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Big Ten 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings

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Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.

The Big Ten is home to college football’s defending national champs (Ohio State), as well as a cast of intriguing teams in 2015. Michigan State should be among the top-10 teams in the nation, while Michigan and Nebraska hope to take a step forward under new coaches. Penn State should be better in the second season under coach James Franklin, but the Nittany Lions have some key personnel issues to address this offseason.

What are the key questions and storylines shaping all 14 teams in the Big Ten and outlook for 2015? Let’s take a quick look at the 14 teams and the priority list for each coach.

Big Ten Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch

(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)

East Division

1. Ohio State

2014 Record: 14-1 (8-0 Big Ten)

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Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

Tim Beck (Co-Offensive Coordinator)

Tony Alford (RBs)

Ohio State’s Spring Priorities

1. Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers

There’s little doubt quarterback play is going to garner most of the preseason attention. But it’s unlikely there will be much clarity here, as J.T. Barrett (leg) and Braxton Miller (shoulder) continue to recover from 2014 injuries. Cardale Jones has a chance to secure his lead in the quarterback derby while both are out, but all three will have a chance to push for the job in the fall. Much like the quarterback position, the receiving corps isn’t hurting for options. However, replacements must emerge for Devin Smith and Evan Spencer.

2. Reinforcements on the Defensive Line
Ohio State’s defensive line should be one of the best in the nation in 2015, but coach Larry Johnson has to restock this unit after the departures of ends Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier, along with standout defensive tackle Michael Bennett. Finding help for end Joey Bosa and tackle Adolphus Washington will be a key for the Buckeyes’ hopes of repeating in 2015.

3. Replacing CB Doran Grant

The Buckeyes aren’t losing a ton from last year’s team, but cornerback Doran Grant won’t be easy to replace. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 63 tackles and nine pass breakups in 2014. Young talent is available here, but the defense is looking for players to emerge outside of Eli Apple at the position. 

2. Michigan State

2014 Record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten)

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Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

Harlon Barnett (Co-Defensive Coordinator)

Mike Tressel (Co-Defensive Coordinator)

Mark Snyder (LB/Special Teams)

Michigan State’s Spring Priorities

1. Playmakers at Receiver
Quarterback Connor Cook must find a new go-to target after standout receiver Tony Lippett expired his eligibility after the Cotton Bowl. Keith Mumphery also departs after catching 26 passes last year. Who steps up at receiver this spring for Cook? Will it be Aaron Burbridge or A.J. Troup? Or will tight end Josiah Price become an even bigger part of the offense in 2015?

2. Settling the Order at Running Back

Jeremy Langford finished his career at East Lansing with an effective senior year (1,522 yards and 22 scores). The Spartans need to find a new go-to back this spring, but this offense isn’t hurting for options. Delton Williams, Gerald Holmes, Madre London and incoming freshman L.J. Scott (will arrive in East Lansing this summer) are plenty capable of keeping the ground attack performing at a high level. How will the pecking order develop this spring?

3. Keep the Momentum on Defense

Michigan State’s defense was one of the best in the nation under former coordinator Pat Narduzzi. With Narduzzi taking the head coach job at Pittsburgh, coach Mark Dantonio promoted Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel into the co-defensive coordinator role. Barnett and Tressel’s job was made easier with the return of end Shilique Calhoun, but the secondary loses cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond, and the linebacking corps loses Taiwan Jones. This spring will be the first opportunity for the new co-coordinators to find replacements for the key departures.

3. Penn State

2014 Record: 7-6 (2-6 Big Ten)

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Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

None