The B1G teams that will be hurt most by the loss of spring practice
With spring practices and several games either postponed or canceled, there’s a good chance that college football teams won’t have the chance to start working together until summer, or perhaps even August. It puts every team in the same situation heading into the 2020 season.
But we can all agree that spring practice is a little more important to some teams than others. Those 15 spring practices can be essential for program’s ushering in new coaches, replacing a ton of key players or even helping incoming recruits gain a little experience before the start of the season.
Yes, every team in the B1G — and college football, for that matter — is experiencing the same situation this spring. A few will be hurt by the delay of team activities than others, though. It could seriously alter the expectation for six teams in the conference in 2020.
Mike Locksley needed all the time he could get with his team this spring after a dreadful first season at Maryland. After such a hot start to the 2019 campaign, the Terps quickly fell from grace, ending the year with a 3-9 record, just one B1G win (against Rutgers) and getting blown off the field several times.
There’s some reason for optimism moving forward with Locksley bringing in the nation’s 31st-ranked recruiting class, which includes heralded five-star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett. Several players from the 2020 class would likely get the chance to see early playing time and possibly make significant contributions for the Terrapins.
Maryland had 11 players enroll early, hoping to get an early jump on the transition from high school to the college game. There’s a good chance a handful still see plenty of snaps this fall, but the experience of spring practice would’ve been extremely beneficial, especially with so many skilled players graduating or leaving for the NFL Draft.
A lot of things need to be addressed in College Park, and it’s going to be tough to clean up so many areas without the spring season.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Spring is vital for a recently-hired head coach and his new team. And with Rutgers essentially in the cellar since it joined the B1G in 2014, there are no expectations for a quick turnaround, even for Greg Schiano, who worked miracles during his first run with the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers has been behind in recruiting, so it lacks the talent that can sometimes hide a team’s underlying issues. To magnify the situation, players are learning new schemes and styles on both sides of the football and will now have to learn quickly in the summer and fall. Obviously, that’s not ideal for a team with three wins in the last two seasons and hasn’t won a B1G contest since 2017.
If there’s one bright spot, it’s that Schiano has done an excellent job poaching from the transfer portal, bringing in experienced players who can (somewhat) hit the ground running. Names like Aron Cruickshank, Michael Dwumfour and Malik Barrow could provide a spark for the Scarlet Knights in 2020 (if Cruickshank is granted immediate eligibility). Still, it’s hardly enough to counter the loss of those 15 spring practices.
Considering what Schiano inherited, the loss of the spring season doesn’t really delay the process or hinder the long-term plans at Rutgers, but it could result in another painful fall for the program.
Michigan State Spartans
Much like Rutgers, Michigan State is entering a brand new era for its football program. Spring would’ve allowed Mel Tucker to get players accustomed to his coaching style and new scheme implementations. Now, the Spartans will have to wait to make those adjustments.
The good news for Michigan State is that Tucker retained most of Mark Dantonio’s defensive staff, and was able to bring former assistants and players back to East Lansing to aid in the transition to the program’s fresh look. It wouldn’t really be all that surprising if MSU’s defense is still fairly strong — though it will see at least some drop-off with Kenny Willekes, Joe Bachie and Josiah Scott gone.
Perhaps the biggest concern is the offense — which has been a big issue for the last three seasons. Not only is Jay Johnson the new play-caller at MSU, but the Spartans are looking to replace an experienced quarterback in Brian Lewerke and searching to find playmakers at wide receiver. A team that lost it’s most talented offensive pieces needed the spring to put together its depth chart.
It was going to be interesting to see what the Spartans looked like in 2020 anyway, but the end of spring practice could really hinder the team’s bowl hopes in the fall.
Jeff Brohm’s situation isn’t quite as concerning as some of the other teams mentioned on this list, but again, a roster full of young talent could’ve benefited significantly from those 15 days of spring practice. This is a team that will rely heavily on underclassmen again, which likely includes a handful of recruits from the 2020 class.
The two challenges for Purdue will be at quarterback and essentially the entire defense. The Boilermakers were hoping to utilize spring to create a competition between quarterbacks Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer, who both played significantly after losing the starting job to Elijah Sindelar, who later lost his season to injury.
Purdue is also ushering in a brand new defensive style, hiring Bob Diaco to replace Nick Holt after three seasons. The defense has been a nightmare for the Boilers the last two seasons and need a lot of help in that department.
At the very least, Purdue will have the spring to recover and rehabilitate from injuries last season. And, for some, perhaps that’s better than getting in a few extra workouts.
Really, Nebraska is in a similar situation with Purdue. Missing spring doesn’t completely derail the goals the Huskers have for the 2020 season, but it’s the idea of the younger talent and early enrollees who could’ve sped up the transition process.
Nebraska did make a change at offensive coordinator, hiring Matt Lubick. And while having the spring to get adjusted to having him on the sidelines would’ve been nice, it’s hard to imagine anything drastically changes on that side of the football with Scott Frost in charge. The skill position players should be fine, but it’s the offensive line that could’ve used a little extra work.
The biggest area of concern will be Nebraska’s defensive line, which lost all of its starters from a year ago. Obviously getting guys acclimated into more prominent roles up front would’ve been a serious advantage for the Huskers. Now Erik Chinander will have to wait until summer or fall to get his depth chart solidified up front.
With Nebraska having a gauntlet on the back end of the schedule, the Huskers really needed to hit the ground running in 2020. But it may take a few weeks for the team to find a rhythm in the third year under Frost.
Northwestern was a worthy candidate to land on this list simply because of a 3-9 record from last season and it could use spring to eliminate some of the uncharacteristic issues it endured last season — penalties, turnovers, miscommunication, etc. On that front, yes, Pat Fitzgerald absolutely needed the spring.
On the other hand, the Wildcats are always pretty sound defensively and, when the offense isn’t stagnant, keeps the team in games pretty frequently. Even though it was a down year in Evanston, Fitzgerald has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fielding a defense that can hold its weight against anyone in the conference.
The big question is on offense, with new coordinator Mike Bajakian stepping in for Mick McCall. Northwestern desperately needed time to get things right on that side of the ball, learn the new offense and produce something better than 2019. The addition of Peyton Ramsey should counter some of those problems, as he’s been one of the most accurate passers in the B1G the last two seasons and has a knack for moving the chains.