The rest of college football’s power conferences have had their turn and on Monday the Big Ten gets its shot to promote its 14 teams with its annual media days that culminate Tuesday with the Kickoff Luncheon at the Hilton Chicago.
The conference’s head coaches will speak briefly Monday, as will three selected players from each team while conference commissioner Jim Delany will also address the media. On Tuesday, the coaches and players will spend two hours with the media before attending the luncheon.
By the time it all ends, the first games will be less than a month away – Rutgers and Minnesota play on Aug. 28 – and the anticipation of another college football season will be in full swing.
Before that, however, there will be plenty to talk about over the two days in Chicago. Here is a look at some of the storylines that will likely take up a large part of the conversation.
Joining the club
The Big Ten hasn’t really been 10 teams for 20 years, but the number of teams grows from 12 to 14 this season with the arrival of Rutgers from the American Athletic Conference and Maryland from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Whether either team can compete in the East Division this year remains to be seen, but it was Maryland and head coach Randy Edsall that made recent headlines off the field. Edsall said he was happy to be leaving “a basketball conference” for the Big Ten. Of course, at the ACC’s media days, it did not go unnoticed as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney highlighted his team’s victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
“I think we just played Ohio State,” Swinney said. “Aren’t they from that conference?”
Delany due up
The commissioner will close out the opening day and it remains to be seen if he makes a splash like some of his colleagues from the other major conferences. Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12 criticized the NCAA and its enforcement and said “cheating pays” in college sports today while warning that schools could be forced to eliminate many non-revenue sports.
Mike Slive of the SEC once again talked about the “power five” conferences bolting the NCAA if they are not given autonomy to act in their best interests.
Don’t expect Delany to make any giant statements in Chicago, but there are plenty of topics for him to jump in on, and he has never shied away from sharing his views.
The playoff era
The BCS is gone, but it’s anyone’s guess if things will be any better with the advent of the College Football Playoff. How many Big Ten teams that have a realistic shot of making the inaugural four-team field doesn’t seem to be much of a debate as Ohio State and Michigan State appear to be the favorites.
But this is the time for optimism across college football, and expect no different from the Big Ten, even with the Buckeyes and Spartans drawing the most attention as the favorites to make the playoffs.
Last spring, the Wildcats were at the center of the college football world as the players voted whether or not to form a union. The three players in Chicago will be seniors, and no doubt they will be prepared to answer plenty of questions about what this offseason has been like.
It has the potential to be a distraction for the Northwestern players, but they will hope to put the issue in the rearview mirror as they try to focus on bouncing back from what was a very disappointing season in 2013 as they lost seven straight Big Ten games after beginning the season 4-0 and earning a top-25 ranking.
New Penn State coach James Franklin has already made a splash in recruiting as he has taken over for Bill O’Brien, who left for the NFL. Franklin and the Nittany Lions are still dealing with scholarship reductions and a postseason ban, but they are landing some talent and Franklin continues to keep the momentum going after two successful seasons under O’Brien.
That momentum will likely be aided by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who was outstanding as a true freshman, and it will also draw plenty of life from the fire and enthusiasm of Franklin.
Miller's final stand
Ohio State is the conference favorite for some, and much of that is due to the return of quarterback Braxton Miller. He has been the conference’s offensive player of the year the last two seasons and returns for his senior season with a 22-2 mark over the last 24 games.
However, he and the Buckeyes have no title to show for it and Miller himself is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery. He has put up outstanding numbers in his career, but the dynamic quarterback will likely face plenty of questions about getting his team back on top of the Big Ten.
Closer to home
For Michigan and Michigan State, it will be a decidedly different trip to Chicago. For the Spartans, much of the attention will be on their conference championship and Rose Bowl victory from last season and how they plan to keep the momentum going while playing in the difficult East Division. For Michigan, the momentum has been going in the wrong direction and coach Brady Hoke finds his seat getting a bit warm heading into his fourth season.
Will Michigan State continue to control the series and battle Ohio State for the title, or can Michigan begin to turn the tide and make the East an even tougher battle?