LIVE! Big Ten Media Days

LIVE! Big Ten Media Days

The Big Ten saved the best for last.

Or certainly the most important.

Jim Delany, the most powerful man in colege sports, gave his annual state-of-the-conference talk.

Unlike Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Delany didn't go off on NCAA enforcement practices.

He has made comments about enforcement in the past, but didn't offer any new insight.

Delany was asked about the pending Big Ten television deals.

He said "It is hard to predict."

But the Big Ten sits in a good situation.

"We're confident," he said, "but not overconfident."

***

Michael Kelly from the College Football Playoff gave a presentation about the new College Football Playoff.

“It’s been a dream of many for the College Football Playoff to come about,” Kelly said. 

And did so with a bit of an odd twist. They showed a video clip of Sean Astin, who portrayed Rudy in same 1993 film about former Notre Dame walk-on, talking about new college football playoff. To a room full of actors wearing Notre Dame jerseys. But it was set back in the same time that Rudy played at Notre Dame. Tried to be funny, but fell a bit flat. Met mostly with crickets when the lights came back on in the ballroom at the Chicago Hilton.

BTN President Mark Silverman talked mostly about some new programming ideas for the network, and mainly about how the network is trying to include Maryland and Rutgers into the fold. Make sure everyone feels in the mix, and that the Big Ten has now clearly expanded its ways into the East Coast. 

When Rutgers opens its Big Ten home slate against Penn State on Sept. 13, the BTN studio show of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and former Illinois standout Howard Griffith will hit the road, too, for that game.

***

Kirk Ferentz closed out the session with coaches. The veteran Iowa coach started off with a story about Little League baseball and him batting ninth, so moving down five spots (he’s the 14th coach to talk) wasn’t too big of a deal. Had a humorous start to his remarks, which can not be said for all of the coaches.

Joked about how he was going to be cognizant of not saying how excited he was to start the season. He didn’t do that, so good job with that. 

Offensive lineman Brandon Scherff is featured prominently on the front of the Iowa media guide. Rare for an offensive lineman, but look for Scherff to have his name mentioned among the best offensive linemen in the Big Ten all season. 

“Brandon embodies a lot of the best qualities of all those guys,” Ferentz said. “The thing we’re all excited about, more than any, is the fact that he can improve.”

Next up is Mark Silverman, the president of BTN, before Michael Kelly from the College Football Playoff and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany close out the program today. 

Kevin Wilson took to the podium as floods of reporters left to go track down Penn State coach James Franklin. Easy to see why Franklin comes across so well with recruits. He seems genuine, earnest and good-natured. 

Defense is the big concern for the Hoosiers. Rightly so. Illinois, however, won’t get to face Indiana this season. And doesn’t until the 2017 season. Thank the new divisional alignments for that.  

“We have not improved defensively like I thought we needed to in a timely fashion,” Wilson said. 

Nate Sudfeld is the quarterback for the Hoosiers now with Tre Roberson having transferred to Illinois State. Wilson said he wants to see more dynamic play from the quarterback spot this fall. Has liked what he has seen from the quarterbacks, but wants more playmaking ability evident in Bloomington.

***

James Franklin laughed at the question. 

But it could prove true. Is Christian Hackenberg the most talented quarterback in the country? 

He could, if the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year keeps making progress during his sophomore season. And if depth issues don’t hinder an inexperienced offensive line. 

“Most impressed is how humble and how hungry he is to coaching,” Franklin said. 

Folks in Nashville probably aren’t impressed with Franklin today considering he left Vanderbilt to take the job at Penn State. 

“There’s no good way to leave,” Franklin said. “I hope, over time, that people look back and realize how much we cared and how much we invested in that program.”

***

Before James Franklin started his remarks, he gave out a simple: “How’s everybody doing?” Definitely would not have seen that out of Bill O’Brien.

Franklin said only critique he has so far at event is the elevators. They have logos on them for each school, and the Penn State logo wasn’t lined up with his room. So he took the stairs. Interesting concept. 

Franklin grew up in Pennsylvania, so he has roots to the state, but has never coached a game in Beaver Stadium or been to one as a fan. 

He’s still getting to know what he has with the Nittany Lions, as does every first-year coach. 

“The spring wasn’t really about depth, but getting to know our roster and giving everyone a chance to compete,” Franklin said. 

***

Urban Meyer opens up with statement about how beneficial it was to spend time with his players this summer due to new NCAA rules before slipping in a quick comment about Braxton Miller. You know, only the guy most important to whether the Buckeyes can compete for a national title.

“He’s ready to go, full speed, and in the best shape of his life,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he knew he’d get asked that question, so he put it out there — rather slyly — from the get-go. If Ohio State was in the West Division, easy to slot them in as the favorite. That isn’t necessarily the case in the East, especially with Michigan State in the mix. Along with James Franklin about to start his first season with Penn State. 

“The East Division is very strong,” Meyer said. “You can tell by the recruiting, too, that some very good recruiting has been going on there.”

***

Randy Edsall followed Pelini. After an opening statement almost five minutes in length, no one had a question ready for the Maryland coach. Never a good sign, especially for a team coming off a bowl game appearance and new to the league. 

Edsall said he hasn’t really reached out to other coaches about what to expect in his new league.

"I'm just glad we can start to play games," he said. 

Also talked about how electric the atmosphere will be when the Terrapins host Ohio State on Oct. 4 in Maryland’s first home Big Ten game and how moving to the Big Ten has expanded Maryland’s recruiting base. Pretty standard stuff. 

Illinois doesn’t have to worry about Maryland anytime soon. The Illini don’t play the Terrapins until 2018. Will be one to watch, though, this season since former Illinois offensive coordinator Tim Banks is now running the offense at Maryland. 

***

Bo Pelini welcomed back the media after a quick lunch break with easily the best line of the day so far. The Nebraska coach, who some aren’t too happy with over in Lincoln, made waves in the spring game by bringing a cat out of the tunnel after a faux Pelini Twitter account has him in a posed shot with a cat. 

“My cat is enjoying a nap up in his room,” Pelini said. 

Apparently he has brought the feline to Chicago. Good for Pelini in seeming to loosen up a bit. He almost cracked a smile, too, when questioned about his possible off-the-field demeanor. Almost. 

Pelini also had some interesting thoughts about recruiting and the problem of recruits decommitting during the process. Basically he wants to get rid of National Signing Day, the first Wednesday in February that’s like a national holiday for most college football fans. Essentially, he wants players, once they commit, to be able to sign and stick with their program. 

“Let's get it over and and let's move forward,” he said. 

***
Mark Dantonio talked after Rutgers' Flood made his Big Ten debut. Lots of talk about how the Spartans will have to live up after a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory last season. 

Dantonio seemed relaxed and focused, two traits he has worn well recently in East Lansing. We're guessing winning has a lot to do with that.  Copied below is full transcript of Beckman's Q&A earlier from the ballroom. Fair warning: It's lengthy. 

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Tim Beckman. Coach, opening comments.

COACH BECKMAN: Before I get started talking about the Fighting Illini, I want to talk about a loss that we had this last week from our Fighting Illini family. Shawn Afryl, who graduated from the University of Illinois with one year left to play, would have been a senior for us this year, passed away.

And we would like to, as a football family, tell the Afryls how much we feel for them and know that Shawn was always a Fighting Illini. So I'd like to start off with that, and I wanted to make sure that the Afryls understand the importance of Shawn to the Fighting Illini program. So thank you.

Well, we're very, very excited. The first stat we talk about with our football team is if you look at our depth chart from the end of last year, you take the two deep and you look at your offense, defense, and special teams, and that rounds up to 50 football players. We have 40 of those guys back.

So as we have talked about in years past, we've been a very, very young football team. So that kind of speaks in volumes of what we have and what we have coming back. You watch the tapes, because we were allowed to meet this year with our football team during the summer, and we look at some of the special teams tapes, and you look out and there's 11 starters returning on your special teams. A unique situation, but a situation that we've lived with and had to live with for the last two years. So we're really excited about having those faces back.

If you look at the depth chart again and see the same thing, we'll have 34 of those guys back the following year. So we're still a very young football team, but we're an experienced football team.

Guys that have had to play as freshmen, now as a linebacker, I always use Mason Monheim as one of those guys. He started 10 football games for us as a true freshman. He was weighing 215 and bench pressing 300 pounds. Now Mason Monheim's 235 pounds and he benches around 400 pounds.

So you can see the maturity this football team has progressed through. To me it's exciting. It's very exciting. Our players have been working extremely hard. We've made strides in everything that we've done, from GPAs to community service hours, to actually wins and losses.

So this program is heading in the direction that we are looking for. We want to win more football games. There's no question about that. That's why we play the game.

But our football family understands the importance of being involved with the Fighting Illini and being a part of it. So we're excited as we get the players in on Sunday.

We'll have our first practice, a lot like Gary (Andersen) just talked about. We have always split it up so that we can utilize smaller numbers and more coaching, a little less time on the field, but we'll use that plan for four days and then get together on the fifth day as a whole football team.

So we're very, very excited. Guys are eager to get back together, and they've had an outstanding spring and an outstanding summer.

Q. We didn't see a whole lot of Aaron Bailey last year. Why do you think that is? And could he possibly do a position switch this year? How might he be used? Might we see more of him?

COACH BECKMAN: Well, Aaron Bailey is a quarterback. That's what Aaron Bailey was recruited for. That's what Aaron Bailey wants to do. He wants to line up at quarterback and lead the Fighting Illini.

So he'll be involved in that competition. There's definitely a fight at that position. You've got three state champions.

You sit in your quarterback room there, Coach Cubit does, and they've got eight state championships just in that quarterback room. That's outstanding.

So Aaron Bailey will be competing for us at quarterback, and we'll see how that ends up and how that competition ends up for Aaron's sake.

Q. With Scheelhaase gone, how has the offensive line adjusted to kind of making those adjustments with the new -- possibly a new quarterback?

COACH BECKMAN: Well, Nathan was an outstanding football player for us, and will always be missed. He's a record-setter and a great human being. But I think that our maturity of our offensive line, having four guys back that have played a lot of football together has been -- the spring, we really didn't have issues with that.

Coach Cubit does put a lot in the hands of our quarterbacks, making adjustments on the line of scrimmage. So the communication is very, very important from a quarterback to the offensive line.

But again, I think through the maturity level of the four starters that we have back on the offensive line, we had very few mistakes throughout spring and those guys continue to work by themselves this summer. So we don't have those type of mistakes.

Q. What does it mean for your administration to step up and give Coach Cubit a multi-year deal to help you in that rebuilding by giving multi-year deals out to important staff members?

COACH BECKMAN: I think that's huge. I mean, that just shows commitment. It just doesn't -- it's just not the feeling of -- that it comes from to the person itself. It shows a commitment. It helps in recruiting. It helps in all those types of things, because it does show that they believe and they really feel that we are making strides to make this program better again. And the wins aren't to where we want them at by any means, but we are doing things right in the program.

So the commitment is definitely an advantage.

Q. Just talk about the quarterback battle. You touched on it a little bit with Aaron Bailey. Talk about it with Wes and how you think either of those guys or any of the quarterbacks in the room can replace Nathan and moving forward?

COACH BECKMAN: As a coach and as a football team, you see great competition every day. I mean, it comes from the weight room. It comes from studying film. It comes from on the field. So you as a football coach, I mean, you love that, because that's what the game of football's all about.

All three of them are very, very close friends. So there's not the rivalry, that type of thing going on. They all want each other to be successful, because they realize if -- whoever it might be that will be, that person will make our team better, and how important that is in the game of football. This is, you're talking about 105 of your family members being a part of that.

So it's going to be a great competition. We look forward to it, and I know they look forward to it.

In your question about Nathan, how do you replace a four-year starter and a leader? I mean, he's an outstanding person. I've been around -- I always say this, I've been around football now for 49 years, and there's only one Nathan Scheelhaase that I've ever met. The type of human being he is.

So it was a privilege to coach him for two years, but you know somebody has learned from Nathan to be able to step in those shoes and be a leader for this football team.

Q. Got a couple dozen Chicago area guys on your roster. How important is recruiting the Chicago area to Illinois's success?

COACH BECKMAN: Huge. I'm an in-state guy. I've worked at programs that have competed at a national championship level. If you look at those programs, we've done studies on those programs of teams that compete at that level. The majority of their players are from instate.

And that's always been our motto in recruiting. It's been our philosophy, is we have to continue to recruit as we've said before the state of Chicago and the state of Illinois to the best of our ability, and I think that comes through relationships and players and families feeling comfortable about that family atmosphere.

So to me, it's very, very important. And we will continue to strive to make that the most important thing that we do recruiting.

Q. How do you handle the pressure that you've been dealing with since day one when you took the job, and what has Mike Thomas told you about his expectations for this year?

COACH BECKMAN: Well, you know, again, I've been around this profession my whole life. I've seen a dad go through it. I've seen family members go through it. I've seen Sam Rutigliano and Marty Schottenheimer and been involved in programs. You know, that's the life of a football coach. If you're not going to have that life, then you shouldn't be in this profession. So it's just a part of it.

I'm a competitive winner, I believe. And I want to win because I want our players to win, not because of me, but I want our players to feel what it's like to be successful on the field and off the field.

So Mike Thomas has asked for our program to continue to get better. And we did. I mean, we won more games. We won more away games. We won more home games. We have made strides to get better. Now, it's not the numbers that we all want, but we did get better.

We've gotten better academically. Our GPA is a 2.96 right now. When I took it over, it was a 2.67. So we're proud of the way that our players have responded and we have gotten better.

But it comes down to the student-athlete. It really does. And those three that are standing back there in the back are like sons to me. And I respect them as individuals and as players.

Q. Can you just talk about your desire to get to a bowl game and how explicitly are you discussing a bowl game, a bowl goal with your players?

COACH BECKMAN: Well, I always joke around and say my wife locks the door in December because she would like to be somewhere a little bit warmer at a bowl game. But it's been a blessing for our family to be involved with a lot of winning, with a lot of bowl opportunities.

And in the long run, it's not about what I want; it's about what those players want. And I want them to be able to experience the opportunities to play in a bowl game. So it's very, very important that these young men have that opportunity and get to just experience an opportunity like they did a couple of years ago going to San Francisco.

A lot of young men on our football team had never been to the West Coast. Well, they had an opportunity because they play the greatest game in the world, in my opinion, and they had that opportunity because they won.

Q. We expect Tim Banks's defense to make significant improvements from last year. I know the corners were especially young, but how much do you think they've grown up? And how many -- what kind of strides will we see in the secondary, do you think?

COACH BECKMAN: Again, if you looked at our offense a year ago and the strides they made offensively, really just losing a couple of guys, we want that to go the same this year with our defense.

We need to make tremendous strides. We didn't play well on defense last year. But again, you've got 18 faces out of the 22 on two deep that are back.

Our corners, you spoke about the corners specifically. Four true freshmen last year that played a lot of football. This was their first spring ball, other than Mosely and Cazley, excuse me, but two of them, it was first spring ball this year.

So you see their game getting better. You see that their bodies are getting bigger and they're getting stronger and more physical. So we want those strides to continue to happen. And we know it's as a defense as a whole, but we are excited about the progress that this group has the capability to be this year.

Q. Tim, do you feel like an old hand in the Big Ten yet, or like you're still kind of finding your way?

COACH BECKMAN: I've been an assistant in the Big Ten. Not for a long time, but been an assistant, been around the Big Ten a lot when your father was involved in it. So I'll never say I'm a hand in it.

But I enjoy being in this conference, because I have always believed and grown up around this conference, and I just love the football that's being played in this conference. It's hard-nosed, physical, very competitive. But being a hand in it yet, no, I don't know if I'm that yet. 

***

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood sounds enthused about being in the Big Ten. When he was first asked about the move he said "Perfect."

Rutgers has plenty of Big Ten-level players within its state borders. Flood wants to keep more of them at home. but understands the rest of the league has and will invade his state.

***

Tim Beckman's title as loudest coach doesn't last long. Not after Brady Hoke gets in front of the room. The offensive-lineman-looking Michigan coach shares his disgust with the ending of the series between the Wolverines and Notre Dame. Good call, Coach.

Hoke talks about expecations in Ann Arbor "They're great" and the pressure he feels "Making sure his guys earn their degrees."

***

Tim Beckman wins the loudest voice contest of the Big Ten coaches so far. Safe hunch he wins, hands down, by the time all 14 coaches make their way through the ballroom. But it wasn’t as loud as it was last year. 

“We’re very, very excited,” Beckman said. 

Beckman made a classy gesture by reaching out to the Afryl family. Former Illinois offensive lineman Shawn Afryl, who made one appearance with Illinois in 2012, died last week while working out at Winona State. 

First practice for Illinois, next Monday, will feature split-squad teams, much like Beckman has done in the past. 

Had a question about a possible position switch for Aaron Bailey, and Beckman said he’s staying at quarterback and will factor into quarterback competition. 

Dealing with the pressure of back-to-back losing seasons, the quarterbacks and postseason play were main topics thrown Beckman’s way. 

“I want them to experience a bowl game,” Beckman said. 

Improving the Illini’s defense was another focus area. 

“We didn’t play well on defense last year,” Beckman said. “ 

Before Beckman addressed the media, Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen was up. Rather mundane at times, but easy to see why players respect him and why Wisconsin was able to carry on success it had achieved under Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez because of his even-keel approach. 

“It’s the Big Ten,” Andersen said. “It’s Wisconsin. Expectations are always high.”

“This is a youthful team,” Andersen said. “They’re an exciting team to watch and work around. As those young guys, in certain positions, so will our season.”

Wisconsin has probably the most exciting running back in the league in Melvin Gordon. Who, like Andersen mentioned in going through a breakdown of Wisconsin position by position group, is the running back. 

Andersen did mention the quarterback spot is open for competition. Joel Stave lit up Illinois last year, but hasn’t exactly won over fans yet in Madison being injury-prone and slightly inconsistent at times. 

Andersen said he’ll split reps with Stave and Tanner McEvoy at the start of camp, and public might not know starter until the first snap against LSU. Interesting. 

Hazell said Purdue had a meeting this spring to discuss the stipend issue circulating around the NCAA. And delivered a blunt message to his players. 

“The worst thing you can do is talking about something you have no idea about what’s going on,” Hazell said. 

***

Darrell Hazell followed Pat Fitzgerald on the main podium as a flood of media exited the ballroom to talk to Fitzgerald and Northwestern players available. Along with not listening to what Hazell, whose Boilermakers were a woe 1-11 last season, had to say. 

“Here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned when you take over a program, and nobody is at fault, there’s so much learning you have to do,” Hazell said. “It’s a learning process. At this juncture, as a staff, everybody knows where we’re supposed to be.”

Purdue has lots of starters back. Around 18 or 19. Hazell still wants to see some strides made by newcomers, though. 

“I want to find out who our good players are fast,” Hazell said. 

Fitzgerald and Hazell sounded like Tim Beckman in explaining some of the deficiencies the Wildcats and Boilermakers had last year. Not getting to the quarterback and getting sacks was a major disappointment for Northwestern and Purdue, much like it was for Illinois. 

“I’m proud of the maturity our guys demonstrated throughout the whole process,” Fitzgerald said about union hearing and talk of unionization this offseason. “I believe there’s no more unified program in the country. It’s been a springboard for us from a leadership standpoint.”

***

Not a lot of empty seats here as far as media goes inside the Chicago Hilton ballroom. 

Pat Fitzgerald at the podium first, and the former News-Gazette All-State linebacker from Orland Park thanked the media in his opening remarks. Classy. Another reason why Fitzgerald, despite the Wildcats struggling last season, is considered a rising coach. 

“We’ve got a quarterback going back to the way it was the first six years as head coach,” Fitzgerald said about Trevor Siemian, who is the clear-cut starter for the Wildcats. “We’ve got a very daunting and exciting home football schedule. It will be critically important we start fast.”

Many questions abound about whether Northwestern can recover from a disappointing 2013 season that included only one Big Ten win. Which came in Champaign  in the regular season finale. Illinois makes the return trip to Evanston on Nov. 29 to end the season this fall. 

The Big Ten released preseason players to watch earlier this morning, five from each division. Shockingly (please note the sarcasm) no Illini were among the 10 players. 

Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess, Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg are the players from the East Division.

From the West Division, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein and Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff were the five players recognized.

Before the flurry of coaches started with Fitzgerald, there was an opening highlight video focusing on all Big Ten sports. Illinois had some early face time with the Orange Krush being featured.

At the end of the video, each Big Ten coach  welcomed Rutgers and Maryland to the conference. It was one of those commercial spots where each coach had the same script, and Beckman’s lines were brief, but included the words excited. Which I’m sure you’ll see him say a lot today.

***

The ballroom at the Chicago Hilton is filling up quickly. Illinois media here that I’ve spotted so far include Mark Tupper from the Decatur Herald & Review, Steve Greenberg from the Chicago Sun-Times, Steve Kelly and Brian Moline from WDWS,  and of course, the always-entertaining Loren Tate from The News-Gazette.

Loren hasn’t summoned me yet to make sure he’s connected to the Internet, so all in all, a good start. 

Here’s some storylines, five from each division, to keep track of if they’re brought up today. 

Here’s today’s schedule of coaches set to speak at the podium in the grand ballroom. Each coach is slated for 15 minutes, but some may go shorter if there’s not that many questions. 

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, 9:30 a.m.

Darrell Hazell, Purdue, 9:45 a.m.

Gary Andersen, Wisconsin, 10 a.m.

Tim Beckman, Illinois, 10:15 a.m.

Brady Hoke, Michigan, 10:30 a.m.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers, 11 a.m.

Jerry Kill, Minnesota, 11:15 a.m.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, 11:30 a.m.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska, noon

Randy Edsall, Maryland, 12:15 p.m.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State, 12:30 p.m.

James Franklin,  Penn State, 1 p.m.

Kevin Wilson, Indiana, 1:15 p.m.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, 1:30 p.m.

After the coaches give their spiels, then it’s on BTN President Mark Silverman at 1:45 p.m., followed by Michael Kelly from the College Football Playoff at 2 p.m before Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany gives his state of the conference address at 2:15 p.m.

***

Greetings from the Windy City.

College football season is here. OK, not quite yet, but that's the feel in the air this sunny Monday morning here in downtown Chicago. 

The lobby here at the Chicago Hilton is full of reminders about what’s going on today and Tuesday. Big Ten Media Days will start at 9:30 a.m. with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald approaching the podium first. 

Matt Daniels here for the better part of the morning. Bob Asmussen will chime in with his thoughts later in the day as well. 

Lots on tap here as 14 Big Ten head coaches will get in front of the microphone in the grand ballroom at the Hilton and talk about how their team is going to have a better season than it did in 2013. Or something along those lines.

Illinois coach Tim Beckman is slated to talk at 10:15 a.m. You can watch live on BTN while following along on this award-winning live report of course. 

No real set schedule to the updates posted on here. More of a live rambling of thoughts. And opinions. Insight. Along with what the coaches say. 

Here's some primer material to get you amped up (as if you're not already. C'mon. It's football season.)

Players and coaches that will have plenty of microphones and recorders shoved in their face today and Tuesday. 

For those wanting to read about Illinois football scheduling well in the future, along with what linebacker won't play this fall for the Illini, go right here. 

And to find out more about the new Quarterback Club president Illinois has, here is a conversation Bob had with Jim Miller last week. 

 

 

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 28, 2014 at 9:07 am
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I would say MSU won the title last autumn.  I believe the championship game was played on December 7th. (It may be a date which will live in infamy, but it's a solid two weeks before the winter solstice.)