The Big Ten saved its best for last during its media days event this week as Ohio State coach Ryan Day capped off the preseason talking marathon Friday in the same venue where he hopes his team caps the season. With the College Football Playoff National Championship also slated for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Buckeyes could become even more familiar with the venue.
Ohio State is the unanimous favorite to win the Big Ten for a fifth straight season, which would require a victory in the league title game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 4, and are among the top favorites to return to the CFP title game after losing to Alabama in last season’s championship game. But if they are going to reach those goals, the Buckeyes will need to be clicking early. A game at Minnesota and a visit from Oregon loom first on the Buckeyes’ schedule, which presents a challenge for a program that will be breaking in a quarterback who hasn’t attempted a pass yet in college.
Here are the top takeaways from OSU’s appearance as well as the appearances of six other league challengers from Friday at Big Ten Media Days.
Ryan Day eyes NIL equity
With Ohio State’s prominent national standing, certain Buckeyes should be well-positioned to capitalize on new rules that allow players to profit off their name, image and likeness. For example, Day noted that projections from last year centered on the earning potential of former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields “were big numbers.” But with NIL opportunities just beginning to materialize, Day looked into the future a bit on Friday to suggest he might prefer a system where all players — not just quarterbacks and other highly visible players — can capitalize on the new rules.
“When you combine the brand of Ohio State, you combine the city of Columbus with our social media presence, it’s like the perfect alignment,” Day said. “So the opportunity for our guys is going to be unlike anywhere else in the country. However, how do we find ways to make sure we disseminate that throughout the team, because there’s a lot of guys out there who are also playing football. There’s guys who are blocking for the quarterback, there’s guys who are covering the wide receivers. And while it’s tricky and I don’t really have quite the answer, I know that there’s got to be some sort of formula down the road that we can consider.”
Rutgers racking up recruits
A glance at the top 15 of the 247Sports Team Recruiting Rankings for the 2022 cycle reads mostly like a list of traditional college football powers as most of the usual suspects have begun compiling their annual hauls of blue-chip prospects. But there is one notable party-crasher hanging out amid the group as Rutgers’ class ranks No. 12 nationally with a group of 15 commitments that includes five four-star prospects.
For a program coming off a sixth straight losing season, the recruiting momentum constitutes a major victory as Greg Schiano enters the second season of his second stint with the Scarlet Knights after leading the program to some of its finest years between 2001 and 2011.
“To be in the New York metropolitan area, to be playing football at a great academic institution, it’s why shouldn’t you go there? Not why should you. And I believe that,” Schiano said. “So it’s easy for me to go share that with young people and our families. It’s easy for our coaching staff to do. I think when you look at our staff, they’re people that really believe in Rutgers and what it’s about and where we headed.”
Mel Tucker’s NFL mindset
Few programs loaded up as heavily on transfers as Michigan State, which is bringing 15 players in through the portal, according to the Big Ten Network. Among them are potential skill position starters in former Temple quarterback Anthony Russo and former Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker III. The amount of roster turnover was an eye-catching part of Mel Tucker’s first full offseason as coach. But the former longtime NFL assistant shed some light on his view of modern roster dynamics after a 2-5 debut campaign that included wins over Michigan and Northwestern
“Absolutely we want to build through the high school ranks,” Tucker said on the Big Ten Network. “However, based upon my NFL experience and 10 years in the league, you build through the draft but you supplement your team in free agency. We take the same approach at Michigan State. We set up our personnel department the same way. We have folks that monitor the portal and junior colleges and then we have folks that monitor the high school ranks. It’s been a benefit to us. We’re going to be aggressive in the portal. We’re looking for guys that are the right fit for us, for our program, for our culture. We’re going to build a football team that way.”
Indiana’s ‘chase’ motto
Indiana enjoyed a breakthrough season last year in Tom Allen’s fourth season as coach as the Hoosiers finished 6-2, rising as high as No. 7 in the AP Top 25 and finishing at No. 12 for their highest final ranking since 1967. But even after marquee wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, Allen pointed on Friday to a moment that occurred after a loss as among the most influential during the banner year. The Hoosiers’ only regular season defeat came in crushing fashion, as they fell 42-35 at Ohio State after rallying from a 35-7 deficit. Allen praised his team for their character and refusing to quit in a speech that went viral online.
“I didn’t want to leave that locker room without those guys hearing from me,” Allen said Friday. “I knew we had a long trip home. I wanted them to hear from me what I thought about them, and I wanted them to understand how we needed to use this opportunity to grow and allow us to continue to build this program. So it was definitely, that might have been as big a moment in the 2020 season as any was in that moment in that locker room after that tough loss.”
The Indiana-Ohio State rematch is scheduled for Oct. 23 this season, and after Friday, it seems safe to say the Hoosiers are looking forward to the meeting.
“They are the gold standard and that is who we’re chasing,” Allen said. “And our one word for 2021 is chase, and we’re trying to chase that greatness every single day. You think about that game and you often think about post-game and comments that are made and as I was sharing my heart to our team I didn’t even think about or realize that they were videoing it, but at the same time, it’s oftentimes when you have those types of setbacks and you learn a lot about yourself, and I feel like adversity is where we really become who we are.”
Veteran QBs out West
The Big Ten West favorites made their appearances Friday, and while neither Wisconsin or Iowa brought their quarterback to the event, both should feel good about where they stand at the position. Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz and Iowa’s Spencer Petras each got their first taste of starting experience last season.
While Mertz started strong with a 20-of-21, five-touchdown effort against Illinois, he encountered struggles as the season progressed. Petras started slow but found his stride as the Hawkeyes won six straight games to close the season.
“He did some really good things and has areas where he can improve upon it,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said of Mertz. “What I appreciate from Graham is that he sees that and recognizes that.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz highlighted a late-season win at Illinois as an inflection point for Petras, who struggled early before leading the Hawkeyes to a 35-21 comeback victory.
“I think that was a great learning experience for him and I think it also was very revealing in terms of how he’s wired and how he’s built,” Ferentz said. “He’s a really resilient guy, tough-minded guy, extremely conscientious. So as a coach, when you see things like that, it really makes you feel some confidence.”
Purdue’s newest defensive shakeup
It’s no secret that Jeff Brohm is an offensive guy, but the fifth-year Purdue coach is looking for defensive gains this season as he shook up his defensive staff by bringing in Brad Lambert from Marshall to install a 4-3 system after Bob Diaco moved the Boilermakers to a 3-4 last season. Lambert will technically be one of three co-defensive coordinators on staff along with fellow first-year assistant Ron English and second-year assistant Mark Hagen. With Brohm also saying he wants to spend more time with the defense, that side of the ball should get plenty of attention at Purdue this season after Rutgers and Nebraska hung 37 points each on the Boilermakers to close last season.
“All three guys have valuable experience, and I really feel like we wanted to build a room where we had as much experience and know how that we could possibly put together, where they were willing to work together, they were willing to have a little fun with it, try different things, and be able to work as a team to get that done,” Brohm said. “So I like our room, they’re great people, they work extremely hard. Now we got to go out and prove ourselves.”