The wait is almost over.
Technically the offseason hasn’t quite ended yet, but the annual appearance for every program at Big Ten media days serves as an unofficial kickoff for the season -- and a welcome reminder that football is nearly back. The event opens next Monday in Chicago with the coach and three players from every team in the league reporting for two days of questions, answers and some predictions sure to go wrong by the time September rolls around.
To help set the scene in advance, this week the Big Ten blog is rolling through a list of the hottest topics each team will be addressing from the assembled media. Up next: Michigan State Spartans, who will have linebacker Riley Bullough, tight end Josiah Price and wide receiver R.J. Shelton joining coach Mark Dantonio in Chicago.
1. Are the Spartans ready to reload? Many of the questions Dantonio fields at the kickoff event don’t really change much from year to year. And the arrivals of Urban Meyer and then Jim Harbaugh in the league have only ramped up the conversation about Michigan State’s staying power with the traditional heavyweights recruiting at such a high level. By now Dantonio should have largely silenced those doubts, but with such a decorated class of seniors having now departed on the heels of a conference title and appearance in the College Football Playoff, there will be a new twist on the discussion -- and a new test for Dantonio’s solid program.
2. Who will take over at quarterback? There may already be a leader in the race to take over the offense from Connor Cook, but replacing the most prolific passer in school history and a proven winner is no small task. And if the Spartans are going to defend their title, finding a definitive answer at quarterback obviously isn’t short on importance, either. Tyler O’Connor has filled in admirably for Cook in the past, including tossing a touchdown in the upset win over Ohio State last season, and he seemed to have an edge coming out of spring practice over Damion Terry. But Cook’s absence will be mentioned plenty next week, and the quarterback position will continue to be analyzed all the way up to the start of the season.
3. Brighter spotlight for Bullough? The last name alone commands respect around the Big Ten, and Riley Bullough wasn’t exactly overlooked last season while claiming second-team All-Big Ten honors. But coming off a campaign that included a little of just about everything a linebacker could provide along with a huge pile of tackles, a chance to generate some extra preseason attention on the Michigan State senior might help him stand out a bit more this year by the time awards season rolls around. Bullough will certainly still have to hold up his end on the field, but that’s already a family tradition.