As Big Ten football media days, which will be held on July 24 and 25, draw near, questions about the upcoming season are starting to pop up.
It’s not like we’ll get substantive answers. Only games will do that. But assuming the right questions are asked, at least we’ll hear the party lines.
And so, here’s a look at the Big Ten East. (Big Ten West coming soon to a TMGcollegesports.com outlet near you.) . . .
OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes, of course, again are the favorite to win the league, and be a serious threat to conquer sizable national turf.
Here are some odds to win the Big Ten championship, from Bovada: Ohio State 5/6, Wisconsin 15/4, Michigan and Penn State 11/2, Nebraska and Northwestern 16/1, Iowa 20/1, Minnesota 33/1, Michigan State 50/1, Indiana and Maryland 100/1, Illinois and Purdue 200/1 and Rutgers 500/1.
(By the way, I’m not a betting man, especially in areas like this. Because I believe these kinds of odds, regardless of team or sport, generally are bad bets, whether longshot or favorite. But they’re fun.)
Last year, the concern was that the Buckeyes were too young. And that bad October night at Penn State, a 24-21 shocker, and that early New Year’s Eve hangover, a 31-0 disaster in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson, seemed to back that up.
Former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson now comes in as offensive coordinator. The question is, will Wilson, who departed at Indiana amid denials/non-denials that he pushed injured players too hard, be able to rev up the Ohio State attack?
Sure would be nice to ask J.T. Barrett, the Heisman candidate, about that. Trouble is, he won’t be one of the three Buckeye players in Chicago for media day. Heisman voters are supposed to forget stuff like that when it’s time to vote. And they probably will.
But it sure would be nice if Big Ten teams brought the right players to media day. After all, it is a media day.
PENN STATE: After a 2-2 start, the Nittany Lions reeled off nine straight wins, including an epic comeback to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. After a heated debate about whether they deserved a College Football Playoff berth instead of Ohio State—a team they beat!—they endured a 52-49 shootout loss to USC in a marvelous Rose Bowl.
All of which leaves many experts thinking the Nittany Lions can crack the four-team playoff this year.
I don’t know what to think. I’ll let you know after Penn State travels to Iowa and Northwestern by Oct. 7.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . how smooth will the Nittany Lions’ moves be when it comes to dancing around the burden of expectations?
MICHIGAN: Oh, this will be fun. Before taking the Wolverines on a Roman Holiday practice trip in April, Jim Harbaugh said arrivederci to 10 starters on defense and six on offense.
Yup, it’s Harbaugh, who will have more social-media antics and more boggling off-topic topics to discuss than Entertainment Tonight. Be sure to check out the video of him singing Hail to the Victors to his newborn son, in a rocking chair.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . how will Harbaugh deal with being upstaged by Penn State and Ohio State? If it turns out that way, of course.
MICHIGAN STATE: With all the assumptions being made about the Big Ten East, Sparty shapes up as the fourth option. That ought to be a real comedown for a team that had a great run (36-5 in three seasons) before the disaster of 2016, when Michigan State dipped to 3-9.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . how does Mark Dantonio plan to revive a program that has its work cut out for it? And will anybody who doesn’t wear Green-and-White believe in the plan?
MARYLAND: All things considered, that was a good first season for D.J. Durkin, who started 5-2, including 4-0, before reality set in. There was a lot to like about a 6-7 debut, including a bowl loss, at this basketball powerhouse.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . what’s the deal with opening at Texas? I’m expecting some “great opportunity’’ chatter. And you know what? It is a great opportunity.
INDIANA: OK. So Kevin Wilson, after guiding the Hoosiers to back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in 25 years, is dismissed amid murky questions about whether he engaged in proper leadership. Hmm.
He’s replaced by Tom Allen, a highly regarded defensive assistant who rose quickly through the college ranks after excelling at an Indianapolis high school. The loan officer in me says this is a risky investment. The sportswriter in me says, “Let’s do it.’’
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . what’s Tom Allen like? Although I suspect we won’t know until the wheels come off—or stay on—in mid-season. Let’s check back when we’re carving Halloween pumpkins.
RUTGERS: Putting the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten East may seem like a cruel fate. Keep this in mind, though. . . The expectations are low, but the participation checks from the Big Ten are absurdly high.
Let’s assume Rutgers cuts down the mistakes and makes some minor strides under enthusiastic second-year coach Chris Ash. It’s not impossible that it could double its win total from 2016, when it won two games.
What I want to know in Chicago. . . what is Rutgers’ outlook for its back-to-back mid-October meetings against Illinois and Purdue? All of those teams will need to make the most of their opportunities.
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