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February 9, 2011

Big Ten spring primer: Something new

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC

New coaches at Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota and a program new to the league mean spring practice in the Big Ten is going to be more intriguing than usual.

At Indiana, former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will install his offense while also trying to instill a winning attitude with the Hoosiers.

Brady Hoke takes over at Michigan, and the Wolverines are going to undergo big scheme changes, the biggest of which is scrapping Rich Rodriguez's version of the spread option and changing to a pro-style attack. New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who arrives from the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, has a ton of work, too, as does Jerry Kill at Minnesota.

The new program, of course, is Nebraska. While the Huskers are coming off a 10-win season, they faded down the stretch and have some offensive identity issues.

Here's a look at the start and end dates for spring drills, as well as a quick look at what each team hopes to accomplish.

ILLINOIS
Practice begins: March 29
Spring game: April 23
The buzz: The Fighting Illini are coming off just their second bowl in Ron Zook's six seasons in Champaign. But Illinois lost five experienced starters off a defense that played well early but wore out as the season progressed because of depth issues. Complicating matters for Zook are the early departures to the NFL by T Corey Liuget and MLB Martez Wilson. Finding a new starting tailback is a priority on offense.
INDIANA
Practice begins: March 8
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Bill Lynch is out after four seasons and a 19-30 record, with one bowl. Kevin Wilson arrives from Oklahoma, where he was offensive coordinator. He'll spend the spring installing his systems on both sides of the ball. A big focus will be the search for a quarterback with Ben Chappell gone. Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel -- whose uncle, Blair, played QB at Notre Dame and in the NFL -- will battle for the spot. Wilson also must tighten a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring (34.0 ppg).
IOWA
Practice begins: Week of March 21
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: James Vandenberg assumes the quarterbacking reins from Ricky Stanzi, a three-year starter. Vandenberg has started two games, but this is his first time he will be the unquestioned leader. Will he respond? Both guards and the tight end also are gone. The defensive front has three huge holes to fill: E Adrian Clayborn, E Christian Ballard and T Karl Klug are gone. The bleeding continues in the secondary, with star Ss Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood gone.
MICHIGAN
Practice begins: March 19
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: There will be a lot on new coach Brady Hoke's plate. The offense must transition from a spread to more of a power look with a West Coast flavor under the direction of coordinator Al Borges. How will QB Denard Robinson fit into this scheme? The defense will move to a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment from a 3-3-5 set. Coordinator Greg Mattison arrives from the NFL to rehab what was a horrid unit under Rich Rodriguez.
MICHIGAN STATE
Practice begins: March 22
Spring game: April 30
The buzz: The Spartans must retool the offensive line. Keep an eye on the tackle spots, a position the staff went hard for in the JC ranks. In addition, coordinator Don Treadwell left to become head coach at Miami (Ohio). The defense must replace two four-year starters in LBs Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Max Bullough figures to start in the middle flanked by Denicos Allen and Chris Norman.
MINNESOTA
Practice begins: March 24
Spring game: April 23
The buzz: Tim Brewster is out after a dubious three-plus-year run. The players must begin to adapt to new coach Jerry Kill, who arrives after a successful three-year stint at Northern Illinois. The offensive coaches need to get MarQueis Gray ready to play quarterback with Adam Weber gone. Gray is a good athlete who also has played some receiver, but he remains a raw signal-caller. Finding defensive playmakers is a must.
NEBRASKA
Practice begins: March 14
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The Huskers embark on a new era, leaving the Big 12 and joining the Big Ten. The spring goal: develop an offensive identity. What direction is this offense going? The passing attack ranked last in the Big 12. Nebraska also needs to replace three key senior starters in the secondary as well as three senior offensive linemen. And who will take over for K/P Alex Henery?
NORTHWESTERN
Practice begins: March 7
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: It's vital that the Wildcats improve a defense that yielded 163 points in the final three games. NU also needs to find one or two running backs it can count on. Early word is that QB Dan Persa likely won't take part in spring drills as he battles back from a torn Achilles that forced him to miss the last three games.
OHIO STATE
Practice begins: March 31
Spring game: April 23
The buzz: Expect the staff to sort through quarterbacks. Terrelle Pryor is back, but he's suspended for the first five games for accepting extra benefits. Who will start? Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller will get a chance to impress. In addition, both starting guards are gone. On defense, the secondary must replace three starters and two starting linebackers are gone for a team that figures to be the Big Ten favorite in 2011.
PENN STATE
Practice begins: March 18
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: The Nittany Lions need to find a starting quarterback -- or at least narrow the field. Penn State is in better shape under center than it was at this time last year, as Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden have at least shown they have some skills. But McGloin tossed five interceptions in the bowl game. Bolden threatened to transfer, but JoePa wouldn't release him. Kevin Newsome didn't attend the bowl and thought of transferring but opted to return, while P.J. Jones redshirted as a true freshman in 2010. Defensively, it's important that a pecking order be developed at linebacker.
PURDUE
Practice begins: March 2
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: Where to begin? It would help if the Boilermakers could remain healthy, as the 2010 season was wrecked by injuries to myriad key players. Purdue needs to find a quarterback. Robert Marve (one of the injured) won't take part in drills, which means the issue likely won't be decided until the fall. The defensive coaches have to replace E Ryan Kerrigan, one of the school's most decorated players ever. Good luck with that. And the linebacking play has been pitiful.
WISCONSIN
Practice begins: March 22
Spring game: April 23
The buzz: The Badgers need to find a quarterback with two-year starter Scott Tolzien gone. Jon Budmayr is the favorite, primarily because he ended last season as the backup after Curt Phillips tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time in November. Phillips won't take part in spring drills. The defense must adjust to life without coordinator Dave Doeren, who left to become coach at Northern Illinois. Work has to be done at linebacker and in the secondary.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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