Nine of the 14 teams in the Big Ten appear set at quarterback heading into the fall. The five others will continue auditions in August, and no competition will be more closely watched than the one at Ohio State.
With two-time Big Ten player of the year Justin Fields departing for the NFL, returning backups C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller III and five-star January enrollee Kyle McCord took the snaps in spring practice.
Stroud was believed to be the front-runner entering the spring, but coach Ryan Day said a starter might not be determined until shortly before the Sept. 2 opener at Minnesota.
“They've learned a lot, but now the race is on over the next few months to see who can make the next strides so that they’re further along,” Day said. “Spring’s been good. There’s been a lot of progress across the board, but still a long way to to before we play against Minnesota.”
Stroud and Miller saw limited playing time in their first seasons. Stroud took eight snaps over three games, and Miller had 10 snaps over two games. Each broke a long touchdown run late in blowouts.
Day is presiding over his first quarterback competition as a head coach. He was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer when future first-round NFL picks Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Joe Burrow were battling it out in spring 2018.
At Michigan, Cade McNamara would appear to be the favorite following the transfers of Joe Milton and Dylan McCaffrey. McNamara replaced Milton in the first half of the second-to-last game and led the Wolverines to a comeback win over Rutgers, and he got the start the next week against Penn State.
McNamara will be challenged in the preseason by Alan Bowman, who will arrive as a graduate transfer from Texas Tech.
Michigan State’s situation is up in the air after 2020 starter Rocky Lombardi transferred. Payton Thorne started one game as a redshirt freshman, and the Spartans have added transfer Anthony Russo from Temple.
Peyton Ramsey is gone after leading Northwestern to a division title, leaving South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski to battle with Hunter Johnson and Andrew Marty.
Purdue's competition will begin in earnest in August when Aidan O’Connell returns from a foot injury. He'll go against Jack Plummer and UCLA transfer Austin Burton.
Teams appearing to have starting quarterbacks decided: Illinois, Brandon Peters; Indiana, Michael Penix Jr.; Iowa, Spencer Petras; Maryland, Taulia Tagovailoa; Minnesota, Tanner Morgan; Nebraska, Adrian Martinez; Penn State, Sean Clifford; Rutgers, Noah Vedral; and Wisconsin, Graham Mertz.
Bret Bielema inherited a 2-6 team at Illinois, and the first three weeks of spring practice weren't always pretty.
“With this group we have to understand baby steps are important before we can begin to walk or even run," Bielema said. “I took it back to ground zero. No disrespect to where we were, (but) it wasn’t where we needed to be. I wanted to go back and start again and they responded very well.”
Considering there's been a coaching change, a surprisingly high number of players elected to use the extra year of eligibility available from the NCAA because of the pandemic, notably Peters and linebacker Jake Hansen.
Michigan hired former NFL assistants Mike McDonald and Maurice Linguist as co-defensive coordinators, replacing Don Brown.
Maryland has two new coordinators, Dan Enos on offense and Brian Stewart on defense. Enos was associate head coach and running backs coach at Cincinnati. Stewart was cornerbacks coach at Baylor and will be in his second stint with the Terrapins.
Charlton Warren moved from defensive assistant at Georgia to defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana.
Mike Yurcich is offensive coordinator at Penn State after spending last season in the same position at Texas.
Jim O’Neil, defensive backs coach for the Las Vegas Raiders, takes over for longtime defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz at Northwestern.
Brad Lambert, defensive coordinator at Marshall, is co-defensive coordinator at Purdue.
Bielema's coordinators are Tony Petersen on offense and Ryan Walters on defense. Petersen had the same job at Appalachian State, and Walters moved to Illinois after six years coordinating Missouri's defense.
Big Ten statistical leaders who will be back: Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns; Indiana's Penix averaged 274.6 yards passing per game; Purdue's David Bell averaged 104.2 receiving yards with eight touchdowns; Rutgers' Olakunle Fatukasi averaged 11.2 tackles; and Northwestern's Brandon Joseph had six interceptions.
Rutgers' spring practice was delayed three weeks because of COVID-19 issues. Practice, scheduled to begin March 30, started on April 20 and the spring game was pushed back to May 20.
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Larry Lage, Andrew Seligman, Noah Trister and Mitch Stacy contributed.
A game-by-game look at the Badgers' 2021 football schedule
WEEK 1: vs. Penn State
Date: Sept. 4
All-time series: UW trails 9-10
Last meeting: UW lost 22-10 in 2018
Key returner: WR Jahan Dotson posted five games of over 100 yards receiving and was a catalyst of the team’s four-game winning streak to end last season.
Note: The Nittany Lions’ losing season last year was their first under coach James Franklin and the program’s second since 2004.
WEEK 2: vs. Eastern Michigan
Date: Sept. 11
All-time series: UW leads 3-0
Last meeting: UW won 24-3 in 1996
Key returner: QB Preston Hutchinson averaged 277 yards per game last season.
Note: The Eagles have had two winning seasons since 2010.
WEEK 3: vs. Notre Dame (Soldier Field, Chicago)
Date: Sept. 26
All-time series: UW trails 6-8-2
Last meeting: UW lost 31-7 in 1964
Key returner: Safety Kyle Hamilton, who led the Irish in tackles, had six pass breakups last season.
Note: Former Badgers QB Jack Coan will be in the running to be the starting QB for the Irish after transferring this winter.
WEEK 4: vs. Michigan
Date: Oct. 2
All-time series: UW trails 17-51-1
Last meeting: UW won 49-11 on Nov. 14, 2020
Key returner: WR Ronnie Bell was a bright spot on an offense that struggled with inconsistent quarterback play.
Note: Despite the Wolverines’ 2-4 season, the program extended the contract of coach Jim Harbaugh and posted the second-best recruiting class in the conference.
WEEK 5: at Illinois
Date: Oct. 9
All-time series: UW leads 43-37-7
Last meeting: UW won 45-7 on Oct. 23, 2020
Key returner: QB Brandon Peters, who gives the Illini some stability under center while they adjust to a new coaching staff. The Illini are looking to bounce back from a tough 2020 that included a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Note: First-year coach Bret Bielema, the former UW coach, has said he envisions a three-man front for the defense, a major shift that already has prompted the transfer of DE Owen Carney Jr.
WEEK 6: vs. Army
Date: Oct. 16
All-time series: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A
Key returner: QB Tyhier Tyler (above) led the Black Knights in rushing (578 yards) despite only playing in seven of their 12 games.
Note: This could be a difficult test for the Badgers, preparing for a triple-option attack in the middle of the conference season.
WEEK 7: at Purdue
Date: Oct. 23
All-time series: UW leads 50-29-8
Last meeting: UW won 45-24 in 2019
Key returner: DE George Karlaftis (above), who was sidelined by injuries last season, is a potential game-wrecker off the edge. He helped land his younger brother Yanni Karlaftis, a four-star OLB who is the highest-ranked player in Purdue’s class and was considering UW.
Note: Last season’s game was canceled due to UW’s COVID-19 outbreak, but the Badgers haven’t lost to Purdue since 2003.
WEEK 8: vs. Iowa
Date: Oct. 30
All-time series: UW leads 48-44-2
Last meeting: UW lost 28-7 on Dec. 12, 2020
Key returner: QB Spencer Petras made strides in first year as a starter, but with defense losing studs up front and the offense losing playmaker Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Petras will be asked to do more.
Note: Iowa’s win over the Badgers at Kinnick Stadium was just their second in the rivalry since 2010.
Week 9: at Rutgers
Date: Nov. 6
All-time series: UW leads 3-0
Last meeting: UW won 31-17 in 2018
Key returner: WR/KR Aron Cruickshank (above) — who transferred from UW last season — provided a number of big plays in the return game en route to winning the league’s returner of the year award and was the team’s second-leading receiver.
Note: UW has only surrendered 27 points in three matchups against the Scarlet Knights.
WEEK 10: vs. Northwestern
Date: Nov. 13
All-time series: UW leads 60-37-5
Last meeting: UW lost 17-7 on Nov. 21, 2020
Key returner: Safety Brandon Joseph (above) earned All-American honors as a freshman after tallying six interceptions, eight pass breakups and 56 total tackles.
Note: Longtime defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz — a former assistant coach at UW — retired after last season.
WEEK 11: vs. Nebraska
Date: Nov. 20
All-time series: UW leads 10-4
Last meeting: UW won 37-21 in 2019
Key returner: QB Adrian Martinez (above), who battled for his position with Luke McCaffrey last season, comes into the season as the presumed starter after McCaffrey announced he was transferring.
Note: UW has an 18-point average margin of victory over Nebraska in its seven-game win streak over the Huskers.
WEEK 12: at Minnesota
Date: Nov. 27
All-time series: UW leads 62-60-8
Last meeting: UW won 20-17 in OT on Dec. 19, 2020
Key returner: RB Mo Ibrahim (above), winner of the Big Ten’s running back of the year award last season, scored 15 touchdowns and set multiple program records last season.
Note: The Gophers have attacked the transfer market hard, landing seven transfer players this winter.
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