The Big Ten had a rough year last season with a number of teams falling well below expectations. Entering 2013, the conference is looking to climb back into the national discussion, and there are 10 players that will help that happen.
It starts this spring.
As teams look to improve on last year’s records, early enrollees and backups from a year ago will get hard looks as possible playmakers for the coming season.
Here is a look at the 10 names to follow through spring training in the Big Ten.
Russell Bellomy had a rough introduction to playing time last fall. He received the most exposure against Nebraska when he went 3-of-16 for 38 yards. It was a far cry from show-stopping.
Devin Gardner is the expected starter after he took over the starting role and played very well a year ago, but don’t count out the young Bellomy.
Bellomy has all the tools to become a very good quarterback for the Wolverines.
He made some really bad decisions as a freshman, but given a fall and spring to develop, he should become a solid No. 2 for Michigan in 2013 and become firmly entrenched as the starter heading into his junior year.
Joel Heath is the next in line at defensive end for the Spartans after the departure of William Gholston. He will be a big player for the Spartans and has the chance to become the next rising star on defense this spring.
Heath is 6’6”, 270 pounds, so he is carrying on the tradition of the sizable defensive end that brings nasty athleticism to the field for the Michigan State defense.
He played in five games as a redshirt freshman.
Heath is heading into his sophomore season with very high expectations. Whether or not he can meet them will become clear this spring.
Tyler Ferguson was an early enrollee for the Nittany Lions this spring.
Ferguson is a 6’5”, 210 pound, pro-style quarterback, who is rated as the No. 5 JUCO quarterback in the 2013 class. He has a live arm and tossed 22 touchdowns last year in JUCO.
This guy is game-day ready and will step right into the starting quarterback competition this spring. He has a very good shot at winning it.
It will be a huge spring session for Ferguson.
Rex Burkhead is out at Nebraska, leaving the starting job wide open for Ameer Abdullah this spring.
Burkhead fought through injuries all year in 2012, and that gave Abdullah a ton of experience. Still, this spring will provide him with the first taste of starting tailback instruction and should help him become a premium back in the Big Ten.
All the physical tools are in place for Abdullah to be a star next year, but it begins this spring. He has to get better in pass blocking to become a complete back.
There is a lot to gain this spring for Abdullah and for the Nebraska backfield.
Curt Phillips was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA according to this ESPN report earlier this year, providing him with the opportunity to return as the starter for Wisconsin at quarterback.
After a year that was riddled with injuries at the position, the Badgers will take an open competition approach to spring training.
Phillips has a real shot at pushing ahead and winning over the starting job this spring. He has been solid in his time on the field previously, and has the tools to lead this offense immediately.
This is the guy to watch this spring in Wisconsin.
Reilly O’Toole may be in the best position of any quarterback in the Big Ten heading into the new year.
Last season, the Fighting Illini were terrible on offense, and nothing seemed to be the answer to the downfall. Nathan Scheelhaase is the incumbent starting quarterback, but his four touchdowns and eight interceptions are not promising.
O’Toole had a much better year, ending with a 74.7 completion percentage. Heading into spring, he is poised to gain the starting job.
This will be a competition, and O’Toole appears to be the obvious choice at starter at this point. If he puts together a solid spring effort, he should head into summer entrenched as the starter.
Stephen Houston is the hidden gem of the Hoosiers' offense. Houston has rushed for over four yards a carry each season as a Hoosier, but he has yet to surpass the 1,000 yard mark.
That is going to change this fall, and it starts this spring.
Houston is a rising senior and is one of the most talented backs in the Big Ten. He is overlooked because of his team, but this year, he will break out. This spring is the chance for him to become a featured part of the Hoosiers' offense and become the offensive leader for 2013.
Look for 2013 to be a big year for Houston and for this spring to be the launching pad for a career year.
Tevaun Smith needs to have a huge spring for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa was dreadfully terrible through the air last season, and a lot had to do with a lack of playmakers on the outside. That has to change this fall, and it starts with a big spring from Smith.
There is a lot to gain this spring for Smith as the Hawkeyes look for a star in the passing game. Kirk Ferentz knows that finding an offensive playmaker is a must if he wants to keep drawing his huge salary after next year.
Smith can be the guy, but this spring will be a major proving ground for him heading into the summer and fall.
Paul Jorgensen is stepping into a possible starting line position this spring. He will be in a battle for the starting job, but he has the advantage heading into the competition.
He is a sizable player standing at 6’6”, 280 pounds and is a pile mover.
The Wildcats have been relying heavily on the ground game the past few seasons to create offense, and they will need Jorgensen to make big strides on the line to help that continue.
This is a big spring practice session for Jorgensen with a ton to gain for the young lineman.
Carlos Hyde is already the starter for the Buckeyes, but this spring, he still has a lot of ground to gain in the Urban Meyer offense.
His first year under Meyer he showed flashes as a great back, finishing just under 1,000 yards, despite sitting out the first two games of the year with injury. Given a full fall and spring under Meyer, he will exceed expectations.
Look for Hyde to come out of spring as one of the best backs in the Big Ten, and as a possible darkhorse Heisman candidate alongside Braxton Miller.
Hyde has the talent, he just has to gain the knowledge in the Meyer offense this spring to put together a huge senior campaign.