Can Ohio State repeat as national champions? How much impact will coaches Jim Harbaugh, Paul Chryst and Mike Riley have in Year 1? Can the Gophers rise up to win the Big Ten West?
Those are among the questions that will swirl through the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago on Thursday and Friday during Big Ten media days.
The Big Ten adopted a new media days format this year to feature seven teams each day, instead of spreading the coverage for all 14 teams over two days.
Starting at noon Thursday, the 15-minute coach news conferences will unfold like this: Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Tim Beckman (Illinois), Chryst (Wisconsin), Randy Edsall (Maryland), Kevin Wilson (Indiana), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) and Urban Meyer (Ohio State).
Jerry Kill, the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year, leads off Friday — at 8 a.m. He’ll be followed by Harbaugh (Michigan), Kyle Flood (Rutgers), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Riley (Nebraska), Darrell Hazell (Purdue) and James Franklin (Penn State).
Big Ten Network and ESPNU will be broadcasting coverage.
Each team can bring three players, and Kill is taking quarterback Mitch Leidner, cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun and defensive end Theiren Cockran. It will be Leidner’s second appearance, as he joined departed seniors David Cobb and Cedric Thompson last year.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Leidner said. “It’s a good time. I don’t mind talking to the media.”
Much of Thursday’s national coverage will focus on Ohio State’s contingent, of course, with Meyer facing questions about Braxton Miller’s switch from quarterback to receiver. Meyer still has a major quarterback battle on his hands between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett.
Friday will belong to Michigan, as the media can’t seem to get enough of Harbaugh. Every time he posts something on Twitter — even something as simple as his love for “Judge Judy” — it draws national attention.
In the preseason media poll conducted by Cleveland.com, Michigan was picked fourth in the Big Ten East behind Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. Minnesota was picked third in the West behind Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Badgers had 32 first-place votes, compared to five for the Cornhuskers and three for the Gophers.
“To me, it’s great,” Kill said of the underdog role. “Our kids know they have to play harder. It keeps our guys motivated. But heck, I think everybody here has a chip on their shoulder.”