Daniels: Spring football wrap

Jack Hoffman is the one indelible image from the spring when it comes to Big Ten football. His story is well-known by this point.

Hoffman, a 7-year-old cancer patient from Atkinson, Neb., scored a 69-yard touchdown run during the Cornhuskers’ spring game on a sunshine-filled April 6 at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium.

The little guy had a chance to meet President Obama in the White House last week. He unseated Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith from SportsCenter’s Best of the Best after Clowney ruled that for more than three months. He even has his own trading card.

But Hoffman wasn’t the only storyline to come out of spring camp. Far from it. Here’s a look at how the other 11 Big Ten teams spent March and April.

Nebraska

Spring game: April 6

MVP: Taylor Martinez, quarterback. This is clearly the senior’s team now. Had a steady spring backed up by 105 passing yards on 8 of 10 completions in the spring game.

Position battle: Linebacker. Nebraska doesn’t have a starter returning in this unit, one of the few areas the Cornhuskers don’t have veterans coming back.  

Synopsis: Having playmakers like Martinez and I-back Ameer Abdullah, team’s leading rusher last year, back in the fold should give Nebraska faithful hope for major January bowl game.

Michigan

Spring game: April 13

MVP: Devin Gardner, quarterback. How far Michigan goes this year will fall squarely on the senior’s shoulders now that Denard Robinson is in the NFL.  

Position battle: Fitzgerald Toussaint is recovering from a broken leg after off-the-field troubles derailed the start of his 2012 season. Thomas Rawls and incoming freshman Derrick Green could vie for carries if Toussaint isn’t healthy.

Synopsis: How well the new pro-style offense adjusts will keep many Michigan fans up late at night, along with how fast stud linebacker Jake Ryan returns from a torn ACL.

Northwestern

Spring game: Did not have one

MVP: Malin Jones, running back. The position is Venric Mark’s to lose, but it can’t hurt having a quality backup like the Joliet Catholic product.

Position battle: Quarterback. Is Kain Colter more valuable running the ball and catching the ball? Is Trevor Siemian the traditional pocket passer Pat Fitzgerald wants operating his offense? Does he go with one guy the whole season?

Synopsis: Coming off its first bowl win in 64 years, Northwestern remains the dominant Illinois school in the Big Ten.

Ohio State

Spring game: April 13

MVP: Braxton Miller, quarterback. The junior threw for more than 200 yards in the spring game, rushed for another TD and even caught one.

Position battle: Defensive line. The Buckeyes don’t have any returning starters back from a group that was second in the Big Ten last fall stopping the run.

Synopsis: It’d be smart if you bleed scarlet and gray to make travel arrangements for Pasadena, Calif., (site of the BCS national title game) the first week in January.

Purdue

Spring game: April 13

MVP: Akeem Hunt, running back. He carried the ball 19 times for 134 yards, which included a 15-yard touchdown run. His total in the spring game was only 201 yards shy of what he produced all of last season.

Position battle: Quarterback. Rob Henry has the most snaps under his belt, but he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence from the fans in West Lafayette.

Synopsis: Only winning two bowl games in the last decade, both in Detroit, mind you, doesn’t breed much hope or patience from a fan base.

Indiana

Spring game: April 13

MVP: Shane Wynn, wide receiver. Indiana’s most dependable pass catcher caught two touchdowns in the spring game and finished with six receptions for 97 yards.

Position battle: Quarterback. Kevin Wilson will go with Tre Roberson (if he’s healthy), Chase Coffman (if Roberson’s not healthy) or Nate Sudfeld (if Coffman’s erratic).

Synopsis: With 19 starters set to return (10 on offense, nine on defense) and a favorable schedule, a winning season isn’t unrealistic.  

Penn State

Spring game: April 20

MVP: Allen Robinson, wide receiver. The leader in the Nittany Lions’ receiving corps last fall will have to adapt to a new quarterback in 2013.

Position battle: Running back. Starter and 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak injured his wrist in the spring game. Akeel Lynch and Deron Thompson have chance to separate themselves in the upcoming months.

Synopsis: Reaching six wins could prove challenging in 2013, but no one at this point last year would have predicted an 8-4 finish for Penn State.

Michigan State

Spring game: April 20

MVP: Aaron Burnbridge, wide receiver. Had 113 yards in spring game and could emerge in his sophomore season as reliable option in passing game.

Position battle: Running back. Gone is workhorse Le’Veon Bell. In are unknowns like Riley Bullough, Nick Hill and Nick Tompkins, among others.

Synopsis: Sporadic QB play by Andrew Maxwell in spring game didn’t fill message boards with many compliments. Looking like a bowl-eligible team based on Mark Dantonio’s track record, but nothing spectacular.  

Wisconsin

Spring game: April 20

MVP: Defense. With first-year coach Gary Andersen using a unique scoring system, the Badgers’ defense beat the Badgers’ offense 61-47 at Camp Randall two weeks ago.

Position battle: Running back. James White should fill mantle of No. 1 ball carrier, but you can slot Melvin Gordon in at 1A and not lose any value.

Synopsis: Quarterback Joel Stave is back healthy and White is poised for a breakout year. If defense keeps production up, fourth straight trip to Rose Bowl isn’t out of the question.

Minnesota

Spring game: April 27

MVP: Philip Nelson, Minnesota. Returning starter showed sharpness by completing 13 of 17 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while adding a 20-yard touchdown run in spring game.

Position battle: Linebacker. Aaron Hill returns after making 74 tackles, but two other starters are gone from last year’s unit.

Synopsis: Jerry Kill usually has his programs humming by his third year in town. Can Gophers make that step, despite having nearly entire offense back, is the lingering question.

Iowa

Spring game: April 27

MVP: Carl Davis, defensive tackle. When Kirk Ferentz mentions you in the same breath with former Hawkeye defensive linemen Karl Klug, Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard — all NFL draft picks since 2010 — you’re doing something right.

Position battle: Quarterback. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ unit scuffled at times last season. Having three guys audition for job to replace James Vandenberg might not help.

Synopsis: Another season like 2012 and Ferentz might start wearing out his welcome in Iowa City.
 

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