Pelini said the situation isn’t as dire as critics think on the defensive line, which went through the spring with several players out or limited because of injuries. “Our line made great strides the second half of spring,” he said. “I like the potential there.”
Coach Brady Hoke of Michigan (8-5, 6-2) said he’s been impressed with how Gardner has prepared himself to take over at quarterback full-time this fall. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is installing more of the pro-style offense he has long preferred, and Hoke said Gardner has immersed himself in film study and embraced the system.
All-America offensive lineman Taylor Lewan said the offense is markedly different, with quarterbacks taking more snaps from under center and the emergence of more power running game.
“This is the style we need to be in,” Lewan said.
Dave Warner has taken over as offensive coordinator at Michigan State (7-6, 3-5), and the Spartans are starting to open things up after Bell carried the ball 382 times. Three quarterbacks threw 55 times for 401 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s scrimmage.
Andrew Maxwell and the other QBs are taking live hits in every practice, something that didn’t happen last year.
“They get more game-time experience, as close as we can get it. I think it’s been a positive for us,” coach Mark Dantonio said.
The Spartans have three starting receivers back, and a fourth who could become a factor is DeAnthony Arnett, who caught three balls last season after transferring from Tennessee.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who had one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten, is looking at sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard to replace Vandenberg.
“It’s a three-horse race,” Ferentz said. “We came in with no preconceived notions. We’ve rotated all three players.”
Eight starters are back on defense, but the Hawkeyes (4-8, 2-6) are without conference defensive back of the year Micah Hyde.
Minnesota (6-7, 2-6) continues to build under Jerry Kill. The Gophers bring back almost everyone on offense but have only one experienced quarterback, Philip Nelson, after Max Shortell transferred.
Kill said he’s noticed greater effort this spring from Donnell Kirkwood, who ran for 77 yards and a touchdown in the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to Texas Tech.
“The bowl game really helped his confidence,” Kill said. “He’s grown up and matured and he’s doing really good things.”
Even with so many returnees, the question is whether the Gophers can become more competitive.