July 28, 2011

Notebook: Live From Big Ten Media Days

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CHICAGO - Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell knew he was the rookie when partaking in his first Big Ten Media Days Thursday morning.

Perhaps that's the reason he didn't know what to expect from the morning interview sessions.

"I had a completely different idea of what (the interview session) was going to be," Fickell admitted in the hallway shortly after addressing the national media as Ohio State's head coach for the first time. "What I had prepared to be prepared for mentally was completely different."

Fickell took the podium as Ohio State's head coach for the first time, just weeks after replacing head coach Jim Tressel after 10 years as the head of the program.

Unlike Tressel - who earned the nickname "The Senator" for the ease in which he conversed with the media - Fickell at times stumbled over his words and even showed signs of nervousness.

But the button line for Fickell was simple: moving forward and performing on the field. How he spoke publically in front of the largest stage of his career isn't necessarily his biggest worry.

"I guess I thought it was a luncheon and it wasn't a question-and-answer period," Fickell said. "But as busy as you are and as focused as you are, I like the mental challenges sometimes."

"The Game" reborn?

Both Ohio State and Michigan welcome new head coaches for the 2011 season, which marks the new beginning of perhaps the greatest rivalry game in all of sports.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, who took the podium as the leader for the Wolverines for the first time, refused to refer to Ohio State by name. Instead, he called the program "Ohio" - which is something he's done since day one at Michigan.

Fickell, who has always exemplified the importance of "The Game" by just the look on his face when he speaks about it, hopes this could be the first year of yet a refreshed look at college football's most recognizable rivalry.

"As you know, that's an exciting time, no matter what," Fickell said. "If that starts hopefully a long rivalry as some of the ones in the past have had, that's what it's all about.

"Nobody will overlook that. I know that's not something that will ever be overlooked at Ohio State. Obviously look forward to that rivalry, continuing that great tradition."

Added Hoke: "The rivalry with Ohio is as big of a rivalry as there is in sports. It never has been for the coaches, but always about these two great institutions. We have the utmost amount of respect (for Ohio State). If you can't get geared up for that game, you may not be human."

For the first time in the history of the rivalry there's the potential that Ohio State and Michigan could potentially play on consecutive weeks with the addition of the Big Ten title game.

Separated in different divisions, Ohio State will still play Michigan for its final regular season game. Unlike former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez, Hoke feels as if that the time of "The Game" is something that should never be changed.

"Playing at the end of November is tradition and some traditions you don't mess with," Hoke said. "If we play them two weeks in a row, we play them two weeks in a row."

Bielema didn't guarantee Wilson starting spot

Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema often gets faxes in his office regarding players that are interested in potentially transferring to Wisconsin. When he got a fax with Russell Wilson's name on his desk, it didn't take long for the head coach to get excited.

"The Russell Wilson name jumped into my head right away," Bielema said, "I remember watching him on some film the past couple seasons. I reached out to my offensive coordinator right away and he was already aware of it, and we started the recruiting process right away.

"The first thing I wanted to find out was what kind of person he is," he continued. "I always say in recruiting you recruit your own problems and I wanted to make sure I wasn't recruiting someone who could potentially be a problem. He's a stand up guy and a great character."

Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, joined eventually joined Wisconsin and is now immediately regarded as one of the best signal callers in the conference.

Though it seems as if it is just common knowledge that he'd take over as the starter for the Badgers, Bielema didn't guarantee him the spot during the recruitment process. He referred to Wilson as a "potential" starting quarterback for his team.

"I was very open with Russell during the recruiting process and that's probably one of the things that attracted him to our program," Bielema said. "I haven't seen Russell Wilson compete one snap competitively in practice."

Last season Wilson passed for 3,563 yards for the Wolfpack in addition to 28 touchdown passes. Wilson adds explosiveness to a Wisconsin backfield that already consists of running backs Monte Ball and James White, both of which were recently named to the Big Ten's players to watch list.

Purdue working with two QBs

It's a common saying in college football and one that's often recited when there's an intriguing quarterback battle that may not be solved before the season - "If you have two quarterbacks you have none."

Purdue head coach Danny Hope isn't going to take having two for granted.

"It's the first time since I've been the head coach at Purdue that I went into spring ball with a quarterback that ever played in a ballgame," Hope said. "(Now) we have two. They're both exceptional people, great team guys, and very talented players."

The two quarterbacks Hope is working with are Robert Marve and Rob Henry, both of which spent time last year as Purdue's starting quarterback.

Marve, the starting quarterback heading into last season, tore his ACL and missed the majority of the season while trying to recover. Henry, who relived Marve, finished Purdue's regular season as the starter.

Now hope will be faced with the tough decision on who gets the nod - something that will be decided in the subsequent weeks during fall camp. Both have their qualities, as Hope pointed out, and the head coach isn't apposed to playing both.

"It's very likely we'll use a two-quarterback system in the fall," Hope said. "We had some plans last year to utilize a two-quarterback system. We felt like going into the season that Robert Marve was No. 1 and Rob Henry was No. 2. To be quite frank, Rob Henry was too good of an athlete to be on the bench."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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