The Big Ten blog is officially welcoming Rutgers into the fold today, and I recently caught up with third-year Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood for his thoughts on the transition.
When you were recruiting for this year's class, how much did the pending move to the Big Ten influence your process?
Kyle Flood: It didn't change the way we recruited and the type of players recruited. We’ve always recruited players we thought could help us win the conference championship -- which back in the day was the Big East championship -- and ultimately, the national championship. All those players were recruited with that in mind and to fit in with what we do offensively and defensively. Now, I will say, I think the Big Ten is a very physical league, and you have to have linemen to compete in that league. That would probably be the influence if there was one. We took four offensive linemen and six defensive linemen for a reason. With the physicality of the Big Ten, we’re going to make sure we have enough linemen as we go through the season.
How much have you and your staff thought about the transition and the differences in culture and style of play?
KF: We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and we’ve done a lot as a staff in terms of looking at the style of play of the Big Ten teams that are on our schedule next year. We’ve probably had some good practice for it the past couple of years with all the different teams we’ve had to play. So it’s certainly not a new concept for us, because we’re not a team that’s been in a league with the same teams for the past 20 years.
Do you think playing in the Big East and then the American prepared you for the physical play of the Big Ten?
KF: I think playing Arkansas the past two years [in the nonconference schedule], they’re a physical team. Louisville was a physical football team. To me, the difference will be this: I think week in and week out, the physicality of the league will be different. Back in the day, we played West Virginia, which was a physical football team, Syracuse was a physical football team. But there are no finesse teams in the Big Ten. There are some spread offenses, but even those spread offenses for the most part are run-oriented spread offenses. They’re physical football teams. So I think the week in and week out physicality of the league is something as a coach you’d better prepare your team for and as a player you’d better prepare yourself for.
You'll be playing all new teams next year in the league. How do you prepare for that from a scouting perspective?
KF: I think you’ve just got to put the film on. You look at their returning starters, see who’s coming back and then you put the film on to see how they play the game, what is it from a style standpoint they want to do on offense, defense and special teams. Those are all the things we’ll do between now and spring practice. Usually, you put some preliminary game plans together for the first four teams on your schedule. And we’ll certainly do that. After that, you want to make sure you do some write-ups on everybody else. Beyond the first four games, most of those will be done on next year’s tape.
Did you watch much Big Ten football last season to get a feel for the league?
KF: I’m a college football fan, but we don’t have a lot of time to watch other games around the country. Yeah, you catch a game here and there in the hotel. If we play earlier in the week, maybe on Saturday you catch a little bit of it, but on Saturday you’re usually out looking at high school players. So I can’t tell you I sat down and really watched it. I can tell you I watched Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, and they were very impressive.
What sense do you get about the excitement from your fan base about coming into this league?
KF: From the very first day it was announced, the excitement has been building, and now with the recruiting season turning the page, really most of the focus has gone toward spring practice and next season. And I think there’s a tremendous amount of excitement in the New York/New Jersey area for Big Ten football. For someone who grew up in the area, I think it’s great to have a team of our own playing in a conference like the Big Ten. I think it’s really a dream come true for football fans all over the area.
What are your expectations for how you will compete right away in the Big Ten?
KF: We think we can compete with anybody in the country, and as a football team, that’s what we work toward every day. I don’t usually deal with expectations, but our goal is to be a championship program. To be a championship program, you’ve got to take care of business in your league. And in our league, you’ve got to take care of business on the eastern side of the league first, to get an opportunity to play for the conference championship. But as a program, we aspire to be a championship program every year.
Speaking of the East, you're going into a division with Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Does that seem daunting?
KF: I don’t think it’s daunting at all. When we signed the contract a couple of years ago to play Arkansas back-to-back, they were the preseason No. 8 team in the country at the time, and that series worked out pretty well for us. I think our players are ready and able to compete with anybody in the country, but we have a very healthy respect for our opponents.
One of the main reasons the Big Ten expanded with Rutgers and Maryland was to open up new recruiting grounds. Are you worried that more league teams will now be invading New Jersey for players?
KF: You know, I think they’ve been doing it for a long time. Iowa, over the years, has always had players from New Jersey. Certainly the team from Pennsylvania has always had teams from New Jersey, and Maryland has always recruited Jersey. I don’t feel it being any different than it’s been the last nine years. It’s always a highly-recruited area. There’s no lack of coaching traffic in New Jersey.
Finally, your first two Big Ten games will be at home against Penn State (Sept. 13) and Michigan (Oct. 4). What do you expect the atmosphere to be like for those two games?
KF: I think it will be a full house, I think it will be a hostile environment and I think it will be a great environment for college football.