2008 Big Ten Insider Spring Questions
Iowa TE Tony Moeaki
Iowa TE Tony Moeaki
Posted Mar 5, 2008

With spring ball kicking in, here are some of the Big Ten's key questions answered by the inside sources, the Scout publishers.

2008 Spring Preview

Key Questions Answered

- 2008 Big Ten Spring Analysis

1) How many of the top Illinois prospects from the 2007 recruiting class are ready to roll. 2) Is there going to be more of an emphasis on throwing, and is Juice Williams going to be the full-time starter? 3) Who’s replacing Rashard Mendenhall?

Frank Frangie, Publisher, Insideillini.com

1) A number of players from last year's class played a great deal last year: WR Arrelious Benn, LB Martez Wilson, WR Brian Gamble, RB Daniel Dufrene, DT Josh Brent, CB Marcus Thomas, FS Nathan Bussey. All of those guys currently are listed as starters headed into spring.

Beyond those starters, players from the 2007 class that redshirted, but will figure prominently, include: RB Troy Pollard (received medical hardship after being injured early in the season), OL Jack Cornell, Craig Wilson and Mark Jackson (all are listed in top two of depth chart), DL DeAngelo McCray and Darryle Ballew (will be in rotation), LB Ian Thomas (could start) and SS Darius Purcell (could start).

2) Juice is the full-time starter. Eddie McGee will play in most games, but Juice is the starter. They will throw more, but not just because they are replacing a running back, but because it is part of the natural development of Williams, now in his third season. Also, this will be by far the best and most experienced receiving corps Illinois has had since Zook as been the coach. 

3) Heading into spring, junior Daniel Dufrene is first on the depth chart to replace Mendenhall. Dufrene is smaller, but very fast. Competition will come from Pollard, when he recovers from knee surgery, a similarly small back but one with the best vision on the team. And two true freshmen -- Mikel LeShoure, who entered early and is going through spring practice, and Jason Ford.

Really, how many questions and concerns ARE there at Michigan right now?

From Tom Beaver, GoBlueWolverine

, Too many to count. Will RichRod have a quarterback that can run his offense? The only two QB's on the spring roster are drop-backers Steven Threet and David Cone - and neither has ever taken a snap in a college game.

Who'll play slot receiver? New-U-M signed three slot receivers in Feb., but for the spring there are none ... will RB's Carlos Brown and Avery Horn have to fill in?

Will the defense look different, or the same as old-U-M's? With all new defensive coaches, who knows?

Where should the '08 expectations be set? The schedule is front-loaded with Sept.-Oct. games against Utah, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Illinois, PSU and MSU. Still, regardless of where expectations "should" be set, they are actually set, as always -- sky-high.

Will the Indiana running backs be used more or is the offense going to be all about Kellen Lewis again?

From John Decker, HoosierNation.com

So long as Kellen Lewis is under center, the offense is going to revolve around and his ability to throw it and run it. But Indiana would like to lean on the running backs a little more than it has the last couple of years, and the best chance of that happening is if freshman RB Darius Willis turns out to be the sort of impact freshman the staff thinks he can be. At 6-0 and 210 pounds Willis has good size, which he combines with 4.4 speed in the 40. While Indiana has relied on a tailback-by-committee approach the last couple of years, Coach Bill Lynch’s staff thinks Willis has the full complement of skills that will allow him to be 20-25 carry/game tailback. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him Willis start of the season sharing carries with the likes of Marcus Thigpen and Bryan Payton, but by the time the Big Ten season arrives he will have a chance to be the every down back.

Considering all of Iowa's injuries and all the problems last year, how is the offense shaping up?

From Jon Miller, HawkeyeNation.com

Their biggest recruiting 'get' on either side of the ball, in my opinion, was after signing day, when Shonn Greene announced he would be returning.  He played his first two years, a killer on special teams, and got some carries.  He has the best combination of power and speed at a running back for Iowa than I have seen in all of my years of watching Hawkeye football, which is nearly three decades.  he has two years of eligibility remaining, and running back is basically the lone position where Iowa lost anyone.

Tight End Tony Moeaki has the skills to be one of the best in the Big Ten, he will be ready to go in May.  He dislocated his elbow and broke his wrist against Wisconsin in Iowa's fourth game.  WR Andy Brodell will be 100% for spring drills, and he also was lost for the year against Wisconsin, with a hamstring tear off the bone.  He closed the 2006 season with back to back 159 yard games against Minnesota and Texas.

The O lost Dominique Douglas before the season began last year after he was one of the top freshman receivers in the nation in 2006.  Factor in all of those things, along with a green offensive line, and you basically gave a green light to opposing defensive coordinators as to letting loose numerous blitz packages.  Iowa clearly failed in that area, as QB Jake Christensen was sacked more times than any starting BCS quarterback. 

He has the skills, but I think he played a little shell-shocked late in the year, hearing things that might not have been there because they were there so often.

Still, Iowa set a record for the fewest number of giveaways in one season, amidst all of that heat.  Jake is a heady kid, and he doesn't take you out of games, even when the going got tough this year.  He should have a full compliment of position players this year, the offensive line will be one year older and more experienced across the board, Greene is a load in the backfield, Brandon Meyers is good enough to start at tight end on most of the teams in the Big Ten.

Trey Stross will be in the mix at WR, and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will be a sophomore receiver.  He has the skills to be one of the most exciting playmakers in the Big Ten, as long as he can nail down the little things, like picking up hot reads, something he didn't do all that well last year, nor did any of the young receivers.

For much of the year, 2/3's, Iowa basically had three healthy receivers, and they were all freshmen.  Two of them played QB in high school.

This offense has nowhere to go but up, and though it will probably come into this year with low expectations from the 'outside world', it will be quite capable of punching some people in the nose.

Is the Michigan State offense going to be more about QB Brian Hoyer, since he’s the veteran, or will the attack still revolve around the running game?

From Joe Torok, Associate Editor, GoSpartans.net

MSU will go as far as Javon Ringer will carry them. Ringer returns as a top-shelf running back in the Big Ten, looking to build on 1,484-yard performance. He combines the shiftiness of a scat back with the explosiveness of a sprinter, and he's always a threat to blow open the game with a big play, notching an 80-yard touchdown (six TDs on the season) and averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry last year.  Losing goal line back Jehuu Caulcrick will mean Ringer has to do more in the red-zone.

While improved play from quarterback Brian Hoyer will be important to the team’s success, the Spartan offense is designed to establish a formidable ground game. Hoyer, a serviceable quarterback who has shown moments of greatness, will be looked to primarily for smart, efficient play.

With succession plans all the rage, how's the transition of power at Penn State going to go down, and more importantly, when? Also, is Darryl Clark really the right quarterback?

From Mark Brennan,
Publisher FightOnState.com

THE question here now is what is going to happen with Joe Paterno. He is entering the last year of his contract and he was supposed to meet with the president and AD in January, but fell ill with the flu and the meeting was postponed. Then he had to deal with the run-up to signing day. Now he is on a Nike trip. Anyway, the meeting figures to actually take place between now and late March, and will have the big impact on the future of the program.
I don't think QB Daryll Clark is a slam dunk to start. He moves extremely well with the ball (especially compared to Antony Morelli) but he has thrown the ball very poorly in practice. All practices are closed here, but we have good sources and I trust them on this. Pat Devlin is a much better passer and is more mobile than Morelli. A lot of people close to the program think he is the guy, but you have to offset that with Paterno's penchant for sticking with upperclassmen. The other thing about Clark is his dynamic personality (like Michael Robinson, unlike Morelli). Clark really has that wow factor when you talk to him. I have not spent enough time with Devlin to know if he has those personality and leadership skills.
The issue is the possibility of going to even more of a spread offense, and I honestly can't tell you which one would be better equipped to run it right now. If I had to guess, I'd say Devlin, only because his passing is much better and he can move well enough to keep people honest. However, all bets on everything are off if Penn State somehow lands (super-recruit) Terrelle Pryor.