Rutgers

2016 Big Ten Media Days: Day 1 Key Questions


What are the biggest questions going into the first day of the 2016 Big Ten Media Days?


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2016 Big Ten Predictions For Every Game

Media Days are supposed to be fun, and they’re supposed to be a celebration. Unfortunately, the tragic and untimely death of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz takes the attention over all else.

The All-Big Ten star was killed in a car accident this weekend, and to no surprise, Nebraska coaches and players won’t be attending Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

While that sad news will be at the forefront of the two-day event, on the field questions will still be addressed. What are the biggest questions each coach and player will be dealing with? What will be the other big storylines and talking points?

There’s no need for you to be there. I can pretty much guess what everyone will try asking in their own creative way – including myself – and after attending this thing for way too many years, with the exception of one certain Michigan head coach, I’m almost certain of the answers.

Again, Nebraska won’t be there, but Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue and Rutgers will be on display on Monday. Here are the main questions everyone will ask.

Is Michigan really good enough to win the national title?

The investing public seems to think so.

Step 1 to winning the CFP is actually getting there in the first place by winning the Big Ten East, and then the Big Ten title. That’s hardly a given considering Michigan State and Ohio State are every bit as strong as the Wolverines, if not more so.

The talent and experience appear to be in place to make a great run. Michigan boasts the Big Ten’s best receiving corps, a terrific defense, outstanding playmakers on both sides of the ball, a better quarterback situation than it’ll be made out to be, and, of course, one of the premier head coaches in all of football at any level.

If last year was all about the beginning of the Jim Harbaugh era, this year’s media event will focus on the guy doing something massive in his second year. However, all talk of how good the team might be will take a backseat to everyone looking for something quirky …

What will Jim Harbaugh say about satellite camps/Nick Saban/rap video/recruiting wars/tweeting/Trump vs. Hillary/sleepovers/khakis/etc.?

You’ll be disappointed.

Whatever Harbaugh says now is newsworthy no matter what, but in events like this, he likes talking football and he’s not going to get bogged down in the goofy or mundane – he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Considering his eccentric persona, he’s still a football coach and now it’s that time of year when the natural order of things starts to kick in. It’s training camp time.

He might phrase something differently, or he might have a different take on a topic than most head coaches, but he’ll be at his best when he’s talking about his team and what’s happening on the field – even if all anyone will really want is his view on everything else.

Will Penn State talk about the past or anything to do with the scandal that keeps on making headlines?

No, and it’s only fair.

The players had nothing to do with the past, and unlike the Nittany Lion representatives of a few years ago, they’re really not spokesmen for the school in terms of how it’s trying to handle the constant newsworthy reminders of the nightmare.

The same goes for James Franklin. He’s good at handling the questions he needs to answer, but he’s one coach removed from Joe Paterno, and now it’s his job to make the 2016 Penn State football team win – that’s it. Everything else is outside of his control, and I’m guessing he’ll answer all questions that way.

Will Penn State be able to challenge for the East title?

Not yet, but the offense should be more consistent thanks to a veteran line that can’t be as bad as it was last year, while the defense won’t drop off too much despite some key losses up front.

The big name to know coming out of this week: Joe Moorhead. The former Fordham head coach is taking over the offensive coordinator gig, and he’ll be seen as the rising star who’ll put the pop in the Christian Hackenberg-less attack.

Four words: Darrell Hazell hot seat.

Yeah, fine, the Purdue head coach needs to come up with a decent year after winning just six games in his first three seasons. But how many ways can he say that he’s not feeling the pressure and he’s just doing his job – even though he’s going to be feeling the pressure as he tries to do his job.

However, even though all coaches like to paint a rosy picture during media days, Hazell will actually be right when it comes to his team’s experience and upside. He’s had time to put his guys in place, and while no one will pick the Boilermakers to do much of anything, there’s the potential to come up with the strongest season yet by far in the last few years.

In other words, when Hazell speaks positively, he’s not trying to come up with a PR campaign.

What’s it going to be like for Tracy Claeys to be the full-time guy at Minnesota?

It’ll probably be a lot like what it was like for Tracy Claeys to be the interim guy at Minnesota.

He was the true right-hand man for Jerry Kill through all the health issues before eventually taking over midway through last season, but he’ll want to tweak a few things now that this is his team. However, he and Kill did this together – what you saw is pretty much what the Gophers are going to be.

There will be questions about an improved running game and more downfield passing, but the goal will be to create a tough, hard-nosed team that does all the little things right. It’ll also help because …

Is Mitch Leidner the best quarterback in the Big Ten?

Spit-take duly noted, Ohio State fans – and the answer is no, by the way – but Leidner is a 6-4, 230-pound veteran who’s starting to generate a whole lot of buzz in the NFL scouting circles. At the very least, he’s going into the season with a chance to crank up his stock and become a guy who can make a whole lot of money next year.

Does he have the receiving corps? No, but in terms of being a big, strong, mobile quarterback who knows what he’s doing, he could be the Big Ten West’s X factor.

Can Rutgers win right away with Chris Ash?

Yeah, maybe – and that’s not just wishful thinking.

Of course the Scarlet Knights aren’t going to sniff the top three of the loaded Big Ten East, but last year’s team went through a ton of turmoil and plenty of adversity. Going 4-8 with a dead offense was hardly anything to build on, but if head coach Kyle Flood didn’t get booted for a few games, and if star receiver Leonte Carroo was a part of the fun all year, it could’ve easily have been a 6-6 campaign.

No one’s expecting miracles out of Ash right away, but the program got a high-rising young coach who could turn out to be a steal. The team should be far more stable, the defense far better, and the offense just good enough to shoot for the realistic goal of going bowling this year.

Will Northwestern have a passing game?

It can’t be worse than last year’s version, and that team won ten games.

It’s asking a lot for the Wildcats to do that again in terms of controlling games like they did, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald appears to have figured out the formula.

His defense will be outstanding again, Justin Jackson is a terrific running back to carry the offense, and yeah, Clayton Thorson should be able to open it up a bit down the field for a passing attack that was a rumor far too often last season.

Okay, really, how did Northwestern beat Stanford last year and hold Christian McCaffrey to under 100 yards?

Everyone’s still trying to figure that one out. It has something to do with Stanford’s circadian rhythm being thrown off. Of course, Fitzgerald will tell everyone his defense was just that good. Both might be right.