Spring Football: Each Big Ten Team's No. 1 Priority

A look at the No. 1 priority facing each Big Ten football team this spring.

Illinois

While many will focus on the return of stud WR Mikey Dudek, Illinois lost five of seven starters in the back seven of its defense. It's up to new defensive coordinator Mike Phair to find the right mix of production out of a group of inexperienced players. - Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer

Indiana

Despite a bowl-winning season, Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson fired his defensive coordinator and brought in Tom Allen, who will retool a unit that loses three starters on the line. Offensively, Wilson is turning to 6-6 quarterback Richard Lagow, a JC transfer and one-time Oklahoma State Cowboy, to learn the ropes quickly.

Iowa

What happens at wide receiver is the most intriguing with two of the three starters graduate in Jacob Hillyer and Tevaun Smith. It's a position that needs retooling so who steps up? - Derek Young, Hawkeye Insider

Maryland

The top story line has to be the impact/new schemes of Maryland's newly minted football staff, led by head coach D.J. Durkin, the former defensive coordinator at Michigan. Durkin retained no former staff at Maryland when he arrived on Dec. 2, and will have a light roster numbers-wise with heavy graduation losses and several players on the shelf following off-season surgeries. The two biggest positions to watch will be running back, where only one returner with experience is back (freshman Ty Johnson), and quarterback, where inconsistent seniors Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills return hoping to win over the new staff. Both have had spotty, injured-plagued careers, but Rowe finished the season on a high note with his performance at Rutgers in victory, though the dual-threat Hills could be better suited to run new offensive coordinator Walt Bell's up-tempo, spread offense. - Keith Cavanaugh, Terrapin Times

Michigan

How sunburned will the Wolverine players be after leaving chilly Ann Arbor for spring break, er, practice in Florida? Jim Harbaugh's decision to practice near star-recruit factory IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., drew complaints from SEC officials, but it was a diabolical masterstroke by a coach who knows how to grab headlines.

Michigan State

Michigan State opens up spring football Mark Dantonio will not have quarterback Connor Cook at the helm of his offense. Who replaces Cook will be important in the spring and preseason camp, as he left the program as the school’s all-time winning quarterback. But Cook was not the only loss the Spartans suffered as graduation also hit other areas of the Big Ten Champions. - Dave Berk, Spartan Digest

Minnesota

Can new offensive line coach Bart Miller fix the Gophers offense line? Minnesota loses potentially eight offensive linemen from 2015's team, and how this 2016 offensive line can develop and mature will be the biggest key to the Gophers' success this fall. If they can give senior quarterback Mitch Leidner enough time to throw and consistently open holes for sophomore running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, the Gophers will enter fall camp with confidence. -- Ryan Burns, Gopher Digest

Nebraska

After a strong showing against UCLA in the bowl game, will Nebraska's offense continue with a run-first type of mentality? Also, who comes out of spring as the number one running back or will the battle extend into the fall? - Josh Harvey, Big Red Report

Northwestern

Spring drills are already under way at Northwestern, where the primary focus is reviving the Wildcats' comatose passing game. Shaking things up, Pat Fitzgerald has converted three players (running back Solomon Vault and defensive backs Marcus McShepard and Steven Reese) to wide receiver.

Ohio State

It's the year of development in Columbus. Ohio State lost nine underclassmen to the NFL and 15 scholarship seniors, so the Buckeyes are focused on developing young talent this spring. Ohio State has plenty of it to work with as more than half of the Buckeyes scholarship players will be redshirt or true freshmen next season, though they can rely on junior J.T. Barrett at quarterback. Head coach Urban Meyer compared the need for development to the situation Ohio State faced in 2014. While it’s a tall task for the Buckeyes, replicating that level of improvement would mean another national title. - Blake Williams, Buckeye Sports

Penn State

Who is going to replace departed QB Christian Hackenberg? In the mix are 2015 backup Trace McSorley, redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens and early enrollee rookie Jake Zembiec. McSorley has the early edge after two seasons as the primary backup (including his redshirt year of 2014), but Stevens has enough size and speed to make a serious push for the job. - Mark Brennan, Fight On State

Purdue

Is this the last spring for head coach Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette? He has just six wins in three years and Purdue will name a new athletic director with Morgan Burke's retirement looming.

Rutgers

How will the Rutgers offense adjust to massive changes? Rutgers has forever been a pro-style team, and new coach Chris Ash plans to scrap everything and start fresh in a power spread. Look for a unique quarterback position battle and every spot to be up for grabs in a new offense. - Sam Hellman, Scarlet Report

Wisconsin

Who will be the starting quarterback? Wisconsin went 10-3 under fifth-year senior Joel Stave, who was the unquestioned starter coming into last spring. Redshirt senior Bart Houston, who led UW to a win at Illinois after Stave went down to injury, and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, who flipped his commitment from Pittsburgh to Wisconsin after Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph were hired in Madison. This competition will go into fall but the staff wants someone to emerge as the leader by the end of spring. - Benjamin Worgull, Badger Nation


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