Are you ready for some football, or at least what passes for it in the spring? Good, because this Saturday brings us our first spring-game Saturday of the season and that includes the chance to watch two Big Ten teams.
Northwestern doesn’t hold a traditional spring game, but you can watch whatever it is the Wildcats will do to close spring practice this Saturday on BTN at 10 a.m. CT. Northwestern is a pretty intriguing team going into 2017. The Wildcats only return 10 starters and are missing some key pieces like linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo and wide receiver Austin Carr from last year’s 7-6 team.
But Northwestern has one thing half the Big Ten doesn’t — a returning starter at quarterback — as well as Justin Jackson, currently the NCAA leader in career carries. Last season’s record was pretty true to the Wildcats’ Pythagorean expectation, which was a significant departure from 2015, when Northwestern overachieved more than any other team in the country to get to 10-3.
Add it all up and you have a team that has to be factored in to the West Division race.
The other Big Ten team you can watch on Saturday is mysterious Michigan State. Based on Pythagorean expectation, the Spartans were the second-most overachieving team in the country in 2015 — trailing only Northwestern — which may have foretold some of 2016’s collapse but nobody could have projected 3-9. Throw in the ongoing sexual assault investigation in East Lansing and this is the lowest the Michigan State program has been this decade.
The Spartans will once again be breaking in a mostly new quarterback. Sophomore Brian Lewerke is considered the leader there after attempting 57 passes as a backup last year. The real questions, however, remain on the other side of the ball.
Did you realize that Michigan State finished last in the conference in sacks last year? No, really. After finishing in the top three in sacks for three consecutive seasons, the Spartans dropped all the way to 14th. Not only that, it wasn’t even close. Michigan State had 11 sacks in 2016, 10 behind Purdue and Rutgers. The pass defense is also hoping to get back to its “No Fly Zone” days, but will have to do it while replacing two starters in the secondary.
This may not make for the most exciting of spring games, but there’s plenty of intrigue baked in. I’m relatively certain the Spartans will be better in 2017, it’s just a question of how much better. Michigan State’s spring game kicks off at 2 p.m. CT on BTN.
If you’re a real football junkie, you can also catch South Carolina on the SEC Network and — the true connoisseur’s game! — the revival of Alabama-Birmingham football on ESPN3. Next week brings a full slate of spring games, including televised scrimmages at Purdue, Ole Miss, Auburn, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Florida State and Mississippi State.
Good story from Erin Sorensen on Nebraska women’s gymnastics and the NCAA Regional in Lincoln this weekend. She also has your practice report from last night. On the diamond, the Huskers’ bullpen took a hit with an injury to Reece Eddins that will require Tommy John surgery.
The Grab Bag
- Hogs fans won’t be carrying guns to the stadium after Arkansas lawmakers added college sporting events to a list of exemptions to the state’s new law expanding concealed carry rights.
- Former Huskers recall the shift from a 5-2 to a 4-3 defense in the early 1990s.
- I will never get tired of watching great college football plays recreated in Tecmo Bowl. Never.
- Facing pressure from the NCAA, North Carolina sort of repealed its “bathroom bill” but the move doesn’t seem to please either side in the debate. The NCAA will reevaluate its current championship ban.
Today’s Song of Today