The Big Ten held a teleconference call Wednesday morning with all the coaches throughout the conference. Each head coach covered topics ranging from spring goals to Friday games to standouts in practice. Here’s a breakdown of what everyone on the Huskers’ 2018 schedule said.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (Sept. 22)
>> Asked about the early visit window, Harbaugh didn’t want to get into the details of his team’s plan but said things will mostly depend on the schedules for “the youngsters and their families.” (Yeah, the “youngsters” line was too good to just paraphrase.)
>> One of the larger storylines dominating the Big Ten news cycle this summer will be the status of Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson with the Wolverines. Patterson is in the same situation Husker linebacker Breon Dixon is in, waiting to see if the NCAA will grant him immediate eligibility. Harbaugh said Patterson is practicing like he will be able to play (the same plan the Huskers are using with Dixon).
“Shea’s practicing very well, he’s going about his business and taking care of it nicely,” Harbaugh said. “He’s controlling what he can control.”
>> The Wolverines are the latest Big Ten school to cancel their spring game because of scheduled bad weather. Harbaugh said it was in the best interest of everyone involved and Harbaugh felt it was the right thing to do.
>> Asked who was having a standout spring so far, Harbaugh offered several names to keep an eye on moving forward: junior defensive tackle Mike Dwumfour, sophomore corner Ambry Thomas, sophomore linebacker Josh Ross, sophomore wideouts Nico Collins and Oliver Martin, junior tight end Nick Eubanks and junior wideout Nate Schoenle.
Jeff Brohm, Purdue (Sept. 29)
>> Brohm’s stint on the call was rather short and mostly focused on the injuries facing Purdue (and there’s a ton). He said everyone that missed spring ball, including presumed starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar, will be back for summer and fall work.
He also said running back DJ Knox looks good, but given the injuries to the room and the extra reps afforded to the younger players, he feels like Purdue has multiple guys that can contribute. Redshirt freshman Alexander Horvath showed out in the team’s spring game last week.
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (Oct. 6)
>> Most of the Badgers’ head ball coach’s time was dedicated to talking about last season’s freshman phenom Jonathan Taylor. Taylor had 1,977 yards and 13 scores last season en route to being named the conference’s Freshman of the Year.
“He’s a blast to coach, it’s not difficult at all,” Chryst said. “I think what you focus on is how you can help him to get better. There’s not one guy in this program, in any program, that can’t get better.
“Who he is as a person, he wants to be the best he can be and wants to be coached … He’s really fun to be around.”
Chryst said Taylor is focusing on improving his footwork and pass-protection this offseason.
>> Asked about the Badgers’ offensive line, a group that some are talking about as the best Wisconsin has had, Chryst said “I like the group we have … but we have not arrived.”
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (Oct. 13)
>> Friday night games were a controversy during their inaugural season in the Big Ten last year and that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. Fitzgerald, along with a number of other coaches during the two-hour-long ordeal, was asked about his thoughts. Surprise, he’s not a fan.
“I’m a firm believer that Friday night is for high school football,” he said.
He enjoys the Thursday night games because his team can get extra rest and prep time for the following week without cutting into recruiting or high school action, but he doesn’t like Friday night games.
>> Asked if he had a goal for the Spring, Fitzgerald said he wants to see his team “take the next step.” He likened the football season to a lifespan — spring is the infant stage, summer and fall the teens, the regular season is adulthood and after the bowl game is death (awfully dramatic, Coach) — and said he wants his guys to stay on pace and build off of last year’s 10-3 record
>> Northwestern is another school that has canceled its spring game and Fitzgerald doesn’t seem too bent out of shape over it.
“I’m not going to change our schedule just to sell a hot dog or two,” he said. “We’ll tee it up in the fall.”
He added that weather shouldn’t be an issue in the coming years but wouldn’t elaborate on what he meant by that. Prepare for a dome over Ryan Field, I guess.
>> Fitzgerald says he’s yet to block a transfer request or a school in his 13 years at Northwestern, but that doesn’t mean he’s not against the proposed changes to the transfer rules.
“I do believe though that a young man should have to sit out,” he said. “I don’t quite know how you could stop tampering, third-party recruiting.”
Fitzgerald likened the year of eligibility lost to a buyout that a coach would have to pay if he changed jobs (even though the new school often covers that) and said coaches don’t get to move around freely like the public perception suggests. He also said that players sometimes believe simply changing schools will make problems go away and that’s not always the case.
Instead of free transfers, he suggested giving kids that year back at the end of their playing career and giving them a year of graduate school.
PJ Fleck, Minnesota (Oct. 20)
>> Add Fleck to the list of coaches not on board with the transfer rule changes, too.
“One thing I’ll say is when you start giving more options to transfer, that’s always an option for student-athletes,” he said. “I think we’re opening a can of worms that we don’t want to have.”
Fleck mentioned kids using transfers as a “way out” when they don’t want to compete, a sentiment Nebraska head coach Scott Frost shared as well.
>> Minnesota has not canceled its spring game but rather moved it up to Thursday at 6 p.m.
“Cancelling the spring game was not an option,” he said. “That’s a reward for our players and that was a reward for fans.”
As a way to spice up the scrimmage, Minnesota held a draft where two players picked the teams — tailback Rodney Smith and linebacker Thomas Barber. Fleck said the team enjoyed the draft.
Urban Meyer, Ohio State (Nov. 3)
>> The Buckeyes’ head coach was about as revelatory as you’d expect regarding the open quarterback competition. He didn’t want to go into much detail, saying “all three are close.” He did say there are times he wishes one player would separate, but added that each of the three guys — Joe Burrow, Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell — are all playing well.
“Right now, I can’t even name [No.] 3,” he said.
>> Meyer echoed what many coaches said regarding April and June visits, saying “we don’t want to have people visit that aren’t going to decide until December or next January. That’s too long to hold someone.”
>> Keep an eye on the offensive line and tight end spots. Meyer specifically mentioned those two as areas of focus for the Buckeyes moving forward. Notably, Ohio State is looking to replace last year’s Rimington Trophy winner Billy Price.
Lovie Smith, Illinois (Nov. 10)
>> The Illini coach’s best moment of the teleconference didn’t really have anything to do with football. Smith was asked a question about Friday night games in the conference, to which he said “we’re all a product of high school football and know what high school football means,” but he isn’t against Friday night college games like others are.
But before Smith could finish, the reporter who asked the initial question interrupted to question why Smith didn’t think it would hurt high school football.
Smith answered, then this exchange happened.
Smith: “Appreciate you letting me finish my comments there.”
Reporter: “Sorry I didn’t hear the volume there.”
Smith, as sarcastic as you can imagine: “Is there another question you’d like to ask?”
Reporter: “Nope, thank you.”
Season hasn’t even started and Illinois already has a sack.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (Nov. 17)
>> Junior defensive end Kenny Willekes garnered a glowing review from his head coach during the call.
“He just goes. He’s a high-energy guy, high-motor guy,” Dantonio said. “He’s up to 255 pounds right now, he’s gotten bigger, more powerful.
“He’s a playmaker. He should be a great player for us and he’s becoming a leader for us as well.”
>> Dantonio said several guys have been worked out at center as the team looks to replace starter Brian Allen (graduation) from last season, but sophomore offensive lineman Matt Allen (Brian’s brother) is the Spartans top center right now, Dantonio said.
“I thought he played well in the [spring] game, he didn’t have any bad snaps,” Dantonio said. “I thought he was pretty firm.”
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (Nov. 23)
>> Ferentz did not know that his official visits wouldn’t reset along with the new spring window. He said his team was up “grinding coffee over that last night for quite awhile.”
“We’re clearly cloudy on this whole thing,” he said. “It’s going to be a process.”
>> In a roundabout way, Ferentz tried to convey the importance he places on spring games. If the game gets canceled on account of inclement weather, he’s fine with that, but he mentioned the benefit of getting in quality work outside. He said the team hadn’t held a practice outside until Wednesday.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.