According to a poll of local media outlets around Big Ten country this week, the Michigan Wolverines are the favorites to win the Big Ten title. To both the players and coaches, this expectation is a welcome one.
“We had a disappointing year a year ago when you do not win the Big Ten championship. And at Michigan we’ve not won that championship since 2004,” Hoke said of his first season in Ann Arbor.
As the conference’s lone BCS Bowl victor from a season ago, Head coach Brady Hoke finally has the same expectations as the media does for his squad. However, Hoke does not put too much stock into those pre-season prognostications.
“I think we were picked fifth in our division a year ago. I think the 1997 team, I think pre-season was picked right inside the top 25 by a lot of people. And that ended up being a pretty good football team. We don’t put too much stock in that. It’s like anything in life, it’s not where we start but where we finish,” Hoke added.
However, for the Wolverines to flourish in Hoke’s second season, they will have some hurdles to clear in the Legends Division, namely the Wolverines in-state rival, the Michigan State Spartans. As the defending division champions, the expectations in East Lansing are much the same to those in Ann Arbor.
Said Dantonio of MSU’s in-state rival, “I would just say they’ve been favored pretty much the last four years. Competitive game. Big rival game. They do an outstanding job there. But it only matters: Are they favored or not in the locker room? And in our locker room, they won’t be favored.”
For Michigan State, the mentality is certainly there, and so is the defense, as the Spartans return 18 of their top 22 performers on that side of the ball from a season ago. However, the question marks for the Spartans are on the other side of the ball, as MSU loses three-year starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as a plethora of big-time performers in Edwin Baker, B.J. Cunningham, and Keshawn Martin.
Another rival for these two squads in the Legends division is the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are coming off of a nine-win season in their first year in the Big Ten, despite finishing third in the division. While expectations were high for the Cornhuskers in year one, the bar seems to be even higher in year two for Bo Pelini’s team.
“I think a year under our belt, having some familiarity with the conference, with the teams, with the style of offenses and defenses, you know, there’s one thing seeing it on film; there’s another thing living it and seeing it in person, firsthand,” Pelini said of the difference between last year and this year. “I think it will help us going into year two. It’s not going to win any football games for us, but I think it will be a little bit easier.”
While many count the Legends division to be a three-horse race between these teams, others believe Iowa and Northwestern are candidates to emerge as darkhorse contenders to make some noise in the division. On the flip side, most predictions have Wisconsin slotted as the Leaders division champions, in part due to the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State to claim the division title this season due to NCAA sanctions. In any case, this Big Ten Football season has the potential to be unlike any other we’ve seen before, and this should have fans on the edges of their seats.
Denny Blount, Adam Brewster, and David Nows of the WOLV-TV Sports Department are in Chicago covering the Big Ten Media Days. Below is a recap of what Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke and his players had to say:
Fall camp is important for anyone going through a coaching change and the attitude coaches and players have during fall camp will set the tone for the season. “If you don’t improve day-by-day you’re taking a step back”
This is a senior led team, and Michigan will always have a senior led team, and they have taken on a great leadership role this summer.
Michigan is fortunate to have such great rivalries. Notre Dame is a national rivalry. Michigan State is a fierce in state rivalry. Ohio State is as big as it gets in the game. Stressed that Michigan has the utmost respect for the other programs.
Maintained that Denard Robinson ran the same offense in high school as he will this upcoming season.
Hoke said that changing offensive schemes will help the defense because they will see a lot of pro-style offense throughout the season it helps “build a toughness and an edge.”
Said the OSU game always needs to be the last game of November. “There are certain traditions you don’t mess with… If we play them two weeks in a row, we play them two weeks in a row.”
Hoke on OSU scandal: OSU will never be down, like how Michigan will never be down. They’re two prideful programs with great tradition.
On Greg Mattison: He brings more than great schemes. He builds great relationships with players and knows great fundamentals and teaching points. He has tremendous motivation skills with 18-23 year olds.
On Darryl Stonum: Hasn’t made a decision, but he’ll work with Darryl. Junior Hemingway, Jerald Robinson and Martavius Odoms were singled out as doing a good job this offseason.
On Recruiting success: This might sound arrogant, and if it is, it is. We’re Michigan. We have a global education. We’re the winningest program in the history of college football. We have a tremendous staff of guys. The lifeblood for all of us, no doubt, is the guys you bring in your program. We’ve really tried to focus on the guys that fit the mold of Michigan with the integrity and character that we want to have. We want guys who will play with a toughness, play with an accountability and on a team for each other.
Those guys out on the road, they work it and they do a tremendous job. But first and foremost, it’s Michigan.
On Beating MSU and OSU: There’s always an emphasis, but this is our last shot to win this. We have to graduate having no regrets, and not beating them would be a regret.
On Greg Mattison: He’s a great defensive mind and will help our defense make big leaps. We have a bad taste in our mouth after last season and that bad taste is motivating us everyday.
On Al Borges: He’s always preaching starting the day without mistakes and carrying that mentality through every workout.
Talked about how this offense leads to the possibility of more broken plays, as opposed to designed runs, and Denard is very dangerous on broken plays.
Said it’s helpful to have so many returning wide receivers because it’s one less adjustment with a new offensive coordinator coming in.
On the offensive transition: Borges is working a lot on Denard’s footwork and the mechanics of taking snaps under center. The transition is going along well and Denard has progressed accordingly.
Denny Blount, Adam Brewster, and David Nows of the WOLV-TV Sports Department are in Chicago covering the Big Ten Media Days. Below is a recap of what the coaches of the Legends Division (sans Michigan) had to say:
Bo Pelini- University of Nebraska
Thoughts on being part of Big Ten-
“ I have a tremendous amount of respect for everything that the Big Ten represents… to me it’s an honor to be a part of this (the conference). If you look at the tradition, academic integrity, all the things that I believe our program stands for, I think we fit right in with the conference.
On playing Wisconsin and Ohio State to begin Big Ten Play-
“ You just take care of yourselves. We have a tough schedule but you go week by week… Our team understands the challenges that are going to be presented to them… you want to play against the best.”
On the uniqueness of Martinez to those unfamiliar with his talents-
“He’s very fast, he’s quick and gets to top speed in a hurry. He can make all the throws and can do really everything you ask a quarterback to do… But he has a long way to go in his decision making, just his knowledge of the game overall, just got to let him develop.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
The Nebraska move is big for balancing the conference. The addition will also be a big interest for Iowa fans.
On James Vandenberg (the likely choice to replace Ricky Stanzi): He has learned on the job and competed at a high level. He’s had a year to get ready and Ferentz has liked his progress. James may be a case of a good player stuck behind a good player (Stanzi).
Expectations for RB Marcus Coker: Want him to improve, like every player on the roster. He returned from injury (broken collar bone) in the middle of the season and it was impressive, given that he was a true freshman, how mentally tough he was.
Overcoming close loses: It’s about looking at the whole game, not necessarily just the last 2 or 4 minutes, because sometimes you give the game away by a mistake in the first or second quarter. A lot goes into winning and losing.
Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio
On 11 Win Season: We climbed a mountain and realized, when we got to the top, that there was another mountain to climb. Took a step backwards in our bowl game. Have to take the BCS what it is and show up prepared for the task at hand.
On Team Chemistry: It helped win close games last year and likely will this year. The chemistry helps with handling the adversity of close games. That was the strength of the team last year and is the strength this year.
Close games have been lost due to lack of physical play in Dantonio’s time. Need to win the battle up front, and that starts on the defensive side of the ball. Stopping the run and getting to the quarterback are huge. We have a lot of good athletes, they just need experience.
With tandem of running backs, the biggest thing is who’s healthy. Edwin Baker is the number 1, but the number 2 spot is open. Last year it was Le’Veon Bell, this year it could be him again or Larry Caper.
On Tressel: He was a mentor and very close to Dantonio. Tressel becomes a “tragic hero” to Dantonio.
On Michigan Rivalry: It’s personal to me.
Kirk Cousins on New O Coordinator: It’s an adjustment, but because it was an in house hire, it’s less of an adjustment to deal with. It’s almost just like the adjustments made from season to season.
Edwin Baker on RBs: Keeps everyone fresh and creates competition, which brings out the best in all of them. They all want to go into the game proving they should be the guy, but it’s about what is best for the team.
Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill
It’s been a long journey since December and the team and staff have made a lot of progress. It’s important to have people familiar with transition to get things started and Kill stressed he has great experience with that.
MarQueis Gray is without a doubt the starter at QB for Minnesota. He’s the most gifted athlete on the team. Kill has experience with running an offense with a running QB like Gray is. He will be kept at QB this year.
Strength and conditioning has been huge this summer and is important to stay healthy through the grueling Big Ten season. Health contributes to success.
Success versus Big Ten at Northern Illinois is different because you only have to prepare for 2 or 3 games a season, now it’s week in and week out.
In order for defense to improve, the right guys need to be in the right spots. They will run a 4-3 defense. To eliminate big plays, focus on the little things – penetration and tackling. Need to give the kids a chance to be successful.
Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald
The trenches are the key to success. You have to have both sets of lines in place to have “two fists in the fight.” Having 137 starts combined for our O-Line is very important.
On effects of scandals: You have to teach your young people through that experience. Everyone needs to be held accountable for their actions. This conference is doing everything it can to move on.
Mike Trumpy will enter camp as the starting RB and will be challenged by Adonis Smith and Jacob Schmidt, who is coming off injury.
Called the LB core a “no-name core.” The group is young and they aren’t household names, but they’ll let their play do the talking.
Had a leadership council of seniors. Felt they accomplished the goals they set for the off-season. This group of seniors is one win away from being the all time winningest program in Northwestern history.
Denny Blount, Adam Brewster, and David Nows of the WOLV-TV Sports Department are in Chicago covering the Big Ten Media Days. Below is a recap of what the coaches of the Leaders Division had to say:
Joe Paterno- Penn State University
Thoughts on last season-
“ I don’t think we played very well last year. I don’t think I did a very good job coaching last year. I don’t think I did a very good job coaching last year, to be frank with you. Everybody has to do a better job.”
On his future with the University-
“Well, I feel great. Is this the last year of my contract (laughter)? I don’t even know I have a contract. I don’t pay attention to that.”
On the quarterback situation-
“I think we’ll be better, whether we’re going to be good enough, I don’t know… We’re not even allowed to watch them in pre-season, I don’t know how they’re doing this summer…”
Luke Fickell- Ohio State University
“I am honored and grateful to be representing the Ohio State University, a place I know, love and respect as much as anything in my entire life.”
On communication with Jim Tressel-
“I haven’t had a lot of contact with him, I know he has been very supportive. He loves Ohio State and wishes us nothing but the best.”
On advice moving forward-
“The best advice I’ve received is be who you are, do it your way, make sure you’re trying not be someone you’re not.”
On the uncertainty of his future beyond this season-
“Our focus is on what we can control. Nobody puts more pressure on themselves than me.”
Thoughts on coaching along a new coach (Brady Hoke) in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry-
“It’s an exciting time, no matter what. Nobody will overlook that, I know that’s not something that will ever be overlooked at Ohio State… Obviously looking forward to continuing that great tradition.”
Kevin Wilson- Indiana University
On the excitement and momentum of the program heading into the future-
“We’re selling a great product, a great school, a great opportunity because we’re ready to take this ship and get this thing exploded.”
On the quarterback situation-
“… I have yet to watch one snap of last year’s games. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror, I’m looking forward. I’m not going to judge and anoint the quarterback with only having 15 practices.”
Thoughts on changing the history and tradition of Indiana football-
“There are so many great examples of turning programs around… Oregon, Kansas State, Northwestern… We should do well, we expect to do well. To me the culture changes with our performance, the fans aren’t going to be excited until we win games and do the things that winners do.”
Bret Bielema- University of Wisconsin
On attention surrounding the program-
“ I think the part that I really enjoy about our players, and you’ll have an opportunity to interview them over the next 48 hours, we really do concentrate on one thing at a time…. we say if you don’t like college football, then don’t come to Wisconsin.”
On coming down hard on coaches for major NCAA violations-
“ You know what, I think the proven thing is if someone knowingly and willingly violates a rule, I don’t see anything wrong with a substantial penalty. What that is, I’ll let other people decide.”
In regards to the brand of Wisconsin football-
“ I couldn’t be more excited, to be so privileged to be a part of our program, Wisconsin is what it is. We’re not real sexy. I always say we’re not the first girl taken to the prom, but we’re not the last. I think we’re a group that lines up, goes to work, does things the right way.”
Danny Hope- Purdue University
In anticipation of youth playing for the team-
“17 or 18 freshmen that played last year. So we return a young but somewhat experienced football team. Again, feel like we’ve made some great progress and are excited to get on with the season.”
On the new coaches in the conference and what that was like for Hope at one time-
“ Coming to a big-time media day, like we had today was exciting. A lot of fun… but coaching is coaching in laymen’s terms, 11 guys on the field, the field is the same regardless what field you are at. The same things that are important at winning at the FCS level are the same level as the BCS level.
Illinois Coach Ron Zook
People cringe at what happened at Ohio State because it’s something out there in college football. There’s so much exposure and excitement around the game so everybody is looking now. Everyone in college football does everything they can to protect and respect the game.
Divisional play is exciting for all the fans. If you win that division you have a shot to play for it all. Your goal is now to first get to the championship game and you have to get there to win the championship game.
There are less question marks this year and the players’ attitude is as good as it could possibly be. They lost a few key guys, like Mikel Leshoure, but their replacements are ready to step up.
It’s important to stay fresh from Mid October through Mid November. That’s when the athletic and academic pressure is the highest.
Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke met with the media Wednesday to discuss his team’s progress this spring, as well as the upcoming Spring Game on Saturday, and Varsity Blue’s David Nows was there. Below are a few notes from the print only media session, as well as the video interview above.
*One of the most encouraging signs is the improved communication on defense.
*The Spring Game will be the #1′s on offense against the #1′s on defense and the same for the #2′s.
*Troy Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd, Taylor Lewan, and Kenny Demens will sit out the spring game Saturday due to injury.
*Michael Shaw will be available Saturday and will play.
*Offensive Coordinator Al Borges will be up in the coaches box Saturday, Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison will be coaching from the sidelines.
*Coaching staff hosting 300 alumus Friday night for a Spring meeting.
Varsity Blue’s David Nows had a chance to talk with Michigan Offensive Coordinator Al Borges earlier Tuesday afternoon. Notes on the presser are below, along with the accompanying video above.
Offense in general
*We are at install 5 of 6 right now, not including screen sets, goal-line formations, and two-minute offense.
*Borges has installed the offense more slowly than at other places, but they’ll still have 5-6 practices to work on all six sets.
*Plans on having a rough depth chart coming out of spring, but it’ll be in pencil.
*The offense will still use a lot of 4-wide sets, about as much shotgun as any NFL team uses.
*”The backs are going to be featured more, but Denard will still be the focal point.”
“We’re still figuring this thing out, but this group has been as receptive as any.”
*Denard has had to change up his mechanics in the under center formations, but it is not new to him (he ran this type of offense in high school).
*On Denard – “Sometimes he is a better option as a checkdown than the checkdown might be.”
*On Denard – “Denard does some dynamic things that I can’t coach, no one can.”
*Wants his Quarterbacks to pose the threat of a draw on every play.
*Devin’s profile makes him a prototypical pocket passer.
*Devin has competed very hard this spring.
*Borges has never been a believer in playing a backup with the game still in the balance (i.e. in the first half for a series), but he will discuss giving Devin snaps with Coach Hoke after Spring.
*Vincent Smith is a pure football player, very coachable.
*Hopkins has played both halfback and fullback, had a nice scrimmage earlier this spring.
*All of the halfbacks have shown that “downhill” trait at times.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
*Roy Roundtree has been very consistent, playing on both the inside and the outside thus far in spring.
*Martavious Odoms has also seen work on both the outside and in the slot.
*Daryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway have been working primarily on the outside, while Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dilleo have seen the majority of their work in the slot, similar to last season.
*This season will feature more intermediate cuts on routes, not necessarily more long routes.
*At tight end, Brandon Moore has been very effective, but like the others, is still learning.
*Plans on recruiting the TE position very heavily in the future.
*Tight End has been very similar to the Fullback situation, in that they weren’t featured much in the past and that is a transition.
Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison sat down with the press Wednesday afternoon, and Varsity Blue’s David Nows was there. Below are some of the notes from his print only session, and excerpts from the film session are in the video above. Enjoy!
Notes from the Mattison press availability session Wednesday:
*Encouraged by the “want to” and the additude of the guys thus far.
*Most corrections they’ve made one day show up in practice the following day.
*On the defensive set: “It’s all new to them…..It’s a totally different scheme we’re running.”
*On technique: “Unless they are perfect in their technique, I’m not satisfied.”
*On progress thus far: “No disappointment whatsoever….it’s like taking guys and molding them into what you want them to be.”
*Through six practices has installed the base defense, and has begun to work in the Nickel package, replacing the SAM Linebacker with an extra DB.
Player Specific Excerpts
*Mike Martin has stood out the most, work as if he’s a freshman, and has worked hard at changing the techniques that the coaching staff has asked him to.
*The one guy who has improved the most is Cam Gordon, playing SAM Linebacker up on the line against Tight Ends. Both Mattison and Hoke have liked his progress thus far (Hoke helps out with the SAM LB’s), and he’s “going to be a kid you’ll see a lot of.”
*Craig Roh has to be physical to be the player that they want him to be, has gotten better at putting his hand in the dirt over the six days of practice.
*Jibreel Black has competed well. Mattison – “Black looks as good as Craig some days, or better.”
*Mattison has liked what he’s seen in the secondary so far, spoke of Carvin Johnson in particular as a player who has had some good days.
*The absence of J.T. Floyd and Troy Woolfolk in spring practice has helped build depth, something Mattison believes will be valuable down the road.
*Inside Linebacker Kenny Demens has missed some time due to a shoulder aliment.
*Thomas Gordon has been working all over the field, Mattison likes him as the nickel back.
The Michigan Football team held an open practice this Tuesday for the media. Varsity Blue Producer Adam Brewster was in attendance to get a look at Michigan’s new Head Coach Brady Hoke, Denard Robinson under center, and the rest of the squad returning from last season.
Hoke returns to Ann Arbor after being the Head Coach at San Diego State for the past two seasons. After struggling to a 4-8 season in 2009, Hoke turned the Aztecs into a contender in 2010 with a 9-4 overall record, including a victory in the Poinsettia Bowl. Previously, Hoke coached at Ball State and has been 47-50 in eight seasons in Muncie and San Diego. As an assistant, Hoke was on the staff of Lloyd Carr at Michigan from 1995-2002, helping the team to five New Year’s Day Bowl victories in that span.
As for the offense, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Denard Robinson returns for his junior season in Ann Arbor after setting the FBS record for most rushing yards by a quarterback and having the first season of 1,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing by a quarterback at any NCAA level . After Hoke’s hiring, there was speculation about Robinson’s future with the program, mainly due to the fact that Hoke plans to install a pro-style offense at Michigan, but Robinson quickly reiterated that he wanted to remain a Wolverine (as you can see in the video above, Robinson and backup Devin Gardner took multiple snaps under center in Tuesday’s session, but worked out of the shotgun formation as well).
The Wolverines also return many other key contributors on the offensive side of the ball, including receivers Daryl Stonum and Tae Odoms who combined for 878 yards and five scores a year ago (viewed above as the main return men). Defensively, Michigan returns a vast array of key contributors from last season crew which ranked 108th in FBS in terms of points allowed per game at 35.2, including Mike Martin, whom registered 37 tackles, including six for a loss, last season.