Last season, college football pundits were predicting the demise of the Big Ten as a major powerhouse conference. This was definitively the case back on Sept. 7 2014 when, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State went down to defeat in a couple of high profile nationally-televised games.
But when the 2014 season ended, there were two Big Ten teams finishing in the Top Five with Ohio State winning an improbable national championship and Michigan State finishing the season ranked 5th in all the major polls. Big Ten West Champion Wisconsin defeated Auburn, out of the supposedly invincible SEC West.
Coming into 2015 Big Ten Football Media Day, the conference has a lot to feel good about as both the Buckeyes and the Spartans will likely be in the Top 5 in most pre-season polls. Of course, new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh created some buzz with his press conference. But there are five things you can take from this year’s Big 10 Media Day.
The Big Ten’s Football Swag is Back
One of the first things that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany mentioned at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon was how the conference was declared dead on that fateful Saturday last September and reminded people that you have to play the whole season. Big Ten host Dave Revsine made note of it while introducing Delany.
For the first time in a long time, the Big Ten is not on the defensive about the conference’s quality of play.
“We had a great last year. And it was a long and interesting run,” Delany said. “We didn’t start strong, but we ended strong. … So to be honest with you, it’s easier to come up after a good year and there is a certain energy and optimism. We feel good about that.”
During his confab with reporters, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said his team’s win in the Cotton Bowl over Baylor and Ohio State’s win in the national championship boosted the conference’s profile.
“And I think the buzz behind that sort of catapulted the Big Ten forward based on other things that happened,” Dantonio said. “As for the national championship, I’ve said all along great football is played in the Big Ten conference, as it is in other conferences. Great football.”
Jim Harbaugh Stole the Show at Media Day
The biggest headliner in Chicago last week was Michigan’s head coach Jim Harbaugh, who hundreds reporters following him like a rock star during his individual interviews with reporters. During the formal press conference with reporters, Harbaugh made it a point to not really go into specifics about the Wolverines’ chances to compete in the Big Ten.
Instead of going over personnel and what expects from his team, Harbaugh spoke in glowing terms about his former coaches the late Bo Schembechler and Mike Ditka, his coach from the Chicago Bears. In fact, Harbaugh broke out an old Ditka No. 89 jersey for everyone to see.
When a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch asked him a question about the change of culture at Michigan since his arrival in Ann Arbor, he started talking about the old Big Ten media bus tour when Woody Hayes supposedly kicked reporters out of his practice.
Harbaugh was also asked about if he was going to have a special name for Ohio State in the way that former coach Brady Hoke referred to the Buckeyes as “Ohio” or Hayes referring to Michigan as “the school up North.”
“Just Ohio State …Great to see everybody this morning,” he said flippantly.
The media room after Michigan games is going to be a must-see TV event this fall. Stay tuned.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman is under Fire
A large number of Big Ten Media Day questions fielded by Fighting Illini head coach Tim Beckman involved allegations involving mistreatment of players including accusation that he made an athlete play through injuries.
Beckman also fielded questions on whether he felt the pressure to win this season with the allegations and the fact that he is up for a contract renewal. He was also asked about the way he disciplines players and how they get medical treatment.
In a July 7 article on CNN.com, several former football players alleged that Beckman violently grabbed his players and verbally abused them during practice. One former player interviewed by CNN said that Beckman should never be allowed to coach again. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/07/us/illinois-athletics-allegations/
The Daily Illini reported back in May that the National College Players Association urged the University of Illinois to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations brought forth by the student athletes.
Like a politician fielding questions at congressional hearing, Beckman gave the politically correct answers about getting his team ready for their Sept. 4 season-opener at Kent State. That won’t be the last you’ll hear of that situation.
Meyer Not Fazed by Suspensions
If there’s one thing you’ve learned about Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is that one player or even three or four players’ absence is not problem in Columbus.
With the suspensions of defensive end Joey Bosa, wide receiver Corey Smith and H-Backs Jalin Marshal and Dontre Wilson for the season-opener against Virginia Tech, Meyer will no doubt plug someone else in to do the job.
Remember, this is the same team and the same coach that won a national championship with his second and third-string quarterbacks.
“Whether it’s a sprained ankle or stuff, you try to create a culture where teams know how to move forward and not concern yourself,” Meyer said during his Big Ten Media press conference. “When we lost Braxton 10 days before the first game, you lose JT (Barrett) a week before the Big 10 Championship game, you push forward.”
Most of the time, you might hear coaches say that it’s going to hurt their teams because of how good and experienced the starter was before the injury or suspension. When you’re stacked with the kind of talent of an Ohio State, you can always plug someone else into that spot.
It also helps that you have an athlete like Braxton Miller who is learning the receiver position and is a dangerous player if he has space.
Michigan State has a Chip on its Shoulder
Forty members of the media gathered in Chicago were asked who they thought would win the Big Ten in 2015 and they all picked Ohio State.
It’s a logical pick considering the Buckeyes talent and their methodical push to last year’s national championship. Meanwhile, in East Lansing, the Spartans are using it as a chip on their shoulders to motivate them for the upcoming season.
Michigan State has finished in the Top 5 the two last years and with seniors like quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shalique Calhoun coming back this season, the Spartans are feeling slighted by the experts who don’t think they are as good as Ohio State.
“Since we’ve been at Michigan State we haven’t gotten the notoriety that some of the other schools even when we’re more successful than them,” Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook told the Big Ten Network. “It’s more fuel the fire.”
Last season, the Spartans two losses came to the two teams that played for the national championship—Oregon and Ohio State.
Cook said the Michigan State players were in the weight room this spring and summer, they were donning a tee-shirt that had a poker chip on their shoulders.