Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

What We’re Missing From Big Ten Media Days

August 19, 2020

Yesterday marked what would have been Day 1 of the 2020 Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed schedules the world over, not just in football, and the annual gathering in the Windy City was no different. Though it hasn’t been officially canceled yet (that we know of), it seems an actual in-person gathering is about as likely as Rutgers winning the league this season.

So, without a Scott Frost press conference to hold us over for the few weeks before fan day and the start of fall camp, I wrote a hypothetical and entirely fictional rundown of what a 2020 Scott Frost appearance might have been like.

Media days aren’t just about the main podium, though. There are about 50 different things happening all at once either off to the side or behind the scenes. We’ll miss out on some of this stuff, too.

A New Media Guide

In the past, Nebraska has generally had this ready to go or nearly completed by the time Frost took the stage. The guide itself is probably of little consequence to the casual fan. But one of the more interesting bits of information we get out of it each year is the roster page with updated player measurables. In years past, if the guide isn’t out, the roster page on Huskers.com has been updated ahead of time.

Never a perfect summation of things—notice who every weight listed ends in a “0” or a “5”—but a good entryway into a conversation. If a wideout has lost weight year over year in the guide, or a lineman has gained 30 pounds, that player is typically asked something along the lines of how much fat they cut and muscle they added.

With strength coach Zach Duval working largely behind the scenes and those weight room results still kept somewhat guarded, it’s the best way to figure out just how much ground Nebraska has made in the name of #Gainz.

Since Frost’s arrival, this conversation has been right at the top of the offseason checklist. Everyone loves Duval’s Twitter videos. You see someone, redshirt freshman Ty Robinson for instance, and think back to what he looked like a year ago and say, “Damn,” in your head while simultaneously thinking about how many consecutive days you could make it in a Duval program before dying.

“There’s some length up front. There’s some size up front,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said just this past week. “I think we’re finally getting to where we need to be to compete in the Big Ten with that size up front. I really like the attitude of those guys.”

Media days is where we would have been able to talk to the players themselves about whether things felt different, whether the team looks different, etc. In the meantime, members of the team started sharing images from the team photoshoot on both Instagram and Twitter yesterday, which means that guide is coming soon.

The “Who to Bring” Conversation

Last year, Nebraska took Adrian Martinez, Mohamed Barry and Khalil Davis to Chicago. Barry was an obvious choice as a leader of the defense. Davis was something of a surprise in the moment but once the season began it became clear why he was a team spokesperson. Martinez was young, but obvious nonetheless.

This turns into something of a debate every offseason—who should represent the team in Chicago? Who will Nebraska select, and what do those selections, in turn, mean about the guys left home? Much to do about nothing in a lot of ways, though I guess Davis is the counter-argument to that.

Who would Nebraska have taken to Chicago this year?

I wonder if Martinez would have been left home. Going to Chicago would have opened him up to a host of questions and potential critiques from people not fully versed in the nuance of his situation a season ago. Frost wants control of the narrative in most instances and he’d be metaphorically throwing his quarterback to the wolves there. On the flip side, Martinez is mature and steady enough to handle some tough questions, and he’s got two years under his belt of handling the Nebraska fishbowl without saying anything too crazy. Plus, leaving him at home might have poured lighter fluid on the quarterback competition conversation.

Dicaprio Bootle, NU’s senior corner, feels like a safe bet. Maybe the third and final spot is a toss-up between three offensive guys: Wan’Dale Robinson, Matt Farniok, or Brenden Jaimes.

(Jaimes seems a guy Nebraska is pushing to be more of a face of the team. His position coach, Greg Austin, thinks the world of the left tackle.)

The Fashion Show

It’s really entertaining, for people who care about that sort of thing.

https://twitter.com/HuskerFBNation/status/1151989310373056513?s=20

Though, if Martinez wore sunglasses indoors again we might have to start questioning whether he’s spending too much time with his position coach.

The Random Questions

Draw your coach. Draw your school’s state outline from memory. Determine who the crazy uncle would be if the locker room was an extended family.

This is the place to get weird and there’s always a few folks every year who live up to the moment.

A personal favorite came in 2018, when Eleven Warriors’ Andrew Lind had players mock up redesigned uniforms for their respective teams and then went into Photoshop later to pretty up the ideas.

It’s not all rehearsed.

The Stuff off to the Side

It might seem like nothing. And normally it doesn’t amount to any kind of coverage. But often times at these big gatherings, the Nebraska contingent sees faces it knows and the guards drop ever so slightly and we have conversations that don’t pertain to two-deeps or strategies to stop the run.

When the players step away from the desks and they’re waiting for the elevator to go back up to their room and you can just ask about what they’re going to try and have for dinner, it’s humanizing in a way the typical player-reporter relationship doesn’t always get to be.

As Jacob Padilla wrote (rather eloquently, I’d add) in offering some parting thoughts on JD Spielman’s departure, it’s important to remember the helmets have humans inside them, people with real emotions and real likes and dislikes. These gatherings can feel somewhat robotic, somewhat box-checky after a while, but then you get those little moments—i.e. talking to James Franklin about mullets while he waits for another radio spot—that help serve as reminders to everyone involved that we should remember grace.

The most memorable interaction I’ve ever had with Frost came from sitting in one of his assistant’s offices. He walks by, glancing in through the open door, then backpedals and pokes his head in just to say, “What’s up,” mouth stuffed with a piece of pizza. He can be prickly, but he can also be a giant kid. One of the reasons players here love him the way they do.

So, something little. But given everything going on right now, those little moments seem a little better. They will be missed.

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