Big Ten media days start Monday in Chicago, and there will be heavy hearts after Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car crash Saturday. Nebraska announced that its contingent will miss the event, but six other teams will appear Monday, including the Gophers. Here are five story lines to follow:
1. Tracy Claeys’ debut
He has game experience as the Gophers head coach, after going 2-4 following Jerry Kill’s resignation last October. But this will be Claeys’ first taste of media days. He takes the podium for a 15-minute news conference televised live at 1 p.m. Monday on Big Ten Network. It will be interesting to see what tone Claeys sets for a team coming off a 6-7 finish.
2. College football’s future
The Big 12 is in flux, saying it is finally ready to expand. But the plates shifted when the ACC announced plans to launch its own TV network, just as the Big Ten, SEC and Pacific-12 have done. Will Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany stand pat? Or will he pull another coup and steal Texas and Kansas from the Big 12?
3. East/West disparity
The Big Ten West’s inferior status remains a national story line. The eastern powers — Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State — have distanced themselves in recruiting. Iowa offered hope last year, starting 12-0 and losing a close battle to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. But the Rose Bowl wasn’t good for the Big Ten West’s image, because Stanford crushed the Hawkeyes 45-16.
4. Playoff worthy?
Ohio State won the 2014 national title, and Michigan State got pummeled by Alabama in last season’s national semis. Those two teams have lost a ton of talent. Will that create an opening for Michigan? Will Iowa or Nebraska create an opportunity like the Hawkeyes had last year? Or, will the Big Ten be left out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in three years?
5. Perception of Gophers
Quarterback Mitch Leidner will be making his third appearance at media days. He will be joined by Gophers seniors Damarius Travis and Jack Lynn. Last week, the media picked the Gophers to finish fifth in the West behind Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern, though the Gophers were given one of the 39 first-place votes. Gophers players can sound off on their own expectations.