Mark Dantonio attempts to coach his Spartans back into the Second B1G Championship Game and avenge their defeat to Wisconsin last year. The Offense returns and experienced offensive line and a fine running back in Le’Veon Bell. The biggest question for the Spartans is the passing game. Will Jr. Andrew Maxwell will be able to replicate Kirk Cousins’ success at Quarterback with an all new and untested receivers.
Michigan State return 8 starters on defense including 6 that received All B1G Honors last season. The Spartans will find it difficult to replace DT Jerel Worthy but expect a big year from Jr. DE William Gholston. Juniors Denicos Allen and Max Bullough will be the core of a dynamic Linebacker crew. Finally, the Defensive back field should be strong with Sr. CB Johnny Adams and Jr. SS Isaiah Lewis. The Defense will likely be tested during their opening weekend when the Boise State Broncos come to Lansing Michigan.
Bo Pelini’s Nebraska Cornhuskers enter their sophomore season as a B1G member. Taylor Martinez returns and has apparently been working on his footwork (and perhaps throwing motion) over the summer. Workhorse, Rex Burkhead returns this year at running back but the Huskers would be best served if they found someone to take a few handoffs throughout the year and relieve Burkhead from time to time.
The Husker Defense returns 7 starters including Will Compton at MLB and Sr. S Daimion Stafford. Nebraska will require players to step up and replace key players Jared Crick, Alfonzo Dennard, and Levante David who all left for the NFL. The most interesting aspect of Nebraska’s Defense is how it will change now that Carl Pelini has gone to Florida. John Papuchis steps in and will attempt to return Nebraska to the Blackshirt Defense they are known for.
Ann Arbor has come down with a bad case of Hokeamania! In Brady Hoke’s first season as coach of the Wolverines they won 11 games and won a BCS bowl. Sr. QB Denard Robinson returns but will his arm punts (15 in 2011) return with him? Pay attention to Michigan’s receiving corps to see if they can replace Junior Hemingway whose athletic ability allowed him to outleap defensive backs and pull down a Robinson Rainbow. Michigan will make use of Jr. Fitzgerald Toussaint at Running Back once he returns from his DUI suspension.
The Wolverine Defense improved substantially in 2011. The defensive front was good but the back 7 were better. Michigan returns SS Jordan Kovacs and CB J.T. Floyd return as do most of a very good Linebacker corps. The defensive line needs to improve if Michigan is going to compete in Indianapolis after Thanksgiving. Sr. DT Will Campbell hasn’t produced like some thought he would so far in the Big House but was rumored to have a great Spring and would strengthen an already formidable Michigan Defense. Michigan’s schedule is brutal and if the Wolverines are going to have a repeat appearance in a BCS bowl the Defense will have to improve and Shoelace will have to limit the inadvertent Hail Marys.
The newly ordained Dean of B1G Coaching, Kirk Ferentz, enters his 14th season with the Hawkeyes. This year Ferentz is supported by new Offensive and Defensive Coordinators the first Coordinator change during Ferentz’ tenure at Iowa. Bear-hunter James Vandenberg marshals the Hawkeye Offense. WR Keenan Davis and TE C.J. Fiedorowicz should be Vandenberg’s main targets. Iowa must overcome a pestilence of injuries and dismissals from the Running Back position.
The Hawkeyes should have a solid linebacker corps led by leading tackler James Morris. The defensive secondary returns standout Micah Hyde. The Hawks are young and unproven on the Defensive line returning only one starter from 2011. It will be interesting to see what (if any) tweeks DC Phil Parker will make to the classic 4-3 Cover 2 that his predecessor legendary DC Norm Parker ran for decades.
Last year Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats made a bowl game for the 4th straight season. Kain Colter will continue this season as Northwestern’s duel threat Quarterback. Colter should be dangerous this season behind a seasoned and large offensive line (all over 6′ 3″ and 295 lbs) although the line struggled at times last year. Jr. RB Mike Trumpy should be healthy after playing through injury last season.
Northwestern’s defense struggled much of last year giving up an average of 407.7 yards and 27.7 points per game. Improvement this year will be an uphill climb. The Wildcats need to replace most of their secondary and find some sort of pass rush within the defensive front. Redshirt Soph. S Ibraheim Campbell hopes to build upon an impressive 2011. Overall NU’s 2012 defense appears to be faster and deeper than is has been in years. Expect Northwestern to earn a 5th straight bowl game by the skin of their teeth and to win at least one game they shouldn’t, perhaps retaining the NU moniker when they host Nebraska on October 20.
Jerry Kill returns for his second year with the Gophers. Minnesota did appear to improve throughout 2011. This year, Duel threat Jr. QB Marqueis Gray will attempt to lift Minnesota’s offense above last year’s last in the B1G in scoring and total offense abomination. However, Gray cannot do it alone and will need other offensive threats to step up and stand out. Gray will also need to improve upon 2011’s numbers (%50.7 accuracy, only 8 TD, and 8 INT season). Keep an eye peeled for Troy Stoudermire the B1G’s All-Time leading kick returner and is only 20 returns and 413 return yards away from being the NCAA All-Time leader.
The Gopher defense gave up almost 32 points per game last year and was ranked near the bottom of the B1G in every defensive category. Minnesota was last in all Division 1 football with 9 sacks for 59 yards. Obviously, that has to improve it the Gophers want to go bowling in 2012. The good news is the 2011 Minnesota defense was young, athletic, and return most of their starters for a second season under DC Tracy Claeys’ defensive scheme. All signs point to the 2012 Gopher defense being an improvement over 2011.