CHICAGO – Big Ten Media Days kicked off with some of the league’s most recognizable head coaches and longest-tenured head coaches taking the stage, but it was the lone first-year head coach who was one of the Monday storylines.
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FOCUS ON FROST
There was plenty new that happened this off-season regarding the Big Ten, but Commissioner Jim Delaney made one of his first statements a welcome to first-year Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, and then fielded his first question of the day about the Cornhuskers head man. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald also welcomed Frost at the top of his opening comments, while Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck heaped praise on Frost during his podium session.
When it was his turn to speak, and that turn came very early because he was the first head coach to open both the open session and podium time, Frost was very candid about the changes that needed to take place in Lincoln. He was not shy about opining that recent regimes have not lived up to the Nebraska tradition and was particularly critical of where the team was physically.
“From afar, I’d been frustrated a lot to where it’s fallen,” Frost said. “The biggest thing that’s fallen off, to me, is strength and conditioning.”
The one exception Frost did seem to make was for Frank Solich’s tenure, which occurred between 1998-2003, even suggesting that it was maybe a mistake to have let him go. But, Frost was mostly focused on the future, on the transformations he is expecting from his players, and already starting to see, due to his strength and conditioning staff headed by Zach Duval, and about seeing the disparity between the Big Ten’s East and West Divisions erased.
“If the West isn’t as good as the East, that’s why I’m here,” Frost stated.
Frost also discussed his philosophy on recruiting, and particularly in recruiting to Nebraska, and said he was encouraged by the reception his coaches have received on the recruiting trail thus far. The state of New Jersey was particularly mentioned as a key recruiting territory because, as Frost put it, “I think Jersey kids are the type that fit well in Lincoln, Nebraska.”
COACHES ANSWER QUESTIONS ON QB COMPETITION
Head coaches Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern and James Franklin of Penn State both had it easy when it came to questions about the most important position on the field because they feature two players who will be among the faces of the league to start the 2018 season in Clayton Thorson and Trace McSorley, respectively. Several others, however, were subjected to reporter’s adeptness of asking the same question in a variety of ways.
The uniqueness of the situation at Purdue was highlighted when head coach Jeff Brohm decided to bring both of his quarterbacks – senior David Blough and junior Elijah Sindelar – to represent the program at Big Ten Media Day. Blough started five games in 2017, but finished the season on the sideline after dislocating his ankle in a November game against Illinois. Sindelar would start eight games in 2017, but who takes the lead to begin 2018 has not yet been decided… if it gets decided at all.
“We’re going to let the quarterback position play out,” Brohm said. “At this point I’m not opposed to playing two guys if we feel it’s a close competition, they can bring value to the team. If one guy emerges, I’m okay.”
Rutgers head coach Chris Ash also confirmed that his staff has not yet settled on one quarterback this year. He feels comfortable with the guys he has competing for the position, but is looking for that one guy to step up. Similarly, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh continues to say the position at his program is yet to be settled. Expectations are the battle comes down to Shea Patterson, the former five-star prospect who transferred in from Ole Miss in the offseason, and junior Brandon Peters, though Harbaugh did comment that redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey has made the biggest strides in the off-season.
QUICK HITTERS FROM HARBAUGH
Although there was not much gleaned from Jim Harbaugh about who will start the season under center for the Wolverines, Michigan’s fourth-year head coach was still good for several noteworthy comments during the course of his podium sessions. He was the only coach in the initial session to forego an opening statement and jump right into the question and answer period. He dodged questions about a lackluster record against rivals, but did open up about other topics.
One wrinkle to Michigan’s quarterback situation in the off-season was Patterson getting drafted in the 39th round of the June’s Major League Baseball Draft by the Texas Rangers. Harbaugh said the two had not previously discussed the possibility prior to Patterson being drafted, but he immediately texted his first year transfer quarterback congratulations and called the opportunity, “pretty awesome.”
Regarding Michigan and Notre Dame rekindling their rivalry, Harbaugh said the genesis of that was simply a phone call between he and Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly. Details like moving around schedules eventually were birthed from that phone call, and the two former rivals will meet on Sept. 1 for the first time since 2014.
Michigan’s 2017 season was the subject of an original series on Amazon titled, “All or Nothing,” but do not ask Harbaugh for a review of the show because he did not watch it. The reason, he said, is because he does not like to watch himself on film, and even more so does not like to listen to his own recorded voice played back to him.
CLAYTON THORSON HAPPY FOR ANOTHER YEAR IN EVANSTON
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson entered the 2017 season being discussed one of the more intriguing NFL prospects in what was already being recognized as a deep quarterback class. A torn ACL in the Wildcat’s bowl game threw uncertainty into his football future, let alone his NFL career, but Thorson expressed optimism in being ready to start the season when the Wildcats kick off on Aug. 30 at Purdue.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “It feels really good. I’m back to my old self again.”
The decision not to forego his final season at Northwestern was already made before Thorson tore his ACL, though. The program released a statement from Thorson in mid-December confirming those plans, but the fifth-year senior admitted the decision was heavily deliberated before that announcement was made.
“It was discussed pretty in-depth. We had to weigh pros and cons and there were a lot of pros and cons either way,” Thorson said. “But, obviously the Lord knew I was going to hurt my knee and stay here for the next year regardless. Thankfully, I had already made that decision. I am really confident in that decision, and I was at the time as well.”