For the first time in what seems like a generation, the Big Ten seems to be sitting high and mighty in the world of college football as it prepares for its annual media day event in Chicago later this week. After hearing coaches and players and more from similar media day events in the SEC, ACC and Big 12, the Big Ten will finally get a chance to respond and address some of the larger discussions regarding college football in 2015. The Big Ten has plenty of reason to be proud this season, but the big question should be how the Big Ten can follow up the success of a season ago.
Ohio State will roll into Chicago as the defending conference and national champions, and high expectations for Urban Meyer, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Eliott, Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett (and position-changing Braxton Miller) and company in the playoff hunt with a target on their backs in 2015. Michigan will introduce new head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Big Ten world. Wisconsin and Nebraska will once again be top threats out of the Big Ten West, although with new head coaches leading the charge. The conference’s newest additions, Rutgers and Maryland, are entering year two and looking to prove last season’s bowl trips were no fluke. Yes, commissioner Jim Delany has much to brag about following the Big Ten’s most successful bowl season in years, headlined by Ohio State’s championship run with Michigan State’s Cotton Bowl victory (not to mention a winning bowl record against the ACC and Big 12 and breaking even with the SEC (the Big Ten went 1-2 against the Pac-12, but that one was pretty noteworthy).
Delany will once again sit in front of a microphone before the media to present his annual state of the Big Ten address, at which time he has been known to delve into some American history as a tangent to his overall points about the NCAA and the Big Ten. Delany will be expected to offer his latest comments on the College Football Playoff (bank on him being fine with things the way they are), the dreaded satellite camp issue and defend the stature of the Big Ten after the conference was the target of some SEC folks in recent weeks. In other words, expect the usual. Even with a national title and a second New Years Six bowl victory, the Big Ten will have to defend its image to some. But media days will not be the place to do it properly. That test must be taken int he early going of the 2015 college football season.
Many were quick to write the Big Ten off last season just two weeks into the year after a dreadful Week 2 showing by the conference in its biggest spotlight games. Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. Michigan State let one get away at Oregon. Michigan was taken down by Notre Dame. It was a rough week, but the conference rebounded along the way and flew under the radar until the bowl season. Now the Big Ten must look to avoid a slow start this fall in order to keep the momentum going forward, instead of taking a step back.
Wisconsin faces Alabama in Arlington in the Cowboy Classic. Michigan opens at Utah. Ohio State begins at Virginia Tech. Minnesota hosts TCU in the season opener. Nebraska will welcome BYU to Lincoln. These are the noteworthy tests for the Big Ten early on. Going 4-1 in these games alone would be a respectable start to the new year. A 3-2 mark would still be a step in the right direction. Anything less would not be so kind in the eyes of some critics. There will be other notable games as well (Illinois at North Carolina, Iowa vs. Pittsburgh, Nebraska at Miami, Maryland at West Virginia, Michigan vs. BYU) well worth paying attention to, as the reputation of the Big Ten will be put to the test by more than just Ohio State and Michigan State (who hosts Oregon in Week 2).
Will the Big Ten jump ahead of the rest of the power conferences in the opening weeks, or will some be quick to cast the Big Ten aside once more? That should be the message Delany sends to the conference this week. The work is just beginning.