Ohio State may have been one play away from playing for a national championship last season. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. The final three games presented a host of issues for the Buckeyes.
When spring practice opened, head coach Urban Meyer spoke of enhancing the culture. In the months of March and April, he’s evaluated meeting rooms and come to the conclusion that clarity and purpose were missing in 2013.
On the Big Ten spring teleconference, Meyer said the issues have been rectified, and the Buckeyes enter 2014 with a clear sense of determination.
Ohio State (Urban Meyer and Michael Bennett)
- Meyer on the pass defense: “We’re leaving spring practice with a good feeling.”
- There are holes in this Ohio State team, which Meyer addressed. He was especially harsh when it came to the offensive line. Meyer said Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein were the lone starters at this point. “But we need five,” he said.
- “There are several units not playing up to the caliber that we expect,” Meyer said.
- Chris Worley and Darron Lee are the two players who have improved the most over the spring. Meyer said they basically weren’t part of the team last year because of their irrelevance. “They are thriving in the culture,” he said.
- “If you recruit the east, you know about Larry Johnson,” Meyer said. He added that you better show up to work if you're a defensive lineman because Johnson works the unit hard.
- Bennett said the offense and defense have done well this spring, but the offense probably needs more work. He said the summer is the most critical growth period for football teams.
- Bennett on the offensive line: “They have a lot more growth to do, but we have a lot of time.” He said Antonio Underwood has improved a lot, as well as Darryl Baldwin.
- “When he gets hands on you, it’s tough to beat him,” Bennett said of Underwood.
- Curtis Samuel, Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott are offensive players who’ve caught Bennett’s eye, with Samuel and Jones being the top two.
- Bennett said you’re only as good as your last game or practice, and Ohio State didn’t play well at the end of the season. He said it’s about finding the problem and learning how to fix it.
- “As a defensive line, we really want to elevate the defense,” Bennett said.
Michigan State (Mark Dantonio and Connor Cook)
- Dantonio said complacency is something that was talked about enthusiastically. “We need to be able to handle success,” he said. In practice, the coaches have preached the lessons that allowed Michigan State to reach the Rose Bowl. He said the team is grounded.
- When the divisions were realigned, Dantonio said he had no preference on where the Spartans landed.
- Dantonio said quarterback Connor Cook is having an outstanding spring. He said Cook’s grown as a leader and could be a much more productive runner in 2014.
- “The seniors laid the groundwork for the underclassmen,” Cook said. “Everyone wants to talk about the Rose Bowl, but we’re focused on the future. We’re not satisfied with last year. We have our sights on bigger and better results in 2014.”
- Cook said Michigan State isn’t mentioning the national championship this spring. The mantra is 1-0. He said if they go 1-0 each week, they’ll reach the Big Ten championship and everything takes care of itself from there.
- “I feel like the offensive line has improved since the Rose Bowl.” –Cook
Michigan (Brady Hoke and Frank Clark)
- The quarterback competition between Devin Gardner and Shane Morris was descried as “continuous” by Hoke. Both have made strides, but Hoke said you really have to have the right guy in there. Hoke said Gardner would probably be the starter if there was a game tomorrow.
- Hoke said Michigan has to have players improve at every single position if they want to be a Big Ten championship football team. He said he was pleased with the leadership and locker room chemistry.
- Dave Brandon approached Hoke about scheduling Appalachian State. Hoke said he thought it’d be a good game.
- Defensive end Frank Clark said he thought spring practice went all, adding that Michigan is “on the right path.”
- Clark said even if Michigan would have beat Ohio State last year, people would have viewed the season as a failure because there was no Big Ten championship.
- “I don’t think you should down play any team,” Clark said of Appalachian State. He said App. State will have a lot of pride coming back to Michigan Stadium.
- Clark said he’s focused on being the best rusher in each game. He said he stopped over trying in the spring and just played naturally. Thinking too much hampered him in the past.
Penn State (James Franklin and Mike Hull)
- Franklin said New Jersey is vital to Penn State’s recruiting efforts. He said it’s always been Penn State country and that he and his staff are committed to the Garden State.
- Penn State’s goal is to get players from within six-hour radius of State College to commit to Nittany Lions.
- On the divisions: “It’s out of our area of control. We’re going to play whoever’s on our schedule. They’ll tell me who we play, and we’ll start preparing for them.”
- Franklin said people are eager to get excited about the quarterback, running back and wide receivers, but cautioned they have to sort things out on the offensive line before the offense can be productive.
- Linebacker Mike Hull said the spring game will be important to get communication issues sorted out with the new coaching staff.
Maryland (Randy Edsall and C.J. Brown)
- Edsall said the response to Maryland’s jump to the Big Ten was apprehensive at first, but has grown tremendously positive in the months since the original announcement.
- Preparing for so many unknowns – environment, teams, etc. – will be challenging this season, according to Edsall. He said his coaching staff is already breaking down film of Big Ten opponents. Quite the undertaking.
- Maryland returns nine starters on both sides of the ball. Edsall said the Terps have every reason to believe they can come in Year 1 and compete.
- “I think we have a chance to be very dynamic offensively,” Edsall said.
- Edsall said there’s no question the University of Maryland wants to grow and establish a rivalry with Penn State. He said Maryland has to do its part and win some football games. Terp fan base is excited about possibilities.
- Maryland quarterback .CJ. Brown: “Guys are definitely excited. It’ll be a new experience playing in different venues. It’s definitely a challenge because we haven’t gone against these teams. The outlook is positive, and we’re ready to go.”
- Brown said the number of playmakers Maryland has makes the offense difficult to defend. If teams try and eliminate Stefon Diggs, there are myriad other options to incorporate.
- When James Franklin was an assistant at Maryland, he recruited Brown to College Park. Brown said he’s excited about matching up with Franklin’s Penn State team.
Rutgers (Kyle Flood and Darius Hamilton)
- Flood said the Big Ten brand allows Rutgers to recruit the best players in the country, which opens up an avenue to the national championship. He also said the Scarlet Knights have secured commitments from players in areas they otherwise wouldn’t have landed.
- “The name association with the Big Ten brand can only enhance whatever your product is,” Flood said. “There’s no doubt it’s a positive in every way.”
- Flood said he doesn’t anticipate Rutgers’ offensive or defensive philosophy changing because of the switch in conferences.
- “We’re excited about the opportunity to compete in this league,” Flood said.
- Defensive lineman Darius Hamilton said being able to compete against some of the best teams in the country is exciting. “That’s great football. Those are great teams. We’re all very excited about moving forward,” he said.
Indiana (Kevin Wilson and Shane Wynn)
- Wilson said you build a program through both groups – offense and defense. Since Wilson arrived in Bloomington, the Hoosiers have been solid on offense but horrendous on defense. That resulted in brining in new defense coordinator, Brian Knorr.
- “I think our kids are really excited,” Wilson said of the defense. “They’ve taken to the new schemes and coaching. I don’t think it’s radical. With 10 guys back on D, I like what Coach Knorr’s bringing. We’ll see if we keep building it.”
- Wilson expressed the importance of walk-ons, which also highlighted some depth issues. “We couldn’t practice right now if it wasn’t for walk-ons.”
- Wide receiver Shane Wynn said he’s always been a vocal leader, but he’s taken the initiative to become a bigger leader in his senior season.