Top 5 Storylines to Watch for at 2014 Big Ten Media Days
Just a short walk from Lake Michigan, only an 8-iron or so from some of the best shopping on the planet, the best and brightest in the Big Ten will meet to celebrate another year of college football.
The Chicago Hilton will play host to Big Ten media days on Monday, July 28, and Tuesday, July 29, one of the last stops before fall camp officially begins. Before we get to the actual football, however, we will hear from the coaches, players and B1G brass.
Monday will be a rapid-fire session. All 14 coaches—yes, they added a few since the last time you saw them—will have 15 minutes in the main ballroom. It moves fast, so hopefully our tape recorders are in game shape.
On Tuesday, the players and coaches in attendance will sit at roundtables, and media members will spend two hours bumping into each other, knocking coffee onto poorly ironed shirts, hoping to grab the appropriate sound bites at their tables of choice.
As for what you can expect at the 2014 B1G Media Days, here are some things to look out for.
Hello, Star Power
The Big Ten typically trots out a buffet of intriguing players, although the 2014 stable is one of the best the conference has featured in quite some time. There are a few notable absences—headlined by Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg—but the overall group is loaded with stars in this league and potential high NFL draft picks.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will be in Chicago for the second consecutive year, and he will undoubtedly field more than a handful of questions about offseason shoulder surgery. He will be joined by teammate Michael Bennett, one of the best defensive tackles in all of college football.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will be in the building, perhaps addressing the possibility of eclipsing 2,000 yards rushing. The same could be asked to Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, who will also be in attendance.
Michigan State will bring quarterback Connor Cook along with Shilique Calhoun, its freakish defensive end and a potential top pick in next year’s NFL draft. Iowa will bring left tackle Brandon Scherff, another prospect garnering serious interest as a top selection.
Wideout Stefon Diggs is back from a broken leg, and he will make his Big Ten debut for Maryland. When healthy, there aren’t many players that can do the things he can.
There are stars everywhere, which bucks the narrative that the conference lacks talent and speed. That’s certainly not the case here; there's plenty of firepower to go around.
Two New Additions
For at least two days—or maybe just 30 or so minutes over those 48 hours—Rutgers and Maryland will be the stars of the show.
Although the football programs aren’t oozing with momentum at the present time, the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference will generate perhaps the most headlines over the first two days.
The celebration of these two will begin with Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood at 11 a.m. central on Day 1. Maryland head coach Randy Edsall will make his B1G debut just over an hour later at 12:15 p.m. (Although, by that point, it will probably be behind a fair amount, so please don’t hold us to that time. Consider yourself warned.)
If you haven’t familiarized yourself with realignment changes or the new divisions in the Big Ten, now would be the time to do so. Legends and Leaders are dead, and they will be giving way for the very sane, very normal East and West.
Because Maryland and Rutgers likely won’t do much celebratory bragging, conference commissioner Jim Delany will do it for them.
Which leads us to our next storyline…
Jim Delany’s Message
SEC commissioner Mike Slive threatened to leave Division I if autonomy of the Power Five wasn’t granted. Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12, used his time at the podium to highlight what he believes to be glaring inefficiencies with NCAA enforcement [via ESPN.com's Jake Trotter].
Enforcement is broken. The infractions committee hasn't had [an FBS] hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.
So what will Jim Delany provide as an encore?
More than likely, the Big Ten commissioner will offer up the least entertaining and quotable session of the three. Always collected and remarkably intelligent, Delany rarely breaks rhythm while speaking about the current system he cares deeply about, which he only recently defended on the stand while testifying at the Ed O’Bannon trial.
Beyond hitting on the NCAA and the future of the student athlete, expect Delany to highlight the magnificent financial gains for programs within the conference—which is both assumed and understood.
The SEC had its “look how much money we’re making!” session, and the Big Ten will (and should) provide something similar. With Rutgers and Maryland officially on board, you can also expect to hear a bit about the plan to make college football relevant on the east coast.
There isn’t a shortage of topics to hit on, and he will likely touch on many of the sport’s pressing issues. He’s also last to go on Day 1, so maybe—just maybe—he’ll drop the mic on his way out after taking a sharp, defined jab at the SEC.
(Spoiler: He won’t.)
James Franklin’s B1G Debut
By the end of James Franklin’s first podium visit on Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days—which, oddly enough, will come directly after Urban Meyer and a brief intermission—you will likely be ready to commit to Penn State.
This will be the most impressive sales pitch of the day, which should come as no surprise. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has held this title at media days over the past few years, although now he has competition.
The obvious will likely be asked or addressed early on. The sanctions still hanging over Penn State will certainly be a popular topic of conversation, and his response toward an inherited situation will be one of the bigger storylines of the event.
If it’s not the sanctions, then it’ll probably be his quarterback. Expect a gauntlet of questions surrounding Christian Hackenberg, one of the brightest young throwers in the game. I’m not certain how many ways a coach can say his player is “really, really good,” but we’re about to find out.
Overall, however, Franklin’s energy will be a welcomed addition to a group that lacks in quotability compared to its SEC brethren. While it likely won’t turn into a sparring match out of the gate, expect him to deliver the goods.
Bo Pelini and the Cat
Someone has to ask it.
And if I don’t get my paws on the microphone first—pun most definitely intended—then I hope the first question poised to the Nebraska coach is about his furry friend and Nebraska’s new unofficial mascot.
The cat, for those of you who have been in your sleep chambers this offseason, began as some brilliant social media banter between Pelini and his own parody account on Twitter. Then Nebraska’s spring game came, and Pelini lifted a feline friend to the sky in celebration of the glorious day.
Well, it got our attention. Now I want to know more. No, I need to know more.
What is the cat’s name? Please tell me it’s Corn.
Is it friendly?
Does he prefer turkey or seafood? (My cats prefer seafood.)
Do you plan to bring it to games?
I could go on.
Aside from cat questions, Pelini will likely be asked a few things about football.
He will be asked about his present job security after a turbulent 2013. The talk has cooled after a strong finish against Georgia on New Year’s Day in the team's bowl game, but that won’t stop the media from fishing it up regardless. Given the way he’s rebranded his image in a matter of months, this will likely be a calmer, cat-centric visit for the Cornhuskers coach.