New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, here watching the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, inherits a program with many starters returning. Star running back Montee Ball is gone, though. (Michael P. King/Associated Press)
At Wisconsin, don't expect a trophy just for participating.
Sure, competing hard and giving 100 percent still will be important under first-year coach Gary Andersen, but if it comes without winning, it's not exactly what he is looking for.
"I think it's important in football, it's important in life and everything we do and we try and hit those areas," Andersen said during a teleconference Thursday. "When you're out there on Saturday afternoon or evening, there is gonna be a winner and a loser. I think it brings competitiveness; it brings a care factor between coaches and players every single day. There's gonna be no days off and I think at the end of the day you've got to look in the mirror and say we played well enough to win or we didn't play well enough to win.
"If you're a competitor, no matter what you're doing — checkers or in the living room playing dominoes — you want to win."
There is plenty of competition on the field this spring, particularly at quarterback.
Senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave are the two getting the most reps this spring, but Andersen said there would be no set starter when spring practice ends.
"Joel and Curt have separated themselves," Andersen said. "It's kind of a mixed bag back and forth of who takes snaps with the ones and the twos."
As the quarterback battle continues, Andersen will keep bringing the competitive spirit. And it's not all high stakes. In fact, at a recent practice, he pitted players in a one-on-one dance-off.
"Some are a little quirky," said Andersen, who is replacing Bret Bielema, who left for Arkansas. "It's not always football-related and we involve the coaches in it, too. Some days the coaches have to get out there and compete against each other. It's probably not as physical as it used to be when we were young coaches, but we try and involve them. It's meant to have fun and put a smile on your face, but we also have a winner and loser."
A matter of time
As Northwestern began its winter workouts, players wore shirts with the number "5:03" printed on them.
As spring practice began, its uniforms had the same number — the total time they trailed in games all season — on a patch.
The purpose was to remind the Northwestern players how close they came to an unbeaten season.
"When we first started in January, we talked quite a bit about where we're at as a program and where we need to go," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We were only five minutes and three seconds away from being undefeated. Are we that far away or are we that close? We have to decide as a program. We've chosen to view it as a positive."
Said quarterback Trevor Siemian , in the Chicago Tribune: "It's a big motivating factor for our guys in the weight room or on the field."
Replacing the line
Ohio State went undefeated last season, but does have some questions on defense, especially along the line.
The Buckeyes return four starters, and must replace all four starters up front.
Two players the Buckeyes are counting on are sophomores Noah Spence (12 tackles, one sack) and Adolphus Washington (3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks).
"He doesn't play with a chip on his shoulder, he's not an angry player," coach Urban Meyer said of Washington. "In the last three or four practices I've seen a change in him and he's starting to play like that."
The hopes are just as high for Spence.
"He plays very hard," Meyer said. "At some point I expect he'll be an All-Big Ten candidate. I'd be disappointed if he doesn't have a good year."
Wide open race at Iowa
Sophomore Jake Rudock , junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard are trying to earn the starting quarterback at Iowa, replacing two-year starter James Vandenberg .
"It's still a three-horse race," coach Kirk Ferentz said.