CHICAGO – It is no surprise that Rutgers football coach Chris Ash has taken some things from Ohio State with him in his first year of trying to make the Scarlet Knights into a program that can compete in the Big Ten.
Ash said at the first day of Big Ten Football Media Days on Monday that the theme for this season at Rutgers is “The Hunt,” which sounds a lot like “The Chase,” which was the theme of OSU’s 2014 national championship season.
When the Rutgers coach think a player has reached a level of play that will make him a contributor, they are “Knighted” by having a black stripe removed from their helmets, similar to the Buckeyes’ young players having their black stripes removed from their helmets.
Ash, who was Ohio State co-defensive coordinator the last two seasons, has instituted a student appreciation day, like the one Meyer has.
And, even though he wasn’t at OSU yet when Meyer took over, his first day of practice at Rutgers sounds very familiar to anyone who remembers what happened in Meyer’s introductory practice.
“It was cold (around 10 degrees), it was early (5:15 a.m.). It was so cold you would drink water and it would freeze and get caught up in your beard,” Rutgers wide receiver Andre Patton said on Monday.
“It was a bad day. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue or stop what I was doing right there,” he said.
Ash was one of six Big Ten coaches who appeared at Big Ten Media Days on Monday.
Nebraska coach Mike Riley and three of his players were also scheduled to appear but canceled after the death of the Cornhuskers’ punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler died in a car crash on Saturday night.
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Penn State’s James Franklin, Minnesota’s Tracy Claeys, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Purdue’s Darrell Hazell were interviewed on Monday.
Today, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Illinois’ Lovie Smith, Indiana’s Kevin Wilson, and Maryland’s D.J. Durkin will take their turns.
Two of Monday’s coaches – Ash and Purdue’s Hazell – are former Ohio State assistants.
They are in very different stages of their careers, though.
Ash, who signed a five-year, $11 million contract in December, will be given time to build a winner.
Hazell, who was an assistant at OSU when Jim Tressel was head coach, has two years after this season remaining on his contract. But if the Boilermakers do not improve noticeably over the 6-26 record they’ve had in his first three seasons in West Lafayette, he almost certainly won’t be back for a fifth season.
Hazell referred to a long-time Purdue marketing slogan which said, “The Train is coming,” and said it was time to get rid of it.
“At some point, the train has to arrive,” he said. If it doesn’t arrive this year, he might not be around to see it.
• NORTHWESTERN EMPHASIZES STRENGTH: When Pat Fitzgerald said “This may be the strongest team we’ve had,” he was talking physical strength, not won-loss strength.
Even though Northwestern went 10-3, the Wildcats were outscored by a combined 133-16 in their losses to Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee.
“Our three losses a year ago we got dominated at the line of scrimmage,” Fitzgerald said.
“We’ve got to improve our strength up front to take the next steps to where we want to go to put ourselves into position to compete to be in Indianapolis (at the Big Ten championship game) and to be in that type of conversation,” he said.
• PENN STATE SCHOLARSHIPS: Penn State is at its full limit of 85 scholarships for the first time in Franklin’s three seasons as head coach.
NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal had the Nittany Lions far below that number when Franklin replaced Bill O’Brien two years ago. Penn State has gone 7-6 each of his first two years.
“We have competition and depth at every position, which we have not always had,” he said.
“The first year we were one deep with a walk-on behind the starter. Last year, we were one deep with a player we wanted to redshirt behind them,” he said.
Regardless of recruiting issues, he knows the expectation at Penn State is to win.
“There have been very high expectations since the day we got here. We knew that coming to Penn State,” he said.
• RETURN APPEARANCE: Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner was selected by his coaches to appear at Big Ten Media Days for a third consecutive year.
“People recognize him more than they do me,” Claeys said.