CHICAGO –– It may only be July, but the Big Ten football season is already heating up.
The discussion of rivalries in the realigned Big Ten Conference was a point of emphasis Monday as a coach from each of the 14 teams took to the podium, and the coaches from the top two Big Ten teams from last year did not agree on what constituted a rivalry.
Reigning Big Ten and Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said he believes the rivalries within the East Division will make for a competitive 2014 season.
“Great games and a lot of games, a lot of teams that have built-in rivalries. Obviously our rivalry with Michigan is intense for us, but we’ve also got a rivalry with Ohio State from the past and Penn State,” Dantonio said. “So I think it’s going to be a tough division. There’s no question about that.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer was not convinced.
“There’s one rival, that will never change,” Meyer said, likely referring to OSU’s historic rivalry with Michigan.
Despite the disagreement on the rivalry, Meyer did agree with Dantonio concerning the competitiveness of the conference.
“(The) East Division is very strong,” Meyer said. “As we get close to the season, start looking at the schedule, there’s a tough run.”
The Spartans and Buckeyes are set to play Nov. 8 in East Lansing, Mich., in a game that very well might decide the East Division representative in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game.
Coming off of the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game win against OSU, Dantonio said one of the biggest struggles for his Spartans will be not letting the recent success go to their heads.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve done some special things,” Dantonio said. “What’s on our agenda next, how do we handle that success, and that’s really going to be one of the biggest things we’ll have to deal with this year. I think we’re a little bit more of the hunted.”
The East Division not only contains the top two teams from the conference last year, but also welcomes Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.
Terrapins coach Randy Edsall and Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood took the stage in Chicago for the first time Monday, and will face the significant schedule change that coincides with changing conferences, something Flood said he is excited about.
“We’re looking forward to competing for championships,” Flood said. “And if that’s what the schedule is to give us an opportunity to compete for a championship, then we certainly look forward to it.”
Edsall echoed Flood, and said he is eager for the season to start.
“So the thing is, I’m just glad that we’re finally to the point now where we can go and play games,” Edsall said. “But I’m glad we’re here, and I’m glad it’s getting close to August and starting practice and getting the opportunity to compete against these outstanding programs and institutions that we’re going to compete against.”
The Terrapins are scheduled to play their first home game as a member of the Big Ten Conference against OSU, a game that Edsall said he thinks will be “electric.”
“It will be something that I know our fans are looking forward to,” Edsall said. “Ohio State is a program with great tradition and history and one that has done very, very well. And it will be something that I think everybody that’s in attendance and everybody that gets a chance to watch on TV wished that they were there, because I think it will be a ton of excitement, one that I know we’re looking forward to as well as all the other games we’re going to play.”
A topic that all coaches seemed to agree on was the NCAA rule change new to 2014 that allows them to require summer workouts. The rule allows up to eight hours of weekly weight training and conditioning required by the coaches, something that was prohibited in years past.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald kicked off the discussion early, as it carried on throughout the day.
“I really like the new rule change we’ve been able to have this summer where we’ve been able to have a chance to spend time with our guys,” Fitzgerald said. “We know more about our football team today than maybe in the past through going through summer workouts.”
Former OSU assistant and current Purdue coach Darrell Hazell was just as pleased with the rule change.
“I think this off-season’s new rule of being able to use two hours to meet with our guys couldn’t have come at a better time,” Hazell said. “What we’ve seen, we used it as a staff to meet with our younger guys, to get those guys caught up, then we took the second hour to meet with the rest of the team, just so we can get advanced in the football knowledge that we needed to get advanced in.”
Meyer also expressed his delight with the change, and said that the Buckeyes took full advantage of the extra allotted time.
“I think we had six or eight sessions with our players, and they were also helped in the transition of our high school guys when they showed up in June,” Meyer said.
Day two of Big Ten Media Days is set to begin Tuesday at 8 a.m. when all coaches and players will be made available to the media.