Something to talk about before Big Ten Media Days
Before all 14 Big Ten coaches take to the podium at the Chicago Hilton, college football writer Matt Daniels offers up five storylines from each division to follow:
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer hasn’t exactly made many friends during his two years in the league. But the Buckeyes seemed human late last season, losing the Big Ten title game to Michigan State before falling in the Orange Bowl to Clemson. Is the two-game losing streak Ohio State has around its neck a cause for concern or just a minor blip?
Yes, James Franklin can recruit. The first-year coach at Penn State has proven that during his time at Vanderbilt and in his early work with the Nittany Lions. But can he keep a team that once again doesn’t have a postseason carrot to play for and once again is short on depth because of scholarship reductions intact for another winning season?
Michigan fans might bust out the less-than-friendly nickname on the fourth-year coach, if the losses keep piling up. Michigan is coming off its worst season since the Rich Rodriguez era flamed out after the 2010 season. Can Brady Hoke deliver a Big Ten title for a proud program that hasn’t won one since 2004?
Mark Dantonio could hear his name floated about for a possible NFL coaching job if Michigan State repeats what it did last fall. He seems happy and content in East Lansing, where the fans certainly adore the defense-oriented coach. The Spartans are fresh off a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl triumph. Can they find a spot in the new four-team playoff?
New kids on the block
It’s all right if you’re still coming to grips with the fact Maryland and Rutgers are now in the Big Ten. We still are, too. Supporters of both teams will soon realize playing at Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is much, much different than facing Wake Forest, Boston College, Cincinnati and South Florida. Can they win consistently?
Two constants people can count on when it pertains to Wisconsin — good cheese and good running backs. Melvin Gordon is the latest product of an offense that has relied on the run through the tenures of Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema and now Gary Andersen (above). Does Gordon keep up the pace from last year and possibly flirt with the 2,000-yard mark this fall?
Back to dominance
In the weaker of the two divisions, Nebraska is poised with running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory to emerge. Bo Pelini has won and taken the Cornhuskers to a bowl game each of his first six seasons, but pressure exists for more out of Nebraska. Can Pelini’s seventh team deliver?
In for Kill
Minnesota has rallied around Jerry Kill, who will once again hear questions about how his health is holding up. A three-game losing streak to end the year sullied a bit of the first winning season for Minnesota since 2008. Can Kill vault the Golden Gophers into the discussion for a possible spot at Lucas Oil Stadium in early December?
Hawkeyes seek opening
With a relatively easy nonconference schedule and a favorable Big Ten schedule, Iowa could play its way into its first Big Ten title game. Having stalwarts Wisconsin and Nebraska visit Kinnick Stadium in late November could determine a whole heck of a lot. Are the playmakers in place for the Hawkeyes to make a run at the West division title?
Sad state of affairs
Northwestern and Illinois missed out on a bowl appearance last season, a milestone that hasn’t happened since 2006. By the time the two rivals meet on Nov. 29 in Evanston, it’s possible both might be playing for a bowl bid. What changes will Pat Fitzgerald and Tim Beckman make in order for their programs to reach the postseason once again?