Spring practices in the B1G officially kicked off on Tuesday thanks to Northwestern. With spring games right around the corner, here are a few early spring storylines to watch:
-D.J. Durkin’s, Chris Ash’s early impact
The B1G East’s two new coaches are both facing similar uphill battles after leaving Michigan and Ohio State. Both need to establish new cultures at their programs after taking steps back in their second B1G seasons. That starts in the spring. There are no more introductory press conferences or recruiting visits. The pitching is over and the real work begins.
Two teams that shot themselves in the foot constantly in 2015 can make major strides in that area with clean spring game performances. For Ash, keeping his players out of the police reports would help establish a different culture, too. On and off the field, both programs can begin that culture change by doing things the right way this spring.
-Michigan’s Florida move
In case you somehow haven’t read about Michigan’s spring break plans, here’s a brief rundown. The Wolverines are set to have a week of practices in Bradenton, Fla., which just so happens to be the home of IMG Academy. The SEC, as you’ve likely heard, is not a fan of this. But an NCAA change likely won’t be made before the Wolverines head south. Jim Harbaugh, maybe in spite of the SEC’s complaints, could turn the trip into another spectacle. While it was pitched as a relaxing trip with light practices, Harbaugh will also likely have some recruiting visits to make, especially with No. 1 2017 recruit Dylan Moses. Will Michigan land any major verbal commitments during the trip? Or will it just be a week of practice without any major news? The latter wouldn’t exactly match up with Harbaugh’s way of business.
-How teams like Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern respond after bowl losses
All three of those teams ended the season in sour fashion on big stages. Coaches will use anything they can as motivation, and those bowl games could be a likely source during the spring. All them are expected by national pundits to take a minor step back after proving many people wrong in 2015.
Sometimes the teams that ride a postseason high into the offseason struggle to get things cranked up again. Mark Dantonio, Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald haven’t had problems motivating their guys before. You can bet their spring workouts won’t lack intensity given the way they didn’t meet their own expectations the last time they took the field.
-Ohio State’s running back situation
You don’t replace a back like Ezekiel Elliott. Ohio State will have to find a way to replace the B1G Offensive Player of the Year’s 22 carries per game, who was also an elite blocker out of the backfield. It will take several backs to do the things Elliott did. Part of that production could come from Mike Weber, who was expected to serve as Elliott’s backup as a true freshman but struggled to stay healthy.
Curtis Samuel could also be used more as a true tailback, but he underwent foot surgery after the season and he could miss all of spring practice. Senior Bri’onte Dunn is another candidate to emerge, though he’s never earned a significant role since arriving in Columbus in 2012. Early enrollee Antonio Williams has a prime opportunity to get plenty of touches during the spring in what should be a fairly open competition heading into the summer.
-So many quarterback battles
Think about this. J.T. Barrett is the only B1G East quarterback who has a starting job locked down. There will be competitions at Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Rutgers. The B1G West, however, might only have one quarterback battle in Madison. Indiana and Michigan could roll with experienced transfers while the jobs at Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers could be determined by what kind of system the new offensive coordinators want to run.
RELATED: Way-too-early 2016 look: Penn State
The battle in East Lansing could also come down to that, but one of the most attractive vacancies in the country doesn’t have a clear successor. It’ll be interesting to see which of these teams decide to name a starter after the spring game or if they let the debate carry into the summer. Either way, the B1G East will be loaded with new signal-callers in 2016.