The wait is almost over.
Technically the offseason hasn’t quite ended yet, but the annual appearance for every program at Big Ten media days serves as an unofficial kickoff for the season -- and a welcome reminder that football is nearly back. The event opens next Monday in Chicago with the coach and three players from every team in the league reporting for two days of questions, answers and some predictions sure to go wrong by the time September rolls around.
To help set the scene in advance, this week Big Ten blog is rolling through a list of the hottest topics each team will be addressing from the assembled media. Up next: Rutgers, which will have defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, wide receiver Andre Patton and defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick joining coach Chris Ash in Chicago.
1. Can Ash close the gap in the East?: The Scarlet Knights have shown the potential to hold their own in the Big Ten since joining the conference, but they have also largely been overwhelmed when facing off against the league’s elite programs. The decision to move on from Kyle Flood wasn’t exactly a difficult one, given his off-the-field issues and the blowout losses that piled up late last season. But making the right pick to help the Scarlet Knights make up ground in the absolutely loaded East Division was a bit trickier, and Ash will have plenty of chances to detail his plans for doing so next week.
2. Who is going to claim the quarterback job?: Ash built his reputation on the defensive side of the ball and his priority so far since taking over has been establishing a culture of toughness for his program. But no decision he makes will have a bigger impact in terms of Year 1 success with the Scarlet Knights than his pick to lead the offense at quarterback. Ash was in no hurry during spring practice to make a call between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig, instead allowing the competition to spill over into training camp in August. But among the many lessons Ash learned during his stint with Ohio State, the close-up view he had on what can go wrong during a prolonged, back-and-forth battle at such a crucial position might influence him to make up his mind sooner rather than later.
3. About that defense ... : Ash was hired at Ohio State to fix an anemic pass defense that was perhaps the last piece of the puzzle for a program that won a national title after he arrived. The defense Ash inherits at Rutgers has a few more flaws that must be addressed, but along with his hungry new coaching staff, that rebuilding process should again start in the secondary. The Scarlet Knights gave up more than 275 yards per game through the air on the way to finishing No. 12 in the league in points allowed, and that simply won’t be good enough in a division that featured four of the top six scoring offenses in the conference -- including the power trio of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. It’s time for Ash to work his defensive magic again.