Preseason camp is now under way for college football. We thought today would be a good time to look at possible camp questions for each of the Big Ten teams, starting today with the Leaders Division. (Stay tuned for the Big Ten Legends: Camp Questions.)
Key returnees in the Leaders Division: PSU's Matt McGloin, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and OSU's Braxton Miller
Let’s get right to it with three possible questions for each of these teams:
Wisconsin (11-3, 6-2 Last Year)
* 1. What is the health status of running back Montee Ball? – Ball, who rushed for 1,933 yards and scored 39 touchdowns last year, is sitting out the first portion of preseason camp after he was assaulted near the Madison campus on July 29. He suffered facial injuries and a concussion in the attack.
“Hopefully we’ll get him back before game week starts up,” said UW coach Bret Bielema. “It should be around that time.”
Without Ball, the Badgers could lean on backup James White, who rushed for 713 yards last year.
* 2. How is Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien filling in at quarterback? – O’Brien has a tough act to follow as N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson had a dynamite year last season. But O’Brien has thrown for 4,086 yards and 29 TDs in two years at Maryland.
“Fortunately for us, Danny was able to join us in early June,” Bielema said. “He graduated in three years from Maryland, so he was actually there all the way through the spring semester. He was able to join us in June.
“Because of NCAA rules, I really can't be involved in summer workouts, but I know just bumping into Danny and bumping into players that have been around this summer that everybody's been excited about him coming through. I think Danny is, first and foremost, a great kid. He fit into our program great.”
* 3. How will things change with seven new assistants in Madison? – Wisconsin has won back-to-back Big Ten titles and been to two straight Rose Bowls. But continuity could be an issue with so much turnover on the staff. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada oversaw a spread offense at Northern Illinois, but he will have a pro style running game at UW.
Penn State (9-4, 6-2 Last Year)
* 1. How will player defections hurt Penn State this season? – NCAA sanctions have taken Penn State out of postseason play for the next four years, leading a few players to transfer elsewhere. That group includes 1,200-yard rusher Silas Redd (transferred to USC) as well as WR Justin Brown (Oklahoma), K Anthony Fera (Texas), backup QB Rob Bolden (LSU), DB Tim Buckley (N.C. State), TE Kevin Haplea (Florida State), LB Khari Fortt (California), DT Jamil Pollard (Rutgers) and OL Ryan Nowicki (Illinois).
The PSU roster still has 109 players including walk-ons and first-year coach Bill O’Brien sounded ready to get to work.
"I'm very confident that the guys out here today are committed," O'Brien said. "Again, it's day to day, but I'm confident in these guys.”
* 2. Who will replace Redd at tailback? – That seems to be the biggest hole to fill after these transfers. Sophomore Bill Belton, a converted receiver, could get a strong look at tailback. The transfer by Brown, the top returning receiver with 35 catches a year ago, also creates a void. Freshman Eugene Lewis could be called upon to help fill that spot.
* 3. How will QB Matt McGloin develop under O’Brien? – The best word to describe McGloin the last two years is “serviceable.” O’Brien worked with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady with the New England Patriots, so the expectation level should be tempered a bit. Perhaps sophomore Paul Jones could push him a bit.
“Matt McGloin is our starter,” O’Brien said. “He's smart, tough and competitive. I'm proud to have him as the starting quarterback at Penn State.”
Purdue (7-6, 4-4 Last Year)
* 1. How will Danny Hope find reps for three quarterbacks? – Caleb TerBush returns after a bang-up season as Purdue’s starter. But Robert Marve and Rob Henry should also be full-go after dealing with injuries. Hope said he plans to use them all, which would cause a lot of juggling to be sure.
“If all three of those quarterbacks do well throughout the course of camp, I don't anticipate the depth chart changing a whole lot,” Hope said. “It depends on how they play in the games that could dictate a change in the depth chart. But there is competition. There's an opportunity for each one of those guys to be a major contributor this season. We have a master plan in place.”
On the first day, the order was TerBush, Marve and Henry.
* 2. How will RB Ralph Bolden respond after a third knee surgery? – Bolden missed the first day of fall camp as he continues his rehab. He rushed for 674 yards and six touchdowns last season. If he can’t go, Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt will provide support. Shavers was the MVP of the bowl win over Western Michigan last December.
* 3. Can the defense improve and help Purdue become a contender? – Nine starters are back on defense, led by DT Kawann Short and CB Ricardo Allen. Hope brought in new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar from the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes after the Boilers ranked ninth in the conference in points allowed (26.8) and yards allowed (395.9) last year.
Ohio State (6-7, 3-5 Last Year)
* 1. How has QB Braxton Miller improved after a tough first year as the starter? – Terrelle Pryor lost five games in nearly three full years as OSU’s starting quarterback. Miller was just 4-6 in that role after taking over last year, although the circumstances with multiple player suspensions and other issues certainly did not help his cause.
Now Miller gets a fresh start with Urban Meyer and a spread offense tailored to his abilities. Meyer said Miller will have to come through if the Buckeyes are to be successful.
“The one thing about our offense, you can’t have a bad quarterback,” Meyer said. “That’s kind of harsh to say that. The quarterback can’t have a bad day or you’ll lose. The quarterback has to make a read (almost) every play. I don’t know of any other offense that does that.”
* 2. How is senior DE Nathan Williams faring in his return from a knee injury? – Williams is an explosive pass rusher who could help balance things with All-American candidate John Simon at the other end of the line. But it’s unclear how soon he will be full-go as he continues rehab from an injury that cost him all but one game last year.
* 3. Who will catch Miller’s passes? – This is a toughie because OSU’s young receiver corps did not have a good year last season. Nobody on the team had more than 14 catches. Corey “Philly” Brown could be the top choice with speedy Devin Smith and freshman Michael Thomas, a phenom in the spring, also in the mix.
New receivers coach Zach Smith will be under the gun to produce some playmakers to help the new offense go this fall.
Illinois (7-6, 2-6 Last Year)
* 1. Can the young running backs take some pressure of QB Nathan Scheelhaase? – Scheelhaase led the Illini in rushing last year with 624 yards. Soph Donovonn Young (451 yards last year) and redshirt freshman Josh Ferguson will need to shoulder some of that load.
“It's a commitment that our offensive staff has made to running the football and we've got to establish the run first for us to be successful,” said first-year Illinois coach Tim Beckman. “The challenge will be on the offensive line to provide for Young and Ferguson and hopefully some of the young freshmen to step in and play.”
* 2. Who will take over at wide receiver? – A.J. Jenkins (90 catches last year) was Options 1-3, seemingly, in the passing game. Juniors Spencer Harris and Darius Millines could get the first chance to step in.
* 3. Can the Illini build some heart during preseason camp? – The bowl win over UCLA was nice as it put aside a six-game losing streak that followed a 6-0 start to last season. Beckman is hoping to instill the confidence Illinois needs to get over the hump.
“That was a team that did not handle adversity very well at all,” Beckman said of the stunning second-half collapse. “When something went wrong, they didn’t handle it right. Who’s to blame? No one is to blame. Everyone is to blame.”
Indiana (1-11, 0-8 Last Year)
* 1. How will IU’s six junior college transfers mix in this fall? – After a rough first year on the job, IU coach Kevin Wilson sought the quick fix by going the JUCO route. Four of them could jump right into starting roles on defense, including LB Jacarri Alexander, CB Antonio Marshall, LB David Cooper and DE Justin Rayside.
“We did address some recruiting issues with six junior college players,” Wilson said. “So hopefully some maturity is going to help us with that. We are in year two of schematics, understanding some schemes, and coaches adjusting some schemes and adapting to players what they can and can't do. Defensively, we've got to get to be a point as a team where instead of attacking the whole thing, certain things we need to be a little bit better at.”
IU’s defense gave up 37.3 points per game last year – 114th nationally in that category.
* 2. Can Tre Roberson hold on to the quarterback job? – Roberson took over as the starter for the last five games after Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker went by the wayside. Kiel and Wright-Baker have transferred, but Roberson faces new challenges from freshman Nate Sudfeld and JUCO transfer Cameron Coffman.
“When you're 1‑11 football team, there's no job safe,” Wilson said. “There's nothing etched in stone. So if you've started, if you've played, we've played a lot of guys looking for combinations. I think with a lot of those guys playing, that increased our work habits and we've had a great off‑season. And we're not going to have a quarterback threat or a quarterback competition.”
* 3. How will the young guys in key spots grow up? – Wilson took his lumps last year by playing an NCAA-high 32 freshmen. Besides Roberson, seven more sophomores are penciled into the lineup. One of them, safety Mark Murphy, is IU’s top returning tackler.
Stay tuned for Camp Questions for the Big Ten’s Legends Division.
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