The Big Ten’s annual football media days will be held the next two days at the Chicago McCormick Place Hyatt.
New Big Ten head coaches Tim Beckman, Urban Meyer and Bill O'Brien will be on center stage this week in Chicago
These are certainly turbulent times in college football and for the Big Ten. Besides Monday’s announcement of major sanctions against Penn State, Ohio State also faces a one-year bowl ban. In addition, college football realignment remains a heavy topic and the impending change to the postseason structure will also be open to debate and discussion.
We will be in Chicago on Thursday and Friday to provide you coverage of Big Ten media days with stories, videos, photos and more of the 12 Big Ten head coaches and three players from each school who are due to attend.
Here are Ten Pressing Questions on what will be some key storylines this week in Chicago:
* 1. How will Penn State cope with the NCAA’s tough sanctions? – Penn State won’t be eligible for a bowl game again until 2016 at the earliest and the program also faces stiff scholarship limitations over the next four years as well. New head coach Bill O’Brien has gone on the offensive the last two days with a media blitz to show he intends to ride out the storm. As many as 25 of his players followed suit with a press conference to show their solidarity in State College on Wednesday.
By the time Friday ends, though, O’Brien will likely grow weary of questions whether he plans to stay through his five-year contract – especially if the sanctions make it hard for the Nittany Lions to remain competitive.
* 2. How will Ohio State (and new coach Urban Meyer) like playing the spoiler? – The Buckeyes are ineligible for the Big Ten championship game or a bowl game this season. Meyer, a winner of two national championships in his time at Florida, isn’t used to being in a situation like this. But with OSU coming off a disappointing 6-7 season – its first losing year since 1988 – you know that Meyer will be shooting for a quick turnaround that sets the stage for a title run in 2013.
The big key for him will be finding playmakers to make his new spread offense a success. He has the quarterback in Braxton Miller, but finding receivers to catch the ball is Job One.
* 3. Can Wisconsin make it three championships in a row? – The Badgers shared the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State in 2010 and won the first-ever Big Ten title game in a wild 42-39 thriller over Michigan State last December. The Badgers averaged a school-record 44.1 points per game last year, but will be without standout QB Russell Wilson and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (now the head coach at Pittsburgh).
Still, Heisman hopeful Montee Ball is back at running back. UW coach Bret Bielema will be asked how Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien has assimilated at the quarterback spot. With Ohio State and Penn State out of the mix for the Leaders Division title and the Big Ten championship game, UW is almost a mortal lock to reach Indianapolis.
* 4. Can Michigan break through and end its Big Ten championship drought at seven years and counting? – Brady Hoke’s Wolverines won 11 games – including a win over rival Ohio State for the first time in eight years as well as the Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech – in his debut season. But Hoke is using UM’s inability to win the Big Ten as a motivator heading into this season.
The Wolverines could be the class of Legends Division and QB Denard Robinson, back for his senior year, could be poised for a Heisman Trophy run. But the schedule is brutal with a neutral site game with defending national champion Alabama and road games at Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State.
* 5. Will Michigan State stay in contention despite losing a ton of offensive firepower? – MSU and coach Mark Dantonio have enjoyed back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in school history. But the Spartans lost QB Kirk Cousins and WR B.J. Cunningham, among others, to graduation. All eyes are on highly touted junior Andrew Maxwell to take over at quarterback.
The defense lost early NFL departee Jerel Worthy up front, but returns eight starters including difference makers like DE William Gholston, LB Denicos Allen and CB Johnny Adams. Back-to-back October road games at Michigan and new rival Wisconsin will help shape MSU’s season.
* 6. Can Nebraska improve defensively and make a run at the Legends Division crown? – The Huskers offense can be scary at times when QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead are churning up the yards on the ground. But it was the defense – a longtime Nebraska trademark – that held the Huskers back last season.
Nebraska allowed just over 350 yards a game last year – the most in Bo Pelini’s four years as the NU coach. Still, in that four-year span, Nebraska is one of just eight Division I-A schools that have won nine games every year in that timeframe. There is no reason to believe that string won’t continue in 2012.
* 7. Will Iowa make a run behind gun slinging QB James Vandenberg? – Vandenberg threw for over 3,000 yards last year in his first full season as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback. He has some pieces to work with, although the running back position continues to be a revolving door of players lost to injuries, academics, suspensions or other issues.
If the Hawkeyes can find some difference makers on the defensive line, they could push for a piece of the Legends Division title. Where the Leaders is basically already decided, the Legends figures to go down to the wire again in 2012.
* 8. How will Illinois look under new coach Tim Beckman? – Becks, as his friends in the profession call him, comes with a great pedigree as a former assistant to Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Mike Gundy. He did a bang-up job in his three seasons as the head coach at Toledo. He inherits a nice roster at Illinois, led by third-year starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase. With Indiana coming off a 1-11 season, only Illinois and Purdue seem poised to pose a challenge to Wisconsin in the Leaders Division.
The key for Beckman will be whether the Illini can win the tough game. Road games at Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and rival Northwestern also loom extremely large.
* 9. Can Indiana get off the mat in Kevin Wilson’s second year in Bloomington? – Indiana has never been a consistent winner in Big Ten football, but last year was bad even by IU’s modest standards. Wilson will want to get the Hoosiers back to respectability, even if that’s just four or five wins. The key could be the progression of sophomore QB Tre Roberson, who showed some promise at the end of last season.
The IU defense must also make major strides. On average, opposing teams gained nearly 100 yards more than the Hoosiers did in their games last season.
* 10. Is Purdue a Leaders Division darkhorse? – Danny Hope guided the Boilermakers to their first bowl game in his three-year tenure last year. With three serviceable quarterbacks in Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry, he has guys capable of leading the offense.
New defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar comes on to try and instill some toughness for the Boilers on that side of the ball. Maybe that will help the Boilers close the gap some after double-digit losses to Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa last year.