The College Football Notebook

April 14, 2010 8:11 AM

Spring Overview: Big Ten

The Big Ten stepped up and finally made a statement in big bowl games last year, after several years of being the whipping boy for the SEC & Big 12. The league's top four teams all won their postseason games and expectations are high in places like Columbus, Madison and Iowa City coming into a new season.

Ohio State won the Rose Bowl and brings back Terrelle Pryor, plus a veteran defense. The D was excellent last year, but Pryor's passing was a disappointment before a breakout game in Pasadena. Wisconsin has most of its people back from a 9-3 team, but this program has a history of winning when they're supposed to lose and losing when they're supposed to win. This year they're supposed to win. Iowa has defensive talent back from its own outstanding 2009 unit. Kirk Ferentz needs to retool the running game, but that's not something that's ever been a problem for the offensive line guru. Michigan State is another team with reason for optimism. Defensive problems held them back a year ago, but more experience should help this time around.

Michigan & Minnesota both made coaching changes over the last 2-3 years, even though both programs were winning. Minnesota has recovered from a brief collapse following Glen Mason's dismissal after the 2006 season, though the program is no better off than it was at the time. Michigan has got the collapse part down, following Lloyd Carr's forced retirement after 2007. Now we'll have to see if they can recover. Both teams need work on defense and Michigan has to get Rich Rodriguez's offense functioning the way it used to when he was at West Virginia.

Two other places that have coaches on the hot seat are Indiana and Illinois. The former must rebuild its defense, the latter must reconstruct the offense and both need to be playing football somewhere in December. Not an easy challenge for Bill Lynch and Ron Zook. Purdue coach Danny Hope isn't on the hot seat, but his program is at the same level--hoping to scrape together enough wins for a bowl game. The Boilermakers were competitive last year and pulled the conference's biggest upset when they beat Ohio State, so things are moving in the right direction.

Two of the league's best quarterbacks are gone from last year, in Mike Kafka (Northwestern) and Daryl Clark (Penn State). Both teams have some modest rebuilding to do. Joe Paterno also needs an entirely new front seven. Fortunately, he can rebuild against another light non-conference schedule and a league slate that does not include Wisconsin.

On Saturday we'll take a look at the SEC, home of the last three national champions. Today, the Pro Football Notebook looks at the NFC South. And steady posting is going on at The Baseball Notebook, which today looks at the St. Louis Cardinals' depth beyond their stars.

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