Nathan Scheelhaase will be a popular figure next week at Big Ten Media Days. Here’s 10 other players who should be busy at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago:
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
A preseason Heisman Trophy candidate who finished fifth in the voting last year, Miller is one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. If Johnny Manziel lets his off-the-field drama accompany him on the field this year, Miller could very well walk away with the conference’s first Heisman since another Buckeyes QB (Troy Smith) did so in 2006.
2. Devin Gardner, Michigan
Replacing a player like Denard Robinson is never easy. Gardner has had some practice, though, filling in last year when “Shoelace” went down with injuries. Don’t anticipate seeing Gardner on the cover of NCAA Football 15 like Robinson was this summer, but the strong-armed QB is poised for a possible breakout season in Ann Arbor. Brady Hoke thinks so, too. Gardner is one of four juniors (Miller included) among the 32 other seniors who are available in Chicago.
3. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
One moment Cornhuskers fans love him. The next, they question his decision-making and other facets of his game, down to his on-the-field demeanor. The California native has plastered his name all over the record books during his time in Lincoln, running and passing the ball. He just hasn’t won a bowl game, going 0 for 3. He’s a veteran now who is accustomed to the scrutiny that comes from being the starting quarterback at a school that has produced 325 consecutive sellouts.
4. Kain Colter, Northwestern
The Wildcats list the senior as a quarterback on the roster. True, he is one. But he’s also part running back and wide receiver. Like many recruiting services do, Northwestern might be apt to switch his position to athlete by the middle of the season. Pat Fitzgerald calls upon the Denver native to make plays from a number of spots on the field. The assembled media will call upon Colter to talk about the resurgence of Northwestern football and if the trend will continue in 2013.
5. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
The 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year selected by the coaches and the media has responded after a shoulder injury derailed his 2010 season. Borland enters 2013 with 308 career tackles. Another 100-plus tackle season (feats Borland has accomplished the last two seasons) should vault him into the top five all time in Badgers history. With a new coach in Gary Andersen after the abrupt exit of Bret Bielema, Borland will get asked probably more questions about the new regime in Madison than his aggressive playing style.
6. Max Bullough, Michigan State
The middle linebacker is a constant for Mark Dantonio’s squad. He’s entering his third season as a starter in East Lansing and has made 27 consecutive starts. And produced. He goes into his senior season with 223 tackles. Plus, he has the bloodlines to spur national media into a frenzy if the Spartans get off to one of their patented hot starts by mid-October. His father, Shane, was a linebacker at Michigan State from 1983 to ’86, and his grandfather, Hank, was a guard for Sparty from 1952 to ’54.
7. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
One of the premier defensive backs in the country, Roby will have plenty to discuss. How will Urban Meyer fare in his second year in Columbus? Can Braxton Miller win the Heisman? Should Buckeyes fans book hotels near Pasadena, Calif., for either the Rose Bowl or BCS Championship Game? Will he go pro after this year? How does the university determine who will dot the I? These are only a handful of topics Roby could likely find himself answering in Chicago.
8. Corey Lewis, Illinois
A right tackle with exactly zero career starts and no all-league recognition usually doesn’t garner an invite to media days. Lewis isn’t your ordinary right tackle, though. The Pennsylvania native has a comeback story worth noting after five knee injuries and recovering from two ACL tears. Lewis could have given up football a long time ago, and no one would have blamed him. But the sixth-year player will head to Chicago and attempt to answer how Illinois will turn it around in 2013.
9. Venric Mark, Northwestern
Get the ball in his hands and let him go to work. The diminutive speedster had a stellar reputation for his return ability, but last year’s production running the ball elevated Mark’s profile. He is the conference’s returning rushing leader after scampering for 1,366 yards last fall. If the Wildcats really want to live up to the moniker as Chicago’s Big Ten team, they’ll want a handful of media lining up to talk to Mark.
10. John Urschel, Penn State
The Nittany Lions guard shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out how many yards (3,266) former Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin averaged in the team’s 12 games last year. Urschel, who is on the Outland Trophy preseason watch list for top interior offensive linemen, graduated in three years with a math degree, compiling a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in each of his six semesters. He won’t play in a bowl game to end his career, but he’ll get asked what that is like. Along with how Penn State is dealing with Year 2 of life after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.