Big Ten East Division offenses full of potential, intrigue

As far as value goes, spring-game statistics are right up there with preseason watch lists and newly hired coaches' quotes about their plans. ("We're going to be aggressive! And physical!") In other words, don't read too much into them.

Still, there were a few interesting things to be gleaned by looking hard enough. Maryland, for instance, ran 97 plays during its spring game earlier this month and never huddled on offense. While the Terrapins made some mistakes on offense, they also scored five touchdowns on plays longer than 40 yards.

At Penn State, presumptive starting quarterback Trace McSorley went 18-for-19 for 217 yards and three touchdowns -- in the first half. That's hard to do against air. The Nittany Lions also showed off their new frenetic tempo under first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead.

What do these performances in scrimmages that were dumbed down for public consumption really tell us? They confirm one thing. The Big Ten East Division is going to be chock full of interesting offenses, and the potential is there for this to become a high-scoring, entertaining side of the conference.

Maryland and Penn State earned mention early on because they had two of the crummiest offenses in the league last year. Both averaged fewer than 25 points per game. The Terps couldn't throw the ball without turning it over and the Nittany Lions couldn't block anybody (again).

The offensive line has been an issue at both places, but guess how that best can be masked? By playing fast, getting rid of the ball quickly and spreading the ball around. Both Moorhead and Maryland's new offensive playcaller, Walt Bell, want to do just that. While it may or may not go smoothly in Year 1, it surely will be a heck of a lot more fun to watch than what both teams have tried before.

There's a similar situation brewing at Rutgers. New coach Chris Ash hired 28-year-old Drew Mehringer to run his offense in the same style as Ohio State's. The Scarlet Knights don't have a J.T. Barrett or an Ezekiel Elliott on the roster, and the quarterback position in particular looked like an issue in the spring game.

Again, though, this is a team that will try to utilize speed -- receiver Janarion Grant, a lightning-fast kick-return artist, was wisely featured on offense in the spring game -- and spread concepts to maximize its strengths. That's a much better idea than trying to run a pro-style system without upper-level Big Ten talent in the trenches. It might take a while for Ash and Mehringer to find the right players for their scheme, but they are likely already going to pose more challenging matchup problems for opponents.

Indiana is another team that is viewed as a lower-tier East team. But none of the Big Ten defensive coaches like facing the Hoosiers. Kevin Wilson is a creative offensive playcaller whose team led the Big Ten in scoring, total offense, passing yardage and snaps last year. Indiana finished second in the league in scoring in 2012 and 2013 before being derailed by quarterback injuries in 2014. Wilson still has to figure out his quarterback race this year -- junior-college import Richard Lagow looks like the leader -- but the Hoosiers are going to score lots of points this fall (and probably give up a whole bunch again).

We haven't even mentioned the division's three big dogs: Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. There are few more intriguing offenses anywhere than the Buckeyes, who return Barrett, all-conference offensive lineman Pat Elflein and not much else in the way of proven veterans. Urban Meyer's team will be loaded with young talent, though, and they'll be fascinating to watch develop. Odds are good that they will remain one of the most feared offensive attacks in the Big Ten.

Michigan's quarterback situation is unsettled, but Jim Harbaugh's ability to coach up that position diminishes concerns there. The Wolverines have the most experienced offensive line in the league and anchors at receiver, tight end and running back. They and Michigan State are the two final pro-style holdouts in the division and will continue to try and wear down opponents physically. The Spartans lost Connor Cook at quarterback, two All-Americans on the offensive line and a lot at the receiver position. But Tyler O'Connor eased fears with a strong spring-game showing, and Mark Dantonio's staff more than deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reloading.

The Big Ten East isn't suddenly going to morph into the Big 12, as strong defenses and, on occasion, good ol' November Midwest weather will have their say. But all seven teams look capable of offensive outbursts, and even the underachieving offenses have received a jolt of excitement this offseason.

East coaches have touted the division as one of the toughest in all of college football. This year, it could also be one of the most entertaining.