The second day at Big Ten Media Days was dedicated to heavyweights, with three of the Eastern Division’s top four riders taking the stage along with Big Ten West Wisconsin favorites. With Wednesday marking a month into the start of the league season – there will be three teams in action for Week 0 – the sense of urgency was real as the conference seeks to produce its first national title winner since Ohio State in 2014.
The Buckeyes were among the programs highlighted Wednesday, and Year 5 coach Ryan Day spoke directly about his program’s expectations, noting that Ohio State’s aspirations, as always, are to “beat the team in the North, win the Big Ten, And win the national championship.”
“Those are our goals, and those things didn’t happen last year,” he said.
To return to Big Ten supremacy, the Buckeyes will likely have to beat this team in the North, but they face more hurdles than just Michigan. The contenders will include Penn State, Michigan State and the Badgers, who were each represented on Day Two at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
As the conference turns the page from the talk season to the start of actual football, here are the points learned from Part Two of Big Ten Media Days:
Day said he thought his players were “some scarred…a bit tough” after the 11-2 season that featured a Rose Bowl win but there was no Big Ten East title and he didn’t appear in the college game. One of the program’s biggest moves this season to address shortcomings in 2021 was bringing in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles of Oklahoma State to help improve the Buckeyes unit that ranked 59th nationally last season in overall defense.
If there was any doubt about the outlook for Knowles’ unit in 2022, Day made it clear.
“New scheme, new coaches, all these things are new,” Day said. “I think facing them in the spring and seeing what happened this summer and now in pre-season, it was exciting to watch. There is just aggressiveness towards them. But in terms of expectations, yes, we expect a top-10 defense that’s what we want, when we did better. What we have, it’s because we played really good defence, played balance and played integral football. Obviously we want to stop the run at first and then go from there, but we expect a top 10 defense.”
Manny Diaz Fitness in Pennsylvania
The Buckeyes weren’t the only force in the Big Ten East with a new defensive coordinator after Penn State coach James Franklin hired Manny Diaz to replace Brent Pry, who took over as head coach at Virginia Tech. The Nittany Lions finished sixth nationally in defensive scoring last season, earning just 17.3 points per game, leaving Diaz with some big boots to fill in after three years as a coach for Miami.
“He did it at a high level in a bunch of different places, but after that he was also a head coach,” Franklin said on the Big Ten Network. “There is value in those experiences from a leadership standpoint, from a big picture perspective.”
Franklin said he called Diaz the day after his Miami launch and wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in talking about a Pennsylvania State party soon — but it was, perhaps due in part to a previous relationship between the two. .
“He’s a guy we’ve also spent time with at an inconvenient time with the former defense coordinators who have spoken with,” Franklin said. “That’s what we do outside, you talk to other coaches who are from a similar philosophy and tree. It also helped because when you go out and hire someone with a completely different philosophy, there’s going to be growing pains with him hitting the ground running.”
Aidan O’Connell gets ready for the spotlight
Diaz’s first challenge at Penn State will be containing one of the league’s best quarterbacks, as the Nittany Lions face Purdue and budding quarterback star Aidan O’Connell for the start of the 2022 season in a showdown Thursday night, September 1. Connell made the pre-season All-Big Ten West after throwing 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns last season.
Now, the first and former player is entering the sixth year of 2022 as an indisputable starter for the Boilermakers after leading Purdue to a 9-4 record and winning the Music City Bowl last season.
“Aidan has done a fantastic job,” Bordeaux coach Jeff Brohm said. “It’s a pity that his head coach didn’t start work at the beginning of the year, but we were able to find out. He really earned his place from day one. He continues to work hard every day. He has become a great leader.”
Week 0 advantage for Illinois
Aside from the obvious headliner in Week 0 between Nebraska and Northwestern in Ireland, the only other Big Ten on August 27th is Illinois, which hosts Wyoming for a pre-play tuning match in Indiana the following Friday. The game was originally scheduled for Week 3, but it qualified for the Week 0 slot because Wyoming is playing in Hawaii this season.
Teams that make the trip to Hawaii are allowed to start the season early as a way to spur the trip to this remote region. In this case, that rule happened in favor of Illini even though they weren’t the ones playing Hawaii, and Illinois coach Brett Bielima credited athletic director Josh Whitman with helping facilitate the change.
“You see a huge amount of improvement from players who have never played the game from week one to week two,” Belema said. “That’s why I was pushing.. I thought if we could play one home game, put our feet under our feet, play one home game, put our feet under our feet in Week 0 and that was a huge benefit.”
The lasting effect of Kenneth Walker
After a season in the Wake Forest transition, Kenneth Walker emerged as a precocious college football star with 1,636 dash and 18 touchdowns, Michigan State is looking to another transition to help with the running game. The Spartans brings 2020 Pac-12 Player of the Year Jarek Broussard of Colorado to position Michigan State again as one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of the gate.
With the return of former four-star Jalen Berger, who also moved after averaging 4.6 yards per carry on 84 attempts in two seasons in Wisconsin, it’s clear that Walker’s progression with the Spartans to the second round of the NFL Draft resonates with the backs of the racers looking for new Role.
“We’re just telling a story,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “I’m not sure how many people knew about him nationally. He saw an opportunity to come to Michigan State and improve. His goal was to play in the NFL and play against a big competition.”
Rutgers in limbo
One of the pressing topics for Rutgers ahead of the 2022 season is the condition of linebacker Drew Singleton, who is awaiting a ruling on a petition allowing him to play an additional season. Singleton announced for the NFL draft and hired an agent, but then chose to participate in the Scarlet Knights bowl game after they secured a late berth to the Gator Bowl.
In the end, he went without signing as a free agent, possibly due in part to an ankle injury he sustained in a pot loss to Wake Forest. Had he not announced the draft, Singleton would be eligible for Season 6 due to the additional year of eligibility provided by COVID-19. With pre-season camp looming, the Crimson Knights are still waiting for word on the condition of the player who helped stabilize their defense with 54 tackles last season.
“Hopefully cooler minds will prevail,” Rutgers coach Greg Chiano said. “We have an appeal in. I hope he can come back. He wants to pursue his graduation certificate. And I think he’s – he’s doing a lot of great things. He’s an inner city kid from Newark and he’s overpowered a lot. Guy is trying to do the right thing. I hope we’ll be able to.” He did the right thing and got him back, but we’re waiting to hear.”
Wisconsin gets a new offensive look
With Jim Leonard as defensive coordinator and Bobby Ingram as offensive coordinator for the first year, Wisconsin now has NFL veterans firing flankers on either side of the ball. Engram comes to the Badgers after eight years on the Baltimore Ravens and is tasked with revamping the Wisconsin unit that ranked 120th nationally last season in a passing offense.
It’s his first assignment in college football since he coached the Receivers for two seasons in Pittsburgh under current Wisconsin coach Paul Crest. But Ingram, who played 14 seasons in the NFL, has some big 10 roots as a Penn State alum and former Nittany Lions star.
“I am really excited about the opportunity to have Bobby Ingram with us and to come back and train with him,” said Krist. “I had the opportunity to coach for two years with Bobby, and it was just a tremendous amount of respect. I think the one thing that I always feel is important when you add a coach is that you kind of think about your players. Much more excited, that our players are around Bobby. I think this is an opportunity Big – the timing was really good for both of us, but for Bobby to come in. I think with Bobby we’re a better team.”
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