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Big Ten Spotlight: Three storylines to watch this spring

It has been a rather quiet spring across the Big Ten Conference, and one of the most notable storylines was what did not happen. Is this just the calm before next season’s storm? Here’s a look at what is going on around the conference this spring.

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CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

Nebraska quarterbacks warm up during spring practices.
Nebraska quarterbacks warm up during spring practices. (AP Images)

Weather forces spring game cancellations

Over half of the Big Ten’s programs scheduled their spring games for the April 14 weekend, but that proved to be dicey, as inclement weather has struck the Midwest and forced the cancellation of spring games at Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Minnesota, meanwhile, moved its April 14 spring game up to the night of April 12 to avoid the bad weather.

The schools canceling their spring games entirely will still complete their 15 practices and get the necessary work in, but opportunities to create an exciting recruiting weekend - especially with spring official visits in place for the first time this year - while also revving up the fan base for the upcoming season, are lost.

Juxtapose those situations with the spring game festivals about to go on at Ohio State and Nebraska. Renovations are being done on Ohio Stadium, which limit the number of seats available. So the Buckeyes will not challenge their all-time - and college football’s all-time - record for spring game attendance of 100,189 in 2016. Still, 80,000 are expected to attend the April 14 game that was also almost canceled due to weather before being moved up to an 11:45am start.

And in Lincoln, the dawn of the Scott Frost era has rejuvenated an already passionate Nebraska fan base that saw the spring game sell out in just over 24 hours when the tickets first went on sale in February. The secondary market had the $10 tickets going for over $500 after the sell-out. There is a chance for rain in the early forecast for that April 21 Red-White Scrimmage, but temperatures are expected to be pleasant and the chance of a cancellation is almost nil.

Northwestern unveils the Taj Mahal of practice facilities

The facilities arms race in college football has been going on for several decades, and in order to attract top talent schools need to consistently be pushing the envelope with their program’s environs. One of the most impressive entries into this arms race was Northwestern’s Ryan Fieldhouse, which was unveiled earlier this month and is part of the larger $270 million Walter Athletics Center that is expected to be fully open and operational in the summer.

Utilizing the beautiful setting of the campus on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Wildcats have built one of the most visually stunning facilities in the country, both inside and out. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow for a nearly 180-degree view of the water, waves and beach from the practice field, and the accompanying amenities are state-of-the-art, including the training and medical upgrades.

Pat Fitzgerald conducted Northwestern’s first spring practice inside the new fieldhouse on April 7, and it will come in handy this weekend after the Wildcats had to cancel their spring game due to expected inclement weather. The longer-term benefits for the program will be even more substantial, including the impact this facility will have on attracting top talent to Evanston. Iowa, Maryland and several other Big Ten programs have seen increased recruiting buzz after their recent facility improvements, but Northwestern’s new digs are bound to be the talk of the conference for years to come.

Scott Frost has a quarterback decision to make

Scott Frost
Scott Frost (AP Images)

The only head coach in the Big Ten orchestrating his first spring practice is Nebraska’s Scott Frost, and he is jumping right into the deep end of the pool with an important quarterback competition in the wake of Tanner Lee’s departure. The problem for Frost is not bodies – there were more than enough candidates on the roster at the start of spring – but how many of his options fit the new offensive system being implemented in Lincoln.

The quarterback picture became clearer earlier this week when sophomore Patrick O’Brien, a former Rivals250 prospect, announced his intention to transfer. Still in competition are former four-stars in redshirt freshman Tristian Gebbia and true freshman Adrian Martinez, along with walk-on Andrew Bunch, who was a three-star out of Tennessee in the 2016 class before going to junior college. Noah Vedral, a Nebraska native who was Frost’s second-string quarterback at UCF before transferring to Lincoln, will have to sit in 2018 unless a long-shot waver application is cleared by the NCAA.

On a larger scale, Frost is trying to resurrect the blue-collar, hard-nosed brand of football that Nebraska’s tradition has been built on, and as a former Cornhusker player he should have a better handle on that than his immediate predecessors. This quarterback competition is the biggest question to answer in the short term, though, and how it transpires will be key to setting the tone for the Frost era in Lincoln.