With kickoff just a little over a month away, the best players from the Big Ten are set to join their coaches for a media frenzy in Chicago scheduled for July 28 to 29.
There will be plenty to talk about as the players and coaches take the podium, but here are 10 of the top storylines to look for during the 2014 Big Ten Media Days.
10. Player unionization
The topic of player unionization has been discussed throughout the past year with former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter leading the charge for the players. While the discussion of player unionization has died down over the past few months, look for it to resurface in Chicago, especially when Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and his players take the stand.
9. Michigan vs. Notre Dame in its final year
When Notre Dame signed a contract last year to play six ACC teams per season, it was announced that the Fighting Irish would not renew their yearly battle with the Wolverines after the 2014 season. Michigan coach Brady Hoke famously called out the Fighting Irish last spring saying that Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the rivalry game.
Michigan went on to win the 2013 matchup in Ann Arbor, Mich. However, with the final year of the rivalry game looming, expect more bulletin board material coming from the Wolverines.
8. Record amount of night games for Ohio State
OSU coach Urban Meyer has always been an advocate of night games in college football, and with the recent announcement of the Buckeyes’ fifth night game in 2014, he has gotten his wish. The Buckeyes are scheduled to play Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Illinois at home under the lights as well as Penn State and Michigan State on the road in prime-time starts.
The matchup with the Spartans is the game that seems to be circled on everyone’s schedule as the game of the season, as the two met in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game when MSU won 34-24, snapping a 24-game winning streak for OSU.
7. OSU’s defense
For a team that went 12-2 last season, the Buckeyes boasted a less than stellar defense.
Enter new defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who joined the Buckeye staff after leaving Bret Bielema’s staff in Arkansas. Ash is no stranger to the Big Ten, as he coached under Bielema while he was at Wisconsin, even helping coach the Badgers to an upset win against the Buckeyes in 2010 –– the only game OSU dropped that season.
Expect OSU’s only defensive representative, defensive lineman Michael Bennett, to receive plenty of questions about not only Ash but also of longtime Penn State coach Larry Johnson Sr., who replaced Mike Vrabel after he bolted for a coaching job with the Houston Texans in the NFL.
6. Braxton Miller’s off-season
Ever since getting banged up in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, OSU senior quarterback Braxton Miller has stayed out of the spotlight, something a Heisman Trophy candidate usually doesn’t do.
Miller sat out all of spring practice after undergoing minor shoulder surgery as redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett took the majority of the snaps.
Buckeye fans are hoping for a Troy Smith-like jump from Miller’s junior to senior year, but Miller and Meyer will surely be bombarded with questions as to whether Miller can stay healthy for an entire season.
5. Addition of Maryland, Rutgers
With Maryland and Rutgers now in the Big Ten, we will see two new coaches and a handful of players who largely have not been heard from by Big Ten fans and members alike.
Coaches Randy Edsall of Maryland and Kyle Flood of Rutgers will likely be bombarded with questions as to what their expectations are in the Big Ten East Division and how they plan to make a smooth transition. Players to watch for from these two teams are Maryland wide receiver and preseason all-conference selection Stefon Diggs and now-former Rutgers quarterback Philip Nelson.
Nelson was a two-year starter for the Minnesota Golden Gophers before transferring to Rutgers this offseason. He was then involved in an altercation with another man and is facing charges of first and third degree assault. He was kicked off the team by Flood. Expect both Flood and Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill to receive plenty of questions on the situation.
4. Penn State coach James Franklin
The second coach to take the reins of the Penn State program since the unfortunate Jerry Sandusky scandal, Franklin will face the Big Ten media for the first time.
The former Vanderbilt coach led the Commodores to three consecutive bowl games, something that had never been done in the history of the Vanderbilt program.
Franklin inherits a scholarship-deprived team in Happy Valley but brings an intensity that could very well be contagious in the PSU locker room.
3. College football playoff
Although it has been discussed for years, 2014 will be the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff. Gone are the ways of the controversial BCS, and players and coaches will undoubtedly be asked about their feelings on the new process.
This topic will be very hit-or-miss as coaches will either dismiss the questions concerning the process completely or express strong opinions either for or against the playoff.
2. OSU vs. Michigan State rematch
As alluded to earlier, the Buckeye-Spartan rematch is being tabbed as the biggest game in the conference this year –– as it should be.
The Spartans’ upset of OSU in the Big Ten Championship game last year kept the Buckeyes out of the national championship discussion and sent MSU to Pasadena, Calif., where it defeated Stanford.
The winner of the Nov. 8 showdown will be the favorite to go on to represent the East Division in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game, and both Meyer and MSU coach Mark Dantonio will probably be asked if it is circled on their calendars just like it is on everyone else’s.
1. Bob Bowlsby’s comments
The Big 12 commissioner’s comments concerning the NCAA have sent wavelengths through not only the college football landscape but college athletics in general.
Bowlsby thrashed the NCAA saying that “cheating pays” and that the NCAA “enforcement is broken.” This will absolutely be one of, if not the most, discussed topics at Big Ten Media Days, especially for OSU and PSU, who have been the most recent Big Ten schools to receive heavy punishments for NCAA violations.