- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten will descend on Chicago later this week for its annual conference media days. The two-day event kicks off Thursday morning, and until then we'll be getting you prepared for what to expect by running down some of the biggest questions each program will face at the podium and as the regular season gets started.
Few, if any, teams will draw a bigger crowd this week than Michigan and new coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines have been on center stage since bringing Harbaugh back to college football and Ann Arbor in December. While it has been mostly positive news since then, he and the new coaching staff have work to do with a team that finished 5-7 last season and will be met with high expectations for a quick turnaround. He'll no doubt answer questions about that pressure, along with wide receiver Jehu Chesson and linebackers James Ross III and Joe Bolden.
Can Harbaugh turn things around in a hurry? The questions about being Michigan's "savior" that popped up during Harbaugh's introductory news conference at Michigan will likely return in Chicago. He and his staff are known for building winners. At Stanford, it took three or four years to see the results of his ultra-competitive culture. When he jumped to the NFL, Harbaugh's 49ers team became one of top teams almost immediately. Michigan won't be an instant contender because of the strength of the Big Ten East, but fans will be expecting some marked improvements this fall. How will Harbaugh and his team handle that pressure and how will the rest of the school and its fans react if the results aren't there right away?
Who will start at quarterback? A definitive answer might not come until closer to September (perhaps not until Michigan's offense steps on the field in Utah on Sept. 3), but there will be plenty of speculation about who will lead the Wolverines' attack this fall. Junior Shane Morris emerged as the front-runner in spring practice, but the arrival of former Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock changes the competition significantly. Outside of Ohio State's quarterbacks, the battle between Rudock and Morris might be the most intriguing head-to-head competition of the preseason. Harbaugh has a history of evaluating quarterbacks well -- he pulled Andrew Luck out of Texas and then helped Colin Kaepernick become a superstar in San Francisco. Finding a reliable starter under center is at the top of Michigan's to-do list in the coming month.
What will D.J. Durkin's defense look like? Michigan's struggles last season had very little to do with the defense. The Wolverines allowed only 22.4 points per game in 2014 despite routinely giving up bad field position because of turnovers. Much of their depth returns this season, but the group might take on a slightly different look under Durkin, who developed an aggressive and dominant defense at Florida during the past few years. In theory, Durkin's defense should help create more takeaways, which was Michigan's biggest weak spot on defense last year. Durkin said he wants to form his defense around his players' strengths, and former coordinator Greg Mattison remains on staff to help highlight those strengths and ease the transition. With two linebackers, Ross and Bolden, making the trip to Chicago this week, there will be plenty of discussion about what to expect from the group that will have to carry more than its share of the weight if Michigan is going to have a significant turnaround in Harbaugh's first season.
12dMitch Sherman and Josh Moyer