Players have returned to campuses across the Big Ten after a brief hiatus and are slipping back into the grind of preparing for another college football season.
Six months of reviewing last year’s mistakes and working out the kinks in new systems has left each team with a better idea of its strengths and weaknesses in 2017. Coaches won’t be fully involved for another couple of months, but here are the biggest questions that each team will be trying to answer as they get back to work.
Ohio State: Will the passing game develop a consistent deep threat?
The Buckeyes' passing game seemed to make some strides in the spring game, but it’s hard to gauge real progress on a single intersquad scrimmage. Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill and Terry McLaurin are all potential options to stretch opposing defenses in ways that Ohio State couldn’t a year ago, but they have still have to work to do. Quarterback J.T. Barrett will have a long summer to try to sync up with his players. New faces in the secondary are a question as well, but their transition should be eased by an embarrassment of riches among the players in front of them.
Penn State: Is there enough depth up front on defense?
Injury issues early in the year made for some misleading stats for the Penn State defense. Nonetheless, the Nittany Lions will need to be a bit more stout in the trenches on defense in order to really battle for a College Football Playoff spot. The defense quietly collected 40 sacks -- second-most in the league -- last year with big contributions from ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Now that both of them are gone, it will be up to some veterans in the middle of the line to help the next crop of defensive ends push things in the right direction.
Michigan: Can the Wolverines run the ball when it counts?
Yes, the defense is a bit of a mystery with all but one starter from last year’s group gone. It’s a safe guess that they won’t be as dominant as 2016’s team. It’s also a safe guess that Don Brown and that level of talent will add up to something pretty darn good. The bigger question is whether a deep group of running backs and an offensive line with three new starters can fix the issue that held Michigan back as much as anything in coach Jim Harbaugh’s first two season: running the ball consistently, especially in crunch time. If the new line, which is reportedly more athletic than last year’s, turns out to be a group of capable road-graders, they can plow through a lot of growing pains for the young Wolverines.
Michigan State: Can veterans stop the bleeding?
Coach Mark Dantonio said his program needs to start over to regain the culture that crumbled during a 3-9 season in 2016. He also knows that his best teams in past years have had upperclassmen -- not coaches -- setting the tone. After a particularly ugly offseason, can the experienced Spartans gather up the pieces this summer and re-establish the tone that led to Rose Bowl wins and Big Ten titles? Dantonio needs to give them the backing to lead, but if the Spartans manage to return to bowl eligibility, it will be because the bits of young talent that remain fall in line behind the players who were around for brighter days.
Indiana: How will the offense change in 2017?
Not much, if new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord sticks to his stated plans. The Indiana native, who left Tennessee to coach closer to family, said he doesn’t want to upturn the fast-paced attack that Kevin Wilson established as a Hoosier calling card. DeBord has a long list of Big Ten credentials and coached a sometimes explosive offense in Tennessee. Then again, the Vols were inconsistent under DeBord, and he faced criticism for not making the most of their talent. New coach Tom Allen has made Debord his “head coach of the offense.” If DeBord can deliver, Allen’s improved defense could make Indiana a dangerous team.
Maryland: Who will start at quarterback?
North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson appears to be the frontrunner from the outside, but there is no shortage of options. Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager both got some experience as true freshmen last year. Kasim Hill just recently arrived on campus, but he was a strong enough prospect to be considered a part of the competition this summer.
Rutgers: Who will start at quarterback, and what can Jerry Kill make of him?
The Scarlet Knights are in search of a quarterback as well. Gio Rescigno has the most experience at Rutgers, but had some accuracy issues last season. After a handful of QBs left campus, the team added Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin who will certainly push Rescigno for his spot. Incoming freshman Johnathan Lewis will also get a shot. Whoever wins the job will benefit from the tutelage of new coordinator Jerry Kill, who came to Rutgers only a couple seasons after leaving Minnesota’s head coaching position for health reasons.