CHICAGO -- The Big Ten has assembled for its annual kickoff event, finally signaling the end of the offseason wasteland and the imminent return of football.
Training camps are still a few days away from opening around the league, but every coach and a handful of players from each team will help set the scene with the help of the assembled media.
Here’s what to anticipate on the first of two days of festivities:
Who’s here? The conference has split the teams into two segments, and the first group to take the stage will include Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan. Nebraska was scheduled to participate on Monday, but decided not to attend due to the death of punter Sam Foltz, who died in a single car crash on Saturday night. Every coach will address the media from the main podium for 15 minutes, starting with Pat Fitzgerald, as he gets the party started at noon Central Time.
Who’s the main attraction? There’s no question who will command the spotlight at the Hyatt Regency, and even when Jim Harbaugh isn’t speaking, he still figures to receive no shortage of attention. The Michigan coach’s antics off the field since his arrival in Ann Arbor and his success on the turf during his first season with his alma mater have made him the dominant topic of conversation in the Big Ten; and that won’t slow down any, now that he has got a team generating buzz as a possible conference champion. Harbaugh really has no competition as the most popular speaker on Day 1, but some key players in the West Division race should draw a crowd as well, starting with Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker.
What to watch: The rise of the Big Ten over the last couple of seasons has effectively brought an end to the punchlines and the questions about what has happened to the league, leaving more time to actually analyze what should be fascinating races on both sides of the league this season. In the East, is Michigan ready to take the next step and can James Franklin keep Penn State in the mix? On the other side, can Northwestern make a serious run at a championship? With the conference mixing and matching with the media lineup instead of dividing it by East and West, that conversation will also spill over into the second day, which should go down as another positive development for the league.
Questions for each team on Day 1:
So, uh ... Harbaugh: In his first Big Ten media days appearance last year, Jim Harbaugh caused a stir in Chicago. He's still a main attraction this year, especially after all his offseason publicity surrounding satellite camps and online stunts. You never quite know what you're going to get with Harbaugh or whether he will even answer a question or go off on a strange tangent. That's all part of the fun, particularly at an event like this.
To see more questions the Wolverines might face, click here.
Can they repeat last year's magic? The Wildcats won 10 games a year ago, despite averaging less than 20 points per contest. They were great in close games and were terrific on defense and field position. But is that formula repeatable? Most people don't seem to think so, since it's nearly impossible to find Northwestern on any preseason Top 25s, and the buzz is fairly quiet out of Evanston this offseason. Still, the team's strong media day contingent -- which includes, gasp, two nonseniors! -- shows that Fitzgerald still has some very good talent on hand. Will it be enough to sustain that success?
To see more questions the Wildcats might face, click here.
Can the defense rebound without defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and without three defensive linemen, who are now in the NFL? Shoop’s defense really carried this team the past two seasons, but he left for Tennessee -- and Penn State linebackers coach Brent Pry was promoted to take over at defensive coordinator. Pry won’t have it easy. Gone are three critical elements to the Lions’ success last season: Defensive end Carl Nassib, who led the nation in sacks (15.5), and defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. The starters at linebacker are solid, but there’s little depth there. Can this still be an elite defense? Will Pry capably fill Shoop’s shoes? Nyeem Wartman-White has especially praised Shoop in the past, so it’ll be interesting to ask about his take so far.
To see more questions the Nittany Lions might face, click here.
How's the foot, Mitch? Quarterback Mitch Leidner's left foot might be the most important appendage in Gopherland. He had surgery on the foot immediately after the Quick Lane Bowl and was very limited during spring practice as it healed. The recovery reportedly has gone well, but foot injuries can be tricky, especially for someone who relies on his mobility as much as Leidner does. He will certainly be asked a lot about it, since the fifth-year quarterback is crucial to Minnesota's hopes in 2016.
To see more questions the Golden Gophers might face, click here.
What reasons are there for optimism? The grisly stats, in case you were unaware: The Boilermakers are just 6-30 overall and 2-22 in the Big Ten under Darrell Hazell, and they went 2-10 last season. So unfortunately, the biggest story surrounding this program is whether Hazell will make it through another year, especially since the man who hired him -- athletic director Morgan Burke -- is retiring. Hazell isn't a doom-and-gloom guy by any means, so he'll likely talk up the team's returning experience. Purdue has 16 starters back, and the roster should be shaped to his liking going into his fourth year. Still, skeptics abound.
To see more questions the Boilermakers might face, click here.
Who is going to claim the quarterback job? Chris Ash built his reputation on the defensive side of the ball, and his priority since taking over has been establishing a culture of toughness for his program. But no decision he makes will have a bigger impact in terms of first-year success with the Scarlet Knights than his pick to lead the offense at quarterback. Ash was in no hurry during spring practice to make a call between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig, instead allowing the competition to spill over into training camp in August. But among the many lessons Ash learned during his stint with Ohio State, the close-up view he had on what can go wrong during a prolonged, back-and-forth battle at such a crucial position might influence him to make up his mind sooner rather than later.
To see more questions the Scarlet Knights might face, click here.