Hey all! It's time for Big Ten Media Days, coming to you live from Chicago. We've already told you how to watch and when which people will be speaking. We've even told you the questions we really want to hear, but are pretty certain we won't. Now it's time for us to tell you what to listen for.
Between the 12 coaches and a smattering of other people who will be taking the podium today in Chicago, here's what we'll be listening eagerly to hear.
1. So what exactly is going on at Ohio State?
There's Buckeye drama, and we're curious not just about how Urban Meyer will broach the topic when asked, but also about the literal details: Carlos Hyde may or may not have hit somebody, not to mention Bradley Roby and freshmen Marcus Baugh and Tim Gardner getting into legal trouble.
On the one hand, Meyer will want to be relatively mum. When there are yet-to-be-resolved legal issues at stake, the smart thing is to say you're just letting the legal process run its course.
But, deserved or not, Meyer has earned a reputation for lax discipline, and has had trouble shaking it. Before all this broke, he was getting blamed for his coaching of Aaron Hernandez -- someone he last worked with in 2009 -- but Meyer's supporters could point to the fact that he seemed to have a different mentality since taking over the Buckeyes.
Having four players dealing with legal incidents in one fell swoop has raised eyebrows again, even though Meyer swiftly and justly meted out penalties to his players, some of whom may not be charged with the crimes that message board commenters have already convicted them of carrying out. All eyes will be on Meyer as he answers what will likely be an onslaught of inquiries about the culture of his program.
2. The Jim Delany Show
The commissioners of the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have all called for major changes to the way the NCAA works, including the proposal of a breakaway organization containing the power conferences.
Interesting stuff, sure, but those were just warmups. Delany might be the most powerful commissioner in college sports, and he's certainly the one willing to say the boldest stuff with the least worry about whether anybody cares. And Big Ten Media Days are his time to shine.
He'll be asked about pay-for-play and the O'Bannon case, where he's previously claimed (and retracted) that the Big Ten would move to Division III if D-I conferences were forced to pay players. He'll be asked about Rutgers, the team nobody really wants in the Big Ten, as well as Maryland. He'll be asked about new divisions, a nine-game schedule and more.
But regardless of what he's asked, he'll also answer stuff nobody thought to ask. He'll opine about whatever he feels like, and because he's turned his conference into a monetary printing press, he won't care if he splashes with a soundbyte. He will say Jim Delany things, and he will make Jim Delany faces.
Delany has never needed an excuse to let 'er rip about the state of college sports, but Wednesday, he has one.
The surprise hot topic of Media Days across the country have been the new rules on targeting, with oodles of debate on whether or not Jadeveon Clowney's big hit last year was legal, and whether or not Clowney would have been ejected for the hit. Perhaps the statement that sparked the debate came from Big Ten officials coordinator Bill Carollo, who taught the league's referees a credo: when in doubt, throw him out.
Although the sentiment of protecting players is universally shared, it seems impossible that the targeting rule will be consistently enforced, and it's something that will change the tide of football games. Carollo himself won't be speaking, but many others interested in discussing the league's player safety enforcement will be, and the league will have to answer for how and why that zero-tolerance mantra came about.
4. Who wins the B1G Coachspeak award?
The Big Ten values blandness, and its Media Day isn't an opportunity for coaches to troll or dish on each other, but rather it's a celebration of the blasé. I plan on annually awarding the coach who says the least with the Our Plan For This Week Is To Go 1-0 Award for Excellence in the Field of Big Ten Coachspeak, honoring the B1G head coach who says the least with the most words. The race is wide open, quite frankly.
5. New kid on the block: Is Gary Andersen ready for the B1G time?
It's one thing to be randomly thrust from the WAC, which doesn't even exist anymore, into the Big Ten. It's another to have to take over a program that's won back-to-back-to-back Big Ten Championships. It's not an enviable task, and that's before you consider he's going to have to make a choice in a quarterback battle while replacing Montee Ball at running back.
6. New kid on the block: Will Purdue do stuff under Darrell Hazell?
You might not have noticed, because it's Purdue, but Darrell Hazell is convincing good football players to come to Purdue. They've got three players ranked in at least one service as a 4-star player, including David Blough, who outperformed the best quarterbacks in the country at the Elite 11 academy.
That's not supposed to happen. Who is this guy who turned Kent State into a strong team, and why does he think he could possibly do the same thing in West Lafayette? Surely he'll be overwhelmingly optimistic about his new gig, but it'll be interesting to see what talking points he has to infuse excitement into a team whose peak has been mediocrity for the past decade.
7. Does Penn State keep churning along?
Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the sanctions placed on Penn State football, sanctions many thought would cripple the team. Instead, it's rebounded gracefully: Bill O'Brien coached the Nittany Lions to eight wins, turned down the NFL to stay in Happy Valley, and now is trying to convince the NCAA -- an organization whose all-time low popularity was not aided by draconian restrictions on Penn State -- to lower the school's sanctions.
It's been a whirlwind for O'Brien, and he wouldn't have been blamed for performing much worse than he did. But he's still got an uphill battle, and he still doesn't have a quarterback on the roster who has ever taken a snap for the Nittany Lions, as the depth chart features JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson and 4-star QB Christian Hackenberg on top. Keeping the wheels turning will be just as hard as getting them started in the first place, and O'Brien still has both on-and-off-the-field questions to answer in Year 2.
8. Oh, Ohio State also plays football
It's pretty fascinating that Ohio State went undefeated last year, is the runaway favorite to win the conference this year, has both the preseason offensive and defensive players of the year in Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier, and the main storyline surrounding the squad is not football. Meyer did everything right on the field in his first season in Columbus, and once he's done answering for his morality, he'll have to discuss repeating the performance in 2013 -- possibly without some key cogs due to those criminal issues.
Meyer won't be the only one asked about the Buckeyes though -- I'd imagine the majority of the other 11 coaches will have their opportunity to say something about the Big Ten's national title contender and its Heisman hopeful, Braxton Miller.
9. Out with the unpopular, in with the unpopular
The Big Ten ditches its silly Legends and Leaders divisions, but adds Maryland and Rutgers, the two least B1G teams ever to B1G. (That includes the University of Chicago.) Plus, coaches will be playing nine games instead of eight and won't be playing FCS teams, taking wins out of their pockets. What do they have to say about the Big Ten's changes for the more competitive, if not more unwieldy?
Delany's the one to listen to here, as always, especially as he's the one tasked with justifying changes -- and the questionable Rutgers move.
10. I just want to hear Tim Beckman say stuff
For about six months, I refused to believe Beckman was as constantly bumbling as he appeared to be. But the tomfoolery and gaucheness have never waned, both on the field and off it. I've never considered the rivalry between Illinois and Northwestern, my alma mater, to be very serious, but I can't get enough of Beckman and his amazing ability to find himself confused as to why he's actively falling down a staircase. I might dub a laughtrack over Beckman's speech.
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