It’s almost time for Big Ten Media Days.
*Waits for uncontrollable cheering to die down.*
The action gets under way Thursday morning and lasts through Friday.
This is where features are born, weird food preferences are shared, style comes out and the new college football season, as it relates to us, officially gets under way. Nebraska is sending quarterback Adrian Martinez, linebacker Mohamed Barry and defensive lineman Khalil Davis along with head coach Scott Frost to Chicago to represent Big Red. The full list of other teams’ participants can be found here.
These things can be light-hearted, sure, but they’re also fraught with storylines. It was at this time last year when the Urban Meyer-Zach Smith situation at Ohio State really came to a head. While something quite as controversial might not happen again this year, we’ve still put together a road map of sorts to try and get you ready for what might happen.
No. 1: Too Late to Get Nebraska?
The Huskers are (slightly) favored to win the Big Ten West in the unofficial-but-actually-official preseason media poll. Vegas is giving Nebraska CFP odds; whether that’s because Vegas doesn’t want to pay out 30-1 odds for a team that’s 8-4 but a Big Ten title game win away from getting in or because it actually knows something is beside the point, Nebraska has the ninth-best odds over teams like Auburn, Florida and Notre Dame.
It was at this very event last year when Frost uttered that phrase that will be emblazoned on his statue outside Memorial Stadium: “I know if we’re getting better day by day, we’ll be really dangerous and hard to beat in the very near future. People better get us now.”
The season immediately following that comment saw the Huskers go 4-8. Nebraska feels the offseason love is deserved, what about the other 13 teams in the Big Ten? What sort of presence does last year’s comment hold over this year’s proceedings? Are the Ohio States and Wisconsins of the Big Ten ready to stop penciling in a “W” next to the Nebraska game on their schedule?
No. 2: What Will be Written About Adrian Martinez?
We know Nebraska’s star quarterback. We’ve written about him for well over a year now. A lot of the same stories have been told at different times by different people. But national media isn’t exactly kicking down the doors to write about an 0-6 football team. For other markets outside Nebraska’s orbit, this could be the first exposure to the Cali native.
How many “Nebraska’s sophomore quarterback carries himself like a senior” pieces will be written? How many “Nebraska has the right guy steering the ship” columns are coming? Who is going to have the courage to ask the tough questions, like whether or not he thinks a Runza is just a glorified Hot Pocket?
It will be interesting to see the reaction to Martinez. His game on the football field is loud (while still being kind of subdued). He’s electric with the ball in his hands and when he starts to scramble, fans inch closer to falling out of their seat, but then he scores and just hands the ball politely to the ref and walks away. That’s more what he’s like off the field. A good-hearted kid who just doesn’t like to bask in the spotlight. He’s probably not going to give that quote retweeted around the world. (My money’s on Mo Barry.) He’s probably not going to be too edgy.
It’ll be interesting to see how that’s received.
No. 3: What is Wisconsin’s Place?
In a poll of 22 Nebraska media members, Wisconsin averaged out at No. 7 in the Big Ten, behind Nebraska and Iowa. Wisconsin also came in third in the West in cleveland.com's annual media poll, with only four first place votes out of a possible 34.
This is new territory for the Badgers. Everyone likes to see empires fall, and that’s not to call Wisconsin an empire but the Badgers before last season’s disappointment had won 11, 10, 11 and 13 games from 2014-17 and had played in five of the previous seven Big Ten Championship games.
One 8-5 season has dropped them pretty far. Now, it was a bad 8-5 season, punctuated by a 37-15 drubbing at home against Minnesota to close the regular season 5-4 in league play, but Wisconsin has the best running back in football and proof of concept. The media/viewing public might be quick to move on to the next best thing, but what about other coaches? What about opposing players? Is Wisconsin still feared? Is it still an earmarked game on each teams’ calendar?
No. 4: How Long Does PJ Fleck Talk?
You’ve been called out, Fleck.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt went to Alabama for SEC Media Days and legit filibustered. He took a 30-minute session designed for a brief opening statement followed by a Q&A and talked for the first 21 minutes.
He said 3,667 words. Jim Harbaugh’s opening statement last year was “Great to be here. I’ll take any questions.”
Because I did the math and this is now important, Pruitt’s monologue was the equivalent of singing the national anthem 46 times. It was roughly 20 percent of all the words in The Catcher in the Rye. Imagine how many words Fleck can say in 21 minutes. Transcription services would break and just spit out pieces of paper with the shrug emoji on them.
Your move, RTB.
No. 5: Does Harbaugh Go All In?
The move last year was, while literally every other coach wore a suit and tie, to wear khakis, a game day polo and his signature ball cap. The khakis are fine. Duluth Trading Company has him contractually obligated to wear those things until the end of time in exchange for a lifetime supply of milk, but just the photo of all 14 coaches dappered up while Harbaugh stands in the middle, blank-faced with his hat and his Nike Navy Michigan Wolverines Logo Performance Polo is excellent.
But it’s time to one-up that. Just wear pads. Come with cleats on. Answer no questions. Commit to the bit. I would stand and applaud.
(On a serious note, one of the absolute certainties of the event is the Michigan coach being asked why he elected to leave senior quarterback Shea Patterson at home. Is there anything to that thread? Was it just Harbaugh doing a Harbaugh thing? Is he even going to answer a question on the subject? Michigan is the presumptive favorite to win the league this season with a seemingly worse off team than the one that looked like the clear class of the conference last season only to trip at the finish line.)
No. 6: Hi, Kevin
This will be the first major appearance for new Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren (and we’re assuming he’ll be present for Jim Delaney’s last go-around). The former Minnesota Vikings COO is inheriting a cash cow that became a cash cow because the guy he’s replacing was so good at what he did. For all of Delaney’s missteps, and there were several, the Big Ten is the college football power it is today because of Delaney’s guidance.
What does Warren have in store to drive the conference forward? Does it bother him the Big Ten is widely regarded as one of the best leagues in college football yet keeps getting the door of the College Football Playoff slammed in its face? What does he have in mind to fix that? Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby just got asked (for whatever reason) if Texas and Oklahoma were going to leave the conference to join the Big Ten; is conference expansion on Warren’s horizon?
No. 7: A New Day
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d admit the expectations at The Ohio State University will dip just because Urban Meyer is no longer coaching there. As the Buckeye head coach you have to recruit big, win bigger, beat Michigan biggest and be in constant contention to play for a national title.
That is absolutely no pressure at all on a guy making his debut as a head coach at this level. Ryan Day has a cupboard overflowing with talent thanks to Meyer’s recruiting efforts and he has a young quarterback who could be pretty darn good (we can’t definitely answer that question yet, slow down with the Justin Fields praise) and he has the Buckeye brand to help him moving forward.
But what exactly is the expectation for Year 1? What’s realistic? Are the Buckeyes just resigned to let the team they hate the most steal their division crown because it’s supposed to be a figuring-things-out year? What is Day going to sell when he takes the podium for the first time? Hope for a future, which would effectively read, “Give me some time, please,” or does he say that because it’s Ohio State the standard doesn’t change? This situation has shades of Bob Stoops turning the keys to the Ferrari over to Lincoln Riley; Riley didn’t even come close to crashing and because of it, a lot of people will expect Day to replicate Riley.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.