Ohio State- The Machine Keeps Rolling
Spring practice and the absurdly well-attended Scarlet and Gray game didn't yield any answers in the most interesting offseason QB derby in recent memory. Of course, they weren't supposed to as J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller continue recuperating from injuries. And how about that Miller-to-Bama rumor that popped up and got some brief legs when Saban aimed a nice dose of coachspeak at whether Miller was coming? That was fun, eh?
Offensive coordinator Tom Herman took the head coaching job at Houston, meaning OL guru Ed Warinner now picks up a nicer headset or whatever the symbol of ascending to the coordinator post would be. His job will be made easier by the fact that most of the primary players from the title team will be back, including 4/5s of the offensive line, ab model Ezekiel Elliott, and a fair number of talented receivers despite the loss of Devin Smith. Urbz did run into some trouble at Florida after Charlie Strong and Steve Addazio moved on, but assuming trouble is coming on Warinner's watch is probably wishful thinking for the rest of the conference.
Michigan State- Setting Up A Perimeter
MSU's play in both trenches and under center should be the best its been under Dantonio; the defensive line in particular could be truly great. A good thing, too, as the staff will need to find new starters at running back, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety following major departures from all of those spots. Two offseason arrests, of RB Delton Williams and WR MacGarrett Kings Jr., muddied the waters on offense. Kings' charge was reduced to a civil infraction and he is back with the team. Williams recently pled guilty to a reduced weapons charge after brandishing a gun during a traffic incident, but as of today his status with the team is still unclear.
MSU must also adjust to the loss of longtime defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who finally cashed in his unit's run of excellence for a head coaching job at Pitt. In his place, former defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers/special teams coach Mike Tressel (yes, he's related to the Vest) assume co-coordinator roles. Mark Snyder, former defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, joins the staff as the new linebackers coach and will also handle special teams. With Narduzzi gone and last year's defense yielding big numbers to up-tempo spread opponents, it will be interesting to see how the scheme and personnel are adjusted with Oregon and Ohio State on the schedule again.
Penn State- Coach Hype, Year 2
James Franklin, architect of the satellite camp concept which has rustled so many jimmies south of the Mason-Dixon, managed enough on the field in year 1 despite a shorthanded roster to inspire what appears to be widespread confidence in a big step forward this fall. The biggest factor in whether that step occurs is whether a better offensive line can be sewn together despite the loss of that unit's two best players. Without better line play, even talent like Christian Hackenberg's will go to waste.
There are at least more bodies available up front now as opposed to last year, but PSU's odd roster composition means that at some positions like OT and DE, they're paper thin, while others like WR and TE have more capable players than can possibly be used. A number of key pieces are gone from last year's salty defense, but the conference's best tandem of DTs will be a good starting point. Franklin may have to spend another year adapting his preferred schemes to the roster he's got while waiting for his own impressive recruiting hauls to mature. Even if that's the case, optimism abounds in Happy Valley.
Michigan- Maybe You Heard They Got A New Coach
Harbay- harbaoo- someone get me a pronunciation guide on this.
Having apparently endured enough of the multi-year dumpster fire that was the flagship of their athletics program, Michigan moved on from both head coach Brady Hoke and controversial (maybe that's not the right term given that by the end, essentially no one liked him) Athletic Director, Dave Brandon. The Wolverines made the home-run hire in luring native son and alumnus Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor.
Harbaugh immediately went to work convincing about a dozen new quarterbacks to join the program, including Iowa transfer and two-year starter Jake Rudock. His demonstrated prowess combined with Brady Hoke's strong-on-paper recruiting results and an upperclassmen-laden roster have the Wolverine faithful feeling bullish about a quick turnaround. Whether that happens or not, the Detroit media will be eternally grateful for the thousands of clicks every fluff piece about Harbaugh is sure to generate.
Maryland- The System is Four Down Linemen
Motivated perhaps by significant turnover in the defensive front seven and the fact that the conference's better teams ran roughshod over the Terps defense last year, Randy Edsall's squad is transitioning from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense. If the run defense improves up front, Maryland's excellent secondary and special teams alone could help them maintain middle-class status in the conference.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line will need to be rebuilt, and it may well go with a youth movement to make use of the nice recruiting Edsall's staff has done up front. They'll also need to find a new quarterback and replacements for two NFL-bound receivers, though there are decent candidates on the roster for all those spots.
Rutgers- For Want of a Fridge
Following a reasonably competitive first season in the conference, Rutgers will once again be breaking in a new offensive coordinator as Ralph Friedgen stepped down after a successful year running Rutgers' pro-style attack. Ben McDaniels takes over as the new OC, and will need to choose a new starting QB and rebuild an offensive line losing multiple starters. He does have the conference's leading returning receiver in Leonte Carroo and the B1G's deepest group of running backs to lean on.
Defensively, there are some losses to account for, but enough returning playmakers to assume some improvement. Like Maryland's, this was a defensive unit which generally held its ground against average or weak offenses, but got trampled by the conference elite. Kyle Flood has stated on multiple occasions that his focus on defense is speed; it remains to be seen if an offseason to adapt will allow that approach to cope better with some of the better power-based offenses Rutgers will face in conference play.
Indiana- No, It's Not Basketball Season Yet
After last year's promising start went off the rails with a season-ending injury to starting QB Nate Sudfeld, Indiana's offense will find its situation reversed this fall. Sudfeld will be back, so the QB play should be much better, but the only proven, consistent weapons- Tevin Coleman and Shane Wynn- will be gone. Head coach Kevin Wilson's offensive background inspires some confidence that a new group of weapons can be put together. IU also benefited from the untimely death of the UAB football program by receiving two instantly-eligible transfers, including presumed starting RB Jordan Howard.
Defense...remains a work in progress. Brian Knorr's first season on the job involved a transition from a 4-3 to 3-4, and did turn in some moderate improvement. The problem is, starting from where the Hoosier defense was, moderate improvement still results in a pretty bad group. There are some promising players, and the youth movement of the past few years will finally produce an experienced defense. However, Ralph Green's offseason arrest for assault might leave the front a bit short on the requisite huge bodies.