The 2016 college football season is rapidly approaching and is less than six weeks away from the opening weekend of September 3rd. Tomorrow and Tuesday mark the Big Ten Media days, which take place at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.
It will be Rutgers head coach Chris Ash’s first time under the spotlight in a conference setting. He will likely be asked about what he has done to change the culture, the system changes he has implemented on both sides of the ball, and the starting quarterback battle between Chris Laviano, Hayden Rettig, and TCU graduate transfer Zach Allen. It will be a good opportunity to see Ash address the national media for the first time, in hopes of starting to change the current perception of Rutgers football within the conference.
Aside from the Rutgers perspective, here are five things to watch for:
Reaction to Media Poll
Although the conference no longer releases a preseason media poll, cleveland.com conducts one and released the results on Friday. Expect each head coach to be asked about their team’s expected order of finish and how it relates to their expectations for the season. Rutgers was predicted to finish in last place, so it will be interesting to see how Chris Ash addresses the low expectations the media has for the program.
Four New Head Coaches
In addition to Ash, the Big Ten has three other new head coaches who will be attending media day for the first time. DJ Durkin of Maryland, Tracy Claeys of Minnesota, and Lovie Smith of Illinois will be addressing their expectations for the first seasons in charge of their programs.
Rutgers plays all three programs with new coaches and end the season at Maryland. Durkin and Ash come from opposite ends of arguably the best rivalry in college football. He was the defensive coordinator for Michigan last season, and Ash of course, held the same position at Ohio State the past two seasons. Durkin actually has a longer history with Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer than Ash does. He worked for Meyer as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green and then as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Florida. Ash and Durkin’s similar backgrounds, with both taking over the newest members of the Big Ten at the same time, could help develop a rivalry that has seen both schools beat the other after trailing by three touchdowns or more the past two seasons.
Claeys was named the interim head coach of Minnesota in late October during last season, when former head coach Jerry Kill had to step down due to health issues. Claeys was formally hired as the next head coach in November, but this will be his first appearance at the preseason conference gathering. He finished the season with a 2-4 record once he took over for Kill, which included four close losses to Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin, before winning the Quick Lane Bowl over Central Michigan.
Lovie Smith returns to college football after a 20 year NFL career, where he was a head coach with the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 11 seasons. Smith took over for former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay after he was fired following the 2013 season. Smith didn’t do much better and was fired after last season. He, like Ash, was hired by a first year athletic director and is looking to deliver Illinois their first winning season since 2011.
Five Rule Changes
The NCAA instituted five rule changes for next season, so it is likely many coaches will be asked about them at Big Ten media days. The changes include coaches can now be ejected, tripping the ball carrier with a defenders leg is now illegal (how was it not before?), the scope of targeting ball carriers has been expanded, clarification on low hits on the passer, and changes regarding fake field goals. Here is an article from SB Nation that covers each rule change in detail, written by college official Cyd Zeigler.
Nine Game Conference Schedule
The Big Ten has increased to a nine game conference schedule, adding an additional divisional crossover game each season. This eliminates one non-conference game from each team’s schedule, with the additional ban on playing FCS schools beginning in 2018. Adding a conference game and how this will impact the league in the national landscape will be a hot topic at media days. The Big Ten join the Pac-12 and Big 12 as the only power five conferences to play a nine game schedule. How each school approaches scheduling non-conference games moving forward will be something to watch. Last month, I broke down the next decade of non-conference games scheduled for all the Big Ten East schools, which you can read here. Rutgers has since added Texas State to the 2018 schedule.
Notable Non-Conference Games
It’s no secret how well each power five conference performs in non-conference games against the others helps to determine perception of league strength nationally. It will also be a key factor in determining who makes the college football four team playoff. The Big Ten has some high profile games this season against other conferences that will likely be discussed this week in Chicago. The opening weekend of the season features Wisconsin playing LSU in Lambeau Field. Week 3 will be a monster one for the conference as Ohio State plays at Oklahoma, Nebraska hosts Oregon, and Michigan State plays at Notre Dame, all on September 17th. The overall success of Big Teams in non-conference play will be important, as almost every school has a game scheduled against another power five team. For the full Big Ten schedule this season, click here.
Update 3:00 p.m. Sunday:
Terrible news was announced that former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and Nebraska punter Sam Foltz passed away on Saturday in the same car accident. LSU punter Colby Delahoussaye was also injured in the crash, but survived. The players were in Wisconsin for the Kohl’s Kicking Camps this weekend. Our friends at Corn Nation have more on the tragic news here.
With loss of Foltz and Sadler, @bigten Media Days will be so somber. Hard to want to talk about football right now.— Husker Fan Podcast (@HuskerPod) July 24, 2016
Nebraska Will Not Attend Big Ten Media Days In Chicago Due To The Death Of Punter Sam Foltz https://t.co/VFtAc8OWH8— CornNation (@CornNation) July 24, 2016
Here is the schedule of head coaches formally addressing the media, which will be aired live on the Big Ten Network:
Monday, July 25th 1:00-3:00 P.M. est
Pat Fitzgerald - Northwestern
Darrell Hazell - Purdue
Chris Ash - Rutgers
James Franklin - Penn State
Tracy Claeys - Minnesota
Jim Harbaugh - Michigan
*Mike Riley will not attend due to the tragic loss of punter Sam Fultz
Tuesday, July 26th 9:00-11 A.M. est
Lovie Smith - Illinois
Kevin Wilson - Indiana
Mark Dantonio - Michigan State
Paul Chryst - Wisconsin
DJ Durkin - Maryland
Kirk Ferentz - Iowa
Urban Meyer - Ohio State
Commissioner Bob Delany will address the media at 11:20 est on Tuesday after the coaches are finished. He is expected to formally announce the new television deal that was reported last month.
The Big Ten Network will provide additional coverage from 3-7 p.m. est both Monday and Tuesday interviewing the coaches and players that are in attendance.