Big Ten football media days are coming up on July 24 and 25. The other day, we gave you a quick preview of the Big Ten East juggernaut. And now it’s time for some burning issues in the Big Ten Least—uh, Big Ten West.
Raise your hand if you miss Legends and Leaders.
We may not get satisfying answers at the media days. (Media daze?) But here are some questions.
WISCONSIN: I admit it. I took a look at the schedule of my alma mater a year ago—a schedule that included LSU and Ohio State, plus trips to Michigan State and Michigan in the first six games—and expected disaster.
Hats off to Paul Chryst, who got the Badgers off to a 4-2 start, including real chances to win in the Michigan and Ohio State losses. Heading into his third season in Madison, Chryst is a tidy 21-6. That may not be Saban or Urban country, but it’s close enough.
This year, Wisconsin’s schedule looks more favorable, although BYU is no slouch. (Sorry. I love that cliche.)
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . are the Badgers going to keep improving their running game? And thoughts about new DC Jim Leonhard replacing OLBs T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel.
NORTHWESTERN: After last year’s rocky 1-3 start, the Wildcats rebounded nicely to finish 7-6, including a Pinstripe Bowl win over Penn State conqueror Pitt. This fall, Pat Fitzgerald is armed with a new long-term contract and eight returning starters on offense, seven on defense.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . what will the Cats say about being ready early, especially with Wisconsin and Penn State in their first two Big Ten games?
IOWA: The Hawkeyes are looking solid on the O Line. No surprise there. What’s new is just about everything else on offense, including the coordinator, former Hawkeye O lineman Brian Ferentz, son of venerable head coach Kirk Ferentz.
If Brian is like father/like son in the coaching department, Iowa could surprise. The defensive front ought to be stout. Give ’em some points and the under-the-radar Hawkeyes could soar. But that’s big if.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . exactly how many circles have the Hawkeyes drawn around their Sept. 23 Big Ten opener against Penn State? That contest will give the Hawkeyes an opportunity to atone for last year’s 41-14 debacle in State College—and it will be a statement game for Iowa—one way or another.
NEBRASKA: Avid TMG readers will recall that I wasn’t as sold on the Huskers’ 7-0 start last year as some people. Then again, I also don’t think there was anything wrong with their 9-4 finish.
I am impressed by where third-year coach Mike Riley has Nebraska headed. The perennial-power days are over. But if they can elbow their way into arm-wrestling for the Big Ten West title, nothing wrong with that.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . how in the heck do you fill the cleats of stud QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.?
MINNESOTA: This ought be a great show. Up-and-comer P.J. Fleck moves from Western Michigan to a Gopher program that has some good pieces in place.
Fleck is an exciting young coach who looks like the full package: Recruit ‘em. Move ‘em around. And motivate ‘em. And he’s a Music Man for a fan base that’s eager to jump on the bandwagon.
What I want to see in Chicago is. . .how Fleck deals with it all.
PURDUE: Jeff Brohm, the league’s other rookie coach, is in a tougher place than Fleck. The cupboard’s more bare, the program has been down longer, it’s a more difficult place to win.
That said, the lower-keyed Brohm knows his football, by all accounts. He’s an excellent choice. And he has the Big Ten’s leading passer, junior David Blough, who threw for 3,352 yards and 25 touchdowns.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . how much duct tape and baling wire Brohm has purchased for what should be a long season. If Boilers aren’t careful against capable Ohio U., an 0-6 start is very possible.
ILLINOIS: Have to be careful here. I don’t want to upset my Illini friends who think Lovie Smith is the answer. I liked the hire a lot, and still do, because it restores credibility. But wins? We’ll have to wait and see.
Year Two shapes up as another challenging season for Smith, who has only three returnees on defense and five on offense. He has some decent receivers if he finds a decent passer. And the running backs aren’t bad.
What I want to know in Chicago is. . . the Orange-and-Blue plan on the retooling defense. And how Lovie projects himself for a long-suffering Illini Nation that will have its patience tested yet again.
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