Earlier this week, we took this look at Camp Questions for teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division. Today, we are back with Camp Questions for the teams in the Legends Division.
Questions for MSU QB Andrew Maxwell, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez and Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint
Let’s get right to it with three possible questions for each of these teams:
Michigan State (11-3, 7-1 Last Year)
* 1. Is Andrew Maxwell ready to become MSU’s starting quarterback? – Maxwell has thrown 51 passes (completing 29) in his first two seasons as a college quarterback. Now he is the heir apparent for Kirk Cousins. Cousins led MSU to 22 wins in the last two years. The pressure will be on Maxwell to maintain those standards.
“I'm very confident in Andrew,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio. “I feel very good about him as a leader, which I think that's what a quarterback first and foremost has to do. Before he can ever throw the ball he has to lead and has to take control of a huddle. He can do that and he can do it with confidence.”
* 2. Who will be on the receiving end of Maxwell’s passes? – MSU lost its top four pass catchers from a year ago (B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, Brian Linthicum and Keith Nichol). The Spartans need some more playmakers to emerge. Some of the key names include junior Bennie Fowler, sophomores Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphrey and DeAnthony Arnett (a Tennessee transfer) and highly touted freshman Aaron Burbridge.
“We knew that we were losing a lot of great players there,” Dantonio said. “B.J. Cunningham, the all‑time leading receiver, Keshawn Martin, Keith Nichol, those guys were outstanding players.
So the first thing we did was tried to address the concern through recruiting.
“Certainly, our skill level at our wide receiver position is something that will be a challenge as we move forward. But, again, we have talent at that position.”
* 3. Who fills the defensive openings? – MSU has eight starters back from its stellar defense of a year ago. But there are some holes to fill. Jerel Worthy and Kevin Pickelman are gone from the defensive line and Trenton Robinson leaves a safety spot open.
It appears that Tyler Hoover, James Kittredge and Anthony Rashad White will be in the mix at those two DL spots, while Kurtis Drummond could fill the void at safety. Worthy’s departure could be telling. He anchored the line and helped MSU hold opponents to just 2.8 yards per carry last year.
Michigan (11-2, 6-2 Last Year)
* 1. Will RB Fitzgerald Toussaint be available for the season opener against Alabama? – Toussaint was arrested for drunken driving just prior to the start of preseason camp. It seems that UM coach Brady Hoke has been holding him out of practice this week, making it unclear whether he will be available for that all-important match-up with the Crimson Tide on Sept. 1.
“That’s a decision that has to be made down the road, and I don’t know when that will be,” Hoke said. “Right now, we’ll focus on the guys that are out there.”
* 2. How will Devin Gardner do at wide receiver? – Gardner is biding his time, waiting for Denard Robinson to wrap up his eligibility at quarterback. The coaches want to have sets with the 6-4, 205-pound Gardner and Robinson on the field together. That means Gardner will also be repping at wide receiver.
"He's a competitor, so he's going to do whatever it takes to get to that point," said Robinson, who could be a Heisman Trophy candidate with a big senior year. "He's a phenomenal athlete. When he gets out to receiver, you would think he's a receiver. He looks like he's been playing it for years. And when he plays quarterback, you can tell he's one of the top quarterbacks."
* 3. How will the Wolverines fill key voids along both lines? – Michigan lost two starters on the offensive line and three on the defensive line. Two notables in that group were center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. Senior Ricky Barnum could replace Molk at center, while touted freshman Ondre Pipkins (6-3, 320) could get a strong look on the defensive line. Senior William Campbell, once a prized recruit, could also be a factor at defensive tackle.
Nebraska (9-4, 5-3 Last Year)
* 1. Can the Huskers regain some toughness on defense? – The Blackshirt defense has been a big part of Nebraska lore over the last 20 years. Nebraska lost DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard to graduation. Plus, coach Bo Pelini saw his brother/defensive coordinator Carl Pelini take the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.
Nebraska was a distant 64th nationally against the run in 2011. John Papuchis was promoted to defensive coordinator. Senior safety Daimion Stafford and junior end Jason Ankrah look like the new leaders.
“You’re going to get tested in this league,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “You can’t ride the ups and downs. You can’t pick and choose when to play and when not to. It has to be an every down thing. The talent is there. They understand what to do.”
* 2. Can Taylor Martinez round out his game? – Martinez completed 56 percent of his passes and hit on 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions. But when teams have contained the awesome NU running attack, Martinez has struggled trying to win games through the air. He worked on his footwork and throwing mechanics during the off-season to become a more reliable and proficient passer.
“Taylor has had a great off-season,” Pelini said. “He’s put the time in and I think he will reap the benefits from it. A lot of the focus goes on him because he’s the quarterback. I know he can’t do it all himself. We have to have guys playing well around him.”
Martinez is 17-8 as NU’s starting quarterback.
* 3. Can the wide receivers take the next step? – Kenny Bell (32 catches) and Quincy Enunwa (21 catches) were baptized last season. Bell is now a sophomore and Enunwa is a junior. Their time is now as they try and help Martinez energize the offense.
Iowa (7-6, 4-4 Last Year)
* 1. What’s next for Iowa at the tailback spot? – This position group has been as cursed as any in the country over the last five years. Past starters like Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson have gone by the wayside. Marcus Coker and Mika’il McCall transferred after last season after each served suspensions. De’Andre Johnson was kicked off the team at the start of camp.
Jordan Canzeri is working back from a knee injury and is hoping to be full-go for the season opener. That leaves sophomore Damon Bullock, junior Brad Rogers (a converted fullback) and freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill as the best candidates for the spot. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz can only shake his head at his team’s running back jinx.
“There's really nothing we can do that we haven't done,” Ferentz said. “Things happen in college football. Things happen in pro football. It's just life. We had a two year run with Fred Russell where he was basically injury free. He had a lot of carries during that time. He's not a big guy. Then you have other years where it doesn't work that way.
“So each year is a different year. We'll continue to recruit guys that we think are going to have a chance to have great careers at Iowa and get their degrees from Iowa.”
* 2. How will the Hawkeyes reload on the offensive line? – Iowa has built a reputation as an offensive line school over the past decade. But Ferentz and his revamped offensive staff will have to work some wonders as they Hawkeyes bring back just two O-line starters in seniors James Ferentz at center and Matt Tobin at left guard.
Interestingly, all five of the projected starters hail from the state of Iowa. Austin Blythe is penciled in at right guard with Brandon Scherff and Brett Van Sloten slotted at the tailback spots.
* 3. Who will fill in on the defensive line for Iowa? – Junior end Dominic Alvis is Iowa’s lone returning starter on the defensive line. Senior Steve Bigach gets a chance to step in at defensive tackle alongside soph Carl Davis. Redshirt freshman Riley McMinn could step in at end.
Northwestern (6-7, 3-5 Last Year)
* 1. Is Kain Colter ready to be NU’s every-down quarterback? – Colter filled in last year when Dan Persa was hurt and also starred at running back and wide receiver for the Wildcats. But now he puts his entire focus into the quarterback position.
“I'm extremely confident in Kain as a quarterback,” said NU coach Pat Fitzgerald. “He has more experience going into his junior year than Mike Kafka and Danny Persa did when they were his age. So he's got a lot of experience. We'll got an opportunity to see his skill set a year ago, especially when you looked at the Nebraska game. I think obviously he did some very special things in that game, but also in every game. He's a very dynamic quarterback.”
* 2. What impact will USC transfer Kyle Prater have? – Prater was recruited by USC out of the Chicago area as one of the nation’s top receivers in 2010. But he has dealt with injuries the last two years and was granted a hardship transfer, allowing him to play at Northwestern this season. The Wildcats have a number of options at receiver, but none of them may be as dynamic as the 6-5, 215-pound Prater.
"Kyle has worked extremely hard to prepare himself for this season," Fitzgerald said. "It's great that he will be rewarded for that effort."
* 3. How will Northwestern improve its pass rush? – The Wildcats had 17 sacks in 13 games last season. Worse yet, key pass rushers Vincent Browne and Jack DiNardo have moved on. Fitzgerald will look for junior Tyler Scott, senior Quentin Williams and redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson to make that push.
"He's really fast," Fitzgerald said of Gibson. “He played for a powerhouse in Ohio, (Lakewood St. Edward). He has to learn a little technical stuff, but once he does, he will be a special player."
Minnesota (3-9, 2-6 Last Year)
* 1. Can MarQueis Gray build on an up-and-down first year as UM’s starting quarterback? – The athletic Gray made some nice strides by season’s end. But he only completed 50.7 percent of his throws a year ago.
“I think he's come a long way,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. “I think that he'll be a very, very exciting football player to watch, not only in the Big Ten but throughout the country. I think he's done a great job in the spring. He's improved so much, I think the most important thing to our football team is what the people around him do. And they've worked hard, and again, I look for him to have a very good year this year.”
* 2. Will the Gophers find some traction in the running game? – During his time as the Minnesota coach, Glen Mason built his offense around a rugged offensive line and a stellar rushing attack. But over the last five years, the Gophers have not had a running back reach even the 700-yard plateau. (Gray did lead the team with 966 yards last year.)
Junior James Gillum, who had over 2,300 yards in two seasons at the JUCO level, and soph Donnell Kirkwood will be given every chance to win the running back job.
* 3. Can Minnesota’s defense get back to respectability? – The Gophers gave up 37 or more points in five of their 12 games last year. That included 37 in a loss to I-AA North Dakota State and 58 in a shutout loss at Michigan.
Minnesota brings back six starters on defense, led by dynamic senior corner Troy Stoudemire. The results have to be much better if the Gophers are to make a move on reaching the .500 mark for the first time since 2008.
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