On Sunday, Andrew gave us a quick look at Spring storylines across the B1G East. Today, I look at the B1G West.
Illinois - Lots of hope, and a really sad injury
If you're keeping track at home, the Tim Beckman Experience has steadily gotten better year over year, and while the Illini didn't exactly look great in their bowl game last season, they went to a bowl game. Don't believe me? There's evidence! Last year, things on offense looked good on occasion and the defense sometimes didn't completely falter (note: that's a lie... this was a bad defensive team). Anyhow, the Illini were on the upswing and all of us Bex haters would have to eat it. Then Mikey Dudek blew up his ACL in a non-contact injury. It sucks when young talent gets injured in the Spring, but hopefully there's time for him to recover. I saw most prognostications as sometime in October or so?
That said, the offense still had some really good parts coming together and... Dre Brown blows out his ACL and we're basically wondering if Purdue handed off their ACL disease. Dre was a freshman, so who knows what his impact would have been, but he was certainly enticing. The Illini spring game featured lots of offense by the ones vs. the twos (which, uh, makes sense?) and the Illini faithful (singular?) are just happy to be out of Spring before more could go wrong injury-wise. Also, I'm just assuming that Wes Lunt is more firmly entrenched than ever. So yay?
Iowa - The CJ Beathard Show
Iowa's Spring was probably a bit overshadowed by the fact that Kirk Ferentz and Co. made very few changes - sans a strange post-bowl depth chart. Oh, and there's that whole thing about going with C.J. Beathard leaving Jake Rudock as odd man out. Lucky for Rudock, he found a nice landing spot in Ann Arbor. Anyhow, the Iowa Hawkeyes are trying to figure out what exactly went wrong at the end of last season - both with the LOL filled Heroes game and that bowl game against Tennessee that was just... well, it wasn't worth talking about really.
Iowa's biggest problems right now are probably not QB, though. It's really all about the guys protecting the QB. Last year's line was anchored by noted cow thief Brandon Scherff, but with him gone, they're looking at a line with little experience at Tackle, mediocre experience at Guard, and lots of fearing for their lives RBs. Part of me thinks that if there's a position that Brian and Kirk can fix, it's OL, but still, that's disconcerting considering there's not exactly a lot of time to fix things. This offense needs to get better.
Minnesota - Turning success into Prime Time
I must admit, I was impressed at the job Jerry Kill has done in Minneapolis. The annoying COTY debate aside, he's doing a markedly better job than his predecessors and for that, there is excitement in the Twin Cities. So much so that the Golden Gophers got four Prime Time games for next season, which is kind of a big deal. While this success really does need a little bit bigger bump to get past some of those hiccups you regret later - like losing to Illinois - they are on the cusp of doing good things. They have a lot to replace, though.
Probably the most interesting thing to come out of Minnesota this Spring is Jerry Kill's playbook to take advantage of a slightly new look offense. Throughout practice - and through the Spring Game - the Gophers have been working on adding a little bit of no-huddle concept. That's cool, and while I didn't see it - because seriously, I barely can keep up with one team during the Spring - the reports were fairly positive in that it took advantage of what Mitch Leidner can do as a QB. It's something to keep tabs on.
Nebraska - A new approach
It's been sort of a crazy offseason for Nebraska so far. Bo Pelini gets fired, AD Shawn Eichorst does a pretty quick search, and Mike Riley comes in as the savior of all things Husker Red. To be honest, things have gone about as smoothly as you could hope in these situations. Riley has a calm demeanor, actually seems to want to talk to people, and has a pretty good recruiting plan in place. Still, you have to win games and this Spring was all about what he could do with a new team. Specifically, could he mold one of these QBs into something great?
Coming out of the Spring, Nebraska doesn't know too much it didn't know before. Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are going to be nasty on the D-Line, Tommy Armstrong has deficiencies but is the starter at QB until further notice, and Riley intends to use Demornay Pierson-El as often as he can. So what's the new approach? Well, hopefully this guy works out better than the last guy. That's the new approach. We'll see in the Fall how that all goes.
Northwestern - Still finding a QB
With Northwestern missing a bowl game again, it's time for Fitzgerald to figure out a new plan of attack. That starts with figuring out what to do at QB. Zack Oliver is a senior who has played behind pretty much everyone in his time in Evanston, Matt Alviti is a sophomore who shows promise on speed and athleticism, and the guy everyone in Northwestern world seems to be talking about is Clayton Thorson. He's a redshirt Freshman who apparently has the most talent of all three of them and could really be the missing piece to make the Northwestern offense hum again.
The thing is, no matter what happens, Northwestern will be breaking in a QB with limited experience and there will need to be help everywhere. As a Freshman, Justin Jackson looked really good. He was limited by injury this Spring, but should be fine come Fall. For me personally, I'm waiting to see if the Wildcats can go back to their aggressive spread out attack they used to have.
Purdue - Hey, it can't get worse
Remember what I just said about needing a QB decided? Purdue is in the same boat. The Boilermakers are going into 2015 with Danny Etling, Austin Appleby, and David Blough. From what I have read, Blough - even as a RS Freshman without a snap to his name - looks good enough to beat out the other guys. Now, that also makes a lot of sense because of the whole thing with backup QBs being the most popular guy and what not, but he generally seemed to be the best - statistically - guy coming out of the Spring Game.
As for other things going on? You should just read this week's B1G 2015 on Purdue. It'll be way more in depth than I ever will be.
Wisconsin - Hey look, the new guy looks familiar
For the better part of this division setup, Wisconsin has been the class of its side. Sure, there was that time they manhandled Nebraska after backing their way into the CCG, but still. What's most impressive is that they are now on their third coach as well with Gary Andersen packing his bags for the friendly Pacific Coast confines of Corvallis - replacing Mike Riley who is now in Lincoln. In comes Paul Chryst, former offensive guru at Wisconsin under Biels and now the next leader of the Badger "bludgeons-you-to-death" attack. While the Badger Hoops team was doing its Spring thing, Chryst was getting work done and figuring out where to go with a team that needs some more consistency at QB and will get to replace one of the greatest RBs to ever play in Madison, which is saying something.
Joel Stave has probably established himself - fairly - as the starter at QB, but one has to wonder if he's durable enough to go all of next year. After him? Well, it's kind of a crapshoot. Spring heroes include D.J. Gillins and Bart Houston. I do not know enough about any of these guys to say much, but I'm assuming they both can hand off the ball to Clement well enough and let's be serious, that's what we're going to ask them to do in Wisconsin.