Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2015

Coaches dish on all 14 Big Ten teams.

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2015, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents.
 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

 

Big Ten Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes

 

East Division

 

Indiana

 

“Losing the quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, just killed them. It was huge.”

 

“We broke down games with Sudfeld and without him, and they looked like two different teams. Teams just loaded the box and made it tough for (Tevin) Coleman to run the ball.”

 

“They also lost Tre Roberson before the season, who went on to take Illinois State to the (FCS) championship game.”

 

“The true freshman (Zander Diamont) has some ability, I guess, but they didn’t trust him to do much. Became very one-dimensional. They wanted to redshirt him.”

 

“I think their offensive scheme is really good. I think Kevin Wilson is a very good coach.”

 

“Their offensive line was one of the better lines we played against last year.”

 

“Coleman was a legit back. I was nervous every time he touched the ball. You were just thrilled every time you held him under 10 yards. He had so many big plays.”

 

“Defensively, they still have issues. They just haven’t been able to get the type of players on defense that they have had on offense. Maybe that’s because Kevin Wilson is an offensive guy, but they just don’t have the talent on that side of the ball.”

 

Related: College Football's Top Transfers for 2015

 

Maryland

 

“They got blown out by Ohio State and Michigan State, but most of their other games were about the same. They are like so many teams in our league: They won close games and lost close games.”

 

“They are just okay. They aren’t bad.”

 

“They had a sixth-year quarterback. You would like to think they could have done better with so much experience at that position.”

 

“They weren’t very good up front on offense, and they weren’t very good defensively. They just changed coordinators, so we will see how that plays out.”

 

“Offensively, they were a week-to-week operation. They were very opponent-specific in their game plan. One week you might see a lot of one thing and not see it much the next week. You weren’t 100 percent sure what they were going to do, so they were hard to prepare for.”

 

“I thought (wide receiver) Stefon Diggs was pretty good. Maybe a little overrated. He will be a loss. We didn’t have a specific gameplan for him, though. He struggled to stay healthy. I think their other wide receivers were pretty good.”

 

“Their skill guys were pretty good. Strongest part of that program.”

 

Related: College Football's All-Freshman Team for 2015

 

Michigan

 

“I think it’s pretty cool that Jim Harbaugh is in the league. I think it’s good for the league, and it’s obviously good for Michigan. He’s helped the perception of our league.”

 

“Their talent level was down a bit, but they still had some good players.”

 

“Their offensive line was a big problem. They kind of had the same problems that Penn State had.”

 

“I think Devin Gardner was better than people gave him credit for. He is a unique athlete who was capable of throwing the ball. He could have been a great college football player in the right system.”

 

“They had one of the most dangerous receivers in the league in Devin Funchess. They had two or three five-star running backs. They had a slot receiver (Dennis Norfleet) who could make some plays. So I don’t think it was a lack of skill.”

 

“They lacked confidence. That was a big problem.”

 

“They lost some tough games. They lost to Minnesota and looked bad, and then they changed quarterbacks because everybody was busting their chops.”

 

“It’s not like they were horrible. By no means did I think they lacked talent.”

 

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

 

Michigan State

 

“Connor Cook is really good. He and (Penn State’s) Christian Hackenberg are the two drop-back quarterbacks in our league. All the other guys who scare you are dual-threat guys.”

 

“(Cook) is very clutch. Just knows how to make the big plays. He was huge in the bowl game.”

 

“Everybody talked about Pat Narduzzi and the Michigan State defense, but they averaged over 500 yards of offense last year. That was the story with that team.”

 

“The offensive line is a machine. They have a good stable of receivers. Losing Jeremy Langford will hurt. He was a really good running back.”

 

“They have a lot of talent. It’s better than they make it out to be. Their schtick is that they don’t have as much talent as other teams, but they have a bunch of really good players.”

 

“They have a great quarterback and a ton of great skill players. But Mark (Dantonio) is a great coach. I have a ton of respect for him and his staff. They do a great job.”

 

“Losing Narduzzi will be interesting. He was there for so long and did such a good job. Will be interesting to see how big of a loss he turns out to be.”

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

Ohio State

 

“I thought the best player I saw in the Big Ten two years ago was Braxton Miller.”

 

“I didn’t think J.T. Barrett was that great until we played him. He was very impressive in person.”

 

“We saw Cardale Jones on film in some mop-up duty on film, but he never threw any passes. And I’m embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t think he was very good. But we hadn’t seen him do much. Then you watch him in a game, and he was great. He has a big arm, and he’s big and strong.”

 

“Urban Meyer does a great job tailoring his offense to what the quarterback can do.”

 

“Ezekiel Elliott was fantastic down the stretch. Hottest running back in the country. He will be on a lot of Heisman lists heading into next year.”

 

“I wasn’t surprised they won (the national title). I thought they would win it. I told everybody who would listen that I thought they would beat Alabama and Oregon. They were one of the best looking teams I have ever seen in person. And they are well coached.”

 

“That offense was so good late in the year. A lot of it was confidence.”

 

Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015

 

Penn State

 

“I’m not big on how you play in a bowl game carrying over into the next season, but they may be the exception because it showed their guys they can figure some things out until they get on the other side of the sanctions. I think it was a big buy-in win for their staff that will pay dividends down the road.”

 

“They were a trainwreck on offense. I know the quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) is a good player, but my gosh, he got hit more times than I can count.”

 

“They’re still a year away from solidifying that offensive line, but it’s going to be better. With the group they bring back and a couple guys coming off redshirts, they’ll have a little bit of depth. They’re still not out of the woods.”

 

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Hackenberg because he wasn’t dealt a great hand, but he showed some toughness and hung in there. He’s got a big arm, but it makes the game really hard when you don’t have time step up in the pocket and throw the way he was taught to throw. Most of his mistakes start right there, but the reality is it would be really ugly if he wasn’t back there.”

 

“They’re really good on defense, really well-coached, great scheme.”

 

“Their main guys up front and in the secondary are probably going to be as good or better than they were last year, but linebacker could be an issue for them because the guy they lost (Mike Hull) was really the heart and soul of their whole defense.”

 

“Anthony Zettel is a guy who can cause problems on the interior because of his quickness; they’ve got a good combination there.”

 

Related: Big Ten's Top Heisman Contenders for 2015

 

Rutgers

 

“Ralph (Friedgen) did a good job for them. He kept it pretty simple. They had a plan.”

 

“The quarterback (Gary Nova) had his best year under Coach Friedgen. They scored a lot of points, especially at the end of the year. Losing him will be a significant loss.”

 

“They lose Nova, but they have a good quarterback coming in, the transfer from LSU, Chase Rettig. He is supposed to be a pretty good player.”

 

“Their talent level is in the middle of the league. I thought they were good enough to compete with most teams in the league. I thought the offensive line was very good. The running back (Paul James) was good, but he got hurt.”

 

“You could confuse Gary Nova into throwing some interceptions. That hurt that team all season and really, all throughout Nova’s career.”

 

“Leonte Carroo is a really good player, one of the better receivers we saw. We were very aware of him. He made a lot of big plays. They ran a lot of play-action and then hit him deep. He was a perfect ‘X’ receiver for what they were trying to do.”

 

“I’m interested to see what they do this year. They were probably better than everyone thought last year.”

 

West Division

 

Illinois

 

“They were fortunate to win some of the games they did late in the season. Penn State probably should have beaten them, and they got lucky and didn’t have to face Trevor Simien in the Northwestern game. But give them credit. They won.”

“Their defense was terrible. Almost everybody scored a ton of points on them and gained over 400 yards.”

“I can’t think of anybody on their defense that jumped out at you, where you thought, ‘Hey, that guy can really play.’”

 

“Offensively, Wes Lunt is okay. His injury obviously hurt him and the offense.”

 

“That slot receiver, Mike Dudek, is a really good player. Losing him is a really tough blow. Such bad luck. He is in the mold of a Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. He did it all for them last year. He runs routes, returns punts. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

 

“Other than Dudek, they didn’t have any weapons on offense. Everything seemed to be a struggle for them.”

 

“That’s an interesting job. You would think that it’s a great job because it’s in Illinois and you have Chicago to recruit to, but they’ve never been able to win consistently there. Very strange.”

 

Related: Big Ten's 10 Most Underrated Players for 2015

 

Iowa

 

“You want to talk about a team on defense that you know what they’re going to do, they know what they’re going to do, and they just line up and play their 4-3. They know all the weaknesses of it and how to combat the weaknesses, so I’ve got a lot of respect for them defensively because they don’t try to do it with smoke and mirrors. They line up and try to out-fundamental you and out-leverage you and out-tackle you.”

 

“I still think Jake Rudock is a quality player, but they got sideways on offense too many times and it was definitely weighing on them to figure out why it wasn’t working. They might miss him.”

 

“The other kid (C.J. Beathard) probably gives them more of what they need because he can sling it around a little bit and run if he needs to, which is what you want from your quarterback when you don’t have a bunch of guys who can separate from the defense.”

 

“I think the key to their whole team is what happens at offensive tackle. For the way they play, they’ve got to be able to run the ball, and you’re losing two excellent tackles who played almost every snap the last couple years. I don’t know how you replace that.”

 

Minnesota

 

“They’re a very workmanlike, very efficient team.”

 

“They’re going to beat you with defense and ball control, and they can. They have just enough talent now to beat you.”

 

“They won eight games last year and they didn’t have a wideout with more than 18 catches. Except for maybe the service academies, that’s unheard of in this day and age.”

 

“You’d think they’d throw it more just by accident looking for some screens, open it up a little bit when they’re behind. But they’re going to do what they do and they’re very committed to how they play.”

 

“The tight end (Maxx Williams), I don’t know how they’ll replace him.”

 

“They may have to adjust their passing game a bit and get the ball out to the perimeter a little bit more, maybe add some tempo to just to give people a different look. I don’t think they’re going to change what they do dramatically, but they have some guys who are capable of catching it if the quarterback can get it there.”

 

“That tailback (David Cobb) was a hell of a player, but I know they like a couple of the guys they brought in.”

 

“The quarterback is kind of a reflection of their team. He’s a big, tough dude, but they need him to be more accurate.”

 

“They’ve been a great team defensively, probably one of the top two or three in the conference the last couple years. It’s a tough group.”

 

Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015

 

Nebraska

 

“It’s a new staff, so I don’t know exactly what to expect.”

 

“They bring back a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, but they lose the monster defensive end (Randy Gregory) and Ameer Abdullah, so those are two big pieces they’ll have to replace right off the bat. They’ll have a different look.”

 

“Tommy Armstrong is just a guy. He’s probably better than Taylor Martinez, but I don’t think he’s great. His skill set doesn’t really fit the system they want to run because he’s so limited throwing the ball. They may have to get creative and mix in some zone-read stuff to keep him comfortable unless they want to just start over at quarterback, but I don’t see that happening to a guy who’s started two years there. It’s going to be a square peg in a round hole until they can bring in the guys who fit their offense.”

 

“Do they have another 1,500-yard (rusher) waiting in the wings? They’ll probably have to do it by committee. I think they’ll still be able to run the ball, but I don’t know if they have that one guy who really scares you.”

 

“They’ve got some speed on offense. (De’Mornay) Pierson-El was a weapon in the return game and looked like he could be a pretty darn good slot receiver.”

 

“I don’t think you replace a guy as good as Randy Gregory, but the defensive line might still be the strength of their team.”

 

“That’s a pretty powerful combination inside. Maliek Collins is really athletic and has great hands, quick hands.” 

 

Northwestern

 

“I thought they were one of the weirdest teams last year. I think they would have gone to a bowl game if the quarterback (Trevor Simien) hadn’t gotten hurt. They would have beaten Illinois in that last game. They only won five games, but they beat Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State. That’s pretty good.”

 

“Their running back, Justin Jackson, is very good.”

 

“I think their scheme is very good. They are well coached.”

 

“They have a good receiving corps, but they dropped an incredible amount of passes. They had guys wide open, and they would drop the ball. They could have beaten Cal and Northern Illinois if they would have caught one or two more passes. They could have beaten Michigan too.”

 

“I’ve heard the name Zack Oliver. Don’t know much about him, but I’ve heard he’s a pretty good quarterback.”

 

“I like Fitz. I can’t speak for anybody else. He is the type of coach I like. Hard-nosed. Bright guy. Perfect guy for the job there.”

 

“I have no doubt that they will be back in the mix in the Big Ten West in the next few years.”

 

Related: The Big Ten's Best Alternate Helmets

 

Purdue

 

“I thought they made a lot of strides last year offensively. I know it might not have shown on the scoreboard, but they were moving the ball at times. They put some scares in people. In this profession, that doesn’t mean much, but there was marked improvement offensively.”

 

“They haven’t been real consistent at quarterback. They got better after they settled on (Austin) Appleby in the middle of the year, but it’s always tough for a coach when your most productive guy isn’t your most talented guy.”

 

“(Akeem) Hunt was the one guy who could really run away from you, so they’ll have to find a way to replace him as a big-play threat.”

 

“I don’t think they have any choice but to ride it out and let Darrell (Hazell) try to fix the roster. Once some of their redshirt freshmen and sophomores start playing a little more you’ll have a better idea what direction they’re headed.”

 

“The linebacker (Ja’Whaun Bentley) is a guy they can build around. He was pretty explosive.”

 

“Losing their two safeties puts them in a tough spot from a depth standpoint. I think they’re going to have to move some people around or just play a bunch of freshmen to cover all their bases in the secondary.”

 

Wisconsin

 

“Paul Chryst was who Barry (Alvarez) wanted in there after Bret Bielema. I’m not saying they got away from their identity when Gary (Andersen) was in there, but Paul is going to embrace everything about the program. He’s a natural fit and there are no surprises on either side.”

 

“I think the change will help Joel Stave a whole bunch. The mental part of the game is obviously big with him, and now he’s back with the guy who recruited him and believed in him from the beginning.”

 

“It will be interesting to see who they’re going to plug in at tailback. It seems like they’ve had a great tailback there for 10, 12 years straight.”

 

“I would think Corey Clement is capable of sliding over as the No. 1 guy, but having a second tailback is pretty important in their offense too. That’s probably the biggest question mark, and the other is whether they’re going to be as good up front.”

 

“The linebacker position is a red flag when you go from having two battle-tested seniors inside to a couple guys who haven’t played that much.”

 

“They don’t have a bunch of great cover guys in the secondary, but it didn’t matter as much because of how much pressure they put on the quarterback. They need the front seven to help them out.”

 

"I think their defense is fantastic. I was happy to see Chryst keep Dave Aranda because I think that’s the right thing to do." 

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