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February 20, 2007

Inside spring drills: Big Ten Preview

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The Big Ten will be missing a big five this season.

The impact will be felt throughout the conference.

Gone are a handful of longtime starting quarterbacks who brought leadership, stability and a whole bunch of victories. Their coaches haven't had to worry about the position in two or three years.

At Minnesota, the reins could be taken by a redshirt freshman. At Wisconsin, a senior who has bided his time will battle a transfer who was a starter at his previous school. Ohio State's new QB will have to fill the shoes of a Heisman Trophy winner.

Iowa and Michigan State have to replace the Drews - Tate and Stanton, respectively. You'll find them all over the record books at their schools.

The change of signal-callers signals a season of change for the whole league. There are new coaches at Michigan State and Minnesota. There's a new favorite, with Ohio State possibly taking a step back after so many early defections to the NFL.

The team to beat has a quarterback in place. He's another longtime starter, Michigan's Chad Henne. Henne gets to look around and see a whole lot of familiar faces, including fellow Rivals.com All-Americans Mike Hart, Mario Manningham and Jake Long.

Together they're a big four that the rest of the league will wish had moved on as well.

Breakout Performers | Impact Newcomers | Position Battles | New Schemes | Best by Position

1. Michigan: The defense will have to be rebuilt after losing a bevy of talented seniors, but the offense is absolutely loaded. With Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham the Wolverines have three legitimate Heisman Trophy threats. Looking around the league, this should be the Wolverines' year.
2. Wisconsin: The offense returns Rivals.com National Freshman of the Year P.J. Hill and fourth-fifths of one of the nation's best lines. The defense returns seven starters and should be among the best in the Big Ten. The question will be who emerges at quarterback to take the place of John Stocco.
3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions need quarterback Anthony Morelli to make a big leap from last year, but several talented skill people are on hand to ensure his success. Replacing All-American linebacker Paul Posluszny won't be easy, but Penn State is never short on defense.
4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes experienced devastating losses on the offensive side with the early departures to the NFL of Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Antonio Pittman. The defense will have to carry the load for a while. Fortunately, the schedule for the first two months is absurdly easy.
5. Iowa: The defense returns eight starters including the entire line and linebacker Mike Klinkenborg. It should provide time for the offense to break in five new starters, including a quarterback to take over for Drew Tate. Neither Michigan nor Ohio State is on the schedule.
6. Purdue: The Boilermakers have to come up with some help for the Big Ten's worst-ranked defense (432.4 yards per game). The offense is in the capable hands of quarterback Curtis Painter (3,985 yards, 22 touchdowns, 19 interceptions), and he has an excellent RB tandem in Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor.
7. Michigan State: New coach Mark Dantonio isn't walking into a situation where the cupboard is bare. Four-fifths of the offensive line returns, as do talented running backs Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. The big question will be at quarterback, where the Spartans must replace Drew Stanton.
8. Illinois: Ron Zook continues to pile up talent on the recruiting trail, but can he win with it? Quarterback Isiah Williams had a few moments in his freshman season, but mostly they were few and far between (39.8 completion percentage). The defense will be the strength, led by linebacker J Leman.
9. Indiana: The youthful Hoosiers pulled off a couple of big upsets last season but lost some games by shocking margins. Kellen Lewis was a revelation at QB as a freshman, and kick returner Marcus Thigpen is always a threat. The defense saw a horde of freshmen thrown into the mix, not always successfully.
10. Northwestern: The Wildcats were miserable offensively under first-year coach Pat Fitzgerald, that is until C.J. Bacher was healthy. Bacher started the last five games and NU won twice and should have won a third, blowing a 38-3 third-quarter lead against Michigan State.
11. Minnesota: The quarterback is gone. The leading receiver is gone. The all-conference tight end is gone. New coach Tim Brewster, though, does have most of the offensive line intact and arrives to find 10 returning starters on defense. But that may not be good news when you consider the defense ranked 10th in the league in 2006.

Michigan WR Adrian Arrington
Sean Lee, Jr., LB, Penn State. When is a linebacker who finished third on his team in tackles considered a player still to emerge? When he plays next to Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. Lee (6-2, 222) had a sensational sophomore season (90 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and probably will improve on those numbers with Posluszny gone.
Adrian Arrington, Jr., WR, Michigan. Arrington flashed his potential for a breakout season in 2006 when Mario Manningham was sidelined with a knee injury. He finished with 40 receptions for 544 yards and eight touchdowns and is poised to improve in every category with Steve Breaston gone.
Tyler Donovan, Sr., QB, Wisconsin. If Donovan can perform over the course of a season like he did in his two starts last season, the Badgers are in business. John Stocco missed games against Iowa and Buffalo and Donovan filled in admirably, completing 33-of-50 passes for 536 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.
Andy Brodell, Jr., WR, Iowa. After battling a shoulder injury much of last season, Brodell showed what he could do in the final two games. He piled up 318 yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches against Minnesota and Texas. OK, not a big deal against the Golden Gophers, but he torched the Longhorns, one of college football's best secondaries, for 159 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions.
Robert Rose, So., DE, Ohio State. The Buckeyes return only one defensive lineman, so somebody has to step up. Rose is a former five-star prospect who is rumored to have bulked up to 280 pounds without losing a step. He had 3.5 sacks in limited playing time last season and should move that number up to at least 7 or 8 this season.

Five impact newcomers
Michigan's Donovan Warren
Stephen Schilling, Fr., OT, Michigan. Schilling (6-5, 300) is a former five-star out of the state of Washington who was coming along nicely in 2006 prior to a bout with mononucleosis and a shoulder injury. He should compete for the starting job at right tackle.
Raymond Henderson, So., DE, Minnesota. The transfer from Tennessee brings size (6-6, 255) to the defensive end position that the Golden Gophers haven't had in years. He's a former four-star prospect from Wisconsin who redshirted at UT in 2005 then transferred, so he has only three years of eligibility.
Adam Weber, R-Fr., QB, Minnesota. Weber (6-3, 210) is a former three-star prospect who chose the home state Golden Gophers over Wisconsin a year ago in large part because of Glen Mason's contract extension. A year later, Weber has redshirted and Mason has been fired and replaced Tim Brewster. Still, the kid is the odds-on favorite to replace Bryan Cupito.
Donovan Warren, Fr., CB, Michigan. The five-star prospect was Rivals' third-ranked corner and the 25th player overall. He could step in for the Wolverines immediately in place of All-American Leon Hall. They're big shoes to fill, but the 6-foot, 175-pound Warren has excellent speed and coverage skills.
Arrelious Benn, Fr., WR, Illinois. Juice Williams needs a big target in Champaign, and Rivals.com five-star prospect Benn (6-1, 210) fits the bill. National recruiting analyst Mike Farrell says Benn "will be a red-zone threat right away and is physically ready for the next level."

Position battles to watch
Indiana: Linebacker. The second level missed a lot of tackles last year for the Hoosiers. Geno Johnson, a former starter, could take the job back or it could go to Mandela Roberts or Will Patterson, both of whom played last year as true freshmen.
Iowa: Guard. Both guard positions probably will be open as one of last year's starters, Seth Olsen, should move to right tackle to protect left-handed quarterback Jake Christensen. Plenty of names could emerge, including former five-star prospect Dan Doering.
Michigan: Right tackle. Former five-star prospect Stephen Schilling, a redshirt freshman, will battle Mark Ortmann and Cory Zirbel, and possibly even Alex Mitchell (who started at right guard last year).
Michigan State: Wide receiver. The previous staff had eight or nine wide receivers on scholarship and usually played four or five for at least 20 snaps a game. Now they will be using two wide-receiver sets most of the time. Competition there will be fierce among returnees T.J. Williams, Terry Love, Devin Thomas, Carl Grimes and Deon Curry and incoming freshmen Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Chris Rucker.
Minnesota: Quarterback. Redshirt freshman Adam Weber, a former three-star prospect, and junior Tony Mortensen are expected to battle to replace Bryan Cupito. Mortensen has the experience, but Weber has all the physical abilities to thrive in new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar's spread offense.
Northwestern: Linebacker. The Wildcats have a huge void to fill. Too bad coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't have any eligibility remaining. Nick Roach was the Wildcats' leading tackler until going down with a broken leg in the eighth game of the season. The 'Cats also will use more of Fitzgerald's preferred 3-4, creating more competition among the likes of Malcolm Arrington, Prince Kwateng, Chris Malleo and Mike Dinard.
Ohio State: Quarterback. Todd Boeckman is the heir apparent to Troy Smith. He has been in the program the longest and is a steady player. Candidate two is Robbie Schoenhoft., a former Elite 11 quarterback with a big arm but not much control of it yet. He's the dark horse unless he has a great spring. The third candidate is Antonio Henton, who is a virtual clone of Smith. The Georgia prep star has plenty of athleticism and could be a popular choice among fans who long for the Heisman Trophy winner.
Penn State: Cornerback. Tony Davis is the incumbent opposite No. 1 corner Justin King. Sophomore A.J. Wallace appeared in all 13 games last season and could push Davis for more time, if not emerge as the starter.
Purdue: Running back. Juniors Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor are going to compete to be the starting running back after splitting carries last year. Sheets started the entire regular season, but Taylor started the bowl game. It's really a no-lose situation as both were productive last season. Sheets rushed for 780 yards and 11 touchdowns; Taylor rushed for 667 yards and four touchdowns.
Wisconsin: Quarterback. Tyler Donovan played very well in two starts last season while John Stocco was injured, and he appears to have the inside track over Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge.

Teams with new schemes
Minnesota: With an entirely new staff there obviously will be changes. Mike Dunbar is bringing the spread from Cal and Northwestern. On defense, there have been no specifics given about scheme, but they have talked about a more attacking style. Everett Withers arrives as the defensive coordinator after six years as the defensive backs coach for the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
Michigan State: Gone is the John L. Smith spread offense. In is the Mark Dantonio/Don Treadwell balanced offense, highlighted by "power" inside runs. Smith made the fullback obsolete and had none on the roster. Now the Spartans will use a fullback on most snaps as a lead blocker. Look for tight ends and defensive players to audition as blocking backs this spring. On defense, Pat Narduzzi's 4-3 will replace Smith's defense, which was basically a 4-2-5 with a bandit. Last year's bandit, SirDarean Adams, will still be on the field - probably as a weakside linebacker.
Northwestern: The defense is migrating to head coach Pat Fitzgerald's favored 3-4 alignment, but how much the Wildcats will utilize it in the spring and next season remains a mystery.

Best by position
Defensive linemen
1. Chad Henne, Michigan
2. Curtis Painter, Purdue
3. Kellen Lewis, Indiana
4. Anthony Morelli, Penn State
5. C.J. Bacher, Northwestern

1. Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
2. Matthew Shaughnessy, Wisconsin
3. Bryan Mattison, Iowa
4. William Van DeSteeg, Minnesota
5. Corey Wootton, Northwestern
Running backs
1. Mike Hart, Michigan
2. P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
3. Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern
4. Chris Wells, Ohio State
5. Amir Pinnix, Minnesota

1. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
2. Dan Connor, Penn State
3. J Leman, Illinois
4. Shawn Crable, Michigan
5. Mike Klinkenborg, Iowa
Defensive backs
1. Mario Manningham, Michigan
2. Dorien Bryant, Purdue
3. James Hardy, Indiana
4. Deon Butler, Penn State
5. Brian Robiskie, Ohio State

1. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
2. Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin
3. Justin King, Penn State
4. Vontae Davis, Illinois
5. Jamar Adams, Michigan
Tight ends
1. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
2. Andrew Quarless, Penn State
3. Tony Moeaki, Iowa
4. Dustin Keller, Purdue
5. Carson Butler, Michigan

1. Taylor Mehlhaff, Wisconsin
2. Brett Swenson, Michigan State
3. Jason Reda, Illinois
4. Austin Starr, Indiana
5. Aaron Pettrey, Ohio State
Offensive linemen
1. Jake Long, Michigan
2. Adam Kraus, Michigan
3. Kirk Barton, Ohio State
4. Marcus Coleman, Wisconsin
5. Jordan Grimes, Purdue

1. A.J. Trapasso, Ohio State
2. Ken DeBauche, Wisconsin
3. Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
4. Justin Kucek, Minnesota
5. Kyle Yelton, Illinois

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