Ohio State, Wisconsin, MSU among those on show at Big Ten media days

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CHICAGO — The conference’s main contenders were available Tuesday at day two of Big Ten Media Days. 28 coaches and players faced questions from the conference’s reporters, and WDBM was there to broadcast live on-site from the Chicago Downtown Marriott. Here’s what our reporters found out from the day’s availability.

Illinois (2-10, 0-9 Big Ten, 7th in West)

There was loads of hype when Lovie Smith decided to take over the Illini football program. After two seasons only accumulating five wins, making his third season an improvement is important to the growth of Illinois football. Smith seemed more than excited for the challenge.

“We talk about year three of the rebuild. When you start 15 true freshman and one redshirt freshman, it tells you where you are and what you’re doing with your program. And that’s where we are.”

The youth was on display last season as the Illini limped to a 2-and-10 record and Smith greatly alluded to the growth he’s seen this off-season.

“When you talk about the young players, first time on the field, I just know behind the scenes they’ve gotten so much better.”

It looks like the Illini don’t have their quarterback just yet, awaiting “legitimate quarterback competition we have in training camp.” Smith said. “We as coaches will put the guys in position and let it play out. And the guy we end up with we’ll feel really good about.”  

Illinois and Smith hope to make a bowl game but it’ll be a significant challenge.

Indiana (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten, 6th in East)

Tom Allen looked like a kid in a candy store once he entered the podium to address the media at the Marriott, “I’d like to thank Fred Glass and Indiana University for the opportunity they’ve given me to be the head coach of the Hoosiers, a position I dearly love and feel so unbelievably blessed and honored to be in.”

The Hoosiers look to fix the problems they had, which was finishing off conference opponents. Allen elaborated on that issue Tuesday, “So to me it came down to depth was the thing that kept surfacing as we were evaluating, and fatigue would set in late in the games. Players playing too many snaps I really believe.”

The previous seasons, Indiana has fallen victim to the murderous row that is the Big Ten East. Allen was asked on the competitive imbalance within the conference, “I know we’ve played on both sides, and they’re all tough. Everybody we play is physical, well-coached. It’s a great league. Love this conference. I’m a Big Ten guy. I’ve spent time in the South, but I’m a Big Ten guy.” The Hoosiers will hope to use Allen’s energy to propel them to six wins this season.

  • Ryan Collins 

Iowa (8-5 overall, 4-5 Big Ten, 3rd in West)

Kirk Ferentz kicked off the second day of Big Ten Media Days by having a typical Kirk Ferentz Media Day session. After losing James Daniels to the NFL, Ferentz said he’s not sure if it’s possible to find a replacement at center who’s able to perform the way Daniels did. While Daniels seems irreplaceable, Ferentz has great confidence in fifth-year senior Keegan Render to smoothly transition into the role.

“Keegan has played really good football for us very quietly the last couple years. When he moved over full time this spring, he has played that position in the past, cross-trained. He looked totally natural there.”

The Hawkeyes should have a lethal tight end duo with junior Noah Fant and sophomore TJ Hockenson returning to Iowa City, two players both named to the John Mackey Award Preseason Watchlist, an award given to the nation’s top tight end. They’ll will need to find a solid replacement at tailback after Akrum Wadley moved on, but the Hawkeyes have a nice schedule, with B1G West foes Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern all coming to Kinnick. It could very well be another nine, 10-win season for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Maryland (4-8 overall, 2-7 Big Ten, 7th in West)

After battling through a 2017 season riddled with season-ending injuries to first and second-string QB’s, DJ Durkin should have a much-improved team in 2018. Durkin will head into training camp with yet another QB competition, with Tyrell Pigrome, Kasim Hill and Max Bortenschlager battling it out for the starting gig. Even with the departure of DJ Moore, the Terps should have an experienced receiving corps, bringing in Utah State transfer Rayshad Lewis to join senior Taivon Jacobs and Jahrvis Davenport.

Asked about his ties to Michigan, Durkin also likened much of what they do at College Park to what he was part of in Ann Arbor as well small other things he’s picked up at various other stops. I don’t see foresee another four-win season for the Terrapins. If they can stay healthy, they’ll be battling for the fourth or fifth spot in the Big Ten East.

  • Joey Ellis 

Michigan State (10-3 overall, 7-2 Big Ten, 2nd in East)

Mark Dantonio’s biggest news of the day was announcing that Jon Reschke, who was dismissed from the team prior to the 2017 season, was back on MSU’s roster. Reschke was dismissed after sending a racially-charged text to a teammate at the time. The decision to bring Reschke back was one made entirely by the team, when they all voted on the move to bring him back.

“Whether it comes to fruition or not remains to be seen. But it’s been a step-by-step process. And I talked to our football team and our players and said: Hey, if you guys want him back, then you have to bring him back. It has to be a decision made by our African-American players, led by them. It has to be — they have to support that.”

Senior safety and probable captain Khari Willis gave the Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon speech, the first Spartan to do so since Kirk Cousins gave it back in 2011.

For a team which returns 19 of 22 starters, the mood around the team definitely seems to be Big Ten Title or bust. With what they bring back, and given the favorable schedule they have, a Big Ten championship definitely seems more than possible for Dantonio’s Spartans in 2018.

  • Joey Ellis

For more on the Spartans from day two:

Ohio State (12-2 overall, 8-1 Big Ten, 1st in East)

Having missed out on the College Football Playoff last year to eventual champs Alabama, Urban Meyer leads his team into 2018 with that same exact goal. Meyer faced a barrage of questions surrounding the recent firing of his wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Back when Meyer and Smith were at Florida, Meyer specifically acknowledged he was aware of an incident involving him and his wife Courtney. Meyer did, however, say he was unaware of a separate incident involving Smith and his wife again in 2015.

“In 2009 Zach was an intern, a very young couple. As I do many times, most coaches and people in leadership positions, you receive a phone call, first thing you do is tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs.”

Off-field problems aside, Meyer should bring back one of his best teams in 2018. Arguably the nation’s most productive backfield returns in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, and seven of last year’s top performers all return, making life much easier for presumed starter Dwayne Haskins. Defensively, they lose some star power on the defensive line and in the secondary, but five-star stud Chase Young seems more than ready to be a disruptive edge-rusher opposite Dre’Mont Jones.

  • Joey Ellis

Wisconsin (13-1 overall, 9-0 Big Ten, 1st in West)

Before a Big Ten Championship loss to Ohio State, the Badgers were College Football Playoff-bound. Returning Alex Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor, the offensive core remains for a team that averaged almost 34 points per game and is the odds-on favorite to top the Big Ten West standings once again.

When asked about Wisconsin being a considered a ‘contender’, UW coach Paul Chryst remained in character.

“The only way to get [to the Big Ten Championship]is by making the most of each day and each opportunity. But there’s nothing that’s said outside that is going to impact what’s happening on the inside. And our team, we have high expectations.”

Five Badgers from last season were drafted to the NFL — including impact players like Troy Fumagalli and Jack Cichy — but Chryst’s quiet confidence is resemblant of his team as they enter the 2018 season.

Michigan State’s media day will take place on Aug. 6, where multiple players from both sides of the ball as well as the coaching staff will be available at Spartan Stadium.

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