With lower-rung Big Ten teams both present (Illinois) and future (Maryland) taking to the field over the next few days for spring games, let's take a conference-centric look around spring football.
The Illini play their Orange and Blue Game under the lights Friday, with kickoff at 9 p.m. ET at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Tickets are free, and BTN will provide live coverage starting at 9 p.m., with the legendary J Leman contributing on commentary.
Illinois breaks in five new assistant coaches this spring, and is trumpeting 10 true freshmen who enrolled early. Via FightingIllini.com:
Ten early enrollees - five mid-year high school graduates and five junior college transfers - are on campus and participating in spring practices, hoping to get a jump on playing time for the fall. The early high school grads are defensive backs Dillan Cazley and Darius Mosely and offensive linemen Jesse Chadwell, Christian Dilauro and Austin Schmidt. The junior college transfers are wide receiver Martize Barr, defensive lineman Abe Cajuste, star Eric Finney, offensive lineman Dallas Hinkhouse and safety Zane Petty.
In additon to the new faces on the field, five new assistant coaches have joined Tim Beckman's staff for the 2013 season. Former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit will take over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he's joined by his former offensive line coach at Western Michigan A.J. Ricker. A pair of former Illini players, Mike Bellamy (wide receivers) and Greg Colby (defensive line), returned to their alma mater as coaches. Also joining the staff this season is Al Seamonson (outside linebackers), most recently at Central Florida. Marcus Berry also has joined the staff as the director of player personnel.
Nine Illinois players will play for both teams to alleviate some depth concerns.
The Wolverines play their spring game Saturday afternoon (BTN television coverage is tape delayed to 9 p.m. ET). Like most programs, Michigan is equipping their quarterbacks with no-contact jerseys to prevent a season-crippling hit to their top signalcallers.
But what does an enterprising football program with a borderline pathological need to troll its most intense rival do when the traditional no-contact jersey coincides with that rival's colors? It contacts Oregon State, of course. Via MLive:
"As we've stated, we don't wear red jerseys, so these were a temporary fix until we could get some custom jerseys made, which we hope will be in this week," a Michigan spokesman wrote in an email.
An Oregon State spokesman said Michigan contacted them for the jerseys because U-M equipment manager Jon Falk knows Beavers equipment manager Arnold Alcantar.
"They needed a contrasting color," the spokesman wrote in an email. "Our equip guy knows Michigan's equip guy a little. Simple as that."
Pictures indicate that the Michigan equipment managers sewed on the all-important patches for the Big Ten conference and Adidas -- Oregon State is a Nike school, and the jerseys are made by the Adidas competitor -- just in case Michigan can find a way to sell a no-contact alternate jersey.
That arch-rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes, take the field in Cincinnati on Saturday for their annual spring game. Head coach Urban Meyer told reporters Thursday that they expect the spring game to set the depth chart entering August. Via Sports Illustrated:
"A lot of times the spring game makes or breaks if we have enough trust to play them in a game,'' Meyer said.
Some coaches look at spring games as just another practice. Nebraska, the first Big Ten to hold a spring game this year, tried to make it fun for fans by, among other things, having offensive linemen compete in a punt-catching contest.
"We attack spring a little different than other programs,'' Meyer said. "When we're done with spring, that's the way it's going to be in the fall. Of course, things change at times, but very rarely. In the fall we're trying to win a game. In the spring we're trying to identify the depth chart, not taking into consideration the freshmen that will show up in June. I want the mentality here at Ohio State to be that spring football is when you go earn a spot.''
The Buckeyes' coaches have identified defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and defensive back Tyvis Powell as the stars of spring drills. The Ohio State spring game will be shown on tape delay by BTN at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Taking a cue from future conference rival Nebraska and their tribute to cancer patient Jack Hoffman last week, Rutgers is holding an essay contest to select 22 middle schoolers affected by Hurricane Sandy as participants in the Scarlet Knights' spring game April 27. Via CoachingSearch.com:
Kids in sixth through eighth grade who were affected by Hurricane Sandy can submit a short essay or photos through the Rutgers football Facebook page, and 22 of them will be chosen to play in the final five minutes of the scrimmage.
Rutgers also plans to wear special jerseys with the names of towns affected by the storm on the back and special logos on the helmets. The Scarlet Knights have been active in fundraising for storm relief, raising more than $61,000 through T-shirt sales.