CHICAGO — The unofficial beginning of the college football season is officially here. Big Ten Media Days are underway at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place in Chicago.
The final seven Big Ten coaches started Day Two bright and early with their opening media appearances. Here are the best quotes from each coach during their Q&A session, in order of when they spoke:
Lovie Smith, Illinois
1. Chicago’s Big Ten team?
One of rival Northwestern’s top marketing campaigns is endorsing the program as “Chicago’s Big Ten team.” Smith offered a rebuttal right out of the gate during his opening statement.
“We feel like we’re Chicago’s team, and also we have a lot of alumni here, so it’s good to be here,” Smith said.
The Wildcats might beg to differ. This could be determined when the schools square off at Ryan Field in Evanston on the final weekend of the season.
2. The Illini have bought in.
Smith was pleased to report that his team has bought into his staff’s message during spring ball. But the question will be how that carries over into fall camp and Smith’s first season.
“Full acceptance, from day one, from my initial meeting they’ve embraced everything we’ve asked them to do,” Smith said. “And the 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.
“But it’s about this next step and we’ll really see if they’ve embraced what we’ve fed them.”
That next step will likely define Smith’s first season in Champaign.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
1. Contract extensions help on the recruiting trail
Wilson received a six-year contract extension last January after leading the Hoosiers to a bowl game. He says that contract has done more than just provide financial security and job security.
“I think the one thing that’s helped our recruiting the most has been the contract extension,” Wilson said. “I think right now with the six-year extension, I think you got a lot of guys buying the fact (that) we’ve got a chance to be successful, our administration is committed to us.”
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
1. The secret to Sparty’s success
Michigan State gets no love, but it’s been arguably the most successful Big Ten program over the past four seasons. So what’s the secret to Michigan State’s sustained success?
“I think the first thing we’ve been able to do is retain our staff. I think that happens because of our administration. So we thank our administration for that, and also that happens basically out of, I think, we have good environment to work in.”
2. Dantonio hints at who is leading the way in the QB battle
One of Michigan State’s greatest challenges will be replacing the program’s winningest players, Connor Cook. Dantonio said Tyler O’Connor was ahead, but that a decision hasn’t been made.
“Tyler obviously is in the lead right now, but I’m not going to have the pressure put on one position to say this is the make or break guy,” Dantonio said. “That’s just the way we’re going to do it at this point in time.”
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
1. Badgers embrace brutal schedule
Not many teams would be excited about playing LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State in the same season. But Chryst believes his team is ready and looking forward to the opportunity to play so many elite programs.
“Probably the No. 1 question I’ve been getting when I have an opportunity to speak, certainly in state, is about the schedule. I know our players and coaches, we’re excited about the challenge of the schedule we have, because that’s a great opportunity,” Chryst said.
You’re a better man than I, coach. And Badgers fans probably aren’t as thrilled about this daunting slate.
2. Replacing Stave
It’s hard to believe, but Joel Stave is not Wisconsin’s starting quarterback. Yes, he finally graduated after a Badgers career that seemingly lasted forever.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of people who thought Joel was at Wisconsin forever,” Chryst joked. “And I appreciated the chance to work with him last year.”
Humor aside, Chryst seems confident in both of his options to replace Stave.
“Yet, I’m excited with Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook. They’ve done a great job to this point of not worrying about the common question of who is going to be the starter and the quarterback competition. But spending their time trying to work on and improve in the things in their control.
“And certainly I don’t know when, but we’ll name a starting quarterback.”
Stay tuned to find out who will be leading Bucky’s offense this season.
DJ Durkin, Maryland
1. The importance of UnderArmour
After thanking the media in his opening statement (thumbs up on that, DJ), Durkin was asked about Maryland’s partnership with UnderArmour.
UnderArmour founder Kevin Plank is a Maryland grad and a former Terrapins football player. Durkin has already felt the value of having an enormous brand behind his program during his first season.
“I think most importantly, I think the values of our program are in line with the values of UnderArmour,” Durkin said “I think that’s one of the coolest parts about it. It’s a natural bond and allegiance with one another because it’s easy. What we hold in high regard in our program, he holds in high regard in his program, in his business as well.”
2. Durkin comes from two coaching trees
Durkin is in rare company. He has served as an assistant under Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Now, Durkin will coach against both of his mentors each year in the Big Ten East.
So will the student be utilizing anything he learned from the teachers against them?
“I think obviously you learn things and take bits and pieces,” Durkin said. “As coaches we’re always stealing stuff from other guys we’ve worked with or for. And so that’s been a tremendous benefit for me.
“Playing in the same conference is great, because you know there’s always going to be focus and attention on what’s going on in our conference and the games we’re playing in and those guys, they bring the competitive level up as well.”
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
1. Josey Jewell breaks Ferentz’s philosophy
Ferentz has never brought a non-senior athlete to Media Day. Junior linebacker Josey Jewell is now the first and for a man with principles like Ferentz, that’s a bold statement.
So why did Jewell break the mold?
“Going back 18 years, I’ve already surveyed the staff on who they thought would be the three best players to bring here,” Ferentz explained. “And our staff was basically unanimous with Josey. Took it into a staff meeting. What I concluded was, it was pretty obvious. Josey is the first sophomore captain we’ve had. It’s an award selected by the teammates, and Josey was an overwhelming choice last December to be a team captain. It just made common sense to bring him here.
“He’s achieved something that no player’s done in the last 17 years at our place. He’s a tremendous representative. He’s done a great job on the field, a great leader. We’re thrilled to have him here. There’s several other guys that would have done a great job, too, but I think it was the right thing to do.”
2. Ferentz appreciates quality journalism
Right after that answer about Jewell, Ferentz cut into an aside about the movie “Spotlight,” which he happened to remember at the moment that he saw.
“That movie was Spotlight, by the way,” Ferentz said to a confused media contingency. “Two months later I remembered it. Sorry about that. The one movie I’ve seen since the season started. I knew I saw a good one.”
Right. Carry on, folks.
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
1. Dismissed tailback Bri’onte Dunn won’t be back
Meyer dismissed Dunn from the program after an altercation with his girlfriend earlier in the month. When asked if Dunn would ever find a way back to the Buckeyes, Meyer’s answer was blunt.
“There’s no chance that Bri’onte will come back,” Meyer said.
2. That being said, Mike Weber appears to be the starter
It looks like freshman Mike Weber will get the first crack at replacing Ezekiel Elliott. Meyer stated that he expects Weber to begin the season as the starting tailback.
“I think so,” Meyer said when asked directly if he thought Weber would be the starter. “I like where he’s at and I like where he’s at as far as physical condition. I anticipate he’ll be the starting tailback.”
3. Despite attrition, Meyer expects big things
Only Ohio State can boast that after losing 16 starters its team might be better. Well, at least Meyer thinks so.
“I would say that going into it this is as talented a group, top to bottom, as we’ve had.”
That’s a bold statement after the Buckeyes had five players drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. But if there’s anyone who can back it up, it’s Meyer.