Big Ten Media Days wrap

Big Ten Media Days wrap

5:40 p.m.

Wrapped up almost two hours this afternoon talking to Lovie Smith, Wes Lunt, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dawuane Smoot down on the lower levels here at the Hyatt Regency.

We will have plenty of coverage in Wednesday's News-Gazette, but here are some nuggets to hold you over until then.

Thanks for following along all day and any questions, I'm chatting at 2 p.m. on Thursday here at IlliniHQ.com.

Smith mum on Dudek's return

If healthy, Mikey Dudek might have appeared on Tuesday alongside Wes Lunt, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Dawuane Smoot representing the Illini.

But the redshirt sophomore wide receiver isn’t, having torn the ACL in his right knee for the second straight season this past April.

Smith said the time of the injury Dudek — who had 1,038 receiving yards on 76 catches in 2014 — would have season-ending surgery, but didn’t give a timeline on Tuesday when asked about the status of Dudek.

“It’s tough when you’re having the same injury to the same knee,” Smith said. “In time, he’s going to help us win a lot of games, but that’s part of football is coming back from injuries. Mikey is on the road to recovery, and eventually we’ll see him on the field.”

Smith on recruiting: 'They're listening to us'

A little more than a week before Illinois conducts its first practice the first Thursday in August, Lovie Smith and his staff have six verbal commitments in the Class of 2017.

Illinois won’t sign its first official class with Smith at the helm until Feb. 1.

But the six recruits who have pledged to the Illini marks the fewest of any Big Ten program nearing the midway point of the recruiting cycle.

Recruiting dominated most of Smith’s Tuesday morning session during Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency.

“Recruiting has gone well,” Smith said. “They’re listening to us. And that’s all we want.”

Fellow Big Ten programs like Rutgers and Michigan have triple the number of commits Illinois has at the moment, with every other conference school having double-digit commits except for Purdue. The Boilermakers have nine.

Smith said he and his staff will hone in on the Chicago area, Indianapolis area and St. Louis area in their recruiting efforts. All cities and their surrounding suburbs are two-to-three hour drives from Champaign.

Along with those areas, Smith said Texas, where he’s from, and Florida, where he spent the past two seasons coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are focal recruiting territories for Illinois.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been in college ball,” Smith said. “(Recruiting) has changed a little bit. It is a 24/7 job, and we’re embracing that.”

 

D'Antonio: Illinois found 'great football coach'

Mark Dantonio should feel optimistic heading into Michigan State’s game at Illinois on Nov. 5.

The Spartans’ coach is 3-0 all-time against the Illini, and Michigan State has won 12 of the last 13 games against Illinois since 1995. The lone win by Illinois in the past two decades transpired during the 2006 season with the Illini upsetting the Spartans 23-20.

But Dantonio knows Illinois will look different under Smith this season, even if he doesn’t know the new Illinois coach all that well.

“His track record as a football coach is very well-received,” Dantonio said. “I believe that the University of Illinois found themselves a great football coach.”

 

10:50 a.m.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany just wrapped up his remarks at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.

Loren Tate will have more on what one of the most powerful figures in college sports had to say in Wednesday's News-Gazette. 

He mentioned Lovie Smith early in his comments, saying it was great to see the former Chicago Bears coach back in this area, before delving into a variety of topics, drawing a parallel between college sports and the Olympic model as his main talking point. 

Before he offered those comments, Delany mentioned the TV rights deal the conference is working on that will generate roughly $2.6 billion during a six-year contract once the current contract expires after this school year.

Delany did indicate he likely won't be around in six years to negotiate a new TV deal, sparking speculation about who will replace him say, around 2021 or 2022.

"We've been working very hard for the last four years to make progress in that area," Delany said. "Things are changing. They'll continue to change, but we thought six years for us was the right place to be."

BTN President Mark Silverman also spoke, with Mike Pereira, Chris Spielman and Robert Smith new talent additions the league's network will utilize during broadcasts this season. 

A bit of a break coming up in our LIVE! report. Will be back later today with more coverage and details from this afternoon's session. 

9:45 a.m.

All seven coaches have now stepped to the podium and completed their session inside the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency.

Urban Meyer from Ohio State was the final one to address the large throng of media present here in the ballroom.

The Buckeyes will contend with Michigan and Michigan State for supremacy in the Big Ten East after winning the Fiesta Bowl a year ago. Fortunately for Lovie Smith and the Illini, Ohio State isn't on the Illini's schedule this season.

"We'll have to find a way to replace arguably one of the greatest groups to ever play college football," Meyer said. "The issue would be if it were a young, non-talented team. That's not the case at all."

Iowa is coming off an appearance in the Big Ten title game. The Hawkeyes are one of the favorites to win the Big Ten West again this season after finishing 12-2, with quarterback C.J. Beathard and cornerback Desmond King among the key returnees back.

"There have been years where we've handled that well," Kirk Fertenz said. "It really comes down to winning close games and doing the little things. Our ability to handle the little details on a consistent basis is a measure of our success."

Maryland has a first-year coach in DJ Durkin. The Terrapins finished last season with former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley serving as the program's interim coach, with the Terrapins finishing 3-9.

Durkin thanked the media for their coverage and role in expanding college football to what it has become today, a nice touch for a coach making his debut at Big Ten Media Days.

The former assistant coach under Urban Meyer at Florida and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan had a nice one-liner to start off his remarks.

"I'm glad to be talking about football as opposed to satellite camps," Durkin said about the ongonig saga satellite camps have brought forth this past offseason.

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst didn't commit to naming a starting quarterback to replace Joel Stave. Of course, Illinois fans are familiar with one of the candidates, Bart Houston, after the Badgers' backup threw for more than 200 yards during Wisconsin's 24-13 win last season at Memorial Stadium.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartans won the Big Ten title game last season in a classic against the Hawkeyes before falling flat against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, one of the two national semifinal games a year ago. 

While Dantonio broke down the Spartans' roster and analyzed what this upcoming season will entail, he also had a somber mood based on the death of former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler in a car accident late Saturday night in Wisconsin that also killed Nebraska punter Sam Foltz.

"We will miss him terribly," Dantonio said.

Kevin Wilson didn't take as many questions as Lovie Smith, but the Indiana coach certainly knew how to stretch his answers out. The Hoosiers are coming off a Pinstripe Bowl appearance from a year ago, but lost 44-41 to Duke.

"Make sure you tune your TV on because the Hoosiers are going to be exciting to watch," Wilson said. 

8:50 a.m.

The full transcript from Lovie Smith's session with the media earlier today.

He is making the rounds with radio stations right now and will be available to reporters again later this afternoon. 

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the head coach of Illinois, Lovie Smith.

COACH SMITH: Thank you very much. First off, it's an honor and a privilege to get a chance to be the head football coach for the University of Illinois. From my time up north, I had an opportunity to look at our university from afar and just kind of believing what stood for -- great academics and a lot of potential with our football team.

The past six months, I've had an opportunity to of course go across and spread our brand. As much as anything, get an opportunity to get to know our football players. We have three players representing our university -- Dawuane Smoot, Wes Lunt and Ke'Shawn Vaughn -- that will be leading our team this year. So we couldn't be more excited to have an opportunity to play in the Big Ten, a conference that goes -- you think about some of the top teams competing for championships each year.

We're not there yet. But in time we would like to be a part of that conversation also.

I would also like to express -- just like to give our prayers to the University of Nebraska and Michigan State on the loss of two of their football players. You just never know each day, but to live like it's your last day but when you lose two young men like that, of course it's tragic.

Again, we're excited about starting our football season. Next week, we get a chance -- we've gone through spring ball, get a chance to get out on the football field. Our coaching staff is pretty excited.

I'm excited about Garrick McGee leading our offense and Hardy Nickerson leading our defense and Bob Ligashesky leading our special teams as our coaches. So again a lot of excitement.

We feel like we're Chicago's team, and also we have a lot of alumni here so it's good to be here. Questions?

Q. Obviously the test is going to be winning games, but just how much has your job been about changing perceptions, how much has it been like that already and how much of a role do you have to take on that change the fans's perception of the program right now?
COACH SMITH: It's been a lot of that. I knew coming in we had to sell our brand and Josh Whitman, our athletic director, and I have covered quite a bit of ground speaking with our fans, our alumni, letting them know about the new day.

They're the rebirth of our program. So it is a lot about that. But eventually, as you also mentioned, it will come down to what we do on the football field. We realize that.

We realize we have to put a better product on the football field. It's as simple as that. That's why again I'm excited about the players we have. When you come into a new situation, a new team and you have a lot of seniors that have played a lot of football, it gives you hope, and that's what we have.

Q. You mentioned being Chicago's team. So I know you can't name players' names, but how has the recruiting process in Chicago gone so far?
COACH SMITH: The recruiting process overall has gone well. We had some areas that we have identified. But in order for us to do well we need to do well in the Chicago area. And why wouldn't you want to do well? A lot of great athletes here.

As you say, without mentioning names I'll say recruiting has gone well. They're listening to us. And that's all we want. Give us a chance. Not just Chicago area. There's a triangle of the St. Louis area, of course. And Indianapolis there's a triangle. I'm from Texas.

So we'll, of course, recruit that area. We have a lot of players on our team from the Florida area also. So recruiting is going well. And it's been a while since I've been in college ball. That has changed a little bit. It is a 24/7 job. And we're embracing that.

Q. I've seen where Dawuane Smoot is ranked really high among college football players nationally. What's he like as a player and as a guy?
COACH SMITH: He should be ranked high, first. Everything you're looking for in a player. He's very coachable. First off, he has unbelievable talent. And as a defensive end you want to know can he rush the passer? He can rush the passer. No one works harder than him.

Good leader. We haven't voted on captains yet. He, of course, will be one of our captains. And nowadays, too, you don't see a lot of players staying four years. He had an opportunity to come out last year. He chose to come back. He loves the university that much. And I personally, we can't wait to coach him this year.

Q. How receptive were the players to your message? You've got a lot of kids on that roster and squad that have heard a lot of voices and a lot of different messages. They've gone through a lot. How did they accept you?
COACH SMITH: Full acceptance, from day one, from my initial meeting they've embraced everything we've asked them to do. In a message from them has been, Coach, tell us what we need to do.

And as a coach that's all you want. You want guys to buy in right away and give you a chance. We feel like we have a formula. We have a plan for winning football.

We all have a history, and our players have embraced that on everything we've asked them to do from spring ball to summer workouts. But it's about this next step and we'll really see if they've embraced what we've fed them.

Q. What are the biggest differences you've seen from between your current job and coming from the NFL?
COACH SMITH: Well, I think it's easy to talk about recruiting. Not a whole lot -- a small free agency period in the NFL. And this is a year-round sport in itself in recruiting. That's going to change.

I knew that coming in. I knew we had a good product. So I knew we would be able to sell that. But not just recruiting, per se, for the current class, but how soon recruiting starts as far as recruiting an athlete. It's not about him going into his senior year. Of course, it's a lot earlier than that.

Again, we've embraced it. It has been nonstop. But again when you have a good product, you like talking about it. And again now it's about developing the -- we talk about developing the entire athlete, the man. And people are embracing that a little bit. I can't say that I haven't enjoyed it; I really have.

Q. You haven't coached in college in 22 years. In the interview with Josh, did that come up at all? Or is that, in your mind, mitigated by obviously NFL and Super Bowl and everything else?
COACH SMITH: Before Josh called, he knew my background. And I just think you talk about coaching, whether it's the NFL -- I'm not the only NFL coach that's coaching in college right now. Whether it's coaching junior high, high school, college or the NFL, I haven't seen many differences from it.

Guys want to be coached. You have a different degree of athlete at every level. And for us, even when I was in the NFL I considered myself a college coach. And I'm talking about stressing fundamentals, trying to develop, of having a personal relationship with our players in the NFL, just like we will in college. Josh knew that.

And this is the plan and the direction that he wanted to go and we've enjoyed every moment of it.

Q. Talk a little bit about recruiting and how it's changed since you were doing it last. And is it a different style as far as the players that you're talking to?
COACH SMITH: Again, as a new coach, I probably can't answer that. I just know how we do it. Again, at every level. My last time around, I do remember my days back then, and you had to sell your program on how you would do things.

It's pretty simple. That's how we're laying it out right now, we're laying it out that way. Nowadays there's a lot more information you can get. So when you initially start those conversations they know a lot about you right away.

We all have a history that you can really research, but for me this is who I am. I don't feel like I'm a phony. I let people know how we're going to do things. And, again, players can get information from players that we have, to get the information they need.

So that's how we're doing it. We feel like once people really listen to how we're going to do things and see how we coach on a daily basis, that people will want to get onboard with that.

Q. Ke'Shawn Vaughn is here representing your team as a sophomore. What does that say about your thoughts about him, just the fact that he's here representing this team at such a young age?
COACH SMITH: Ke'Shawn has heard quite a bit, and whenever I get a chance to talk about our football team, I talk about Ke'Shawn. You know, now we talk a lot about recruiting.

And I'm looking at a lot of different video with a lot of different guys coming out. For Ke'Shawn Vaughn I even went back and watched his high school video coming out, and he was a great player then. And I think he's a great player now. I know he's young, but you can tell really good football players at a young age.

I think he can do it all. I think he can run in between the tackles. He can make you miss in the open field. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He has a little bit of size to him. We'll ask him to block from time to time, too.

Just excited about Wes Lunt, handing him the ball. And again it's just not about Ke'Shawn. As I mentioned, as I look at our program we had a senior quarterback who makes great decisions. I'm talking about Wes Lunt, that gets you excited also.

Q. When you look at your team, where are you like -- you talked about you want to be in the conversation. But definitely, where are the places you're lacking right now in your opinion?
COACH SMITH: Instead of the places we're lacking, as I look at our roster coming in, I talked about our senior quarterback. You want to know what you have at the quarterback position in order to have success.

We have three senior offensive linemen. That gets you excited. I mentioned Ke'Shawn Vaughn, our running back. We'll have a fullback on our roster this year also. But the strength of our football team is our defensive line. And whenever you get an opportunity, you know it starts up front.

I'm a head coach that calls what we've done on the defensive side of the football, I realize that. And also just talking about the positives and the pluses for our team.

To be able to get a player like Hardy Nickerson, Jr., is kind of a cherry on top also. And Jaylen Dunlap as a corner is a good player. We're going to talk more about that. I think we have good marquee players at every position. We don't have as much depth as we will have eventually. And hopefully we'll get lucky on some injuries and we'll be okay.

8:20 a.m.

Lovie Smith concluded his first session at the podium about five minutes ago.

The first-year Illinois coach was asked primarily about recruiting during his 15 minutes on the stage, with many questions from the audience regarding that topic. 

"Recruiting has been nonstop," Smith said, "but when you have a good product, you like talking about it."

Wes Lunt, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dawuane Smoot were in attendance near the back of the room listening to Smith's remarks, along with Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman. 

A few nuggets gleaned from his session are that Illinois will have a fullback on the roster this season (likely Austin Roberts or Nathan Echard) and that the team hasn't voted on captains yet, but Smoot will be one.

"He's very coachable and has unbelievable talent," Smith said of Smoot.

Smith kept his even-keeled personality throughout his 15 minutes on the stage, never raising his voice (i.e. Tim Beckman) or trying to explain any acronyms.

All in all, it wasn't rather entertaining, but Smith didn't make much news out of his appearance, which was likely the goal. 

His opening statement lasted a little more than two minutes, and the plan is to have video of that posted here shortly. 

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is up at the podium right now. 

8 a.m.

Good morning college football fans.

And it's been way too long since I typed that sentence.

Matt Daniels here for the next few hours and then again with periodic updates during the afternoon as Illinois appears today at the Big Ten Media Days.

Loren Tate, Bob Asmussen and myself are here all day at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. 

Lovie Smith and three of his players, quarterback Wes Lunt, defensive end Dawuane Smoot and running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, are here as well.

Along with six other Big Ten coaches, 18 other Big Ten players and hundreds of media.

This event marks the kickoff of the 2016 football season, a season that, for the first time in at least four years, Illinois fans are looking forward to.

That all stems back from the early March hiring of Smith by new Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman.

Going into the offseason, many thought Bill Cubit would be the man taking the stage here this morning before a whirlwind 48 hours saw Whitman fire Cubit and then hire Smith.

Whether all the coaching changes — Smith is the third Illini coach in the last year — will actually help with on-field results will play itself out once Sept. 3 arrives and the season starts with Murray State visiting Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

We will provide updates here all day with what Smith had to say at the podium, along with what the other six coaches (Kevin Wilson from Indiana, Mark Dantonio from Michigan State, Paul Chryst from Wisconsin, DJ Durkin from Maryland, Kirk Ferentz from Iowa and Urban Meyer from Ohio State) have to say this morning, along with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney making his annual address as well.

Then, this afternoon, Smith is available from 3:30-4:30 p.m. before Lunt, Vaughn and Smoot are taking questions from 4:30-5:30 p.m.

Here's five reading items to get you primed for toady:

— Would Lunt, Smoot and Vaughn vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? One of many questions we posed to the trio before they arrived in Chicago.

— Why Chayce Crouch checks in at No. 10 on our most important Illini list

— Why Dawuane Smoot has always seen himsef as an underdog

— When the Illini start training camp

— Illinois radio analyst Martin O'Donnell: 'People are genuinely excited'

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