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Big Ten Legends: Spring Preview

It’s been less than two months since Alabama defeated Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, national signing day for 2013 has come and gone and, believe it or not, spring football is already beginning. In fact, Northwestern started spring practice on Wednesday.

Top Legends Division returnees include Michigan QB Devin Gardner, MSU QB Andrew Maxwell, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez and Iowa LB Anthony Hitchens

Below is our Spring Preview for the Big Ten Legends Division with things to look for this spring.

In mid-January, we released our Early Top 25 for 2013 in college football.

From the Big Ten, we had five teams in the top 25 – Ohio State at No. 2, Nebraska 17th, Wisconsin 20th, Michigan 21st and Northwestern 24th. Michigan State was also listed in our next 25 teams to watch.

Of course, all 12 Big Ten teams will be playing to win their respective divisional championships for a chance to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. That game is set for Sat., Dec. 7, at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

Today, we will look at the six teams in the Legends Division heading into spring practice. In a future update, we will look at the Leaders Division.

Five of the six teams in the Legends Division played in bowl games last year with Michigan State and Northwestern bringing home victories.

Here we go with our Spring Preview of the Legends Division:

Iowa

* 2012 Record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Big Ten Leaders (tied for fifth).

* Spring Dates: Practice starts, Week of March 25; Spring game, April 27.

* Starters Lost (9): Offense (4): WR Keenan Davis, FB Brad Rogers, C James Ferentz, OG Matt Tobin, QB James Vandenberg; Defense (5): DE Joe Gaglione, DT Steve Bigach, CB Greg Castillo, CB Micah Hyde, SS Tom Donatell; Specialists (0): None.

* Returning Starters (14): Offense (6): TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, LT Brandon Scherff, RG Andrew Donnal, RT Brett Van Sloten, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, RB Mark Weisman; Defense (6): DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, DE Dominic Alvis, LB Christian Kirksey, LB James Morris, LB Anthony Hitchens, FS Tanner Miller; Specialists (2): K Mike Meyer, P Connor Kornbrath.

* New This Spring: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz welcomed three new assistants this off-season for the second year in a row. Chris White is the new running backs/special teams coach, Bobby Kennedy is the new wide receivers coach and Jim Reid will work with the linebackers. OLB John Kenny has enrolled early.

* Spring Headlines: Iowa endured just its second losing season since 2000 last year and Ferentz decided to shake some things up. Job one this spring will be to find a new quarterback to replace Vandenberg. Sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard will all be in the running beginning this spring. Rudock was Vandenberg’s backup last year.

Some stability at the running back position would also be a plus. Fiedorowicz and Martin-Manley will return as playmakers in the passing game. Scherff and Donnal, each injured late in the year, should be back for spring drills.

Hitchens (the Big Ten’s leading tackler in 2012) and Morris will be back to key the defense. Trinca-Pasat will miss the spring due to injury.

* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Northern Illinois; Sept. 7, Missouri State; Sept. 14, at Iowa State; Sept. 21,Western Michigan; Sept. 28, at Minnesota; Oct. 5, Michigan State; Oct. 19, at Ohio State; Oct. 26, Northwestern; Nov. 2, Wisconsin; Nov. 9, at Purdue; Nov. 23, Michigan; Nov. 29, at Nebraska.

Michigan

* 2012 Record, Bowl: 8-5 overall, 6-2 Big Ten Leaders (second), lost to South Carolina 33-28 in the Outback Bowl.

* Spring Dates: Practice starts, March 16; Spring game, April 13.

* Starters Lost (11): Offense (6): RG Patrick Omameh, QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, LG Ricky Barnum, C Elliott Mealer, TE Mike Kwiatkowski; Defense (5): DT Will Campbell, CB J.T. Floyd, MLB Kenny Demens, SS Jordan Kovacs, DE Craig Roh; Specialists (0): None.

* Returning Starters (14): Offense (6): LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, TE Devin Funchess, WR Jeremy Gallon, FB Stephen Hopkins; Defense (6): DE Frank Clark, NT Quinton Washington, CB Ramon Taylor, FS Thomas Gordon, WLB Desmond Morgan, SLB Jake Ryan; Specialists (2): K Brendan Gibbons, P Will Hagerup.

* New This Spring: UM coach Brady Hoke just lost defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Oklahoma . That appears to be the only staff change this off-season. Hoke said he will work to have a replacement hired before spring practice begins.

Early enrollees include DE Taco Charlton, TE Jake Butt, DB Dymonte Thomas, OT Logan Tuley-Tillman, CB Ross Douglas and OG Kyle Bosch.

* Spring Headlines: Michigan’s Big Ten championship drought is at eight years and counting. Hoke wants to see his Wolverines break through this year and there is plenty of talent – even if three-year starting quarterback Denard Robinson is gone.

With Robinson out of the way, offensive coordinator Al Borges will try and install his pro style offense. Devan Gardner took over late last season while Robinson was injured and he goes in as the heavy favorite. Toussaint was lost to a leg injury late in the year. He will likely be on the sidelines for the spring. Hoke and Borges got a big boost when Lewan, a first-team All-Big Ten pick last year, opted to stay in school. But they must replace the three interior linemen.

Other key returnees include Gallon and Funchess on offense and Ryan on defense. That defense has improved dramatically over the last couple of seasons. The key will be finding new playmakers beginning this spring, particularly at the linebacker spots.

* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Central Michigan; Sept. 7, Notre Dame; Sept. 14, Akron; Sept. 21, at Connecticut; Oct. 5, Minnesota; Oct. 12, at Penn State; Oct. 19, Indiana; Nov. 2, at Michigan State; Nov. 9, Nebraska; Nov. 16, at Northwestern; Nov. 23, at Iowa; Nov. 30, Ohio State.

Michigan State

* 2012 Record, Bowl: 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten Leaders (fourth), defeated TCU 16-17 in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

* Spring Dates: Practice starts, March 19; Spring game, April 20.

* Starters Lost (8): Offense (3): TB Le’Veon Bell (early to NFL), RG Chris McDonald, TE Dion Sims (early to NFL); Defense (4): NT Anthony Rashad-White, BC Johnny Adams, DE William Gholston (early to NFL), LB Chris Norman; Specialists (1): K Dan Conroy.

* Returning Starters (16): Offense (8): LT Dan France, LG Blake Treadwell, C Jack Allen, RT Skyler Burkhead, WR Keith Mumphery, WR Bennie Fowler, QB Andrew Maxwell, FB Lawrence Thomas; Defense (7): DT James Kittredge, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, FC Darqueze Dennard, SS Isaiah Lewis, DE Marcus Rush, FS Kurtis Drummond; Specialists (1): P Mike Sadler.

* New This Spring: MSU coach Mark Dantonio will have two new assistants this year. The new defensive line coach is Ron Burton, who previously coached the defensive line at Air Force. He replaces former D-line coach Ted Gill.

Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar left for the New Orleans Saints. It was reported today that MSU has hired Purdue assistant Jim Bollman to fill the OC role. Dantonio and Bollman worked together at MSU and Ohio State previously. Bollman was at Boston College last year before accepting the offensive line spot at Purdue in January.

* Spring Headlines: After back-to-back 11-win seasons, MSU took a step back with its seven-win campaign (albeit with the bowl win over TCU) in 2012. Unfortunately, the Spartans were hit hard by the early NFL defections by 1,700-yard rusher Bell as well as Sims at tight end and Gholston at defensive end. The competition at running back will be watched closely.

With seven starters back on defense – led by second-team All-Big Ten pick Dennard at corner as well as Allen, Lewis and Rush – don’t look for those high standards to change.

Maxwell, a senior who started all 13 games last year, will battle for the quarterback job with sophomore Connor Cook and redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor lining up against him this spring. Cook relieved Maxwell in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and helped lead MSU to that win.

* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Western Michigan; Sept. 7, South Florida; Sept. 14, Youngstown State; Sept. 21, at Notre Dame; Oct. 5, at Iowa; Oct. 12, Indiana; Oct. 19, Purdue; Oct. 26, at Illinois; Nov. 2, Michigan; Nov. 16, at Nebraska; Nov. 23, at Northwestern; Nov. 30, Minnesota.

Minnesota

* 2012 Record, Bowl: 6-7 overall, 2-6 Big Ten Leaders (tied for fifth), lost to Texas Tech 34-31 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

* Spring Dates: Practice starts, March 26; Spring game, April 27.

* Starters Lost (8): Offense (2): FB John Rabe, QB-WR MarQueis Gray; Defense (5): LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, CB Troy Stoudermire, CB Michael Carter, DE D.L. Wilhite; Specialists (1): K Jordan Wettstein.

* Returning Starters (17): Offense (10): LT Ed Olson, LG Jon Christenson, RG Caleb Bak, C Zac Epping, RT Josh Campion, QB Philip Nelson, TB Donnell Kirkwood, TE Drew Goodger, WR Isaac Fruechte, WR Derrick Engel; Defense (6): DE Michael Amaefula, DT Roland Johnson, NT Ra’Shede Hageman, SLB Aaron Hill, DB Derrick Wells, DB Cedric Thompson; Specialists (1): P Christian Eldred.

* New This Spring: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill returns his entire staff from last year. Early enrolling freshmen include DL Hendrick Ekpe, QB Chris Streveler and LB Damien Wilson.

* Spring Headlines: Nelson will have his hands full trying to hold on to the quarterback job. The UM staff burned his redshirt at midyear last year after injuries to Gray and Max Shortell. Redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and the true Streveler will provide competition during spring drills.

Whoever wins that job will have plenty of playmakers surrounding them, led by Kirkwood, Goodger and Engel.

Kill got a big boost in January, when Hageman – an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick – decided to stay in school for another year. He is back to anchor an improving defense, even with the loss of talented starters like Wilhite at defensive end and Carter and Stoudermire at the corner spots.

* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 29, UNLV; Sept. 7, at New Mexico State; Sept. 14, Western Illinois; Sept. 21, San Jose State; Sept. 28, Iowa; Oct. 5, at Michigan; Oct. 19, at Northwestern; Oct. 26, Nebraska; Nov. 2, at Indiana; Nov. 9, Penn State; Nov. 23, Wisconsin; Nov. 30, at Michigan State.

Nebraska

* 2012 Record, Bowl: 10-4 overall, 7-1 Big Ten Leaders (first), lost to Georgia 45-31 in Capital One Bowl.

* Spring Dates: Practice starts, Saturday; Spring game, April 6.

* Starters Lost (13): Offense (4): IB Rex Burkhead, LG Seung Hoon Choi, C Justin Jackson, TE Ben Cotton; Defense (8): DE Eric Martin, LB Will Compton, LB Sean Fisher, LB Alonzo Whaley, DE Cameron Meredith, S Daimion Stafford, S P.J. Smith, DT Baker Steinkuhler; Specialists (1): K-P Brett Maher.

* Returning Starters (12): Offense (8): WR Kenny Bell, IB Ameer Abdullah, WR Quincy Enunwa, LT Brent Qvale, RG Spencer Long, QB Taylor Martinez, RT Jeremiah Sirles, FB Mike Marrow; Defense (4): DT Thad Randle, CB Ciante Evans, CB Andrew Green, CB Josh Mitchell; Specialists (0): None.

* New This Spring: NU coach Bo Pelini has his entire staff back from last year. Former offensive line coach Barney Cotton is taking over tight ends and coordinating the run game. There are three early enrollees in Canadian 4-star OL David Knevel, safety D.J. singleton, linebacker Courtney Love.

* Spring Headlines: The good news is that Martinez, a first-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches, will be back for his fourth season as the starting quarterback. Abdullah will take over fulltime for Burkhead at the I-back and Bell and Enunwa are among the league’s best receiving tandems. Long was also a first-team All-Big Ten pick on the line last year.

The obvious storyline this spring will be rebuilding/reloading the defense, where Nebraska allowed an average of 53.5 points in its four losses. There are plenty of holes, particularly in the front seven. Departing starters Martin, Steinkuhler, Compton and Stafford were all second-team All-Big Ten picks.

Nebraska has won nine or 10 games in all five of Pelini’s seasons as the head coach. But he and the Huskers will be looking to take the next step and secure the school’s first league title since 1999.

* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, Wyoming; Sept. 7, Southern Miss; Sept. 14, UCLA; Sept. 21, South Dakota State; Oct. 5, Illinois; Oct. 12, at Purdue; Oct. 26, at Minnesota; Nov. 2, Northwestern; Nov. 9, at Michigan; Nov. 16, Michigan State; Nov. 23, at Penn State; Nov. 29, Iowa.

Northwestern

* 2012 Record, Bowl: 10-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten Leaders (third), defeated Mississippi State 34-20 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

* Spring Dates: Practice started, Wednesday; Spring game, April 13.

* Starters Lost (9): Offense (4): WR Demetrius Fields, LG Brian Mulroe, LT Pat Ward, RG Neal Deiters; Defense (5): DT Brian Arnfelt, LB David Nwabuisi, DE Quentin Williams, CB Quinn Evans, S Sared Carpenter; Specialists (0): None.
P Brandon Williams.

* Returning Starters (16): Offense (8): WR Christian Jones, C Brandon Vitabile, TB Venric Mark, QB-WR Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, WR Rashad Lawrence, WR Tony Jones, RT Jack Konopka; Defense (6): DT Sean McEvily, S Ibraheim Campbell, LB Damien Proby, OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo, CB Nick Van Hoose, DE Tyler Scott; Specialists (2): K Jeff Budzien, P Brandon Williams.

* New This Spring: NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has his entire coaching staff back from last year.

* Spring Headlines: Northwestern is coming off its first 10-win season since the 1995 Rose Bowl year and its first bowl victory since 1949.

NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has said that Colter and Siemian will again share the quarterback job with Colter also shifting to wide receiver at times. Mark, a 1,300-yard rusher, returns after earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. But the Wildcats must find three new starters on the offensive line.

Campbell and Ariguzo are emerging stars on the NU defense, which must improve against the pass. Proby and Van Hoose will be out this spring due to injuries.

Fitzgerald had the team wearing shirts emblazoned with “5:03” on the back. That’s because the Wildcats were five minutes, three seconds from going undefeated in 2012.

* 2013 Schedule: Aug. 31, at California; Sept. 7, Syracuse; Sept. 14, Western Michigan; Sept. 21, Maine; Oct. 5, Ohio State; Oct. 12, at Wisconsin; Oct. 19, Minnesota; Oct. 26, at Iowa; Nov. 2, at Nebraska; Nov. 16, Michigan; Nov. 23, Michigan State; Nov. 30, at Illinois.

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