What does spring football really mean? It’s an interesting question and for 14 Big Ten teams it likely means very different things. For some programs it’s about hitting the reset button and learning a new system of play. For others it’s about staying healthy and getting plenty of reps for younger players and for others it is all about competition at important positions.
So, as we head in to May and spring football is clearly in the books, it’s important to take a look back at what happened around the Big Ten.
How do you measure success? Well, we’ll take a look at each school, their goals and decide who won and who lost.
Winner: Ohio State Buckeyes
No J.T. Barrett, no big named defensive ends…apparently no problem at all. The reload instead of rebuild era at Ohio State was alive and well this spring. There’s a massive battle at quarterback, Nick Bosa and Chase Young looked like world-beaters against a very good OSU offensive line and there are three really good running backs in the rotation.
There will be no shortage of competition in the fall either, especially at quarterback where Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins are locked in a crazy close battle. Some may see that news as a loss, but one look at how the two performed from start to finish of spring camp really means both of these quarterbacks could be the starter and the coaching staff would be happy. It’s a nice problem to have, helping to make the Buckeyes a winner this spring.
The rich just seem to get richer and keep hitting on the major recruits they bring in every year. Good luck stopping this team based off of what we saw this spring.
Loser(s): Rutgers QB’s not named Artur Sitkowski
If ever there was a living example of why spring football still matters it came this year in the form of Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski. The early enrollee true freshman came in as perhaps the most hyped recruit to come to Piscataway in over a decade, and he didn’t disappoint in his first go-round with the Scarlet Knights offense.
There was no doubt about who the best quarterback on the roster was by the time the spring game — Sitkowski. His play was really good, but it’s also not good news that with no college coaching and the same time in new offensive coordinator John McNulty’s was able to rise above those with in-game college experience. Incumbant starter Gio Rescigno and veteran backup Jonathan Lewis didn’t help themselves a bit and that may be a good thing considering how bad quarterback play has been over the past three years (and maybe more).
My question is if Sitkowski can prove that he can even out his game, because for all the upside and potential that was shown throughout the spring he also had some really bad moments (including in the spring game). But, the fact that we are asking if Sitkowski can be consistent enough to be the starter and not question if he can catch someone else in the race for the starting spot is really telling.
Winner: Mother Nature
How do you not say that Mother Nature was a winner this spring? When is the last time she ruined spring games the way she did this year? I can’t remember the last time more than one spring game was cancelled in a given year. This year, three teams saw games cancelled due to horrible weather.
Congrats Mother Nature, you won…and speaking of mother nature winning, she also created some losers.
Loser: Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin
If Mother Nature won, then some of Big Ten teams were clear losers if only for the lack of a spring game to be played. Those teams were Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin and all three could’ve used a spring game for various reasons.
In the case of Michigan, it would’ve been a perfect opportunity to see what’s up at quarterback with a spotlight of a big crowd on them. Alas that didn’t happen. Northwestern missing a spring game may not be the biggest of deals though, as Pat Fitzgerald has put less emphasis on a traditional spring game and more on valuable coaching time over the past few years. But, Wisconsin, much like Michigan, really could’ve used the competitiveness of a spring game. In the Badgers case, that competitiveness would’ve been a huge help for an offensive line that is highly competitive and for a secondary that needs to find answers.
Seeing a player in practice is one thing, seeing the same player under the pressure of game-like situations is another. There’s a reason some people are called “gamers” and that’s because they show up in a way they don’t in just practice. Seeing that in person, in a spring game can go a long way to figuring out if someone can handle the pressure of Saturday’s in the fall. Sadly, three teams were unable to make that happen this spring.
Winner: Bits of Broken Chair Rivals
Anyone doubt that Minnesota and Nebraska are building one heck of a rivalry anymore? If you don’t think so, you haven’t really been paying attention. These two teams and their fans really don’t like each other, and with two of the youngest and most energetic coaches in the B1G, you can bet this game is going to matter for a very long time to come.
Over in Lincoln, there seems to be a very fresh and refreshing start to the Scott Frost era. From a sold-out crowd to an early enrollee freshman quarterback starring, things couldn’t have gone much better. True freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez accounted for four total touchdowns and appeared to be the most confident and poised of the quarterbacks on the roster. That wasn’t the only good thing to come out of the Huskers spring either, as it appears this team is ready to break out of its shell and you can tell that just about everyone is in on the change in attitude within the program.
Just a bit to the Northeast, in Minneapolis, it also appears that quarterback changes are working out well. Tanner Morgan appears to be the right call at QB following a spring game that saw him go 18-28 for 272 and put up 2 touchdowns. He’s got a major weapon in the pass-catching game named Tyler Johnson…who did this in the spring game:
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 13, 2018
Ya, it’s safe to say the Gophers and Huskers are going to be a lot of fun to watch — wether or not they are any good in the win-loss columns.
Winner: Shea Patterson
Some believe that Michigan has been coming up short against bitter rival Ohio State and thus shut out of the Big Ten championship game thanks to a lack of quality play at the quarterback position. It’s hard to argue that isn’t the case in the Jim Harbaugh era. So, everyone associated with the Wolverines program had to be ecstatic when the NCAA modified its transfer rules and thus Patterson was able to become eligible this season. Prior to that, Patterson would’ve had a really rough time making a case to be eligible this year due to the rule book.
Patterson had been around all spring and practicing with the team, but his status as the potential answer at quarterback may have had to wait another year. Instead, the spring work and the recent news of his eligibility being restored equals perhaps the biggest individual winner of spring football. The question is, can Patterson be the answer at quarterback that Michigan has been sorely looking for since Harbaugh arrived?
Spring gave us a good indication of a positive answer, let’s see if it translates to fall.