The Big Ten Conference held its annual Football Media Days on Mon., July 24 and Tue., July 25 at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, Ill. The annual event brings the conference’s 14 head coaches and three prominent players from each team all under one roof and signals the beginning of the 2017 football season.
As always, the fast-paced 48-hour event was filled with excitement, optimism and plenty of headlines. From the Sidelines paid close attention to all the chatter circulating the convention center and put together a comprehensive list of the most talked about topics that caught our eye.
THERE IS A QB COMPETITION BREWING IN ANN ARBOR
Wilton Speight was Michigan’s starting quarterback a season ago, and by all accounts had a very productive year. He threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns with only seven interceptions and, in his first season at the helm, led the Wolverines to the prestigious Orange Bowl.
But despite a productive season and being 1 of 85 named to the Maxwell Award Watch List (given to the best player in college football), head coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear at his opening press conference that the starting position is wide open as camp begins July 31.
“Wilton (Speight’s) in a good spot. He comes in really tied for first with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters, legitimately, through competition. Throughout all the spring, we went through 15 practices and it was a dead heat.”
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL?
Like it or not, Big Ten Football is coming to Friday nights.
When the league initially announced its plan to play games on Friday’s, there was plenty of outcry from fans, high school administrators and college coaches alike. In fact, Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern, flat out told the conference thanks but no thanks and refused to play on Fridays.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s been pushback,” said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
There always seems a controversial conference-wide topic that circulates media day, and this was the prominent one in 2017. Nevertheless, the decision has already been made and there will be five Big Ten teams playing Friday night games this season, starting with two the opening weekend.
2017 Big Ten Friday Night Games
- Utah State at Wisconsin, Sept. 1
- Washington at Rutgers, Sept. 1
- Ohio at Purdue, Sept. 8
- Illinois at South Florida, Sept. 15
- Nebraska at Illinois, Sept. 29
LAST MAN STANDING
Quick trivia question. Who is the longest tenured Big Ten head coach? Go.
That distinction would go to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz who, believe it or not, is entering his 19th season at the helm of the Hawkeyes.
And who is the longest tenured coach in all of college football?
That distinction would also go to Ferentz, who is now the nation’s longest tenured head coach after Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops retired earlier this summer.
Every time you think Ferentz’s tenure in Iowa City is close to coming to an end, he pulls out a prolific season out of nowhere – much like he did with the 2015 Hawkeye squad that went 12-1 and earned a Rose Bowl berth.
Before Ferentz was tabbed, Hayden Fry led Iowa for 20 years.. Much like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League, when Iowa gives a head coach the keys to its regime, they stick with that person, for better or for worse. As always, the Hawkeyes should be a difficult matchup for all Big Ten foes once again this season.
FLECK PLANS TO MAKE MINNESOTA ‘ELITE’
On the cusp of his first season in Minneapolis, it is evident that new Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck has already brought a new edge to Gopher Nation.
He has also brought his famous slogan, “Row the Boat,” with him. Yes, he actually purchased the slogan from Western Michigan University after using it for four seasons in Kalamazoo.
After leading WMU to the Cotton Bowl in his fourth and final year in Kalamazoo, Mich., Fleck plans on turning Minnesota, a traditional middle-of-the-pack B10 squad over the last decade, into an elite team.
Not sold? Just ask him. According to Big Ten Network reporter Tom Dienhardt, who shadowed Fleck during the two-day event, Fleck used the word elite “what seems like 2,145 times.” And not just in his press conference or media obligations. He even busted out the word during his 6:30 a.m. job around Lakeshore Drive.
“Have an elite morning, ladies,” Fleck said while running into a few other morning joggers.
MONEY IN THE BANK
For all the negative chatter surrounding the conference office’s decision to schedule Friday games moving forward, one thing is certain – Jim Delany knows what the heck he is doing.
Just look at the conference’s new football/basketball TV deal, which will run for 6 years on FOX, ABC, ESPN and CBS. While the Big Ten didn’t disclose contract terms, recent reports indicate that the total payout for the conference over the six-year deal is $2.64 billion.
For those doing the math at home, that is $440 million per year which will be divided by the conference’s 14 member institutions. Not bad, eh?
IT’S A NEW DAY IN BLOOMINGTON
It’s been 50 years since Indiana has won the Big Ten. It’s been 26 years since the Hoosiers have won a bowl game. And it has been 10 years since IU has had a winning season.
But new Indiana head coach Tom Allen, the program’s sixth head coach since 1996, plans on changing the narrative.
“We’re going to accomplish all three of those, I told our team,” Allen said. “If you don’t believe that, you need to leave. Said the same thing to our staff. I love them. I appreciate them. But I want a coaching staff, I want a football team that believes.”
BLOUGH RECEIVES STANDING OVATIOn
Purdue quarterback David Blough delivered the Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon speech on Tuesday afternoon, and his message resonated with everyone in the grand ballroom. The speech focused on life lessons, perspective and responsibility and resulted in a standing ovation.
“On this stage with me are 14 of the finest football coaches in the country,” Blough said. “Each (is) the leader of a team that is as diverse as any organization that the United States has to offer. And that’s the beauty of life.”
If you can spare five minutes, watch the entire speech. It is well worth the time.
BUILDING A DIVISIONAL DYNASTY
At this rate, every year you might as well just pencil the Wisconsin Badgers in as your Big Ten West Division Champions.
That’s exactly what the media did once again this year. In their annual preseason poll last week, the Badgers were voted as an overwhelming favorite to run away with the division, receiving 31 of 38 first-place votes.
The key to another division title? How the Badgers adjust to new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, A year ago, Leonhard had not coached a single day in his life. Still, he was hired by Wisconsin head man Paul Chryst to be the team’s defensive backs coach. Fast forward a year later and Leonard, fresh off a 10-year NFL career, is Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator at just 34 years old.
Leonard is the Badgers’ third defensive coordinator in three years, but if he can keep Wisconsin’s defense on the right track, you’ll likely be seeing UW back in Indianapolis for the fifth time in seven years.
BIG LIFE. BIG STAGE. BIG TEN.
For the majority of the last two decades, the SEC has been considered by most who cover the college football landscape to be the best conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
That is not the case anymore. With the return of traditional powerhouses such as Michigan and Penn State, and Ohio State continuing on its consistent track as one of the best teams in the country, Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer believes the Big Ten is standing tall next to the SEC as the best conference in college football.
“I don’t think there’s a gap at all,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Monday. “And that’s no disrespect to other conferences, but I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest in the country. And I think the Big Ten East right now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East.”
NO SUIT, NO PROBLEM
Not all topics at Big Ten Media Days revolved around football. Tuesday morning, Twitter was buzzing that Jim Harbaugh was the only coach not wearing a suit at the event.
Shortly into his 9 a.m. press conference, Harbaugh, who traded in a suit for his famous khakis, Jordan-branded sweater and skinny Block M hat, addressed why he decided to keep his wardrobe simple.
“I packed light,” Harbaugh said. “I packed a toothbrush and a good attitude.”