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Delany applauds Big Ten’s comeback

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Chicago — Jim Delany found himself in a far different position on Friday than he was a year ago.

When the Big Ten’s commissioner spoke at the conference’s annual media days in 2014, he was at the helm of a conference many believed was no longer among the best in college football. One year later, Delany and the Big Ten are back in the mix.

That’s because not only did Ohio State roll to the national championship, but the Big Ten also had a successful bowl season highlighted by marquee wins from Michigan State, which finished the season ranked No. 5 in the nation, and Wisconsin.

The Spartans won a thriller over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl while the Badgers went to overtime to beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

All of that came after early season losses in key games from Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin that had the national critics chirping.

“We have great energy, we had a great year last year and it was a long and interesting run,” Delany said. “We didn’t start strong, but we ended strong. But that was last year’s story. This year’s story is going to unfold over 13 weeks.

“There is good energy and we're glad to be in the conversation. I'm going to be watching the games as closely as you will be. But I think the thing that's fascinating about college sports is the unpredictability of it all and the number of great teams and the way the game is played. It's incredibly entertaining.”

And the expectations for the Big Ten continue to rise.

Ohio State is predicted by many to repeat as national champion while Michigan State is No. 6 in the preseason coaches poll. Penn State continues to emerge and Michigan begins the Jim Harbaugh era, a hire Delany referred to as “head-turning.”

“To be honest with you, it's easier to come up after a good year and there is a certain energy and optimism,” Delany said. “We feel good about that. But, really, the interesting thing is watching the stories unfold. And that hasn't changed from year to year.”

Finding a QB

With Trevor Siemian gone, Northwestern finds itself in need of a quarterback. And with practice beginning in a week, the Wildcats are a long way from figuring out who their starter will be when they kick off the season Sept. 5 against Stanford.

“We’ve got a pretty good blueprint on how we go about doing the evaluation,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “You’ve obviously got the statistical side that we have plenty of information from spring, and then that will kick back in here when we start up a week from Monday back on the field.”

It appears to be a three-way battle for the Wildcats with fifth-year senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson all in the mix.

The problem for Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall is, after spring practice, there is no leader.

“From a standpoint of where things are at from a general standpoint, at the end of the spring … there wasn't a clear separation,” Fitzgerald said. “Did Mick and I want to have that separation happen? Yeah, we would have loved to have it happen but it didn’t. And we’d rather have it happen organically than to force something.”

Experienced hand

Purdue has a quarterback battle of its own, even though junior Austin Appleby saw extensive action last season and nearly helped the Boilermakers pull off an upset of Michigan State. But he’s in a fight with redshirt freshman David Blough and freshman Elijah Sindelar.

However, it would seem to be Appleby’s job to lose.

“He's played a lot of football down the stretch for us,” coach Darrell Hazell said, “the last seven or eight games for us, and earlier he made more plays than he did than late. We just need him to be consistent when he's throwing the football.”

Extra points

Penn State has its franchise quarterback in junior Christian Hackenberg. What it hasn’t had is a decent offensive in front of him.

But coach James Franklin thinks things are about to change, helped by the arrival of junior college transfer Paris Palmer. And the fact everyone is talking about the issues the Nittany Lions had up front last year has this year’s group motivated.

“I think our offensive line has a chip on their shoulder,” Franklin said. “I think they've worked like that all off-season. So I would really appreciate if any of you guys are willing to write some nasty article about them to continue to motivate them to push them throughout the season.”

… Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is happy to be focusing on his team contending in the Big Ten West instead of health issues that have had him on and off the sidelines.

“I'm doing great,” he said. “I've been seizure-free now for over a year and a half. I feel great. 'm doing good.”

… New Nebraska coach Mike Riley on his likeable demeanor, “I don't know about all that with the ‘nice guy’ thing. I just hope they see a guy that loves what he does. I've coached football now for over 40 years. I do love it.”