Big Ten Spring Football - Legends, Part 2
Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray
Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray
Posted Mar 28, 2012

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

2012 Spring Preview   

Big Ten Legends - Part 2

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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Jerry Kill had an awful first year. He left a Northern Illinois team that won the MAC title for a team that couldn't beat North Dakota State or New Mexico State. His Gophers came up with a few Big Ten stunners, but the 3-9 season was a wash with a defense that couldn't stop anyone but a lifeless Illinois, and an offense that never found any sort of a groove. Worse yet, Kill's seizure scares made football secondary, at least to everyone but Kill.

However, he's a terrific coach who's a proven winner, but he needs to find a way to make chicken salad this offseason with a team that's not nearly talented enough to come up with a winning campaign without a few big surprises. On the plus side, as long as his medical problems are kept in check, 2012 can't and won't be any worse.

- MarQueis Gray is too talented to not come up with a tremendous final act. It only seems like he's been around since the Joe Salem era, but after coming to Minnesota as a dual threat quarterback, having eligibility issues, moving to receiver, and then back to quarterback, he should finally be settled and should finally have a handle on the attack. He's 6-4 and 240 pounds with great athleticism and a next-level arm, and now he needs to use this offseason to show it off more consistently.

- Will Gray have anyone to hand off to? Kill's offenses always produced big-time numbers from its running backs, at least until last season. Gray might be the team's best rushing threat, but the JUCO transfers are on the way to potentially change all of that. James Gillum is a speedster out of Mississippi who'll be around this spring and has all the tools to make an immediate impact in tandem with Donnell Kirkwood.

- Watch out for senior linebacker Mike Rallis to quietly become one of the Big Ten's better all-around defenders. He came up with 83 tackles and now will be the leader of a defensive front seven that needs a bunch of retooling. Tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey are gone along middle linebacker Gary Tinsley, putting more pressure on Rallis to clean up plenty of messes.

- The Big Ten's worst offense has plenty of things to work on after failing to hit the 30-point mark and averaging just 310 yards per game, but more than anything else, the Gophers can't turn things around without improving the turnover margin. The offense was too bad with just 17 giveaways and a mere seven lost fumbles, but the defense was awful at coming up with big plays. The secondary made just four picks with just one in the final nine games. There were just five fumbles taken away, but four of them came in the last five games.

- Watch out for the offensive line to be a potential plus. It did a decent job last year, helped by a mobile Gray avoiding several sacks, and it wasn't awful for the ground game that averaged 160 yards per game. Again, Gray had a lot to do with that. It was a young line that counted on three underclassmen, and now with four starters returning and some decent recruits on the way, there's hope.


There. Now that's out of the way. The novelty of being a member of the Big Ten is gone, and now the program can start focusing on nothing but trying to win the Legends – as if Bo Pelini was distracted in any way by the constant questions about what life was like in the new league. The key to this offseason will be consistency. The Huskers didn't have it over the second half of last year with an offense that struggled and sputtered way too much and a defense that suffered too many lapses. Pelini isn't on any hot seat of any sort, but after two ten-win seasons and two Big 12 North titles, 9-4 and a Capital One Bowl blowout seemed like a step back.

But are the horses there to make a run at winning the division and getting to Indianapolis? The two best defensive players – linebacker Lavonte David and corner Alfonzo Dennard – are gone are three starters on the offensive line. However, the backfield returns intact and tackle Baker Steinkuhler leads a decent-looking D line. Yes, Nebraska is just another Big Ten team now, and with some tweaking this offseason, it should be a good one.

- The Huskers have GOT to come up with another offensive option. Taylor Martinez and Red Burkhead accounted for 4,320 of the team's 4,939 yards. The rest of the Huskers came up with just 619 yards. Burkhead took a beating, running 284 times and catching another 21 passes, and Martinez held up after having ankle problems in 2010. As the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina showed that there's a very, very hard ceiling on what the team can do without more offensive weapons.

- Do the Huskers actually have a passing game? Martinez isn't exactly Aaron Rodgers, and when he did throw well it almost always seemed like a surprise. This is a running offense that'll continue to rely on Burkhead, Martinez, and more Burkhead, but there don't appear to be many other viable options at the moment if that doesn't work even though the receiving talent isn't all that bad.

- How did moving over to the Big Ten matter? The defense wasn't quite set up to handle getting beaten up. The Big 12 is more of a passing league with high-octane offenses and wild shootouts, and while it's just a myth that the Big Ten is all about the power game, the Husker defense wasn't able to hold once teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State got their running attacks into a lather. Nebraska was supposed to shine on D in its first year, and instead it finished in the middle of the pack and dead last in tackles for loss.

- Where's Ndamukong Suh? Where's Lavonte David? Where are the Prince Amukamaras and Alfonzo Dennards for the secondary? Fine, so Damion Stafford is a terrific safety, but that's about it. Baker Steinkuhler is a good tackle, but he isn't elite, and a linebacker has to take over the corps to replace what David brought.

- And that's where the JUCO guys come in. Zaire Anderson is a ready-made hitter out of California at linebacker, while Mohammed Seisay should be plugged in right away at Dennard's spot at corner on the other side of Green. They might not make the Husker defense dominant again, but the production should be solid with the pieces to be quickly filled in this summer.


Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach who has taken one of the toughest jobs in college football and done well with it. He might not be winning Big Ten titles, and a bowl win remains as elusive as an NCAA tournament appearance for the basketball program, but getting to a bowl game at Northwestern is still an accomplishment even if he thinks that should be the norm. This spring has to be about defense, defense, and defense.

Any team led by Fitzgerald has to be stronger in the defensive front and can't be giving up 30 points a game on a regular basis. There's going to be a little greater sense of urgency this offseason considering the lofty expectations Fitzgerald puts on himself and his program, because just getting to a bowl game isn't going to be good enough for him.

- The Wildcat offense was fine last year, finishing second in the Big Ten in yards cranking out 421 per game, but it needs better play from a line that allowed a whopping 42 sacks on the season. Fortunately, running quarterback Kain Colter should be more than ready to handle the full-time job after warming the season up before Dan Persa was ready. He can throw a bit, too, but he needs some young receivers to emerge, Demetrius Fields has to become a playmaking deep threat, and Treyvon Green has to show he can handle more of the workload as a second option for the ground game. However, help might be on the way to provide more options.

- Spring ball is spring ball, and it's a time to work the kinks out and to start to get the timing back, but the team will be waiting on a slew of true freshmen this offseason to beef up the depth and the talent level. The big coup of February was getting star linebacker prospect Ifeadi Odenigbo, who might be the team's most talented defensive player from the moment he steps off the bus. On the offensive side, top guard prospect Adam DePietro probably won't be ready to go right away, but he'll eventually be an anchor. The running game that needs more help could look to Malin Jones and Traveon Henry early on in the rotation.

- It's not an overstatement to suggest that the key to the Wildcat season is whether or not Kyle Prater is eligible. The USC transfer and one-time superstar prospect has all the paperwork into the NCAA, but it's a coin flip on whether or not he'll be able to play this season, even though he's able to practice this spring. If he's able to go, even with his injury history, he'll be the team's No. 1 target immediately and, if everything goes according to plan, will change the dynamic of the offense. However, his eligibility is still a big if.

- 14 sacks and 59 tackles for loss. That's all the Wildcats came up with last season in a tremendously disappointing year. Don't expect Fitzgerald to allow that to happen again with several young players forming a potentially decent rotation with even more of an emphasis on getting to the quarterback.

- No pass rush meant no production from the secondary. While it might seem like a potential disaster that the Big Ten's worst pass defense is only getting back one starter – safety Ibraheim Campbell – the Wildcat defensive backfield should be more athletic. Depth, though, will be an issue considering the starting foursome is going to be a work in progress. However, again, the pass rush has to improve.