The Big Ten Network's annual preseason bus tour is complete, as analysts Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith dropped in on all 12 camps around the league. The three are back in Chicago and on Wednesday took some time to discuss what they saw after traveling thousands of miles in the league footprint.
Here are some notes from the BTN crew:
Although the Big Ten should be an extremely competitive conference in 2011, the league's national championship drought will continue, according to DiNardo. "They can [win a title]," he said. "Will they? I don't think this is the year."
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was one of the more intriguing topics on Wednesday's conference call. DiNardo said that after watching Michigan practice, he thinks Robinson's transition to a pro-style offense will be more difficult than expected. "If you put Denard under center, which is where this staff really wants their quarterback … and you don't run designed quarterback runs, you become very easy to defend. They don't have a dominant tailback. I'm not sure where the offensive explosion is going to be generated." Griffith had a different take, saying Robinson might be even more dangerous under center because he can do more things and has good receivers like Roy Roundtree. "They recognize what a special talent he is," Revsine said of Robinson. "[The offense] might not be what exactly they've always done, but they'll figure out a way to make it work."
DiNardo cited Iowa and Penn State as the teams that made the most strides from spring practice to fall camp. Griffith praised the Nittany Lions' defensive line and said the unit is getting back to its typical level of performance. DiNardo spent much of the practice in State College watching the offensive line and sees improvement there. But both analysts agree Penn State's season likely hinges on quarterback play. "It's going to be hard for Penn State to be a contender without an outstanding quarterback because there's not enough parts to the offense to be a contender," DiNardo said.
DiNardo called the Big Ten's split into two divisions the "most significant change in the history of the league." He also noted, after experiencing division play in the SEC with LSU, that it increases the expectations on the most historically successful programs to win championships.
Griffith had high praise for Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, saying that the junior could be the league's best pure passer.
DiNardo called coach Jim Tressel's departure "a tremendous loss" for Ohio State but said it shouldn't affect the way Luke Fickell goes about his business. Revsine had an interesting take on the Buckeyes moving on without quarterback Terrelle Pryor. "With Terrelle Pryor, you had a guy who individually could beat you," he said. "At any given moment, he could make the play that won the game. That’s the interesting dilemma here. Do you go with a guy who might be more in that mold [Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton] or do you go with [Joe] Bauserman, who maybe isn’t necessarily that guy but might be the steadier hand."
Like many coaches around the Big Ten, both DiNardo and Griffith praised new Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and his consistent approach to revamping teams. "They've turned programs around before," Griffith said. "This is not new. The reason that’s important in Minnesota’s situation is because of the kids. They've been through a lot. ... When you have a staff that comes in that's been around each other the way they have, it really gets the attention of the kids." Gophers junior MarQueis Gray impressed the crew in his transition back to quarterback from receiver. "If anybody can do this, it's him," Revsine said.
DiNardo also had some encouraging words about new Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who "totally gets the Indiana deal. You have to be tough, you have to be hard-nosed, you have to coach and teach your style."
Revsine singled out Illinois as a team that surprised him and will win a lot of games this fall.
The BTN crew talked about Wisconsin boosting its brand in football while maintaining its identity as a developmental program. As for the Badgers' 2011 outlook? "They’re in the weaker division, that helps them this year," DiNardo said. "They're on a roll unless complacency has seeped in." He added that he didn't see any drop-off in the Badgers' practice.