Big Ten Media Days 2019: Eight key storylines to keep an eye on this week in Chicago
From Ryan Day's debut to Jim Harbaugh's pressure ... there's plenty to talk about in Chicago this week
It's time for Big Ten football to matter again. Oh, the mighty league still has its own network and the traditional partnership with the Rose Bowl. But something has been missing lately -- namely, championships.
As you'll see below, it's been a while since the league won a national championship or even scored in the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, expect Penn State to fall off a bit this season. Jim Harbaugh has to come through at Michigan or else. And for all the praise being heaped on Ohio State's Ryan Day, he's still a rookie head coach.
Anybody notice Rutgers -- the birthplace of college football -- enters the game's 150th season without a winning campaign since 2014?
Yup, it's time for the Big Ten to get back its swag. Sideshows to watch: Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor is 2,235 yards away from the FBS career rushing record … Mike Locksley returns to head coaching (at Maryland) with a career 3-31 record … Ohio State hired two Michigan assistants (as if that rivalry needed any more fire).
Here are eight things to watch this week at the Big Ten's Media Days in Chicago.
1. Playoff drought: It's been 1,629 days since the Big Ten scored a point in the College Football Playoff (Jan. 12, 2015). That's another way of saying it's been a while for the league in the CFP. You better believe the subject will come up in Chicago. The Big Ten has missed the last two playoffs. The Big Ten champion has missed the last three CFPs. Overall, the league has made three of five CFPs but none since 2017. So with all the talk about Big Ten money and power and prestige, the conference has to start playing for championships again. For the record, that pointless streak includes semifinal losses by Michigan State (38-0 to Alabama in 2016) and Ohio State (31-0 to Clemson in 2017). The last point scored by a Big Ten team in the CFP was by 2014 national champion Ohio State.
2. Jim Harbaugh's reckoning: It's hard to say Michigan's coach is on the hot seat. He has won at least 10 games in three of his four seasons back in Ann Arbor. But the feeling is that if Harbaugh doesn't come darn close to winning first conference title as a head coach in 2019, those Go Blue loyalists may become impatient. First of all, the Wolverines are favored to do just that. But to date, Harbaugh hasn't won enough big games -- and certainly hasn't won any championships -- going into Year 5. It had better happen this season. Conference champion Ohio State is vulnerable and comes to Michigan for the Nov. 30 showdown. Harbaugh has the projected Big Ten offensive player of the year in senior quarterback Shea Patterson. If Harbs takes the restrictor plate off new offensive coordinator Josh Gaddis, it could be a magic season. If not, we'll be reminded Harbaugh hasn't so much as won a division as an FBS head coach. It's time. His incoming freshmen were in kindergarten the last time Michigan won the Big Ten (2006).
3. A New Day: There was no hesitation by Ohio State to elevate offensive coordinator Ryan Day -- twice -- when Urban Meyer was suspended and retired, both in the space of four months. A sense of calm settled over the program each time. Ohio State breaks in Day as a 40-year-old coach to replace Meyer while Day breaks in new quarterback Justin Fields. Strange, but there doesn't seem to feel like there will be much of a drop off. A load of talent is gone, Michigan will be favored in the league, but no one is panicking that Ohio State has its first head coach without previous head-coaching experience since 1945. It's almost as if Ohio State football is bigger than whoever coaches it.
4. Speaking of Fields … How do you beat 50 touchdown passes from the best single-season quarterback in Ohio State history (Dwayne Haskins)? You don't. But the fact that Fields got eligible in 2019 due to a transfer waiver gives the Buckeyes a chance to defend their conference title. The former No. 1 high school recruit spent his freshman season backing up Jake Fromm at Georgia with little hope of winning the job in '19. Enter the transfer portal and the modern transfer culture: If I ain't startin', I'm departin'. Fields was an electric runner in high school, but no one can throw like Haskins, can they? (Note: Fields will not be at the Big Ten Media Days.)
5. Jim Delany farewell: This will be the final media days for the man who many think is the most powerful person in college sports. Delany, commissioner since 1989, brought us the modern age of conference realignment, the possibility of the BCS and instant replay while smoothly running a league that encompassed a quarter of the U.S. population. Delany will walk away in June 2020. He is leaving the conference in a position of strength. It has lapped the competition (that including the SEC) with a record $759 million in revenue. The Big Ten Network that he created is thriving. The league is a season removed from a Final Four berth. Football hasn't made the CFP lately, but no league has had more teams in major bowls since the start of the BCS era in 1998. A fond farewell to Delany will overshadow any introduction of new commissioner Kevin Warren. Delany is an innovator and icon who should be on the Mt. Rushmore of college football in this 150th anniversary of the game.
6. Wide open West: Who do you like in the Big Ten West? Nebraska is the trendy dark horse pick. Wisconsin is the once-dominant regular. Northwestern is the defending champion. Purdue beat Ohio State last season. It seems there are no wrong answers. Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats have won 15 of their last 16 conference games. After going 8-1 in the conference last season, Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue all tied at 5-4. Scott Frost seemingly has Nebraska poised after finishing strong. Wisconsin should bounce back with 2,000-yard rusher Jonathan Taylor and steady Paul Chryst. Kirk Ferentz is currently the game's longest-tenured coach. Whoever wins probably faces an uphill battle against the Big Ten East champion in the conference title game, but you already knew that. Forget Ohio State and Michigan on the other side of the bracket in any given year. In the history of the Big Ten title game, when the West team is favored, it is 1-3.
7. Kirk Ferentz returns for his 21st season: Yeah, and water is also wet. In an age when the average coach lasts less than five years, Iowa's coach is the embodiment of steadiness, heading into his second decade. Those 20 years at one place leads all FBS coaches. Since 2005, Ferentz has more bowless seasons (two) than first-place finishes (one). The Hawkeyes have one top 25 finish this decade. But the average of almost eight wins over those 20 seasons lead to the question: Who could have done better at Iowa? Bob Stoops was the guy they could have had back in 1999. Ferentz is the guy they continue to revere.
8. The noon window: Fox has promised to go head-to-head with ESPN's "College GameDay" with its new pregame show and broadcast better Big Ten games in the noon ET kickoff time slot. (Hey, anything beats Purdue-Minnesota, right?) Some of the hosts of that pregame show have made themselves a season-long story. Instructor/restaurateur/podcaster/Fox analyst Urban Meyer also jumps to the top of the list of best coach-in-waiting. Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush say they're pushing for Urb to become the next coach at USC. Can't wait until Meyer does postgame interviews from the Fox studio with Day and/or Helton. (Fox also has a portion of the Pac-12 rights.)
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