Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
B1G East Spring Questions
The brackets are out and most everyone is rightfully focused on March Madness. However, there’s plenty of time in your day to read a bit about Spring football as teams across the conference begin preparations for the 2015 season. We’ll open with a look at the defending National Champions and the rest of the East division (a similar article focusing on the West will be up early next week).
Ohio State Buckeyes
The National Champions opened Spring practice on March 10. The Buckeyes should have one of the more interesting QB battles that we’ve ever seen as three different players could legitimately be considered Heisman Trophy contenders (depending on how playing time ends up being doled out). Cardale Jones, JT Barrett and Braxton Miller all enter Spring looking to win the starting job by impressing Urban Meyer over the next 5-6 months. The quarterback position isn’t the only one where competition will be fierce but it’s definitely the one that will get the most attention.
-Will any of the three QB’s emerge as a favorite to win the job heading into the Fall?
· So far, Braxton Miller has done some light passing and warm-ups as he continues to rehab his injured shoulder. JT Barrett is sidelined with his injury which means that Cardale Jones continues to get increased reps and, according to Meyer, “(Jones) is a very functional player with repetition” (whatever that means).
· This is just my opinion and I might look like an idiot later on (wouldn’t the first time) but I believe Braxton Miller is going to end up behind Barrett and Jones when the Buckeyes begin the season in September.
- Can the Buckeyes replace Michael Bennett?
· Ohio State is loaded and their “concerns” are rather minor when compared to most of the teams around the country. However, interior defensive line depth is a concern for the reigning champs. Joey Bosa (an absolute beast) and Adolphus Washington return but Michael Bennett was a big part of last year’s defense and there are not any obvious replacements for him.
· Sam Hubbard, Michael Hill and Tommy Schutt will battle it out along with incoming 4-star recruit Jashon Cornell. Cornell enrolled early in Columbus and is participating in Spring practice.
The Wolverines made a huge splash in the offseason by bringing in “Michigan Man” Jim Harbaugh to be their new head coach. Harbaugh and the Maize and Blue began Spring practices on February 24 (how is February 24 “Spring” in Michigan?) and they have several position battles and developments to keep an eye on. “We’re still trying to figure out who the best players are and what their best positions are. We don’t know what their positions will be yet, or who the players are at those positions. Nothing’s been done,” Harbaugh said.
-Harbaugh and his staff appear to be placing quite a few players at new positions. Jabril Peppers is switching to safety, Brady Pallante is switching to fullback, Ross Taylor-Douglas is moving to corner. Are there going to be any surprising position changes that boost the offense?
-Who plays quarterback? Never developing a quarterback was one of the major factors in the downfall of Brady Hoke. Jim Harbaugh has a lot of bodies to work with but only time will tell if any of the current Wolverines QBs can lead Michigan back to national relevance.
· Shane Morris (Junior), Wilton Speight (RS-Freshman) and Alex Malzone (Freshman) are the three primary guys that will be battling for the starting job while Freshman Zach Gentry will arrive before fall camp and likely redshirt.
-Can Michigan find any difference makers on offense? Devin Funchess was their standout on offense and he’ll be playing on Sundays (and probably Thursdays and Mondays as well!) this season. Jake Butt is a very talented tight end that should thrive in Harbaugh’s offense. Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Freddy Canteen are the most likely candidates to see significant time at WR. There’s a lot of potential but not much production among that group. If a few of those guys don’t step up, it’ll be a long first season for Harbaugh and the Wolverines.
Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions are headed into year two under head coach James Franklin and there’s a lot of reason for optimism in Happy Valley. Their NCAA sanctions are over and they are coming off of a bowl appearance. There’s also some reason for concern…can they actually compete with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes? Can they catch up to Dantonio and the Spartans? Will Michigan zoom past them and put them firmly in 4th place in the division? Can their offensive line block anyone?
-The offensive line has to be better in 2015, right?
· Yes. The Nittany Lions return much of the offensive line that struggled in 2014 and they will add in some talent that will make a positive impact. Christian Hackenberg is talented (although I don’t think he’s quite as elite as the B1G Network analysts lead you to believe) but if the line doesn’t improve significantly next season, he’ll struggle once again.
Michigan State Spartans
The biggest news around the Michigan State Spartans was the departure of longtime defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi (now the head coach at Pittsburgh). The Spartans also DE Marcus Rush, LB Taiwan Jones, safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerback Trae Waynes are all gone on defense as are offensive stars Lippett and Langford. Michigan State is a really good developmental program but their development aptitude will be tested in 2015.
-Can the defense still be elite despite losing Narduzzi and several top tier players?
· We won’t find out the answer to this in the Spring but the first steps to them making sure that they don’t slip from an elite defense to a “solid” defense will be taken during Spring ball. Dantonio believes that there is no cause for concern but Narduzzi was there a long time and the defense under a different coordinator will be interesting to see.
-Who steps up to replace Jeremy Langford?
· Michigan State has consistently cranked out really good running backs (T.J. Duckett, Javon Ringer, Le’Veon Bell and now Jeremy Langford). Who’s next on the assembly line? Keep an eye on Delton Williams, redshirt freshman Madre London and incoming freshman LJ Scott. Having Connor Cook back at QB will help ease the transition in the backfield and I think it’s wise to trust that Michigan State will be just fine at running back.
The Terrapins began their Spring practice on March 2nd and plan on wrapping up on April 11 (although continued poor weather in the area could change those plans). The main storylines in camp revolve around a new defense (switching to a 4-3) and whether or not a QB can threaten the starting job of the injured Caleb Rowe (out for all of MD’s Spring practices).
-Who replaces the production lost a wide receiver?
· The Terps lost Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to the NFL and Marcus Leak is the only returning starter. Sophomore Juwann Winfree has a lot of potential and flashed some impressive skills late in his Freshman season and Levern and Taivon Jacobs are the primary candidates to increase their production at WR.
-How quickly can Maryland adapt to a new defensive formation?
· The biggest positive in this switch is that former WILL linebackers Yannick Ngakoue and Jessie Aniebonam are now partnering at defensive end. That duo should be one of the better pass rush units in the B1G. There are a lot of questions after that though. Is there enough strength and depth inside? Can the linebackers adjust to their new roles? Does the secondary benefit from the scheme change? Maryland’s defense wasn’t atrocious last season but it wasn’t great either. With the loss of their two best playmakers on offense, the defense will have to take to the 4-3 pretty quickly to avoid a fall in their second B1G season.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen was forced to retire because of health issues so the Scarlet Knights welcome a new OC to their staff (Ben McDaniels). McDaniels is Rutgers sixth OC in the past 6 years so I guess you could say the players are used to change. He’ll have some good pieces to work with (mainly the conference’s best returning WR) but a couple of large concerns as well.
-Who will be the starting QB?
· Gary Nova finished his career at Rutgers first in school history in a number of categories (mainly TDs and passing yards) and his departure will be felt in Piscataway. Chris Laviano is the only guy on the roster with experience at the position (albeit limited). Hayden Rettig is now eligible after sitting out 2014 (transfer from LSU) and Giovanni Rescigno received increased reps during bowl preparation last winter. Having a QB emerge as a viable starter is the most important thing for Rutgers this Spring.
-Will the offensive line be able to develop?
· A young and inexperienced QB is going to need a strong offensive line. Unfortunately for Rutgers, they are attempting to replace three multi-year starters. Offensive tackle Keith Lumpkin returns but there’s not a lot of experience coming back beside him and the development of that unit will be extremely important if Rutgers wants to return to a bowl game for the 5th straight season.