Welcome to Big Ten Media Days. On Monday, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Michigan had the spotlight. Here are notes from each of their coach media sessions on Monday. The other seven Big Ten teams — Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa — are featured Tuesday morning.
After a wildly successful run at Central Florida, Scott Frost was hired with the task of getting Nebraska back to the glory days.
He has to know what it will take as well, or better, than anybody, right?
Frost, a Nebraska native, played quarterback for the Huskers from 1995 to 1997, when the program was at the top of the college football world under Tom Osborne.
Frost thinks the program needs to get back to the identity Osborne instilled. That starts with recruiting the right type of player — “guys that were hungry and had upside” — to get things rolling.
“Coach Osborne had the formula that Nebraska figured out. Some of the things he did to make the program arguably the best in the country can still work today. Nebraska has just gone away from them,” Frost said. “We’re going to adopt a lot of things again and do it in a modern way and do it in a way that recruits and kids are going to want to be a part of.
“The program used to reflect the people of the state. Nebraska’s best asset is its people. It has unbelievable people that are hardworking, blue-collar people that are going to care about each other. That’s what we’re trying to get back to in our program, and that’s the way that we’re going to build it to try to make it have sustained success.”
But recruits in the modern age are not necessarily aware of the prestige Nebraska held a few decades ago. Frost said he knows how to communicate that with a new generation; the program’s recent recruiting is evidence of that.
“The reception that our coaches have gotten on the road has been even better than I expected. The kids are really drawn to us, and I’ve been really pleased with how kids are responding to us as a program and as a coaching staff,” Frost said.
“But when I sit in my office with recruits, the parents all remember Nebraska as Nebraska. A lot of the kids don’t remember that. It’s our job to change that. It’s our job to make sure that the new generation remembers Nebraska for what it is and what it should be, and we’re in the process of making sure that the kids that we’re going to recruit going forward see Nebraska as one of the top programs in the country.”
It may not happen in Year 1, but Frost doesn’t think the rebuild will take too long.
“People better get us now,” Frost said, “because we’re going to keep getting better.”
Jim Harbaugh wasn’t wanting to reveal much
As has become commonplace in group interview settings, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wasn’t willing to go too deep during his media day session.
Harbaugh opened without an opening statement and went straight to questions. He was the only coach Monday to skip the statement. He was also the only coach to wear a hat and a polo shirt (everyone else went with the suit look) and didn’t want to commit to naming a starting quarterback even though everyone knows that Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is going to be the team’s starting QB.
Quarterbacks position, don’t have any announcements to make today about that.
Harbaugh was also asked about his record against Michigan State and Ohio State in back-to-back questions. The questions did not lead to soliloquies.
“We feel like just improvement,” Harbaugh said when asked about what it would take to beat Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. “We need to improve. And that will lead to success. It will lead to championships. It’s that simple.”
And then when Michigan State was added to the scenario and Harbaugh’s 1-5 record against the Spartans and Buckeyes was brought up.
“The improvement will lead to success, will lead to championships,” Harbaugh said.
He did take a strong stance against gambling, however. Perhaps we know why Michigan’s offense has been so conservative recently.
“As far as gambling, don’t associate with gamblers, avoid it like the plague,” Harbaugh said. “Don’t walk away from that, run.”
Penn State has a lot of upcoming positional battles
Coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons, James Franklin knows his Penn State program has a lot of talent to replace. And that goes well beyond just Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.
“Obviously we lost a lot of production. We had six players drafted, and I think we had 15 players sign with some NFL organization. I’m really proud of that, but it’s also put us in a situation where we’ve got a lot of things that we’ve got to get answered this offseason from a camp perspective as well as early in the season with some challenging games as well,” Franklin said.
Usually, a coach may point to one position on each side of the ball that is unsettled entering preseason camp. In Franklin’s case, he listed running back and tight end on offense, defensive tackle and linebacker on defense and kicker on special teams.
That’s a lot. With a Heisman candidate in Trace McSorley leading the offense at quarterback, Franklin is especially focused on the defensive side of the ball, where the Nittany Lions may have to rely on some young players.
“We probably have more question marks going into this season than we’ve had the last two years. I think we’re at an exciting time in our program,” Franklin said. “Defensively we have more question marks and probably the biggest question marks for me going into the season are at defensive tackle, we graduated three senior tackles there, and at linebacker, specifically our Mike linebacker.
“Whether they’re young players that played complementary roles in the past, or freshmen, they’ll have to come in and compete. We have an exciting freshmen class that’s going to be joining us, but it’s challenging to depend on those guys like that at those positions.”
Northwestern has the longest Power-Five win streak
Pat Fitzgerald had a few fun facts he wanted to get out there during his time at the podium on Monday.
For one, Northwestern enters the 2018 season with an eight-game winning streak, a mark that’s better than any other Power Five (not FBS, UCF fans) program. On top of that, Northwestern has 27 wins over the last three seasons, including two 10-win seasons.
That’s the best stretch in program history — but it’s one that has not resulted in a Big Ten West title. To Fitzgerald, that’s the next step in the trajectory of the program, one that he’s been at the helm of since 2006.
“I look at where we’re at in the West right now. You look at everybody in our conference, I think we’re as competitive as anywhere in the country,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got a winning record in the last few years against the East. So we’re doing our part. We’ve just got to get to Indy to really do our part. That’s obviously the next task at hand.”
Part of taking the Northwestern program to the next level was its move to a state-of-the-art facility along the shores of Lake Michigan. Fitzgerald said it’s hard to quantify the ways the facility helps the program.
“It shows we’re all in as a program. We made a total commitment to our athletes. Maybe in the past, that commitment was not there. And now to see the leadership at our university step up and make that type of commitment, I believe gives us an opportunity to compete for championships now on a consistent basis. And that’s always been my expectation, but now this gives us an opportunity, in my opinion, to be able to do that,” Fitzgerald said.
“It’s one thing to consistently be a bowl team, consistently successful on the field. It’s another thing to consistently compete for championships. And we’re not there yet. But I believe this commitment to our facilities but most importantly to our student-athletes gives us every opportunity to do that.”
Jeff Brohm touts Purdue’s difficult schedule
Purdue may have the toughest schedule in the country.
The Boilermakers draw Ohio State and Michigan State from the Big Ten East and have non-conference games against Missouri and Boston College, two teams that made bowl games a year ago.
“It’s important for us to play great competition,” Brohm said. “And while we may not win as many as we would like, it will help our team get better. So we’re excited about the schedule we have. We know each and every week it’s going to be a tough opponent. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Purdue opens the season against Northwestern at home on Aug. 30. With the Wildcats likely without quarterback Clayton Thorson for that game, Purdue could be favored in each of its first four games. The games that follow against Eastern Michigan, Missouri and Boston College are all at home as well.
We don’t know who will be the starter at QB for those games though. Purdue returns both David Blough and Elijah Sindelar, who replaced Blough after he got injured and Brohm hasn’t named a starter.
“They both bring it every day. They compete,” Brohm said. “I do think that competition brings out the best of both of them. I do think that the competition that they have lets the other positions know that that’s what we’re looking for and they need to raise their level of play.
“But I couldn’t ask for two better people. They do things the right way off the field, and I know that while it is a problem, it’s a good problem to have.”
P.J. Fleck supports mandatory availability reports
With the advent of legal sports betting — and a Big Ten state in New Jersey at the forefront — mandated injury and availability reports were a big topic at Monday’s media days.
Commissioner Jim Delany said he ultimately wished that college sports were exempt from legal gambling. But that’s probably not going to happen. He did endorse a conference-wide availability report for teams to produce every week. That would make it clear which players would not participate in a game and prevent (some) shenanigans.
“I think that we would prefer a federal framework that either omits college sports from gambling at the state level,” Delany said. “And if that’s not possible, that there be some standardization of a framework so that college sports, high school sports, Olympic sports, those categories of sports receive some additional protection.”
“On the issue of player availability, I don’t call it an injury report as much as I think about it as player availability. Whether that comes out of an injury or whether it comes out of eligibility or comes out of some transgression of one kind or another, I think we need to do that.”
Schools have hidden behind student privacy laws when refusing to give availability information in the past. So don’t expect availability reports to be too detailed if and when they’re mandated. And Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is one of the ones who endorses the idea.
“Now, the specific reason why somebody’s not playing, I don’t agree with. I think there’s a lot of things that our university and our policies that we have to protect with the student-athletes rights. But I would love to be able to — I’ll give the information just like somebody else. But just like the NFL, now they give specific things. But is somebody going to be available or not available. That’s all I want to know.”
“I don’t need to know why, whether it’s a suspension, whether it’s an injury, whether it’s a knee, whether it’s grades, whether it’s discipline — I don’t need to know all that. But I’m a huge advocate. I’d love to be able to see who is going to be able to play and not play. I think that creates different game-planning. It gives you a better advantage. But you’re also giving somebody an advantage, so it’s an equal playing field. I think teams have the right to know that.”
Rutgers credit card fraud investigation continuing
An investigation into eight Rutgers players regarding accusations of credit card fraud is still ongoing.
Rutgers coach Chris Ash said Monday that the team was made aware of the accusations in May. Athletic director Pat Hobbs told NJ.com that the athletic department is waiting on communications from the Rutgers Police Department, the entity doing the investigation.
“We’re just waiting to hear back from RUPD and the folks who are looking into this and continue to cooperate in every way we can, and just waiting until we hear the outcome of it,” Hobbs said. “We were informed by RUPD in late spring that there was an investigation underway. Things seemed to move a little bit more briskly in recent weeks. I assumed they were doing that you would do during the course of an investigation. There’s probably interviews and IT things that had to be done. We basically responded to information as we received it.”
Rutgers dismissed safety K.J. Gray and linebacker Brendan DeVera in July for team rules violations and the team has not commented publicly whether or not those dismissals were related to the current investigation.
Ash also said the team has “handled discipline” regarding the players involved in the investigation, but there could be additional discipline if any of the unnamed players are charged.
Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper contributed to this report.
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