The brief, two-part look at what is on the mind of head coaches around the Big Ten concludes with a look at the Leaders Divison.
When Hoosiers’ head man Kevin Wilson addressed the media at Big Ten Football media days, his message was very simple: while last season was yet another disappointing year in Bloomington, his team is making strides.
One of the main areas of concern for Wilson was the defense’s ability to close out possessions.
“Defensively, we've got to get to a point as a team where instead of attacking the whole thing, certain things we need to be a little bit better at. One of those needs to be better at third down stops,” Wilson said. “So when we get a team on schedule -- there's a number of games last year where we had a team on schedule and a very manageable third and long that we gave up that we worked very, very hard in spring to understand the concepts of what we're trying to do and the type of routes and the schemes that offenses will do in situations to win a basketball game, get some stops.”
Wilson hopes to have addressed the issue with a few new recruits. Having a year under his belt as the head man won’t hurt either.
“We did address some recruiting issues with six junior college players that we have got set to come in to be a part of our spring practices and been with us through summer,” Wilson said. “So hopefully some maturity is going to help us with that. Year two of schematics, understanding some schemes, and coaches adjusting some schemes and adapting to players what they can and can't do and what not.”
It is fair to say that the Illini did not finish the 2011 season on a high note after dropping six straight games to close out the year.
New head coach Tim Beckman is ready to turn the page, judging by this offseason, his team is as well.
“During the offseason, we're big on competition. And if you've read any of the Twitter stuff that I tweet or any of the other things that we talk about each week on Illini football, you know that we build it through competition. And the things that we structure our program around is competition. And that was one thing that I challenged our football players in those last six football games, where was the sense of competition, individually and as a football team,” Beckman said. “I think we had 15 outstanding days of spring, going over competing and playing the first play as if we played the last play and playing at a tempo that we believe is going to be the Illini tempo and being a finisher by competing.”
Beckman hopes that a new-look Illini offense will help spark production.
“The major concern, as we all know, is the offensive line. The offensive line has got to be able to protect and block for you. And Nathan was one of the great, great football players, there's no question about it,” Beckman said. “But with the offense that we're installing in Champaign, it will be a dual-threat offense. You'll see two running backs in the football game at times. You'll even at times see two quarterbacks in the football game with Miles Osei lining up at running back also.”
None of the head coaches who assembled in Chicago last week had a harder job than PSU head coach Bill O’Brien.
Now that the sanctions have been handed down, Coach O’Brien and his staff are looking ahead and are confident in the product they will place on the field.
“We've got a bunch of kids back in State College right now that are sticking together, that have been through a lot of tough times over the last six months but have turned the page and are ready to move forward,” O’Brien said. “And all I can tell you is that we've got a great staff. We've got a tough, smart football team. The fans need to get onboard, our alumni need to get onboard and our lettermen need to onboard.”
As crippling as the punishment will be to the program, O’Brien is not making any excuses. It is clear that his expectations of his team remain high.
“Again, I'm not into being a genie and standing up here and talking about where we're going to be in November. What I can tell you is that again we have a good, tough, smart football team right now that's back in State College. Three just walked in the door here,” O’Brien said. “These kids have a lot of pride in Penn State and pride in the university and, most importantly, they have tremendous commitment to each other. So what I expect is when we start practice on August 6th that we're going to put forth the effort, the hard work to make sure that we field a very competitive football team September 1st against Ohio.”
Ohio State stole the headlines when they hired Urban Meyer as their next coach.
The Buckeyes locked down a coach who is a proven winner and will, almost certainly, return the program to national prominence in short order.
Meyer admits that there will be a bit of a learning curve during his first year in Columbus.
“I like our players. I like our team. We had a conditioning test that our players are telling me about. And the energy level is real high right now in Columbus with our football team. So I'm anxious to get going,” Meyer said. “The thing I don't understand and really have a complete grasp of is our opposition, of our opponents, because I don't know the conference very well. So the job is to see who plays a big part of it. As far as our football team, I like where we're at and anxious to get going.”
Just because OSU is not eligible for postseason play this upcoming season does not mean that Meyer is not making every effort to put together the best team he can assemble, though it may put him in an awkward position.
There's no such thing as a buffer year in college football, certainly not at Ohio State and certainly not with myself and our staff and our players. So there's no buffer year,” Meyer said. “ We'll worry about Bowl games, and one of the concerns I have -- and I shared it with my athletic director -- is that the preparation time when we play our last game, the kids are gone, and I've never had to deal with that situation as far as preparing for the following season. That's a lot of time away from your guys. And so we've had that conversation. I'm going to do some research, continue to do some research. Our strength coach, after our last game against our rival, you simply shake their hands, give them a hug, and say see you in January.”
The Boilermakers made some progress as a program last season and head coach Danny Hope is feeling especially optimistic coming into 2012.
This is an exciting time for all the Boilermaker nation, our fans and our players and our coaches. First time since I became the head coach at Purdue we potentially have a very good football team coming back,” Hopes said. “We have a lot of experience. We have some maturity. We have a lot of team speed. For the first time in a long time experienced accomplished quarterbacks, a lot of good signs for this upcoming season. Our players are really excited. We had 90 something guys on campus for the last eight or nine weeks. It's been a great collective effort and we can't wait for the season to get here.”
However, Hope is well aware that his team needs to continue to make improvements especially when it comes to reducing turnovers.
“Well, we have to play better in certain areas. Obviously taking care of the football is huge. If you can win the turnover margin and if you can win it significantly, that greatly increases your odds of being a championship contender,” Hope said. “We have to stay healthy. That's been a nemesis of some the last couple of years. We have to be a much more disciplined football team from top to bottom. That was a huge emphasis this past spring and we have to stay together as a team, and leadership from coaches all the way down to the players will be an important factor in the outcome of the season.”