Big Ten Media Days: Urban Meyer looking for leadership from QB Dwayne Haskins

Ohio State has a new starting quarterback in 2018: Dwayne Haskins. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

Welcome to Big Ten Media Days. On Monday, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Michigan had the spotlight. The other seven Big Ten teams — Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa — were featured Tuesday. Here are notes from their media sessions.

For the first time since 2012, Urban Meyer does not have J.T. Barrett in his quarterback room. Succeeding Barrett will be redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins, who came on in relief against Michigan last fall after Barrett was injured.

Meyer is confident in Haskins’ ability, but the leadership component is going to be a work in progress.

“The void is going to be the leadership component. J.T., I love that guy, always will. I’ll forever be indebted to J.T. Barrett, that’s how good a person and leader he was,” Meyer said. Dwayne is very talented throwing the ball. But that’s one-third of what a quarterback has to do. And lead and toughness are the other two.”

Haskins was initially battling with Joe Burrow for the starting role, but Burrow opted to graduate transfer to LSU. Meyer said the competition between Haskins and Burrow was pretty close exiting spring. Still, after a few forthright conversations with the family, Burrow decided to pursue other opportunities.

“Joe Burrow, the last two weeks of spring practice, did about everything he could to win that spot. It was right there,” Meyer said. “Joe and his family and I had open conversation all the way throughout, including conversation after the season about how we’re going to handle the spring.

“I think the graduate transfer rule is very fair. The ultimate objective academically is to graduate. He fulfilled that obligation and he should have a right to do what he wants to do. Do I wish he was still with us? I do. I love Joe Burrow. I love his family and have great respect for him.”

Dantonio proud of Michigan State’s ability to rebound from rough 2016

With Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, the Big Ten East is loaded. But for whatever reason, Michigan State tends to get overlooked to an extent.

After a miserable 3-9 record in 2016 that included plenty of off-field issues, the Spartans bounced back in a big way in 2017, finishing 10-3. Dantonio was proud of the way his program responded to such a poor showing in 2016, especially when you consider how inexperienced the 2017 group was when the year began.

“We were able to get up off the mat; that’s what I was most proud of. We were able to deal with the problems that were at hand. We were able to refocus ourselves,” Dantonio said. “We had very little experience last year, to overcome our challenges and be in the hunt for a championship in November told me a lot about our people as individuals.”

With 19 starters back, Dantonio expects his team to be in the hunt for a Big Ten title yet again. Leading the way will be Brian Lewerke, a quarterback who could be the next Spartan to reach the NFL.

“I think Brian brings a unique skill set. As a quarterback, you have to be able to create, through leadership, whether it’s quick decisions and throwing mechanics, or whether it’s with his feet. He does a combination of both. Very productive football player,” Dantonio said.

“What he brings to the table, though, is the ability to stay calm and collected in times of uncertainty, I guess. He just has that ability. He has the ability to get out of problems. Doesn’t take himself too seriously, which sometimes that’s a positive as well. And I think he has a great future ahead of him.”

Nathan Stanley enters second season as Iowa’s QB

Quarterback was a question mark for Iowa heading into the 2017 season. Nathan Stanley won the job in fall camp and ended up posting a solid season. Stanley completed 56 percent of his passes and had 26 touchdowns and six interceptions as a sophomore.

The performance meant Stanley is already a team captain for Iowa heading into the 2018 season. And his presence — along with wide receiver Nick Easley and tight end Noah Fant — means that Iowa is probably the top contender to Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.

“So I think that just tells you how far Nate came last year, from being a guy we weren’t sure was going to start in August, at this time last year we didn’t know who our starter was, and really had a good season. But most important, I think he’s gained the respect and confidence of his teammates,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. 

“Great to have him back. He’s worked extremely hard. And a few things you can’t give players are experience and confidence, and I think he’s been able to certainly benefit from a year of play, and looking forward to good things from him this fall.”

D.J. Durkin: Maryland playing 2018 season ‘for Jordan’

Maryland is entering the 2018 season with heavy hearts.

The program endured the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died from heat stroke after a summer conditioning workout.

“The loss of Jordan has been a tremendously difficult thing for our entire program to deal with this summer,” head coach D.J. Durkin said. “Jordan was a special member of our team. He had a unique way about him that was infectious to his teammates. He was loved by everyone. And we have a team that’s all working through the grieving process together.

“That’s been our focus with our guys, is to come together, be there for one another, both as student-athletes as well as the staff and coaches and everyone involved. He had such tremendous impact on so many lives. So everyone is working through and dealing with that.”

Durkin said the team is coming up with ways to honor McNair throughout the year. The initiative is largely played-led, he said.

“Jordan and his family will always be part of what we do. We’ve assigned a player committee to head that up and make sure that there’s always a presence,” Durkin said. “We’re a team playing for Jordan this year. So there will be some things we’ll announce in the coming days as we get into the season of what exactly we’re going to do and how we’re going to handle that. I think it’s important that it’s our players’ decision to do that, and we’re going to allow them to take that on.”

Wisconsin is ignoring outside expectations

As you can expect, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst isn’t letting his team pay attention to lofty outside expectations.

Wisconsin returns nine starters on offense from a team that went 13-1 a year ago. Combine a schedule that could see Wisconsin favored in all but two games in 2018 and it’s easy to think the Badgers are a contender for the College Football Playoff.

But don’t worry. Wisconsin isn’t taking your playoff thoughts into account.

“And it’s not like — nothing that happens outside really impacts inside the room. And our expectations and our goals inside the room have always been really high. And once you set those, then I think you’ve got to go back, and the only way to reach, obtain those goals, is to take advantage of each day and focus on that,” Chryst said. 

“And you earn the right to be — we’re talking about earning more opportunities, earning games, whether that’s trying to win the Big Ten West so you can earn the right to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, earn the right to play in a bowl game, all those things are earned.”

Tom Allen doesn’t declare Brandon Dawkins the starter at QB

After he was usurped by dynamic Arizona QB Khalil Tate with the Wildcats, Brandon Dawkins decided to transfer.

He came to Indiana where he’s considered the likely successor to Richard Lagow at quarterback. But Indiana coach Tom Allen didn’t want to declare Dawkins the opening day starter on Tuesday.

“He’ll have to compete for that position,” Allen said. “What I’ve been impressed with him is his personality. It’s tough to come into that situation. You come in as a graduate at that key spot and you have players already on your team that are there, and it takes a special guy, I think, to come in have the right personality.

“He has a humility about him. He’s got a great way he carries himself. He hasn’t come in with any kind of entitlement or expectation for himself that I just came here to help this team get better help this team win. I love that about him.”

Dawkins was Arizona’s starter at the beginning of the season before Tate was fully healthy and took over the starting job. He was 70-114 passing for 732 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 459 yards and eight touchdowns.

What’s the barometer for improvement for Illinois?

Illinois returns eight starters on each side of the ball in 2018. Is a bowl game in sight?

Probably not. The Illini were 2-10 in 2017 and haven’t made a bowl game since losing to Louisiana Tech in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl. It’s been almost seven years since Illinois won a bowl game, a 20-14 victory over UCLA in the 2011 Fight Hunger Bowl.

But third-year Illinois coach and former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith expects his team to be much better in 2018 than it was a year ago. Just one of Illinois’ losses was within signle-digits. That was a 24-17 loss to Minnesota.

“I don’t think you should ever say this is how many wins we have to have or we’re going to get,” Smith said. “But for us, when we say improvement, when you talk about the young players, first time on the field, I just know behind the scenes they’ve gotten so much better.”

“You look at what happened during the course of the year. There were about three games where really we didn’t have a chance to win last year. The rest of the time we played competitive ball …”

“I just know that we’re a better football team right now. And normally, with my history, it’s said that that shows results during the course of the year.”

Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper contributed to this report.

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