It might be hard to imagine, but negative recruiting was not the only topic discussed at Big Ten media days on Monday and Tuesday.
From roster rebuilds to new coaches to season expectations, here are the big storylines facing each team in the conference’s highly-competitive East division this season.
The Buckeyes, led by head coach Urban Meyer, lost nine impact players at the end of last season to the NFL Draft.
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“Forty-four of our (current) players, which is over half of our scholarships, are kids that never played in a game,” he said. “So we have to get them ready.”
Meyer said he “sees the potential” of this year’s team to reach the college football playoff after narrowly missing it last season despite the loaded roster.
“We’ve had very, very good recruiting classes over the last three, four years and I see it,” he said. “There’s been examples throughout the years. … I feel they had to wait their turn because of what was in front of them and the chains come off pretty soon and we’ll find out what (we) got.”
After a 10-win season and an offseason spent filling headlines, head coach Jim Harbaugh is ready for the heavy expectations placed on his program.
“I’ll address it with our players, our staff, the same way I think of it,” he said. “We have big hopes. We’ve got big dreams. We’ve got lofty goals. And all those are achievable. And they have to be worked for.
“You can accomplish anything if the work is realized. And those things have to be earned. So we are in the position right now to work to get the things we want. That’s the fact. That’s the mentality. That’s the attitude.”
Michigan will boast one of the most prolific defenses in the country this season, led by star cornerback Jourdan Lewis — who informed reporters on Monday that he’d also like to play wide receiver this year.
The Spartans have been nothing if not incredibly consistent over the past several years under head coach Mark Dantonio.
This season, Michigan State will have to replace former senior captain and quarterback Connor Cook, who finished his career with a berth in the College Football Playoffs last year.
Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Conner seems to be a logical option for the job, but he’ll have a little competition in Damion Terry, redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and true freshman (and early enrollee) Messiah DeWeaver.
“Tyler obviously is in the lead right now,” said Dantonio. “But I’m not going to have the pressure put on one position to say this is the make or break guy.”
The Nittany Lions are back at full scholarships for the first year since the NCAA-levied sanctions in 2012. That’s why head coach James Franklin has referred to the upcoming season time and again as “Year One.”
Penn State will also unveil a new uptempo spread offense, headed up by offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, and quarterbacked by someone not named Christian Hackenberg (redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley is the frontrunner, followed by redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens).
“I think the combination of what Joe is going to be able to bring to the table as well as us now having experience and depth on the offensive line, those things are going to marry up well,” said Franklin.
“What we have at the running back position, we went from being inexperienced at wide receiver to now being experienced. We’ve got mobile quarterbacks on our roster that complement those things. I think all of it will time up extremely well.
“I think Joe has got a nice scheme, but we also have the personnel that’s going to make it effective as well. Joe has a background like I do in the West Coast offense, so a lot of our passing schemes are similar, really running game as well with inside and outside zones and things like that, so it’s not like we’re running different plays. Everybody is running the same plays, but it’s how he packages them together and the system overall.”
In head coach Kevin Wilson’s sixth season, the Hoosiers are returning 17 starters from last year’s roster. Not returning, however, is quarterback Nate Sudfeld (NFL), and standout running back Jordan Howard (NFL).
Indiana returns 1,000-yard rusher DeVine Redding, however, and has a stable of young quarterbacks from which to choose, including Zander Diamont and newcomer Richard Lagow, a junior college transfer.
“I will say this: In our last three years, we played three quarterbacks,” said Wilson. “So we don’t need a starting quarterback. We need more than one. In this day and age, those guys are going to get hit.”
The team is also trying to strengthen its own in-state recruiting pipelines with an “invasion campaign” that featured several satellite camps this summer.
“Hey, if we want to make the game better, and that’s the gist of why, as coaches, I want to make a commitment to my state,” said Wilson. “We’ll see if it goes. … I think it’s going to be a heck of an adventure.”
D.J. Durkin pepped up an otherwise sleepy second day of media sessions with his tangible excitement on Tuesday morning.
The first-year head coach has made it his mission to capitalize better on recruits the Terrapins are losing from within their own backyard.
“Our backyard, I think, is one of the most talent-rich areas in the country in terms of football recruiting,” said Durkin. “There’s, year in, year out, there’s great players. There’s the guys recruited nationally as well as depth of players that I think you can put together a great program with.
“So that’s obviously been our priority. We’re putting a lot of time and effort into that.”
Durkin, just 38 years old, had prior stops under both Meyer (at Bowling Green) and Harbaugh (as Michigan’s defensive coordinator) before taking his first head coaching job at Maryland.
First-year head coach Chris Ash has stepped into a lot more than on-field production issues at Rutgers. Former head coach Kyle Flood left somewhat unceremoniously last season after a wave of arrests of current and former players, and Flood himself was discovered to have violated NCAA academic policies.
Ash, most recently Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, said he’s well aware of the need for a culture change at Rutgers.
“It’s really about the foundation that we’ve laid and very excited about the culture and environment that we created in our building so far,” he said. “Our players come to the building to work and get coached and get pushed to be the best that they can be every single day. They know they’re going to get coached extremely hard. We’ve got a lot of accountability. We’ve got structure. We’ve got discipline. But we’re having a tremendous amount of fun with these players, too.”