Each week, college football insider Matt Hayes tackles the hottest topics in the Big Ten. 

1. The B1G Story

This is rare air for the Ohio State program, so unique that the coming offseason is shaded by the unknown and potentially the unthinkable.

The unknown: How does one of the top three programs in college football reset after gut punches ended each of the last 3 seasons?

The unthinkable: Could it be without coach Ryan Day?

Multiple NFL sources have told me that Day is highly-regarded by the league, and that he will again have teams gauging his interest. The one team that continues to arise in conversations with NFL sources is the Chicago Bears, who have struggled this season under Matt Nagy.

The Bears traded up in last year’s NFL draft to select former Ohio State star QB Justin Fields, who flourished under Day’s tutelage.

“I want to be the coach here,” Day said last week, and there’s no reason to think he’s not being completely honest.

But if the Bears, or any other NFL team, put together a monetary package that’s too difficult to turn down, the idea of a football-only job – no recruiting, no academics, no managing 105 different personalities – might be too appealing to ignore.

Even if Day returns to Columbus – right now, there’s no reason to think he won’t — he’ll do so after three straight years of coming up short with teams he believed had the ability to win the national title.

  • The 2019 team blew a big first half lead and lost to Clemson in the final seconds of the College Football Playoff semifinals — on an interception in the end zone.
  • The 2020 team blew out Clemson in a CFP semifinal rematch but got embarrassed by Alabama in the national title game, losing by 28.
  • The 2021 team lost 42-27 to bitter rival Michigan, snapping an 8-game winning streak over the Wolverines. It was the worst loss for Ohio State in the series since 1993.

If Day’s immediate future is at Ohio State, he’ll do some heavy lifting this offseason with new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Day hired Knowles Tuesday, 10 days after the embarrassing loss to Michigan.

Knowles had the No.3-ranked defense in the nation at Oklahoma State, and did so in the offense-heavy Big 12. He’ll take over an Ohio State defense that will have its third coordinator in as many seasons.

The unit was hit and miss much of the season, playing well in games where Ohio State out-talented opponents and struggling in games where the talent was equal.

More distressing to Day: The Ohio State offense might have had enough firepower to outscore anyone in the CFP, but the defense couldn’t stop Oregon in Week 2 and couldn’t stop Michigan in Week 13.

If the Buckeyes simply got a couple of stops against Oregon, they’re in the CFP instead of Cincinnati. Instead, Day will sign another top 5 recruiting class and give Knowles the opportunity to do what his previous DC’s could not: build a consistently elite defense that can dominate through January.

There’s too much talent on that side of the ball to give up 7 yards per rush in losses to Oregon and Michigan, or have the No. 12 pass defense in the Big Ten (246.6 ypg).

Think about this: Ohio State was No.2 in the Big Ten in sacks (35) – a direct correlation to easier coverage in the back end – and +9 in turnover margin, and still struggled to stop teams in big games.

How do Day and Knowles fix things? The last time Day was in a similar situation (after the 2018 season), he gutted the defensive staff, hired Jeff Hafley as defensive coordinator and added three other new assistants.

Day may not take things that far this offseason, but the hiring of Knowles will make Ohio State more disciplined and better tacklers. There were too many missed tackles in the last 2 seasons, too many poor angles taken from the back end.

Oklahoma State excelled in two areas: attacking the quarterback (led the nation with 54 sacks prior to bowl season), and wrapping up and tackling (led the nation with 113 tackles for loss).

Ohio State hasn’t been as active in the front seven as it was under former coach Urban Meyer, and the move to hire Knowles will go a long way in fixing that.

2. Sign of the times

Forget about the quarterback problem at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have an offense problem.

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

This season showed, as much as anything, that the old school, run-oriented, throw-off-play-action offense won’t win big in a rapidly changing offensive landscape.

Offenses have been changing at the organic level (high schools) for years, and most every FBS team in college football has moved forward with it. Even the NFL, which forever shied away from using quarterbacks in the run game, now use both run and pass sets almost exclusively out of the shotgun — while still using play fakes.

The Iowa offense under coach Kirk Ferentz and his son and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz still uses too many sets under center where the quarterback turns his back on the defense during play action.

A lot can happen from the pre-snap read to when the ball is snapped and the quarterback turns to run a play fake. When he turns back around, the coverage has completely changed and he must adjust – instead of getting the snap in the shotgun and watching the defense’s post-snap moves at the same time.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was stubborn about his run-oriented offense early on in his tenure in Ann Arbor, before hiring Alabama (and former Penn State) assistant Josh Gattis to run the offense and move it more toward run and pass sets from the shotgun.

It all came together this season. Michigan had its best offense under Harbaugh and won the Big Ten, and Gattis was named the Broyles Award winner for the nation’s top assistant coach.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, the Hawkeyes trudge along.

“Too much naked in that offense,” one Big Ten coach told me. “They’re predictable, and if they can’t maul you in the run game to slow you off the edge, they’re in trouble. They’re easy to defend.”

Quarterbacks Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla combined to throw for just 2,305 yards and had 11 TDs and 8 INTs. They completed only 54.3 percent of their passes, and averaged a paltry 6.2 yards per attempt (113th in the nation).

Those numbers in the passing game got worse in Iowa’s three losses: 502 yards, 0 TDs, 5 INTs, 51 percent, 5.1 yards per attempt vs. Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Iowa only played one (Michigan) of the top three teams in the conference, and still looked lost offensively against teams with equal lines of scrimmage.

Ferentz admitted after the Big Ten Championship blowout loss to Michigan that offense – running and passing — has been an issue all season. The Hawkeyes and their run-oriented philosophy were 111th in the nation in rushing yards per game (119.8), and 113th in yards per carry (3.27).

Those numbers must change moving forward, and so must the concepts of the Iowa offense.

3. Change for the better

Adrian Martinez did the best thing for his college career and moved on from Nebraska, allowing Huskers coach Scott Frost to avoid yet another distraction in a coaching tenure full of them in Lincoln.

So now the clock is ticking on Frost’s ability to land a transfer portal quarterback who knows this may be Frost’s last season – and has no idea what system a rebuilt offensive staff will run.

We might have gotten a clue from Frost’s first assistant hire on the offense: former Nebraska quarterback Mickey Joseph, who coached receivers at LSU under Ed Orgeron.

Joseph will be the Huskers’ new passing game coordinator, and he’s very familiar with a senior transfer candidate who has one season remaining and could align with Frost’s make-or-break moment: former LSU starter Myles Brennan.

Bad luck and injuries the last 2 seasons have prevented Brennan, a former 5-star recruit, from following Joe Burrow at LSU. He played in three games in 2020 before a core injury ended his season, and was lost for the season with an arm injury prior to the start of 2021.

Logan Smothers, who played decent in the season final against Iowa, is the incumbent on the current NU roster. But don’t be shocked if the 2022 starter is plucked from the transfer portal — and whoever it is, he’ll join a program that’s losing impact players with each passing week.

This was the problem from the beginning with NU athletic director Trev Alberts’ decision to give Frost one more season – and then publicly declare it. Current players want to win, and if they don’t think it can happen with Frost, they’ll find another place.

Players like All-Big Ten TE Austin Allen, DE Deontre Thomas and CB Cam Taylor-Britt. They won’t be the last players to leave and find an opportunity to not only win, but win a championship.

That’s what will make it difficult for Frost to get a strong quarterback from the portal — unless it’s a unique situation. Brennan might just be the perfect fit.

4. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: impact recruit for 2022.

1. Michigan: 4-star DE Kevonte Henry. Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo will both move to the NFL, and Henry is long and quick.

2. Ohio State: 5-star LB CJ Hicks. Did you watch the Ohio State linebackers tackle? Enough said.

3. Michigan State: 4-star DT Alex VanSumeren. The Spartans were exposed on the defensive interior against Ohio State, and need big, athletic bodies.

4. Iowa: 4-star DL Aaron Graves. Inside or outside, he’ll play early for the Hawkeyes – a rarity at Iowa on the lines of scrimmage.

5. Penn State: 4-star RB Nicholas Singleton. A big, fast bruiser who can move the pile and run away from the second level.

6. Minnesota: 4-star DT Anthony Smith. Gophers have lacked elite interior D-linemen under PJ Fleck. Smith will get his chance in 2022.

7. Wisconsin: 4-star OT Joe Brunner. A physical, nasty mauler who could start from Day 1 (find him on YouTube).

8. Purdue: 4-star DE Joe Strickland. A strong anchor end who already has the physical presence to disrupt anywhere on the D-line.

9. Maryland: 4-star WR Shaleak Knotts. A speedy weapon for QB Taulia Tagovailoa.

10. Illinois: 3-star WR Shawn Miller. Overlooked at legendary IMG Academy, but will be a productive college WR.

11. Nebraska: 3-star WR Victor Jones Jr. Huskers get a player who many in the state of Florida believed could’ve – and probably should’ve – been signed by one of the state’s Big Three programs.

12. Rutgers: 4-star LB Moses Walker. RU coach Greg Schiano wants more speed on defense, and Walker has that plus length and athleticism.

13. Northwestern: 4-star WR Reggie Fleurima. Northwestern’s first legit game-breaker high school wideout recruit. Whoever plays QB, Fleurima is a dynamic option.

14. Indiana 4-star DE Dasan McCullough. Ohio State and Alabama wanted McCullough, a rangy high school safety who will become an edge rusher.

5. The Weekly Five

Five signs we should’ve seen all along that this could be a special season at Michigan.

1. Jim Harbaugh renegotiated his contract and took a $3 million pay cut to stay at Michigan – when he could’ve left for the NFL and made millions more.

2. Harbaugh said in July that Michigan would “beat Ohio State, or die trying.” That might be hyperbole, but Harbaugh put the pressure directly on the backs of his players and coaches.

3. JJ McCarthy, Harbaugh’s first 5-star recruit at quarterback, couldn’t beat out Cade McNamara. Harbaugh didn’t panic early and move to the freshman — and it paid off.

4. Aidan Hutchinson came back for his senior season, and dominated from Game 1 — and got help on the other side from David Ojabo from Game 1.

5. Harbaugh spoke of team chemistry in early September, saying he loved the team and the team loved each other.