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Big Ten Spotlight: Positions battles to watch

C.J. Stroud
C.J. Stroud (USA Today Sports Images)

Position battles in spring football are always of interest to fans. Here’s a look at six key position battles in the Big Ten.

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1. OHIO STATE QUARTERBACK

Most expect CJ Stroud to run away with this battle but freshman Kyle McCord and fellow system veteran Jack Miller are going to push. And that’s what Ryan Day wants. It wouldn’t surprise to see Day push this battle into the fall. No matter who comes out on top, they will have so many weapons surrounding them on offense that they should have an amazing season.

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2. IOWA DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Daviyon Nixon and Jack Heflin are both headed to the NFL, and the Hawkeyes have to replace as strong a defensive tackle combo as they've ever had. Nixon's impact cannot be overstated - his 2020 season was one of the best in program history, and he leaves a giant hole as an interior disruptor. Right now Noah Shannon has the inside track to start and former end Yahya Black is the other starter but they could be pushed by sophomore Logan Lee and redshirt freshman Logan Jones. Jones is already setting weight room records.

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3. PENN STATE PASS RUSHER

With Jayson Oweh off to the NFL and Shaka Toney graduated, both end spots in new co-defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter's 4-3 defense will need to be filled. The Nittany Lions added Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie via the transfer portal, and he should be penciled in to take one of the two open spots. Sophomore Adisa Isaac has a ton of hype around him and he has all the tools to become a menace in the backfield for opposing offenses. Freshman Bryce Mostella has intriguing size but will need to fill out a little bit, while Smith Vilbert and Nick Tarbuton have both been in the mix for a couple of seasons but have yet to break through. Zuriah Fisher moving from linebacker to end will be interesting as well. They should add some nice depth behind Ebiketie and Isaac but, as a whole, the unit is largely unproven.

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4. MICHIGAN QUARTERBACK

The Wolverines have more questions than answers at QB heading in to the spring, with both Joe Milton and Dylan McCaffrey having transferred out of Ann Arbor, leaving Cade McNamara as the lone player returning with any collegiate snaps at Michigan. So while the former four-star has the experience edge heading into spring practice, 2021 Rivals100 member J.J. McCarthy shows up on campus with lofty expectations as an early enrollee who could see very early action. Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman will have a few things to say about who the starter is as well and has shown he can be effective when healthy. Bowman arrives in the summer.

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5. WISCONSIN DEFENSIVE END

Fifth year senior Matt henningsen is a lock for one spot, but the other one is wide open as the Badgers need to replace both ends in their 3-4 set. Junior Isaiah Mullens has the inside track on the other spot but he’ll be pushed by redshirt freshman James Thompson, and sophomores Rodas Johnson and Gio Paez. Thompson is the dark horse to win the spot, and he’s got the most natural pass rushing abilities, but he’s the rawest athlete. True freshman Michael Jarvis is an early enrollee, and could potentially contribute.

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6. MINNESOTA WIDE RECEIVER

Chris Autumn-Bell returns as the presumptive No. 1 but the No. 2 is wide open. The field of contenders is wide and includes early enrollees Lemeke Brockington and Brady Boyd, Texas A&M transfer Dylan Wright and three relatively unproven returning players in Daniel Jackson, Clay Geary and Mike Brown-Stephens. No matter who secures the No. 2 spot, they will have a veteran quarterback in Tanner Morgan throwing them the ball, which will make for an easier transition. Wright has the most natural talent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either of the early enrollees ends up being a significant contributor.

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