CHICAGO — Lake Michigan is a few blocks from the front door of Big Ten media days.
Maybe a breeze will roll in off the water to soften the 100-degree temperatures that await league coaches, players and media who descend on the city in the middle of summer to dish about a season still 45 days away.
The conference moved up its two-day soiree to the same week the Big 12 and the SEC put on their shows. And even if the move is coincidental, it kind of makes sense.
The Big Ten has spent two seasons out of the spotlight. Two years out of the College Football Playoff. Even if the money is rolling in for each team, on-field success — be it CFP berths or Heisman Trophy winners — has been elusive.
The league hasn’t scored a point in a CFP game since Ohio State won the national title more than four years ago. Chew on that.
Commissioner Jim Delany won’t have to address those issues much longer. He’s in his final season as Big Ten boss. His successor, Kevin Warren, has already been introduced.
Delany, one of the most powerful voices in sports — college, pro, you name it — is headed on a farewell tour. His legacy — kicking off an era of conference realignment that included Nebraska, enriching member schools beyond their sunniest projections with the wildly successful Big Ten Network — is certain. What’s left is goodbye and good luck.
And, perhaps, good fortune where it counts most: On the scoreboard.
Eight more storylines from Chicago:
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The hour of Jim Harbaugh: OK, the seat is not remotely warm under the khaki pants of Michigan’s coach. Harbaugh has stabilized Michigan football in a way it hasn’t been since the Lloyd Carr era. The Wolverines play hard, lead with tough defense and don’t give up an inch at home. Michigan is the Big Ten favorite and rightly so.
But Michigan hasn’t played in the Big Ten title game yet. Harbaugh hasn’t beaten Ohio State. He’s changing his offense — again. He chose not to bring his senior quarterback to Chicago. His quirks — the special media deals, the overseas trips, the recruiting gambits — are no longer a novelty.
In Year 5 of Harbaugh’s Michigan tenure, the bottom line is this: Win the league, stomp the rival. That seems more doable in a conference without Urban Meyer.
Speaking of Meyer: He’s now one of us in the media, a co-host of Fox’s new “Big Noon Kickoff” TV show. After seven dominant seasons at Ohio State — one national title, three Big Ten titles, a perfect record against Michigan — Meyer burned out for a variety of reasons, including health concerns and a four-game suspension in 2018.
His replacement, Ryan Day, is a confident New Englander whose chief mentor, Chip Kelly, coached him at New Hampshire. Day clearly has a dynamic offensive mind, and he handled the team well during Meyer’s suspension. But Day was the beloved backup quarterback of sorts last season. This year, it’s all on him.
Wide open West: All but one Big Ten West coach, Illinois’ Lovie Smith, should come to Chicago harboring realistic aspirations of winning the division. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Iowa is the strongest team headed into 2019, with Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin close behind.
Defending champion Northwestern is down the list. As is Purdue, but both teams have shown a penchant for pulling surprising upsets.
Make way for Minnesota: Even the analytics sites like P.J. Fleck’s boat-rowin’ heading into 2019. The Gophers are young, but talented. Their trio of featured players — Carter Coughlin, Tyler Johnson and Mohamed Ibrahim — is among the best in Chicago.
Fleck will bring his usual talk game, and sophomore holder Casey O’Brien — a four-time cancer survivor — will speak on behalf of players. Minnesota hasn’t won much, per se, but it’ll get some media attention.
QB question marks: It’s easy to identify the league’s top three returning signal-callers in Michigan’s Shea Patterson, Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez and Iowa’s Nathan Stanley. Beyond that? It’s up for grabs. In the West, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin will have quarterback competitions that last into training camp — and perhaps longer.
In the East, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Maryland have unanswered questions, too. The overall uncertainty is reflected in the presence of two signal-callers at Big Ten media days — Martinez and Stanley.
The D in Dantonio: Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio brought three defensive players to Chicago. The Spartan defense led the league in points and yards per play allowed. Michigan State’s offense was better than Rutgers — and nothing more.
Fourth and long: Smith and Rutgers’ Chris Ash survived three hideous seasons at their respective schools thanks to pricey buyout clauses. But 7-29 (Ash) and 9-27 (Smith) are considerably worse than either school expected when they made the hire. While 2019 may not be bowl or bust for these two, genuine improvement is needed.
Blake Gillikin, huh? Penn State coach James Franklin brought his senior punter. PSU ranked 68th nationally in net punting. Franklin has, let’s say, a unique habit of picking players for this event. No Saquon Barkley in 2017. A punter in 2019, though.
When was Nebraska last ranked No. 1? Husker football's entire history in the AP Top 25
How often has Nebraska football been ranked at each position? When did the Huskers first appear at No. 1? When was the last time NU was in the top 10? Check out this photo collection featuring how Nebraska has fared at each spot in the AP Top 25.