Big Ten position battles: Penn State among teams looking to sort out uncertainty at key spots
Nebraska quarterbacks Tanner Lee (13) and Patrick O’Brien (12) stand back to back during NCAA college football spring practice in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, March 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Spring football provides plenty of opportunities for teams to sort out their rosters and fill vacancies on their depth charts. Of course, most freshmen aren’t on campus yet and there’s plenty of time for players to make moves before the season begins. But here’s a look at nine position battles across the Big Ten that can have an impact on the conference race.
Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton runs a drill during practice held at the StubHub Center in Los Angeles, Ca. on Dec. 28, 2016. The Nittany Lions will take on USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. Joe Hermitt | firstname.lastname@example.org
Nittany Lions wide receiver Chris Godwin exploded last season and played himself into good draft position with a strong junior season. But Penn State will need to replace him with another prolific target for quarterback Trace McSorley. There’s some returning production with DaeSean Hamilton (34 catches, 506 yards, one touchdown), DeAndre Thompkins (27 catches, 440 yards, one touchdown) and Saeed Blacknall (15 catches, 347 yards, three touchdowns), plus freshman KJ Hamler enters the mix. But the Nittany Lions will definitely need a home run threat on the outside to complement McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley.
The Terrapins have been known for their subpar quarterback play over the past couple seasons, especially when it comes to interceptions. Now, Maryland might have its quarterback in North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, who sat out last season. Henderson is a former four-star recruit who has been taking first-team reps this spring, but he might have to compete with incoming freshman Kasim Hill, a four-star recruit, in August.
Ohio State cornerback Damon Webb celebrates his touchdown after an interception against Nebraska during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
The Buckeyes don’t rebuild; they reload. It’s a tired cliché, but it applies to the secondary in Columbus. Three former Ohio State defensive backs could go in the first round of this month’s draft, but that leaves three open spots for the Buckeyes. Safety Damon Webb returns, and cornerback Denzel Ward rotated in last season, but that leaves open spots for junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield (four stars) and freshmen Jeffrey Okudah (five), Shaun Wade (five), Isaiah Pryor (four) and Marcus Williamson (four) to compete for.
Wisconsin running back Bradrick Shaw, right, runs with the ball as Penn State safety Marcus Allen defends during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Penn State Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale are gone from the Badgers, but Paul Chryst surely has another big time Wisconsin back on deck. Bradrick Shaw has the chance to step into a starring role, while Chris James is eligible after transferring from Pitt. Whoever wins the job will be playing with a game-managing quarterback in Alex Hornibrook.