Reality hit Scott Frost upon his return to Nebraska as head coach. The Cornhuskers, physically, looked every bit like the 4-8 team it was in 2017.
His conclusion after his first spring: “We’re taking the first baby steps here, and nothing that we’re doing right now is where I want it to be and where the coaching staff wants it to be.”
Frost, the Cornhuskers’ national championship quarterback in 1997, returned to his alma mater after orchestrating one of the great turnarounds in recent college football history at Central Florida.
When he showed up in Lincoln in December, he didn’t recognize the place. A program that had been physically dominant during its 1990s heyday under Tom Osborne had become soft.
Frost’s priority has been to toughen up the team. Practices moved at a fast pace, there was more live tackling, and players were told if they were going to make a mistake, they should make it at full speed.
Mike Riley’s pro-style offense has been replaced by the no-huddle spread-option that put up huge numbers at UCF last year. The 3-4 defense will stay, but an attitude adjustment and some tweaks by new coordinator Erik Chinander should make the unit better than the one that ranked among the worst in the nation.
“We have to be patient as coaches to teach lessons as problems arise, continue to develop, get guys in better shape, get guys stronger and get guys more familiar,” said Frost, the only new coach in the Big Ten. “Sometimes you get impatient as a coach and think that it’s going to happen overnight — and it’s not.”
Things to know coming out of spring across the Big Ten:
OHIO STATE QB RACE
The defending conference champion Buckeyes are looking for a successor to J.T. Barrett. The candidates are redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins Jr., senior Joe Burrow and redshirt freshman Tate Martell. Haskins replaced an injured Barrett to key the win over Michigan last season. Burrow was Barrett’s backup in 2016 but broke his hand in preseason and was displaced by Haskins. Martell was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Coach Urban Meyer has said he’ll try to give each QB a post-spring assessment. Burrow is on track to graduate this spring and could play immediately at another school, with two years of eligibility, if he chooses to leave.
OTHER QB QUESTIONS
Michigan is awaiting the NCAA ruling on transfer Shea Patterson. He left Mississippi in the wake of an NCAA investigation that landed the Rebels on probation and has appealed for immediate eligibility. If he can’t play this fall, coach Jim Harbaugh will choose among Brandon Peters, who played in six games last year, Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton. … The biggest question at Northwestern is how much time Clayton Thorson will miss. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Music City Bowl. He did some throwing this spring, but TJ Green, Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty took the practice snaps. …
Redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan has the inside track at Minnesota after throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns in a spring game that had QBs taking hits. … Rutgers brings back seven-game starter Gio Rescigno, but freshman Artur Sitkowski threw for 280 yards in the spring game and could challenge. … Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill are both coming off torn ACLs. One of them is expected to be the starter in first-year coordinator Matt Canada’s pro-style offense. … Purdue’s David Blough (dislocated ankle) and Elijah Sindelar (ACL tear) continue to rehab, leaving redshirt freshman Nick Sipe and true freshman Jack Plummer to take most of the practice snaps.
FINALLY, MILES’ TURN
Penn State’s Miles Sanders was rated the No. 1 running back in the country coming out of high school. Until now, the junior has been overshadowed by Saquon Barkley. Limited to 56 carries for 375 yards through two seasons, Sanders takes over as featured back.
“I can’t imagine that there is a better player for Miles to come up under than Saquon Barkley,” coach James Franklin said. “Maybe he could have went to some other schools and played as a true freshman, but I don’t know if his development would have been to the point where it is now.”
SPARTAN ‘D’ RATES AN ‘A’
Michigan State, which was second nationally in rushing defense and seventh in total defense, appears set to have another strong unit. The Spartans brought back 19 of 22 starters. Coach Mark Dantonio praised the spring performances of defensive linemen Mike Panasiuk, Raequan Williams and Kenny Willekes. Dantonio called Willekes, who had a team-leading seven sacks, a “force.”
“Hopefully they are going to get pressure and that’s going to be a staple for our football team,” he said.
POSITION CHANGE FOR DEITER?
West Division champion Wisconsin, as usual, has an embarrassment of riches on the offensive line. That could allow Michael Deiter, who missed the spring with a leg injury, to go back to his preferred guard spot after playing left tackle in 2017. Deiter projects as an interior lineman in the NFL. Patrick Kasl or Cole Van Lanen would be in line to take over at left tackle.
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Tom Canavan, David Ginsburg, Larry Lage, Mike Marot, Andrew Seligman and Mitch Stacy contributed.
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