Big Ten Media Days Notebook, Day Two

Big Ten Media Days

Big Ten Media Days wrapped up in Chicago on Tuesday with seven teams meeting to preview the 2018 season.

OSU’s Urban Meyer, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst were among the highlights of the day.

If you missed Jim Harbaugh, James Franklin, and Scott Frost on Monday, you can find the Day One Notebook here.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer addressed the firing of Zach Smith and the growth of quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

He also spoke about the growing rivalry between the Buckeyes and Michigan State. Ohio State destroyed MSU, 48-3 in 2017, but the Spartans have denied the Buckeyes a Big Ten title and a shot at the College Football Playoff twice since 2013.

Meyer said he and his program have a lot of respect for the other team up north.

“I don’t believe it’s just Coach Dantonio, I believe it’s Michigan State, Ohio State. There’s incredible history there,” Meyer said. “This will be the seventh year that every game comes down basically to the wire. A lot of times it’s for the championship.”

Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio spoke Tuesday as well. He has spent much of his tenure playing up the Spartans as disrespected underdogs, but with his team consistently picked in the top-15 of national polls and near the top of the Big Ten East, that’s no longer really possible.

“I think that somebody said we were No. 5 ranked in the country. Another one said 10, another said 12, another said 15,” Dantonio said. “It just so happens we’re in a great conference. Very strong conference. On the East side there’s a lot of strength in that area as well.

“We’re in a very competitive conference that will be decided by inches in a lot of ways. So that’s the nature of it. But I think that we get more than our share of publicity, good and bad.”

Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst is another coach whose team is considered a potential national championship contender. Chryst went out of his way to say absolutely nothing meaningful when he was asked about that.

“Our expectations and our goals inside the room have always been really high. And once you set those, then I think you’ve got to go back, and the only way to reach, obtain those goals, is to take advantage of each day and focus on that,” said Chryst.

“We’re talking about earning more opportunities, earning games, whether that’s trying to win the Big Ten West so you can earn the right to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, earn the right to play in a bowl game, all those things are earned. And the only way to get there is by making the most of each day and each opportunity.”

Illinois coach Lovie Smith came to Media Days with both a new beard and new outlook as he enters year three with the Illini.

His program started 15 true freshmen and one redshirt freshman in 2017, and is hoping to use that difficult year as a building block this fall. What will that progress look like? Smith didn’t want to put a specific number on it.

“I don’t think you should ever say this is how many wins we have to have or we’re going to get. But for us, when we say improvement, when you talk about the young players, first time on the field, I just know behind the scenes they’ve gotten so much better,” Smith said.

“You look at what happened during the course of the year. There were about three games where really we didn’t have a chance to win last year. The rest of the time we played competitive ball.”

Smith pointed to the Illini’s schedule as a benefit. They will only leave the state of Illinois once before October 20. That gives the program with a chance to show some positive direction before things get tough later in the year.

“Getting out of the gate early on, getting momentum, and then we’ll see. I just know that we’re a better football team right now. And normally, with my history, it’s said that that shows results during the course of the year,” Smith said.

Maryland’s D.J. Durkin is another coach looking to get his program moving after a difficult 2017. The Terps started the year by knocking off Texas in Austin, but eventually got down to their fourth-string quarterback and slumped to a 4-8 record.

That bad season hasn’t changed his vision for his program, though.

“Our program, real simple, our goal is to compete and win the Big Ten,” Durkin said. “Recruiting area and the people we’ve been able to bring into this program, we feel we’re doing it at the level we need to do to be able to accomplish that. Every guy that puts on a helmet for us or wears a whistle or is part of our program has that goal in mind.”

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz was clearly excited to talk about quarterback Nate Stanley.

He threw for 2,432 yards, 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions as a sophomore, including a 5 touchdown day against Ohio State. Ferentz said that Stanley has become a key leader for the Hawkeyes team as well.

“He is a second underclassmen we brought (to Big Ten Media Days), Josey Jewell being the other. As far as we know, they’re the only two juniors in the history of the program that have been selected captains after their sophomore seasons by their team,” Ferentz said.

“I think that just tells you how far Nate came last year, from being a guy we weren’t sure was going to start in August, at this time last year we didn’t know who our starter was, and really had a good season. But most important, I think he’s gained the respect and confidence of his teammates.”

Indiana coach Tom Allen said that the Hoosiers have made a total overhaul of their program following a close-but-no-cigar season in 2017.

IU finished last year with a 5-7 record, but had a lead on Ohio State late in the third quarter, took Michigan to overtime, had a 9-3 lead on Michigan State in the fourth quarter, and had a 33-28 lead on Maryland in the fourth quarter.

Rather than get frustrated, Allen took action to figure out how to get the Hoosiers over the hump.

“We have to finish. We play with unbelievable toughness. We’ve competed for 60 minutes. Now it’s time to finish,” said Allen. “In order to do that, I had to do some evaluation over the course of the offseason and evaluate our program from top to bottom. And through that, in order for us to finish, we had to make some changes.”

The Hoosiers have a new strength coach and a new speed coach and are hoping a new approach to training during the offseason will pay dividends in the fall.