s biggest question marks, and at least to kick off spring it’s former corner Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery on top. Don’t write that in pen with several other options certain to make a splash by the time Boise State comes to town with all eyes certain to be on …

- DeAnthony Arnett and whether or not he’s eligible. The transfer from Tennessee will be play for the Spartans, but it’s just a question of whether he’ll be able to do it this year. The NCAA has all the paperwork, and now it’s time to play the waiting game. If he’s ready to go, there’s a chance he’ll be the No. 1 target right away, or at least a key part of the rotation.

- Once Chris Norman returns from a shoulder injury, the Spartans should be loaded at linebacker. The 252-pound Max Bullough is a big hitting veteran in the middle, while the team’s No. 3 tackler last year, Denicos Allen, is back on the strongside. With Norman out for most of spring ball, 6-3, 232-pound sophomore Taiwan Jones will get plenty of reps on the weakside.

- The Spartans might have lost a good one in defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to the NFL a year early, but they’re not exactly hurting for size on the inside. Fifth-year senior Tyler Hoover is 6-7 and 295 pounds, while Anthony Rashad White got even bigger on the nose, now up to 320 pounds on his 6-2 frame. The 6-5, 320-pound Micajah Reynolds adds even more bulk. If that wasn’t enough, William Gholston is 6-7 and 275 pounds on the end.

- The team punting stats might not look all that great with the Spartans finishing 91st in the nation. However, watch out for Mike Sadler to be given more respect this year. He averaged 41.1 yards per kick and dropped a whopping 25 kicks inside the 20.