Some of you may still be digging out from snow, others enjoyed a few warms days this past week and spring hopes came to the surface. Well, for college football fans, the truth is that spring really is right around the corner.
We’re just around a week until the first practice sessions begin for some teams inside the Big Ten.
As such, it’s time to focus on the needs, wants and expectations of each of the 14 teams across the conference. But, before we get there, let’s look at some of the biggest storylines the B1G has to offer. We’ll start with the division that has produced the reigning Big Ten champion, so it’s the East division’s turn under the microscope.
Ohio State QB Battle
You can’t talk Big Ten offseason without a mention of the situation at quarterback at Ohio State, right?
The easy money is on Dwayne Haskins to win the job, as he was the primary backup all of last season and played when J.T. Barrett was either down injured or the game was out of hand. Haskins finished last season 40 of 57 (70.2 percent) for 567 yards and 4 touchdowns to 1 interception.
Not a bad start to his career, but also no guarantee of success in the future either. There’s also Joe Burrow, who seemed to slip down the depth chart last year and considered a transfer this offseason. However, he has stuck around and certainly will be looking to compete for the starting job this season.
OSU has been recruiting high-level quarterbacks for as long as Meyer has been there and that also was the case in 2018, with 4-star Matthew Baldwin in the fold. He won’t be around for spring though, so all eyes will clearly be on Burrow vs. Haskins and you can bet Meyer will find a way to avoid giving up much information until the very end.
One thing is for sure — come March 6th there will be no more talked about position or players than Ohio State’s quarterbacks.
Rutgers Offensive Changes…Again
Here’s an offseason headline you haven’t seen before for Rutgers…it’s a new offensive coordinator and that mean’s transition. Oh wait, it’s actually the 10th straight season that’s happened you say?
After Jerry Kill retired again for medical reasons, head coach Chris Ash went out and hired an old face to lead the offense in the form of former offensive coordinator John McNulty. Things are a lot different this time around for McNulty, as he took on a well-oiled Scarlet Knights program the last time around. This time around it will basically be a blank slate for him.
There will be incoming freshman 4-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski that could be the answer to a clear QB problem, but will that answer come quick or take time?
Life After Joe Moorhead for Penn State
Speaking of transitions on offense, Penn State is about to undergo a pretty big one this offseason. With Joe Moorhead off to the head coaching job at Mississippi State, the Nittany Lions face an interesting spring football season.
Penn State promoted Ricky Rhane from passing game coordinator to full-on offensive coordinator. That could be a really good move considering how explosive the Nittany Lions passing game was last season. But, it could be dangerous given PSU’s missing components from that explosive offense.
The good news is that quarterback Trace McSorely is back for his senior season, the bad news is his biggest playmaker — Saquon Barkley — is off to a likely top 5 selection in the upcoming NFL Draft. So are big receiving targets in DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki, who along with Barkley were three of the top four pass catchers last season.
While Rhane is clearly well-versed in how Moorhead’s offense works, Moorhead is a special offensive mind and won’t be easily replaced.
Let’s see how Rhane puts his spin on the offense this offseason and if the magic is still there.
QB transfer situation at Michigan
Another offseason, another quarterback situation for Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines. It’s becoming a broken record, but once again issues at quarterback are front and center in Ann Arbor this offseason. However, it seems that the only question heading in to spring football is if Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson gets to play this season or next following the NCAA findings against the football program.
Getting him to the Maize ‘N Blue is a huge coup, with both of the big names at QB last season gone now (one to graduation, the other to transfer out) and a lot of youth at the position.
Patterson should be eligible to play, but either way we’ll see him in spring football. He comes in with a proven track record, having completed 60.7 percent of his passes over his two-year career for a total of 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Those are certainly numbers that are a welcome sight for Michigan fans considering the tragic stats put up by U-M QB’s over the past two seasons, but they aren’t the world-beating stats that mean all will be right with the world either. So, can Patterson show the needed command of the offense and poise to be the starter that will take the Wolverines over the hump? Spring will tell us a lot, but there are so many other unanswered questions surrounding this position and Patterson himself.
Will the NCAA let this transfer saga go on beyond spring ball? What affect does the decision have on Harbaugh and Co’s. plans for this spring at the position? What effect does it have on Patterson’s mind-set this spring?
Could this finally be the missing piece to the puzzle that has eluded the Wolverines the first three years of the Harbaugh era?
What about the much-hyped Dylan McCaffrey and his chances?
As you can see, this is a position with a lot of questions and very few answers as we sit here today on Feb. 21.
Can Maryland find a Defense?
Losing Walt Bell sucked big time, but if there’s one truth about Big Ten football it is that quality defense wins championships and gets you bowl eligible. As D.J. Durkin enters his third year in charge of the Maryland program, finding that quality defensive play continues to be a challenge.
It’s an interesting situation given Durkin’s background as a quality defensive coordinator prior to getting this gig. Yet, the Terps have done way more offensively to get to bowl eligibility in his first season and it was the offensive losses that killed last season more than anything.
This season is make-or-break for Durkin at Maryland, because the players in the program are virtually all recruited by Durkin and his staff. All but two positions on the team have returning talent there as well, and the returning talent list includes honorable mention All-Big Ten pick Darnell Savage Jr. There’s also the grad transfer of Illinois’ lone bright spot last season — Tre Watson — to help replace the biggest pieces gone in Jermaine Carter and Shane Cockerille.
But, even with some returning players, is that really a good thing? I mean, this was a group that was 13th in total defense (419.4 ypg) last season and allowed a league-high 23 passing TDs.
Some help could come in the form of four early enrollees from the 2018 class. Linebackers Jordan Mosley, defensive lineman Jalen Alexander, defensive back Vincent Flythe all are options on what should be a wide-open defensive group this spring.
With the turnover of staff, this defense needs to make a jump or the Terps will continue to get smashed in the rough East division.
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