QB battles highlight spring practices

The Big Ten's biggest news event this spring didn't take place on a football field, but rather in an Arizona hotel. It didn't even involve Big Ten football players, but rather a 60-something former ACC basketball player.

And the big news was really no news, as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany tried to put the brakes on the expansion hoopla.

The expansion story took center stage this spring as signs continued to point toward the Big Ten getting bigger, and quite possibly a lot bigger. Lost amid the steady stream of speculation about expansion was the fact that the 11 current Big Ten members actually practiced football this spring.

Spring ball clearly took a backseat, but the session still proved to be noteworthy, and, in some cases, revealing.

It was quiet at the top of the league as Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin went through fairly uneventful springs.

Ohio State seemingly got what it needed from quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who closed spring ball with a solid performance in the spring game as the offense rebounded from a troubling outing a week earlier in the jersey scrimmage. Iowa saw a group of offensive linemen separate itself this spring as it tries to reload up front. Wisconsin's defensive line made strides, while an offense that practiced without star running back John Clay (ankle surgery) and endured some injuries along the line had its ups and downs.

Quarterback competitions attracted plenty of attention around the league, especially at Michigan and Penn State. Michigan's fleet-footed sophomore Denard Robinson closed the gap with returning starter Tate Forcier and put on a show in the spring game, leading many to label him as the man to beat in Ann Arbor. The spring game wasn't as kind to Penn State quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, whose struggles raised concern and possibly opened the door for true freshman Paul Jones.

Those two races are very open entering the fall, while teams like Minnesota (Adam Weber), Illinois (Nathan Scheelhaase) and Purdue (Robert Marve) have a decent idea of who will be calling signals in 2010. Potential quarterback competitions at Michigan State and Northwestern never got going as Kirk Cousins and Dan Persa were handed the keys to their respective cars.

Injuries, unfortunately, became a storyline around the league as key players such as Purdue running back Ralph Bolden (torn ACL), Minnesota safety Kim Royston (broken leg), Wisconsin backup quarterback Curt Phillips (torn ACL) and Illinois offensive tackle Corey Lewis (torn ACL) went down. Injuries hit Purdue so hard that the Boilermakers had to postpone two spring practices so they could have enough healthy bodies on the field.

Some scheme changes also arrived this spring, especially on defense, as Michigan State and Indiana both emphasized the 3-4 and Michigan caused a stir by saying it would use the 3-3-5 alignment.

So while spring ball in the Big Ten flew under the radar, it should give us plenty to discuss and debate during the next four months.

At least until the next blast of expansion buzz. You know it's coming.