The college football season doesn’t begin for more than four months. But with National Signing Day still visible in the rearview mirror and spring practice active on most campuses, fans are eager to cheer on Old State U.
Wednesday brought forth the annual Big Ten spring teleconference. This year marks the first of a 14-team conference with East and West divisions. Michigan State and Ohio State are favorites in the top-heavy East, while the West appears wide open with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa as the leading contenders.
No coaches or players mentioned who might be the team to beat. But Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon made it clear what the Badgers’ ultimate goal is: advancing to the first playoff.
Wisconsin (Gary Andersen and Melvin Gordon)
- Andersen said the Badgers are a young football team that’s still searching for an identity. It’s a long way to fall camp, which is a good thing.
- Wisconsin opens the season against LSU in Houston. Andersen said the team is excited about the opportunity to make a statement on the opening weekend of the season. “It would give me an edge if I were a player,” Andersen said.
- On the return of running back Melvin Gordon: “Huge probably isn’t a big enough word,” Andersen said. He lauded his character and leadership. This spring, Gordon’s presence in the locker room has been vital.
- Gordon’s best friends are the hulking offensive line. Once again, he believes Wisconsin will field a productive unit.
- A bulk of Gordon’s spring has been spent getting acclimated with the passing game to give the Badgers a more versatile look on offense. Becoming less one-dimensional has been Andersen’s philosophy.
- Gordon has a piece of paper posted on his wall that says College Football Playoff. He said that’s the goal and why he returned, not the Heisman Trophy.
Northwestern (Pat Fitzgerald and Trevor Siemian)
- The Wildcats won’t have a traditional spring game Saturday. Instead, they’ll have an open practice. The team’s been decimated by injuries and doesn’t have enough healthy bodies for a game.
- Fitzgerald said Rutgers wide receiver transfer Miles Shuler will be an impact player for Northwestern this season.
- “There’s no question Trevor is our leader. This is Trevor Siemian’s football team.” –Fitzgerald on Northwestern’s quarterback
- Siemian said there’s a unique set of circumstances surrounding the team, but they’ve all handled it well inside the locker room. “You’re not going to have everyone on the same page. But at the end of your day your teammates. It’s a very, very mature locker room,” Siemian said.
- In regards to unionizing: Siemian said Northwestern players are treated incredible. To bring in a third party isn’t the right avenue. “I’m treated better than I deserve,” he said.
Nebraska (Bo Pelini and Ameer Abdullah)
- Nebraska will have an offense vs. defense spring game with a modified points system. Pelini is pleased with what he’s seen thus far during the spring.
- “That’s the least of my concerns,” Pelini on recruits’ star rankings.
- Running back Ameer Abdullah said the work ethic and determination this spring is encouraging. He said players are trying to maximize their potential. “Everyone’s been accountable.”
- Every practice means Abdullah goes against defensive end Randy Gregory. He said going against the best only makes himself better. “He’s the best we’re going to see in the conference, and we’re lucky he’s on our team,” Abdullah said.
- Wide receiver Kenny Bell could be a difference maker for the Cornhuskers this season, according to Abdullah. He said his linear speed is underrated.
Purdue (Darrell Hazell and Danny Etling)
- Hazell said he’s excited about the direction the program’s headed after a productive spring.
- A position that’s still holding the Boilermakers back a little bit is quarterback. Hazell wants to see more out of Danny Etling. Austin Appleby is applying pressure.
- Running back Raheem Mostert is a player who continues to become an offensive weapon. “He gets to the second level and you’re feeling pretty good,” Hazell said. He’s been patient, too. Hazell said Mostert’s ability to gain yards this season will take pressure off the quarterbacks.
- “There’s an understanding of taking care of things,” Hazell said regarding fundamentals.
- Etling said he can get the ball of quicker this season, the game has slowed down and he feels much more comfortable going through each progression. “You can really become a better and better quarterback from that,” he said.
- The biggest change from last season to spring is intensity, Etling said. He said the playbook has expanded and the mistakes have dropped considerably. “You see guys not wanting to get pushed around anymore and showing more fight.”
- Etling said the new divisional alignment is a different system. Will take time to get used to. “Hopefully we can do some damage.”
Illinois (Bill Cubit and Josh Ferguson)
- Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit lauded Illinois’ running backs. The Illini are searching for a quarterback after the graduation of Nathan Scheelhaase. Working in their favor is the return of several offensive linemen.
- At quarterback, Cubit said there’s no rush to make a decision.
- Running back Josh Ferguson said he’s added weight this offseason, which has helped his inside run game.
Minnesota (Jerry Kill and Mitch Leidner)
- Overall, Kill said Minnesota’s playing a lot of young guys, which leads to depth. Still, he said you never feel like you have enough.
- “Each week, the kids became more confident. We played hard,” Kill said of last season.
- Asked if Minnesota can contend for a conference title, Kill was hesitant to give an answer. He talked about how competitive the Big Ten is and said you have to be able to win close games.
- Quarterback Mitch Leidner said he was shocked when Philip Nelson approached him and said he was transferring.
- Now that Nelson is out of the picture, Leidner said his teammates view him as the leader of the team. He said it began during winter workouts.
- Leidner spoke highly of the Gophers’ secondary. “They’re fast and they’re exciting to watch out there,” he said.
Iowa (Kirk Ferentz and Brandon Scherff)
- The Hawkeyes are just beginning their spring practice, only six days in. Ferentz said it’s always interesting to see how players have progressed since the end of the season. Said he’s excited to be back on the field.
- Offensive tackle Brandon Scherrf spurned the NFL this year to return. Ferentz said he would have been a first-round draft pick. His return is huge for Iowa, giving them an anchor on the all-important offensive line.
- Scherff said he came back to improve all parts of his game to be a better leader. “We’re trying to be the best offensive line in the Big Ten, and my goal is to be the best offensive lineman in the country. So I have to keep working my butt off,” Scherff said.
- Ferentz said the spring is pure teaching and evaluating since you don’t have to prepare for one opponent. “It’s fun to see and watch and evaluate guys over 15 practice to see what type of improvement they make,” he said.
- Scherff on the offense: “We’re just trying to play faster with the no-huddle tempo. I really think it’s going to help us in the fall.”