CHICAGO — A steady stream of reporters went to Michael Buchanan's table in the center of the McCormick Place ballroom.
Inevitably, the questions would get around to his jaw, which was broken earlier this year during a little-detailed altercation.
"I feel great," Buchanan said. "I'm back to 100 percent. Everything's right back to normal."
Buchanan's appearance at the Big Ten Football Kickoff was his first media availability since suffering the injury, which required his jaw to be wired shut for a week.
Despite the temporary blendered diet, Buchanan hasn't lost any weight. He wanted to add 10 pounds to his 2011 playing weight and is ahead of schedule.
Buchanan suggests you try to avoid breaking your jaw.
"It was definitely a setback," Buchanan said. "But it wasn't as bad as it might have seemed. A typical broken jaw, you're wired up for five to six weeks."
What did Buchanan want to eat after the wires came out?
"Pretty much anything I saw," Buchanan said. "If I rolled past a McDonald's, I wanted McDonald's. If I saw somebody eating a steak, I wanted that. I had cravings for everything."
Technically, Graham Pocic isn't from Chicago. His hometown, Lemont, is 28 miles from the big city. But the Illinois center felt at home this week.
Besides the Big Ten media kickoff and Friday's annual luncheon, Pocic planned to attend today's Cubs-Cardinals game as part of Illini Day.
"I'm excited," Pocic said. "I went to Illini Day a couple of years ago, but I bought my own ticket that time."
Pocic and his teammates didn't do much mingling with their Big Ten counterparts. Pocic and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had dinner together Thursday night before returning to their hotel.
Pocic was thrilled to see a pair of former Heisman Trophy winners in Chicago: Desmond Howard and Eddie George.
"It's awesome," Pocic said. "It's a different experience."
Though he wasn't planning to hang out with them, Scheelhaase ran into many familiar faces in Chicago.
Nebraska tight end Kyler Reed grew up in Shawnee, Kan., near Scheelhaase's Kansas City home.
"I watch him on TV," Reed said. "He's doing real well."
Nebraska was one of Scheelhaase's top college choices. Reed let Scheelhaase make his college choice on his own.
"I didn't really bug him too much about it," Reed said.
Scheelhaase also knows Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Nebraska linebacker Will Compton.
"(Compton) was on a visit to Illinois, and he texted me that I should come to Illinois," Scheelhaase said.
"These are all good guys. You can be friends off the field, but they are as competitive as me. There will be no love lost between anybody."
Players rarely will talk about any game beyond the next one on the schedule. Good thing that Michigan's first opponent is a blockbuster: defending national champion Alabama.
The teams are playing a nationally televised game Sept. 1 at Arlington, Texas. Michigan quarterback Robinson has been studying the Crimson Tide.
"Those guys are talented," Robinson said. "They will be ready to play football. It's going to be a hard team to play against. That's why you come to Michigan: You want to play teams like that, you want to play big games, you want to play in the games everybody's going to watch. It's a big stage."
The game is also a matchup of the Big Ten and recently dominant SEC.
"Every time we step on the field, we're representing the Big Ten," Robinson said. "I root for the Big Ten."
During Rich Rodriguez's era, the Wolverines were considered failures. Now, they are being labeled national title contenders.
"Preseason doesn't mean anything," Robinson said. "It's where you finish. That's it. We haven't snapped a ball yet. You've got to work for it."
Before last year's Heisman Trophy ceremony, Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball had never been to New York.
"On the plane ride, I had big eyes right off the bat," Ball said. "I was looking forward to meeting all the other great players and the other legends of the game."
During the ceremony, Ball sat next to Wisconsin great and Heisman winner Ron Dayne. Doug Flutie was nearby.
If it works the way the Badgers hope, he'll return in December to pick up his trophy.
Ball is considered one of the favorites for the 2012 award. In 2011, he finished a distant fourth behind Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Alabama's Trent Richardson.
"I didn't really pay too much attention to the voting," Ball said. "I was basically the underdog."
The top three were all NFL first-round draft picks, with Luck going No. 1 overall to Indianapolis and Washington taking Griffin second.
"They're making a lot of money," Ball said. "They were all very humble individuals and great men."
Ball bonded best with Griffin.
"I think anybody could get along with him," Ball said.
Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush has memories of the 2010 season. None of them are good.
Just before the start of the season, the Metamora product was ruled academically ineligible. He was allowed to practice with the scout team but couldn't play in games.
Though TerBush was a projected backup in 2010, the team could have used him when starter Robert Marve was injured four games into the season. Hampered by erratic quarterback play, Purdue finished 4-8.
TerBush and the Boilermakers had a bounceback 2011 season. TerBush became the starter before the season and helped Purdue to a 7-6 finish. He managed the offense, throwing for 1,900 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
"It's a whole different vibe than what I'm used to being around at Purdue," TerBush said. "Being able to carry that momentum into the next season is life changing for us."
TerBush admits he made mistakes in 2010.
"It wasn't a fun experience, but I wouldn't take it back," TerBush said. "I definitely learned a lot from it, and it was humbling. I got a new appreciation for the game. Before I was declared ineligible, I was slacking off in school and not really taking care of business like I should have been. It came back and bit me in the butt."
TerBush is looking forward to Nov. 17, when Purdue visits Illinois.
"It's my own little personal rivalry," he said.
Last time Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray played, the Gophers ended Ron Zook's Illinois career in a dominating 27-7 victory.
It was the third win of the season for the Gophers, who had earlier upset Iowa.
"Any time you finish your season with a win, it gives your team an upside going into the next season," Gray said. "We just took that win into the offseason and trained real hard."
Gray is hoping to end Minnesota's three-year run of losing seasons.
"We're looking good so far," Gray said.
Second-year coach Jerry Kill built winning programs at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. He doesn't have a timetable for the Gophers.
"We need to learn to be consistent," Kill said. "We need to create winning as being a habit. You do that by winning a couple games you're not supposed to win, then the kids get some confidence.
"You just don't know when that comes."
Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon has been impressed with new coach Urban Meyer.
"I think he knows more than anyone," Simon said.
"He's one of the best coaches, if not the best coach, in the nation. I just know the kind of person he is and how dedicated he is to our program."
The Buckeyes won't be able to play in a bowl game in Simon's final season. It's a disappointment he and some of his teammates will have to learn to live with.
"We've handled it," Simon said. "We've taken it in stride. We've got to make sure we play every game as important as the next one."
Fans in Columbus have been supportive, Simon said.
"That's what's great about Ohio State," Simon said.
Indiana defensive tackle Adam Replogle scanned the room Friday morning and saw a string of talented linemen.
Simon from Ohio State, Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner, Purdue's Kawann Short and Illinois' Buchanan, to name a few.
"Line play has always been a strength in the Big Ten," Replogle said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think it's a Big Ten thing. Somehow, they find them."
It's OK to say "Illinois" in front of Northwestern offensive lineman Brian Mulroe. Even after the Illini rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat the Wildcats 38-35 in 2011.
"You don't forget any loss," Mulroe said. "That was a tough game to swallow. This year is a new year."
Mulroe played at Loyola Academy for former Illini linebacker John Holecek. The two talk often, Mulroe said.
No pressure on Wagner, Wisconsin's left tackle. The last two guys who played the position for Bret Bielema won the Outland Trophy and were first-round NFL draft picks.
Wagner hopes to continue the trend started by Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi.
"It's been an honor being part of this group," Wagner said. "It's not a big pressure thing. I've used them as resources."
Wagner came to Wisconsin as a tight end, but he quickly was moved to the offensive line.
"I just wanted to get on the field," he said.