Big Ten Football: 5 Teams With the Biggest Questions Going Into Fall Camp
Questions Remain For Some Big Ten Schools
The Big Ten had its fair share of spring football action this past weekend, with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini all ending their spring schedules with their annual spring games (sans Northwestern). While it is no secret that the majority of the games were--and usually are--offensively “vanilla” and defensively stagnate, there were still a few intriguing storylines we need to keep an eye on heading into the fall.
The word of the day on Saturday across Big Ten country could have—and probably should have—been “quarterback.” From Ann Arbor, Michigan to West Lafayette, Indiana, it was apparent that every school in the Big Ten (outside of Columbus, Ohio and that certain Heisman hopeful that lines up behind the center whom goes by the name of Braxton Miller and in Lincoln, Nebraska with Taylor Martinez) has some sort of quarterback issue. Never can I remember so many schools in the league without a clear cut number one starter before the start of fall camp.
Typically, I am not a big fan of Spring Football games as I find them stale and rather monotonous. Usually you see the coaches and kids going through the motions (trying to keep everyone healthy) with much ado over nothing. But this spring has felt a little different.
With a handful of teams yet to play their spring finales, I am positive that even bigger storylines will develop before practices resume this summer.
So, what did we learn this past weekend around Big Ten country?
1. The Indiana Hoosiers have a potential log jam at the quarterback position
No, the Hoosiers haven’t been a juggernaut on the gridiron under the watch of Head Coach Kevin Wilson, but heading in to his third full season on the sidelines in Bloomington, Indiana has the potential to be the surprise team in the Big Ten in 2013. Now, I may be going out on a limb here, but don’t be surprised if you see Wilson lead Indiana back to a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
The Hoosiers finds themselves with a good problem to have, which is they have three very capable quarterbacks.
In Saturday's spring game, Cameron Coffman, went 17-of-23 for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Sudfeld finished 14-of-16 for 181 yards and a touchdown. And redshirt sophomore, Tre Roberson, who—despite only throwing for 63 yards on 7–for-18 passing—has the ability to beat his defenders with his legs as well as his arm.
Sure, Saturday was just a "vanilla" scrimmage, but there is no doubt that Kevin Wilson will have a lot to look at once fall practice rolls around
2. Michigan needs a serviceable backup to Devin Gardner at quarterback
While Brady Hoke has a starting quarterback, there is a major question mark surrounding the back-up position. Devin Gardner will be the starting quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines next fall, but who exactly will be the second option?
That is the million dollar question.
If star recruit Shane Morris is able to pick up the offense quickly this summer, he should be the favorite to land the backup role to Gardner. However, if Morris struggles in fall camp, the only other options for the Wolverines would lie on the shoulders of either Brian Cleary or Alex Swieca.
Perhaps no other team in the Big Ten—besides maybe the Wisconsin Badgers—will have the fate of their season lie squarely on the shoulders of their quarterback more than the Michigan Wolverines. Should something happen to Gardner, things could turn sour quickly in Ann Arbor in 2013.
3. The Illinois offense and defense looked good (and bad)
Illinois fans were delighted when Ron Zook was replaced by Tim Beckman as the new head football coach heading in to the 2012 season, but that glee and delight quickly turned into a nightmare for the Illini faithful.
In fact, the University of Illinois football team was downright horrible in 2012.
Illinois finished the season with a 2-10 overall record, the program’s worst finish since 2006.
The Illini went 0-8 in the Big Ten conference for the first time since 2005.
The offense was putrid, averaging a measly 11.75 points per game in Big Ten play. The defense didn't fare much better. They gave up a hefty average of 35 PPG in league play.
So, how will the Illini fair in Beckman’s second season in Urbana-Champaign? The only way to answer that question is to wait and see.
I just can’t put too much stock in the way the offense played in the annual Orange-Blue game. Yes, senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was impressive, completing 24 of his 32 pass attempts for 210 yards and a touchdown. Sure, Reilly O’ Toole threw for 362 yards. But O’ Toole also threw four picks...and both quarterbacks were playing against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten conference from a season ago.
So, how could we really know what we saw with the Illini in their spring game?
While the offense looked good throwing for over 600 yards, they did turn the ball over five times. If you turn the ball over five times, you are going to be in trouble. The same can be said for the defense. While forcing five turnovers is impressive, giving up roughly 700 yards is not going to win you many games.
Needless to say…Tim Beckman will have his work cut out for him come next fall.
4. Who will emerge as the starting quarterback at Wisconsin?
The Wisconsin Badgers don’t play their annual spring game until this Saturday, but we all know what will be on the minds of those heading to Camp Randall. People want to know who—if anyone—may just separate themselves from the pack and gain the upper-hand as the first team quarterback heading in to fall camp.
One thing is for sure; Wisconsin doesn’t lack in the depth department for the quarterback position. New Badger head coach Gary Andersen has plenty of options at the position, with Curt Phillips, Danny O’ Brien, Joel Stave and Bart Houston already jockeying for position. But highly-touted junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy will be on campus in time for fall camp, and many believe he may just be the best of the bunch. If McEvoy is able to pick up on the offense quickly, and none of the current Badgers outperforms their brethren, then we may just see the juco transfer under center come Aug. 31 against UMass.
This will definitely be one quarterback competition worth watching come this fall.
5. Ohio State has a quarterback, but who will be the tailback?
So, let me get this straight, the Ohio State offensive line should be one of the best in the nation. The receiving core should be one of the best units the program has seen in some time. They have a Heisman candidate at the quarterback position with Braxton Miller. They are bowl eligible after finishing last season sitting at home watching the national championship game on television with a 12-0 record. And to top things off, Urban Meyer is still roaming the sidelines in the Horseshoe.
Does a team like this really have much to worry about heading in to fall camp?
Actually, yes, they do. For all of the positives in Buckeyeland, the one glaring question mark surrounding this team is at the running back position.
While the receiving core stole the show Saturday in Cincinnati during the Scarlet and Gray game, the running game left much to be desired. The running back unit combined for just 122 yards on 45 carries. Of course, that number would have probably been a lot different had Braxton Miller been able to run, but it does make one wonder about the unit come fall camp.
The Buckeyes don’t need a Montee Ball-type workhorse in the backfield, but they do need someone capable of spelling Miller. Carlos Hyde is a good option, but after that, only time will tell who will take the next step.