Tuesday, August 27, 2013 6:37 pm
Most Big Ten teams returning a lot of experience
By ERIC OLSONAP College Football Writer
When it comes to quarterbacks, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase are going into their fourth seasons as starters, Ohio State's Braxton Miller is entering his third and Northwestern's Kain Colter is heading into year three as a full- or part-time starter.
All 10 of last season's leaders in receiving yards are back, as are seven of the top 10 rushers, conference offensive lineman of the year Taylor Lewan of Michigan and tight end of the year Jacob Pedersen of Wisconsin.
Eight teams return at least 16 starters. But for all that experience, there still are some notable personnel issues to be resolved.
Take Indiana, for instance. The Hoosiers have a league-high 21 returning starters, including quarterback Cam Coffman. But even he hasn't locked up a job for 2013. As of Tuesday, coach Kevin Wilson had not decided whether Coffman, Tre Roberson or Nate Sudfeld would take the first snap against Indiana State on Thursday night.
"I don't know if we've got an inordinate amount of high-level secure guys where I'm going to play them the whole game," Wilson said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "A lot of our 2s are as good as our 1s. We've improved our depth. Everyone is back on our team. We're bringing in maybe the most talented class we've ever had. So we've got competition, we've got some help on our team. I think we're going to play a lot of guys."
It took until Tuesday for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio to announce that incumbent Andrew Maxwell would be his starter Friday against Western Michigan.
The quarterback situation remains a mystery, at least publicly, at Wisconsin and Penn State.
Curt Phillips and Joel Stave have been battling for the Badgers. First-year coach Gary Andersen said he won't announce a starter ahead of Saturday's opener against Massachusetts. Phillips, a sixth-year senior, started five games last season and Stave, a redshirt sophomore, started six.
"The quarterbacks know who the starting quarterback is, and in turn the team will know just like they'll know who the starting linebacker and running back is, and in turn it will work its way out," Andersen said. "I don't think it needs to be a big deal because it is the quarterback."
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien is choosing between sophomore Tyler Ferguson and freshman Christian Hackenberg, the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. O'Brien had planned to make an announcement last week. He said the decision would be kept under wraps until Saturday's opener against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
"What's best for the football team and for both Christian and Tyler," O'Brien said, "is to make sure they understand what direction we're heading - our team and those two guys - and when the game starts everybody will know who the starting quarterback is when it's our first offensive series."
There are newcomers at other positions who could become well-known names by season's end.
Ohio State is replacing all four of its defensive linemen, and coach Urban Meyer said sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington and junior Michael Bennett have caught his eye in practices.
Spence made 12 tackles and a sack against Miami in his first game last season. Washington appeared in 10 games, and three of his nine tackles were sacks. Bennett has four sacks among his 28 career tackles.
At Nebraska, junior-college transfer Randy Gregory has created a lot of buzz among fans hopeful he can strengthen the defensive line.
"It will be fun to watch," Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said. "He has a lot of talent, he has a good work ethic, and I think he's a pretty instinctive guy who understands football. I like the prospect. He's set up to have a good year. Is he going to be the finished product from day one? No, that's a little unrealistic. But he could be a presence for us."
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said freshman Donovahn Jones could play a major role in his building project. Jones started out as a quarterback but moved to receiver when it became apparent he wouldn't beat out Philip Nelson. Jones is 6-foot-3 and has a 40-inch vertical jump.
"He's too good an athlete to not have on the field," Kill said. "He's been in the learning progression at receiver and we're trying to get him coached up as fast as we can."