Big Ten East: QB questions loom at some schools
Here is a team-by-team update of the Big Ten East Division coming out of spring practices.
Michigan State (12-2, 7-1)
What we know:DL Malik McDowell is working at tackle and end this spring. LBs Riley Bullough and Ed Davis, who’s returning from a devastating knee injury in preseason practice, are back, and the secondary is experienced.
What we don’t know: Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry get first crack at replacing QB Connor Cook, and the Spartans need new receivers to step up. Keep an eye on early enrollee Donnie Corley, a receiver destined to play defense as well. WR Cam Chambers, another early enrollee, looks promising.
Mark Dantonio: “We have young players but they’re talented. We have a good recruiting class coming in, seven are on campus. That gives them extra stride … that will pay dividends for them in the fall.”
Ohio State (12-1, 7-1)
What we know: J.T. Barrett will be the starting quarterback. Pat Elflein will move to center after earning all-conference honors at right guard. DE Tyquan Lewis is back and probably will bookend with Sam Hubbard.
What we don’t know: Though the Buckeyes always have ample talent, the question is what the defense will look like minus eight starters from a year ago and a new coordinator in Greg Schiano. A No. 1 back must emerge to replace Ezekiel Elliott.
Urban Meyer: “Whatever was going on when everyone was hammering us four years ago (about the Big Ten’s strength), I don’t hear it now.”
Michigan (10-3, 6-2)
What we know: The defense was among the nation’s best in 2015 and returns six starters — and might be better once the No. 1 national recruit, DL Rashan Gary, arrives. Jake Butt can make a case for being the best tight end in the country, and De’Veon Smith is a dependable back.
What we don’t know: The quarterback competition between Houston transfer John O’Korn and Wilton Speight will extend into the fall. Speight’s resume includes coming off the bench to throw the go-ahead TD pass in a dramatic win at Minnesota.
Jim Harbaugh: “It’s (the QB race) to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them.”
Penn State (7-6, 4-4)
What we know: There are new offensive (Joe Moorhead) and defensive (Brent Pry) coordinators and a youthful roster. Saquon Barkley will look to build on a 1,000-yard freshman season. Chris Godwin is the Big Ten’s top returning receiver.
What we don’t know:Trace McSorely, Tommy Stevens and early enrollee Jake Zembiec are vying at quarterback. McSorely appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman. Zembiec might have the highest ceiling after being a prestigious Elite 11 finalist.
James Franklin: “There are so many signs and so many great things heading in the right direction for this program and getting back to the Penn State that everybody wants to see on Saturdays.”
Indiana (6-7, 2-6)
What we know: All-America OL Dan Feeney’s decision to return instead of going pro is a bonus. Zander Diamont has experience at quarterback, but is being pushed by junior college transfer Richard Lagow.
What we don’t know:Tom Allen, the third defensive coordinator in Kevin Wilson’s five seasons, will see if he can coax improvement from a unit that has been awful and must replace eight starters.
Kevin Wilson: “Our team is the strongest, best we’ve looked. A long way to go, but we’ve had a positive spring.”
Rutgers (4-8, 1-7)
What we know: The return of two-time team captain and DL Darius Hamilton from a season-ending injury provides a boost up front, but the Big Ten’s second-to-worst defense needs lots of improvement at linebacker and in the secondary.
What we don’t know: The Scarlet Knights are switching from pro-style to power spread, and it’s a mystery what the offense will look like with Chris Laviano or another quarterback in charge. Someone must pick up the slack for departed WR Leonte Carroo,
Chris Ash: “It’s good days, it’s bad days with all those quarterbacks. Right now we’re looking for more consistency from that position.”
Maryland (3-9, 1-7)
What we know: Will Likely is one of the nation’s most dynamic players as a return man and defensive back. Will Brown, Ty Johnson and Virginia Tech transfer Trey Edmunds should help the ground game.
What we don’t know: Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe struggled with interceptions, and it’s unclear who’ll be the starter. The defensive line is a big question following Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson declaring for the NFL draft.
D.J. Durkin: “We still have a ways to go, but we’ve gotten better. These guys are very willing to do what we ask them to do and we just have to keep working.”