The college football season is almost upon us which means conference media days are here. The SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have had their turn. The Big Ten will be on center stage beginning on Monday. Not a lot of new information is usually shared at these events but three players and a head coach will be on hand to represent each team. I take a look at what I will be watching for on the two days in Chicago.
As has been noted in the command centers leading up to the conferences big day, Iowa appears in pretty strong health entering fall camp in 2016. There were a couple issues that left a few notable players on the sideline in the Spring such as James Daniels, C.J. Beathard, Josh Jackson, Greg Mabin, Derrick Mitchell and others but all appear to be at or near 100 percent as practice begins in a couple weeks.
It will still be a topic of conversation when Kirk Ferentz is surrounded by the media members of all 14 teams at the event. His comments will likely be pretty vague but it could depict how comfortable he is with his team's health just before they begin a grueling few weeks.
I want to hear what Kirk Ferentz thinks of the mindset of the team and the leadership qualities they possess. Last year was a dream season and the roster was completely focused and had some of the best seniors in terms of setting an example that they have had in a long, long time. I think that played a role in the team's success, particularly how they endured the injuries they did suffer. Do they have the same traits and qualities on this year's team? Is he comfortable where they're at in that regard? That will be interesting to me. I know they're just as talented, if not more.
It'll be intriguing to see if any coaches speak out on unbalanced schedules or gauntlets that they may have to go through. For instance, Iowa has the luxury of dodging Ohio State and Michigan State again despite those teams having to replace a lot of talent. Wisconsin's first half of their schedule is extremely demanding and could leave them in a big, big hole. The East still appears to be the class of the conference when you consider Michigan is surging, Ohio State and Michigan State should not disappear too much, but we do still wait on Penn State to leave their mark.
Whereas in the West, Iowa is the class. Nebraska has to prove to people that they've arrived under Mike Riley and can eliminate mistakes at the end of the game and avoid costly turnovers. Northwestern has a lot to replace despite returning Justin Jackson in the backfield. The Gophers have inferior talent and Wisconsin's schedule is so challenging. The door is wide open again for the Hawkeyes to control this division, though they probably wouldn't have the convenience in the East.
I think every school that made a new hire hit a home-run or at least close to one and did the best they could in the hiring process, outside of possibly Minnesota who just promoted Tracy Claeys. Rutgers is already showing signs of life under Chris Ash. Maryland's recruiting under D.J. Durkin can not be ignored, and Illinois has an established brand-name coach that has a pedigree unlike anything they've seen in quite a while, even more than Ron Zook. All will have the microphone in Chicago and it will be intriguing to see what kind of message, optimism or caution, that they convey over the course of the two days.
Is he completely healthy? Will he be the same player we saw two years ago? That will be integral to the success Wisconsin has and if he's not the same, the first couple of the months could be a time where Badger fans wish not to turn on the television. They meet a schedule that pits them against LSU, on the road against Michigan State and Michigan, at home against Ohio State, at Iowa, and home against Nebraska at Northwestern for seven of their first nine games. They need a healthy Clement to even get over .500 with that gauntlet.
I'm under the belief that it likely does not matter who is under center for the Wolverines because Harbaugh will get everything he needs out of them because he's just that good of a quarterback guru. He's shown time and time again that he can get enough out of the position regardless who has the reins. However, it will be an interesting piece of information if he chooses to name a starter or shows how optimistic, or pessimistic, he is in whoever will be the guy. They have a path to Indianapolis this season as they have the best squad they've had in years, and the likes of OSU and MSU should take a step back. The quarterback situation will likely make or break Michigan's season.
I know they lose Hackenberg but it's likely put up or shut up time for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions. The honeymoon is over. They need a strong season, a season in which they nab at least 9 wins. It's tough to do in the East but they sorely need it to ensure job security and show progress because we've yet to see any of that since Franklin arrived in State College. The offensive line has been so awful that they have been unable to do anything worthwhile on the offensive side of the ball. Do they take a step forward and might they be better off with a mobile quarterback in Franklin's system? We'll soon find out. They are the wild card in the East to me. When you consider they have the best running back in the league in Saquon Barkley and likely the best wideout in Chris Godwin, folks are sleeping on their potential as an offense and as an overall team if the other pieces fall into place.