The next trip to Big Ten Media Days was for the heavyweights, as three of the projected top four finishers in the East Division took the stage alongside Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin. With Wednesday marking a month before league’s season begins — a trio of teams will undoubtedly be doing his thing for Week 0 — the sense of urgency was real because the conference seeks to create its first national title winner since Ohio State in 2014.
The Buckeyes were on the list of programs beneath the spotlight Wednesday, and fifth-year coach Ryan Day addressed his program’s expectations at once, noting that Ohio State’s aspirations are, as always, to “beat the synergy north, win the Big Ten Championship, win the National Championship.”
“Those are our goals,” he said, “and the ones things didn’t happen this past year.”
To come back to Big Ten supremacy, the Buckeyes will probably need to beat that synergy north, however they face more obstacles than simply Michigan. On the list of challengers will undoubtedly be Penn State, Michigan State and the Badgers, all of that have been represented on Day 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Because the conference turns the page from talking season to the start of actual football, listed below are the takeaways from part two of Big Ten Media Days:
Ohio State’s scars
Day said he thinks his players are “just a little scarred … just a little calloused” after an 11-2 season that featured a Rose Bowl victory but no Big Ten East title no College Football Playoff appearance. Among the program’s biggest moves this offseason to treat the shortcomings of 2021 was attracting defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to greatly help improve a Buckeyes’ unit that ranked tied for 59th nationally last season altogether defense.
If there is any doubt on the expectations for Knowles’ unit in 2022, Day cleared that up.
“New scheme, new coaches, all those things are new,” Day said. “I believe increasing against them in the spring and seeing what’s happened come early july and now in to the preseason, it has been exciting to view. There’s just an aggressiveness about them. However in terms of expectations, yeah, we expect a top-10 defense. That’s what we wish. When we’ve played our best football, it is because we played excellent defense, and we have been balanced and played complementary football. You want to obviously stop the set you back begin with and go from there, but we expect a high ten defense.”
Manny Diaz’s fit at Penn State
The Buckeyes aren’t the only real Big Ten East power with a fresh defensive coordinator after Penn State coach James Franklin tabbed Manny Diaz to displace Brent Pry, who took the Virginia Tech head coaching job. The Nittany Lions finished tied for sixth nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing just 17.3 points per game, leaving Diaz with some big shoes to fill following a three-year run as Miami’s coach.
“He’s done it at a higher level at a lot of different places, but also offers been a head coach,” Franklin said on the Big Ten Network. “There’s value in those experiences from the leadership standpoint, from the big picture perspective.”
Franklin said he called Diaz your day after he was fired at Miami and wasn’t sure whether he’d be thinking about discussing the Penn State gig so soon — but he was, perhaps due partly to a preexisting relationship between your two.
“He’s a man that people also spent time with in the offseason with my previous defensive coordinators talking,” Franklin said. “That’s what we do in the offseason, you speak to other coaches which come from the similar philosophy and tree. That helped aswell since when you venture out and hire anyone who has a totally different philosophy, there’s likely to be growing pains with that. He’s hit the bottom running.”
Aidan O’Connell poised for spotlight
Diaz’s first challenge at Penn State will undoubtedly be containing among the league’s top quarterbacks, because the Nittany Lions undertake Purdue and a budding star quarterback in Aidan O’Connell to begin with the 2022 season in a Thursday night showdown on Sept. 1. O’Connell made the All-Big Ten West preseason team after throwing for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns last season.
Now, the sixth-year senior and former walk-on enters 2022 because the unquestioned starter for the Boilermakers after guiding Purdue to a 9-4 record and Music City Bowl win last season.
“Aidan did an excellent job,” said Purdue coach Jeff Brohm. “It’s unfortunate his head coach didn’t start him at the start of the entire year, but we could actually figure that out. He’s really earned his spot from Day 1. He continues to work hard each day. He’s turn into a great leader.”
Week 0 advantage for Illinois
Apart from the obvious Week 0 headliner between Nebraska and Northwestern in Ireland, the only real other Big Ten team doing his thing on Aug. 27 is Illinois, which hosts Wyoming in a tune-up game before playing at Indiana the next Friday. The overall game was originally scheduled for Week 3, but was qualified to receive the Week 0 slot since Wyoming is playing at Hawaii this year.
Teams that produce the visit to Hawaii are permitted to start the growing season earlier as a way of incentivizing the visit to this type of far-flung locale. In this instance, that rule happened to benefit the Illini despite the fact that they aren’t the people playing Hawaii, and Illinois coach Bret Bielema credited athletic director Josh Whitman with helping facilitate the change.
“You visit a large amount of improvement from players who’ve never played the overall game from Week 1 to Week 2,” Bielema said. “So that’s sort of why I was lobbying .. I thought if we’re able to play one game in the home, get our feet underneath us and play one game in the home and obtain our feet underneath us in Week 0 that has been an enormous benefit.”
Kenneth Walker’s lasting impact
A season after Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker emerged as a breakout college football star with 1,636 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, Michigan State is seeking to another transfer to greatly help in the run game. The Spartans are attracting 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the entire year Jarek Broussard from Colorado to put Michigan State again among the biggest potential benefactors from the portal.
With former four-star running back Jalen Berger also transferring in after averaging 4.6 yards per keep on 84 attempts in two seasons at Wisconsin, it’s clear that Walker’s progression with the Spartans right into a second round NFL Draft pick is resonating with running backs searching for new homes.
“We just tell a tale,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “I’m uncertain just how many people knew about him nationally. He saw a chance to arrived at Michigan State and obtain better. His goal was to play in the National Football League and play against great competition.”
Rutgers in limbo
Among the pressing topics for Rutgers before the 2022 season may be the status of linebacker Drew Singleton, who’s awaiting a ruling on a petition that could allow him to play yet another season. Singleton declared for the NFL Draft and hired an agen,t but opted to take part in the Scarlet Knights’ bowl game once they received a late berth to the Gator Bowl.
Ultimately, he went unsigned as a free of charge agent, perhaps due partly to an ankle injury sustained in the bowl loss vs. Wake Forest. Had he not declared for the draft, Singleton will be qualified to receive a sixth season due to the extra year of eligibility supplied by COVID-19. As preseason camp approaches, however, the Scarlet Knights remain awaiting word on the status of a new player who helped stabilize their defense with 54 tackles last season.
“We’re hopeful that cooler minds prevail,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. “We’ve an appeal in. I’m hopeful he’ll have the ability to keep coming back. He really wants to seek his graduate degree. I really believe that — he does so many great things. He’s a youngster from inner city Newark who’s overcome a whole lot. The guy is wanting to do the proper thing. I am hoping that we’re in a position to do the proper thing and obtain him back, but we’re waiting to listen to.”
Wisconsin gets new offensive look
With Jim Leonhard as defensive coordinator and Bobby Engram as its first-year offensive coordinator, Wisconsin now has former NFL veterans calling the shots on both side of the ball. Engram involves the Badgers after eight years on the Baltimore Ravens’ staff and is tasked with rejuvenating a Wisconsin unit ranked 120th nationally last season in passing offense.
It’s his first stint in college football since he coached receivers for just two seasons at Pittsburgh under current Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst. But Engram, who played 14 seasons in the NFL, has some Big Ten roots as a Penn State alum and former star for the Nittany Lions.
“I’m really worked up about Bobby Engram having to be able to be around and for me personally to obtain back and coach with him,” Chryst said. “Had to be able to coach after some duration with Bobby, and only a boat load of respect. I believe a very important factor that I usually feel is essential when you put in a coach is you sort of consider your players. That is where I’m most excited, for the players to be around Bobby. I believe that it’s just as much the opportunity for — the timing was right for really both folks, but also for Bobby ahead. I believe that with Bobby we’re an improved team.”