Can you believe it is already March? By the end of this week, half of the Big Ten will have started their Spring Practices and the sounds of pads, whistles, and terrible (but entertaining) Harlem Shake videos will pour out from a practice facility near you. With that in mind, I thought now might be a good time to put some dates out there for you all and a place to log some comments on a sport that prefers you don't put ball on the ground.
Illinois - Started Practice March 5th - Spring Game April 12, 8:00 PM
After what can probably be only described as a dismal season in Champaign last year, the question that everyone will be asking is this, "Can Beckman get this thing righted?" This is obviously not a completely fair question considering this team wasn't exactly doing fantastic at the end, or in much of the middle of, the Zooker's reign of awesome. There is a lot of talent in Champaign, or so it seems, but how they use that talent/develop will be the mark of what Beckman is all about. Losing a coach in the Spring, however, always sucks. More on this later...
Indiana - Started Practice March 2nd - Spring Game April 13th
I like Kevin Wilson. What he did at Oklahoma was fun to watch... minus the time it destroyed Nebraska in like, the first three minutes of the game. But still, I think he is the right mix of jerk, football savant, and player's coach that he might make some things happen at Indiana. I am not super familiar with every team's roster yet, but I am guessing this year is all about the defense. If Indiana can get a serviceable one, only good things can happen with this offense. Of course, that if is a pretty big one still. Indiana also lost a coach this spring in Co-defensive coordinator, Mike Ekeler as he decided USC and Lane Effing Kiffin were a good fit. Strangely, this is a demotion from a title standpoint, so uh, weird? (FWIW, I love Ekeler. He's got tons of energy and is a good coach. Also, he's incredibly ambitious. This was probably a good move for him)
Iowa - Starts Practice March 27th - Spring Game April 27th
First off, the normal caveats apply. Iowa does not play a real, "Spring Game," but rather does some sort of scrimmage. Also, they will be impeding on Iowa State's Spring Game by doing another scrimmage in Des Moines that weekend before. So that's fun. If there is anything to be said of Iowa, I think it's that fans want to see some sort of progress this year. Last year was awful to watch. It was painful on offense, it was often times painful on defense, and even Special Teams was cringe-inducing at times. Basically, it was an uneven year that led to more shouting about how awful it is that Kirk Ferentz has basically no hot seat because DOLLAR DOLLAR BILLS Y'ALL. Seriously, though, if I was an Iowa fan, getting a QB that is not JVB should be a breath of fresh air for this specific offense. This is not to rain on the kid's parade, but he was not a great fit last year for what GD wanted to do.
Also of note, Iowa lost some coaches as well, so good times were had by the 'I' schools. At least Iowa's came with a little more warning and it sounds like they were more pointed.
Michigan - Starts Practice March 16th - Spring Game April 13th
Michigan had a weird year. We all generally thought they could be a better team with a worst record, but at the end of the season, a lot of us just kind of wondered what to make of the Wolverines. At their best, this is a team that is a darkhorse BCS Title Game contender. At it's worst, it's a team that gets third in the division and limps into a high mid-tier bowl. On the upside, Hoke can recruit and there is more talent in AA then there has been in a long time. Add in Devin Gardner and his incredibly retroactive fifth year medical redshirt, and you have the setup for a really interesting two year run. You know, that is if Michigan can start running the ball with purpose from the RB spot. I do not believe Michigan lost coaches this spring. I could be wrong about this, though.
Michigan State - Starts Practice March 19th - Spring Game April 13th
Oof. I am sure that Sparty would like to forget the monumental waste of what was the best defense in the Big Ten last year. That offense was as atrocious, if not moreso, than Iowa's and the architect - one Dan Roushar - is gone. Of course, now we hear that Jim Bollman is on board doing the Co-Offensive Coordinator dance with Dave Warner - RB coach. I do not know enough about Warner to say if this is a good move or not, but I generally do hate the whole 'co-coordinator' thing because it ends so painstakingly awful. Seriously people, what in the world is going on when you have two people doing this job? I just don't see it working. [every Illinois fan sighs]
Minnesota - Starts Practice March 26th - Spring Game April 27th at 1:00 PM
I am really excited for Minnesota. Coach Kill really seems to know what he is doing, which has got to be wonderful considering some of the messes Gopher fans have had to live through. While losing to Texas Tech in a bowl game was regrettable considering this was a game that Minnesota was clearly in, I definitely think it was momentum building to just be there. Can Minnesota win the division this season? Probably not, but I do think they start knocking off some heavyweights. The goal of spring for Goldy? Consistency and maturity. Year 3 of the Kill Experiment should be good for that.
Nebraska - Started Practice March 2nd - Spring Game April 6th
So uh, Bo Pelini's defense really sucked last year at times, huh? [And before someone else makes the joke, yes, Wisconsin just scored again] This team is kind of a weird reiteration of the early Pelini years where Nebraska had gotten Cosgrove'd and an experience offense was all that was keeping things alive. This Spring has ushered in lots of good vibes from coaches pumping so much sunshine, the sun itself was ashamed. Um, that's not a saying? Let's move on. Seriously, though, I think this is a fascinating year for Pelini because I think he gets back to his roots with young moldable players, recruited specifically for the Big Ten. He has a lot of young athletic guys, and now he needs to learn to use them. He isn't firmly on the hotseat yet, but if things fall of the rails, I would not envy the guy. Is that fair? Probably not, but hey, life isn't fair.
Northwestern - Started Practice February 27th - Spring Game April 13th
Of course Northwestern was the first team to the Spring Fields. I am also guessing that with the timing of their Spring Game, they are wrapping this around Spring Break. If you're Northwestern this Spring, you have got to be asking yourself what can actually happen this next year. You have an improving defense, dynamic offense that just needs some maturity at WR, and more momentum than ever with a good OOC record and a BOWL WIN!!! DID YOU KNOW NORTHWESTERN WON A BOWL? DID YOU? DID YOU?
Seriously though, these guys are good enough to win a division title. Now they just need to learn to finish teams when they have them against the ropes. If that happens, things could get crazy in Evanston.
Ohio State - Started Practice March 5th - Spring Game April 13
Do you know who gets a lot of hype? Ohio State gets a lot of hype. The nice thing, however, is that anything in the B1G is getting hype, so I'll let it be. This is probably the 'prettiest' team on paper in the B1G in that they went undefeated in the Urbz first year and now are looking for a BCS title game. If Braxton keeps getting better - which by all accounts seems probable - this team will be crazy good... on offense. The scary part for the Buckeyes is the defensive side of the ball that was super suspect at times. Obviously a lot rises and falls with Miller, who still seemed rattled at times last year, but when it is all said and done, the question will be this: Can Ohio State defend well enough to win a championship? This Spring will go a long way in developing that answer.
Penn State - Starts Practice March 18th - Spring Game April 20
This is where stuff gets interesting for Penn State and Bill O'Brien. He has this team on a trajectory that many were guessing wouldn't happen, but even recruiting has stayed strong. The question, however, is if he can keep that up with the restrictions starting to tighten over the next couple of years. This was a nasty team to play last year as the BOB offense went fast and furious at times and slow and dominant at others. He is a good coach with a strong future at Penn State, or so it seems, and I bet this Spring has a lot of buzz around Happy Valley. This year he breaks in a new QB. It is worth noting that Ted Roof left the DC position at Penn State and is replaced internally by Secondary coach John Butler. I don't know enough either way to say what effect that really has on the next year.
Purdue - Starts Practice March 19 - Spring Game April 13
Darrell Hazell has an interesting year ahead of him. The wheels really fell off for Danny Hope and the Boilers last season. Between not knowing what QB would be playing when, a real lack of any sort of flow, and a team filled with talent that was poised to be a darkhorse for B1G East Champion*, this was a make or break year for Purdue. Of course, that ended poorly and now Hazell has to remold this team into something that can take power back from Wisconsin and Ohio State. From all accounts Hazell's OSU roots and turnaround job at Kent State is enough to expect big things. Then again, hiring a guy from the MAC to do wonders in the B1G is also a hit or miss type of thing.
[Illinois fans sigh again...]
Wisconsin - Starts Practice March 9th - Spring Game April 20
Your three time reigning B1G Champions!!! Our good friend Biels is gone, and in his place is Gary Andersen. Gary seems like a good hire from Utah State, but like the Hazell hire, you just don't know what you're getting with these lower division hires. Sometimes they are awesome and sometimes they suck. But, I gotta hand it to Alvarez, he did his thing and now Wisconsin sets out to prove it's not a fluke. The QB situation should be better than last year so long as they don't need to rely on Danny O'Brien... like at all. Also, Utah State was actually a really fun team to watch that one time they beat Utah on a Thursday night and I happened to catch the game on TV, so good stuff, right?
Wisconsin also lost a coach in Jay Boulware this Spring. Boulware got a job at Oklahoma and my favorite part of the Spring that included Wisconsin was when Andersen basically said that guy was not a fit from the beginning. Good times up in Madison!
Alright, so there you all go. This is by no means exhaustive and we'll be previewing and boning up on football in the very near future, but I wanted to get this out of my system now so I can start thinking about baseball! B1G BASEBALL Y'ALL: CATCH THE FEVER!!!