Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Lessons from Big Ten media days
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Before turning our focus solely to the 2011 season, we're taking one look back at Big Ten preseason media days. It was an eventful two days in Chicago, as we heard from coaches, players and league officials, and set an unofficial record for video interviews recorded (you'll keep enjoying them in the coming weeks).
Media day highlights included the Nebraska crew's debut, the four new Big Ten head coaches, Kirk Cousins' speech, commissioner Jim Delany's annual preseason address and, of course, JoePa.
Let's take one final look back at the media sessions.
WHAT WE LEARNED
1. Red carpet for Big Red: The Big Ten welcomed Nebraska with open arms at media days. Opposing coaches and players all praised the addition of Nebraska and seemed excited about the new division structure and championship game. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, in turn, gushed about the Big Ten as a "model" conference. We'll see how long the Husker love lasts when the games begin.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke is adamant that the Wolverines are not rebuilding.
2. Wolverines a confident bunch: After several humbling seasons, Michigan is hoping to regain its swagger under new coach Brady Hoke this fall. Hoke didn't lack confidence at media days, saying at one point, "I don't think we're rebuilding, period. I mean, we're Michigan." The "we're Michigan" tactic should resonate well with Wolverines fans, and needle supporters of rival teams.
3. Kirk Cousins' star is rising: The Michigan State quarterback was a huge hit in Chicago, both in his interactions with reporters and with his speech at the kickoff luncheon, which drew a standing ovation. None of this surprises us, as Cousins is one of the sharpest and classiest players in college football. If he excels on the field this season, he'll be a nationally known name.
4. JoePa looking good, feeling good: After a shaky media days appearance in 2010, Penn State coach Joe Paterno looked and sounded much better this year. The 84-year-old made a Socrates reference, played dumb about his contract situation, expressed an interest in calling plays this season and talked about coaching 4-5 more years. Other than not knowing the taunting rule, Paterno had an excellent showing in Chicago.
5. Delany lays down the law: Delany met with the coaches Thursday and addressed the recent swell of NCAA infractions cases with high-profile programs such as Ohio State and Michigan. "It not only has reflected poorly on them," Delany said, "it's reflected poorly on us. I explained to each of those coaches that going forward we do not want two more such cases." Sounds like the coaches have been put on notice.
QUESTIONS ENTERING THE FALL
1. What direction for Ohio State?: As expected, the Buckeyes' media-day contingent faced several questions about how they've dealt with the offseason turmoil in Columbus. And as expected, Fickell and the players preferred to talk about moving forward and focusing on the field. Bottom line: we won't know how Ohio State will respond to a new head coach, the off-field distractions and the suspension of key players until the team hits the field for a meaningful game in September. But you would be silly to count out the team that has won or shared six straight Big Ten titles.
2. Quarterback queries: Other than Michigan State and Illinois, just about every Big Ten team has at least some question marks surrounding its quarterback situation. Can Denard Robinson thrive in a pro-style system at Michigan that will ask him to spend more time under center? Is Northwestern star Dan Persa, who looked and sounded ready to go in Chicago, fully healed from his ruptured Achilles' tendon? How will Russell Wilson fit in with new teammates and a new scheme at Wisconsin? Who will win the starting jobs at Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Indiana? Can Taylor Martinez mature into a leader and stay consistent all season at Nebraska? Can MarQueis Gray make the successful transition from receiver to quarterback at Minnesota? Is James Vandenberg a worthy heir to Ricky Stanzi at Iowa? How these questions are answered should go a long way in determining the 2011 outlook in the Big Ten.
3. The adjustment by and to Nebraska: The Cornhuskers waltzed into Chicago as a self-assured group, talking about how their defensive style of play would give Big Ten teams fits. The truth is, no one knows how Nebraska will fare against a more physical style of play than it became used to in the Big 12, or whether its offense can run the ball successfully against stronger defenses. Advance scouting can only go so far. Nebraska's initial run through the Big Ten will be fascinating to follow.