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February 28, 2008

Ohio State is reloading, Michigan is rebuilding, Iowa hopes it will be rebounding and Michigan State and Illinois appear to be resurfacing.

Overall, though, the Big Ten's image seems in need of repair its 3-5 bowl record in 2007, which included some lopsided losses. Perhaps 2008 will be rejuvenating.

The work starts now. Here is our Spring Preview for the Big Ten.

Illinois: TBD
Indiana: March 25-April 19
Iowa: March 26-April 19
Michigan: March 15-April 12
Michigan State: March 17-April 19
Minnesota: March 26-April 19
Northwestern: April 1-April 26
Ohio State: March 24-April 19
Penn State: March 24-April 19
Purdue: March 26-April 19
Wisconsin: March 9-April 19

New Coaches

Rich Rodriguez, Michigan: Rodriguez was incredibly successful at West Virginia. His teams posted 61 victories in seven seasons including 11 wins in each of the past three seasons. Rodriguez inherits a Wolverines team that loses almost all of its top players and returns players that may not be good fits for his version of the spread offense. Remember, West Virginia went 3-8 in Rodriguez's first season there.

Biggest Position Battles

  • Illinois: Both starting safeties and the top reserve on last year's depth chart completed their eligibility, so those positions must be filled. Among the competitors for those jobs are former pro baseball player Bo Flowers, converted wide receiver Brian Gamble and sophomores Travon Bellamy and Garrett Edwards.

  • Indiana: Replacing Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors, two four-year starters at cornerback, is the main concern in Bloomington. Senior Chris Phillips has earned his stripes, but the Hoosiers have little other experience there. Twins Adrian Burks and Aaron Burks will contend, and Chris Adkins heads a list of redshirt freshman hoping to break into the starting lineup.

  • Iowa: Inconsistent line play was a big reason for Iowa's offensive struggles in 2007, and fortifying the unit is crucial for 2008. Seth Olsen probably will start at one tackle spot, and center Rob Bruggeman is another likely starter. But guard Bryan Bulaga, a starter as a true freshman, likely will miss the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. Tackle Dace Richardson is coming off yet another knee surgery, and his status may not be known until June. There are positions waiting to be won this spring.

  • Michigan: Mike Hart made tailback a position of strength, but he's gone and several guys are vying for the job. Kevin Grady (who is returning from injury), Brandon Minor (once a four-star prospect) and Carlos Brown (who reportedly is also taking snaps at quarterback) are the most likely candidates to replace Hart, at least until the freshmen arrive in August.

  • Michigan State: The loss of productive tight end Kellen Freeman-Davis and backup Eric Andino leaves the Spartans scrambling for replacements. Michael Jordan, a former four-star junior college defensive end, will get a close look at tight end. Jordan will compete against sophomore Charlie Gantt and redshirt freshman Garrett Celek.

  • Minnesota: Though starting linebackers Steve Davis and Deon Hightower return, no job is assured on a defense that ranked last in the nation in 2007. Davis and Hightower will be challenged by redshirt freshman Andre Tate', junior college transfer Rex Sharpe, junior Kevin Mannion and sophomore[/db]Willie Dyson[/db].

  • Northwestern: The Wildcats need to fill three holes on the offensive line. Coaches are excited about the potential of redshirt freshman Al Netter and are optimistic about Tyler Compton and Ramon Diaz, who are returning from injuries. Sophomore Mike Boyle is in the mix, but he hasn't gotten playing time yet. If they don't distinguish themselves, a freshman class heavy on linemen arrives this summer.

  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes have so many starters back there aren't many positions vacant. But replacing All-Big Ten offensive tackle Kirk Barton will be a top priority. Junior Bryant Browning would figure to be the leading candidate, but highly touted incoming freshmen Mike Adams or J.B. Shugarts can't be counted out there.

  • Penn State: The quarterback competition between versatile senior Daryll Clark and strong-armed sophomore Pat Devlin figures to be intriguing. Clark is a superior runner, but Devlin could be a better passer.

  • Purdue: The Boilermakers have two positions open on the offensive line. A couple of true freshmen could work their way into the lineup, especially behemoth Ken Plue at guard or tackle.

  • Wisconsin: The Badgers have such an embarrassment of riches at tailback that even two-time 1,000-yard rusher P.J. Hill can't be guaranteed feature-back status with productive backups Lance Smith and Zach Brown and heralded redshirt John Clay competing for time.

    Five Players Who Could Emerge

    Illinois DT Josh Brent: With Mike Ware and Chris Norwell gone, sophomore Josh Brent is expected to take over a starting role. Some view Brent, who played some as a true freshman last season, as having All-American ability. He'll get a chance to prove it.

    Iowa LB Jacody Coleman: Coleman played well as a true freshman when Mike Klinkenborg was out last season. Now that Klinkenborg is gone, Coleman will step in full-time and could prove to be a star in the making.

    Penn State DE Jerome Hayes: He posted 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a reserve role as a redshirt freshman last season. His numbers and presence will be greater as a starter.

    Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward: Heyward had a solid freshman year with 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but he could become dominant as a sophomore.

    Michigan WR Greg Mathews: Though not a speed demon, he has tremendous hands. He caught 39 passes in 2007, and his production should increase dramatically as he elevates to starter status as a junior.

    Five Impact Newcomers

    Michigan State DE Trevor Anderson: Anderson, who will be a junior this season, sat out 2007 after transferring from Cincinnati to follow coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans lose three defensive ends, including starters Ervin Baldwin and Jonal Saint-Dic, and Anderson is expected to help ease those losses.

    Minnesota S Tramaine Brock: A junior college All-American at Mississippi Gulf Coast last year, the speedy Brock should provide an immediate boost in the secondary, the weakest area of a weak defense in 2007.

    Iowa TB Nate Guillory: He rushed for more than 2,600 yards in two junior college seasons and is joining a team whose top returning rusher gained just 40 yards last season.

    Michigan QB Steven Threet: A former four-star prospect, the strong-armed redshirt freshman is the odds-on favorite to emerge as the Wolverines' starting quarterback. Threet signed with Georgia Tech in 2007 and enrolled early, but he left after spring ball. Incoming freshman quarterback Justin Feagin is a rushing threat who may be a better fit in Rodriguez's offense, but Feagin won't arrive until August.

    Purdue WR Aaron Valentin: Somebody has to catch all those passes thrown in coach Joe Tiller's offense, but the Boilermakers lost four of their top five receivers from 2007. The departures set the stage for Valentin a junior college transfer to contribute immediately.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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