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Commentary: Big Ten media kickoff lacks star power

Teddy Greenstein
Chicago Tribune

Big Ten football ... the stage is yours.

You have the nation talking about the epic quarterback battle between Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, the selfless shift to receiver by teammate Braxton Miller, the flaky genius of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, the new blood at Nebraska and Wisconsin, the “don’t forget about us” vibe at Michigan State and the “are they back?” questions for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

The last time the conference entered the season with this much juice was, well, never.

The Southeastern Conference put on its show two weeks ago, replete with live updates from an ESPN set. Thursday and Friday is the Big Ten’s turn to shine in Chicago.

But it’s already raining on this parade. Instead of a Who’s Who of Big Ten talent, we’re getting more of a Who’s That?

The Big Ten’s highest-rated quarterback from 2014 isn’t coming (Barrett). Or the QB who delivered a national title to the Buckeyes and stands out as funny and socially aware on Twitter (Jones). Or the top projected quarterback in the NFL draft (Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg).

Here’s who is coming from Michigan State and Michigan: The Spartans are sending quarterback Connor Cook, defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and center Jack Allen. The Wolverines are sending linebackers Joe Bolden and James Ross III, and receiver Jehu Chesson. All are seniors.

The intriguing Miller, who won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as a quarterback in 2012 and 2013, will remain in Columbus. Same for tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who not only earned MVP honors in the national championship game, but also beat out amateur athletes from all sports in April to claim the prestigious Sullivan Award.

Also not coming from Ohio State is defensive end Joey Bosa. He’s merely the conference’s preseason defensive player of the year, according to a Cleveland.com poll of media, and projects as the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Iowa isn’t bringing quarterback C.J. Beathard, a grandson of four-time Super Bowl-winning executive Bobby Beathard, who also plays the guitar and has hung with Taylor Swift. Yeah, who would want to interview him?

The media aren’t the only ones losing out. Friday’s Kickoff Luncheon is open to the public, at $110 per plate.

So what’s going on here?

Ohio State was in a tricky spot. Miller was still a quarterback when the school selected its three players, and it could not bring all three QBs and shun its defense. Offensive tackle Taylor Decker is an all-world talker, and linebacker Joshua Perry is so respected, he and Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld will address the massive luncheon crowd. So that’s two great choices.

No offense to defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, but selecting him over Elliott makes as much sense as playing the Ohio State-Michigan game at 3 a.m.

Washington is a senior and Elliott a junior, but many schools bring juniors. Nebraska wisely selected three: quarterback Tommy Armstrong, safety Nate Gerry and receiver Jordan Westerkamp.

Penn State will leave behind Hackenberg, a junior, because coach James Franklin views the trip to Chicago as a reward for seniors, a university spokeswoman said.

That is exactly why coaches should coach, and media/marketing people should handle media and marketing. The decision should be taken out of the coaches’ hands, just as a 5-year-old should not get the option of eating chicken nuggets at every meal.

The Big Ten has no desire to step in; a spokesman said the conference leaves player selection up to the school’s discretion.

Same goes for the Big Ten’s decision to spurn the annual ESPN “Car Wash,” during which coaches come to Bristol, Connecticut, to promote their programs on TV, radio and online. Every SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 coach opted to participate except for Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, but the Big Ten coaches balked this year.

Think about that: Coaches turning down a broadcasting partner offering free promotion to a nation of fans and recruits.

Three coaches went ahead and made their own arrangements: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Franklin, the second-year coach at Penn State. (An Illinois spokesman said Tim Beckman declined because of a scheduling issue.)

“ESPN obviously offers an enormous platform to talk about our team,” NU spokesman Paul Kennedy said via email, “and we get to visit with a huge group of Northwestern alums. ESPN was nice enough to extend the invite again this year, and we didn’t hesitate.”

It’s a shame so many others did.