Big Ten Wrapup: Nebraska takes ‘baby steps’


By ERIC OLSON - AP College Football Writer



FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Nebraska coach Scott Frost speaks during an NCAA college football news conference in Lincoln, Neb. Frost came out of his first spring practice at Nebraska with this observation about the 4-8 team he's taking over: There'll be no quick fix. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Nebraska coach Scott Frost speaks during an NCAA college football news conference in Lincoln, Neb. Frost came out of his first spring practice at Nebraska with this observation about the 4-8 team he's taking over: There'll be no quick fix. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)


FILE - In this April 14, 2018, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches his team's NCAA college spring football game in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)


FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2017, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins throws a pass against Maryland during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)


Big Ten Breakouts

A look at football players in the Big Ten this spring who are poised to have standout seasons beginning this fall:

EAST DIVISION

INDIANA

WR Nick Westbrook, junior. Westbrook emerged as one of the Hoosiers’ top offensive playmakers two years ago. Last year, he tore an ACL on the first play of the season and received a medical redshirt. Expect Westbrook to reassert himself in what’s become a crowded and talented receiving corps.

MARYLAND

WR Taivon Jacobs, senior. Jacobs steps into the featured receiver’s role with the departure of possible first-round draft pick DJ Moore. Jacobs started all 12 games last year and ranked second behind Moore with 47 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns.

MICHIGAN

WR Tarik Black, sophomore. He caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in three games as a freshman in 2017 before a broken foot ended his season. Black was back this spring and drew sparkling reviews from teammates and coaches.

MICHIGAN STATE

LB Brandon Randle, sophomore. Randle is competing with Tyriq Thompson to replace Chris Frey in the starting lineup. Randle impressed as a defensive end in passing situations last year. He’ll excel blitzing once he gets more comfortable playing linebacker full-time.

OHIO STATE

WR Austin Mack, junior. The junior was the fifth-leading receiver last year with 24 catches for 343 yards and two TDs. He caught a huge 27-yard pass from Dwayne Haskins Jr. against Michigan and stood out in the Cotton Bowl with three catches for 56 yards against Southern California.

PENN STATE

LB Micah Parsons, freshman. The Nittany Lions’ highest-rated recruit in more than a decade, Parsons will wear No. 11 — the number made famous in Happy Valley 20 years ago by two-time first-team All-American LaVar Arrington. Parsons made eight tackles in the spring game and left coaches and teammates wondering how good he’ll be when he’s totally in sync with the defense.

RUTGERS

WR Bo Melton, sophomore. He fought through a back injury last season and played in just five games. Now he looks like the Scarlet Knights’ top big-play threat. Arthur Sitkowski connected with Melton five times for 187 yards and three TDs in the spring game.

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WEST DIVISION

ILLINOIS

OL Vederian Lowe, sophomore. Lowe was among four true freshmen who saw action on the offensive line last season, and they took their lumps. A knee injury delayed Lowe’s development, but he still started seven games at tackle. The 6-foot-5 Lowe has lost nearly 30 pounds in hopes of getting down to 310.

IOWA

DE A.J. Epenesa, sophomore. Epenesa, the rare five-star recruit to land at Iowa, was used on passing downs as a freshman even though the Hawkeyes were very deep along the line. Epenesa responded with 4.5 sacks. Iowa should have one of the top defensive lines in the country, so double-teaming Epenesa will be a risk.

MINNESOTA

RB Mohamed Ibrahim, redshirt freshman. Ibrahim was the Gophers’ 2017 offensive scout team player of the year, and he’ll complement Rodney Smith after Shannon Brooks was ruled out for the season with a leg injury. Ibrahim rushed 19 times for 104 yards in the spring game.

NEBRASKA

QB Adrian Martinez, freshman. One of Scott Frost’s first acts at Nebraska was getting Martinez to flip his verbal commitment from Tennessee and enroll in January. The four-star recruit is a perfect fit for Frost’s offense. A strong performance in the spring game did nothing to tamp down the hype surrounding Martinez.

NORTHWESTERN

RB Jeremy Larkin, sophomore. Larkin averaged 6 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman backing up four-time 1,000-yard rusher Justin Jackson. Larkin finished with 503 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He also averaged better than 10 yards on his 11 catches.

PURDUE

WR Isaac Zico, senior. He played in 11 games and finished with six receptions for 34 yards and a TD. The Boilermakers lost their second- and third-leading receivers, so Zico will be given every opportunity to make an impact.

WISCONSIN

DE Isaiahh Loudermilk, sophomore. The Badgers lost three senior defensive ends, and Loudermilk’s upside is huge. He’s a Kansas native who played eight-man football in high school. As a backup last season, the 6-foot-7, 297-pounder had 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 11 games.

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:

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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.

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AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Tom Canavan, David Ginsburg, Larry Lage, Mike Marot, Andrew Seligman and Mitch Stacy contributed.

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More AP college football at www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .

FILE – In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Nebraska coach Scott Frost speaks during an NCAA college football news conference in Lincoln, Neb. Frost came out of his first spring practice at Nebraska with this observation about the 4-8 team he’s taking over: There’ll be no quick fix. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/04/web1_120373620-273f7ba8d2d84b3bb97bff07b5748249-1.jpgFILE – In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Nebraska coach Scott Frost speaks during an NCAA college football news conference in Lincoln, Neb. Frost came out of his first spring practice at Nebraska with this observation about the 4-8 team he’s taking over: There’ll be no quick fix. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

FILE – In this April 14, 2018, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches his team’s NCAA college spring football game in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/04/web1_120373620-ce43775e3e254036b09defeea1b985a0-1.jpgFILE – In this April 14, 2018, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches his team’s NCAA college spring football game in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

FILE – In this Oct. 7, 2017, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins throws a pass against Maryland during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/04/web1_120373620-debed160b5a645cc91103d2749160cde-1.jpgFILE – In this Oct. 7, 2017, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins throws a pass against Maryland during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

By ERIC OLSON

AP College Football Writer

Big Ten Breakouts

A look at football players in the Big Ten this spring who are poised to have standout seasons beginning this fall:

EAST DIVISION

INDIANA

WR Nick Westbrook, junior. Westbrook emerged as one of the Hoosiers’ top offensive playmakers two years ago. Last year, he tore an ACL on the first play of the season and received a medical redshirt. Expect Westbrook to reassert himself in what’s become a crowded and talented receiving corps.

MARYLAND

WR Taivon Jacobs, senior. Jacobs steps into the featured receiver’s role with the departure of possible first-round draft pick DJ Moore. Jacobs started all 12 games last year and ranked second behind Moore with 47 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns.

MICHIGAN

WR Tarik Black, sophomore. He caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in three games as a freshman in 2017 before a broken foot ended his season. Black was back this spring and drew sparkling reviews from teammates and coaches.

MICHIGAN STATE

LB Brandon Randle, sophomore. Randle is competing with Tyriq Thompson to replace Chris Frey in the starting lineup. Randle impressed as a defensive end in passing situations last year. He’ll excel blitzing once he gets more comfortable playing linebacker full-time.

OHIO STATE

WR Austin Mack, junior. The junior was the fifth-leading receiver last year with 24 catches for 343 yards and two TDs. He caught a huge 27-yard pass from Dwayne Haskins Jr. against Michigan and stood out in the Cotton Bowl with three catches for 56 yards against Southern California.

PENN STATE

LB Micah Parsons, freshman. The Nittany Lions’ highest-rated recruit in more than a decade, Parsons will wear No. 11 — the number made famous in Happy Valley 20 years ago by two-time first-team All-American LaVar Arrington. Parsons made eight tackles in the spring game and left coaches and teammates wondering how good he’ll be when he’s totally in sync with the defense.

RUTGERS

WR Bo Melton, sophomore. He fought through a back injury last season and played in just five games. Now he looks like the Scarlet Knights’ top big-play threat. Arthur Sitkowski connected with Melton five times for 187 yards and three TDs in the spring game.

___

WEST DIVISION

ILLINOIS

OL Vederian Lowe, sophomore. Lowe was among four true freshmen who saw action on the offensive line last season, and they took their lumps. A knee injury delayed Lowe’s development, but he still started seven games at tackle. The 6-foot-5 Lowe has lost nearly 30 pounds in hopes of getting down to 310.

IOWA

DE A.J. Epenesa, sophomore. Epenesa, the rare five-star recruit to land at Iowa, was used on passing downs as a freshman even though the Hawkeyes were very deep along the line. Epenesa responded with 4.5 sacks. Iowa should have one of the top defensive lines in the country, so double-teaming Epenesa will be a risk.

MINNESOTA

RB Mohamed Ibrahim, redshirt freshman. Ibrahim was the Gophers’ 2017 offensive scout team player of the year, and he’ll complement Rodney Smith after Shannon Brooks was ruled out for the season with a leg injury. Ibrahim rushed 19 times for 104 yards in the spring game.

NEBRASKA

QB Adrian Martinez, freshman. One of Scott Frost’s first acts at Nebraska was getting Martinez to flip his verbal commitment from Tennessee and enroll in January. The four-star recruit is a perfect fit for Frost’s offense. A strong performance in the spring game did nothing to tamp down the hype surrounding Martinez.

NORTHWESTERN

RB Jeremy Larkin, sophomore. Larkin averaged 6 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman backing up four-time 1,000-yard rusher Justin Jackson. Larkin finished with 503 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He also averaged better than 10 yards on his 11 catches.

PURDUE

WR Isaac Zico, senior. He played in 11 games and finished with six receptions for 34 yards and a TD. The Boilermakers lost their second- and third-leading receivers, so Zico will be given every opportunity to make an impact.

WISCONSIN

DE Isaiahh Loudermilk, sophomore. The Badgers lost three senior defensive ends, and Loudermilk’s upside is huge. He’s a Kansas native who played eight-man football in high school. As a backup last season, the 6-foot-7, 297-pounder had 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 11 games.