The Big Ten has moved its Football Media Days to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium from its usual home in Chicago, due to Covid-19 restrictions in place there when the decision was made.
When the Big Ten’s 12 football programs gather at Indy on Thursday and Friday, you can count on the biggest question to already be answered: Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite to win its fifth straight conference championship.
For Ryan Day and the players he brings to Indy, this trip to Lucas Oil Stadium is kind of a walkthrough for the Big Ten championship game, which will be held at Lucas Oil on Dec. 4.
That said, exactly how the Buckeyes will punch their ticket to their fifth straight title game will be open to a good deal of discussion. Other topics will include their likely opponent from the lightly regarded West. And oh yes, lots of talk about who will move up, who will get back on the horse—and whose coaching seat is getting uncomfortably warm.
Some storylines. . .
1—How do the Buckeyes replace Justin Fields?
Ohio State’s gifted heart-and-soul quarterback is off to face the daunting task of trying to give the Chicago Bears productivity under center. Day, of course, has a promising set of candidates lined up. But they are oh-so green. Redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller true freshman Kyle McCord have taken a combined 18 college snaps and have yet to throw a collegiate pass. All three are talented. Stroud and Miller were four-star recruits, McCord was a five-star prospect. And the winner will be surrounded by oodles of talent after being coached up by an excellent staff. Stroud completed 16 of 22 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the Ohio State spring game. So there's that.
Experience seems to be less important for gifted new college quarterbacks. Will it be at Ohio State? We’ll find out.
2—Who will be the best in the West?
Speaking of talented quarterbacks, Graham Mertz (shown above) will be throwing the football around at Wisconsin, which will try to get back to the Big Ten championship game after a Covid-disrupted 2020 campaign that saw the Badgers dip to 3-3, in third place behind Northwestern (6-1) and Iowa (6-2). If Mertz lives up to his hype, the Badgers, who figure to have their usual good defense and top-notch offensive line, should be able to hold off the usual suspects—sound but not flashy Iowa, on-the-rise Minnesota and retooling Northwestern.
3—Who will be the Big Ten’s best QB?
If you caught some of Michael Penix Jr.’s 2020 highlights reel, you know that the Indiana junior has all the tools, as they say. IU beat Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, and Penix put up 35 points in a 42-35 loss at Ohio State If he comes back healthy, look for plenty of thrills—plus Ws for the Hoosiers and their rising football fortunes.
4—How high does Penn State bounce back?
The Nittany Lions’ nightmare 2020 start—five straight losses—made about as much sense as the 36-35 overtime loss at Indiana that opened the door to the tailspin. James Franklin has brought in a new offensive coordinator to help QB Sean Clifford (16 TDs, nine interceptions) recover from Penn State’s strange 4-5 season. It’s not likely to be enough to deal with Ohio State. But it needs to be enough to hold off rising Indiana and frustrated Michigan.
5—Whose tightrope is tighter, Frost or Harbaugh?
Barring some shocking turnarounds, the soap operas will continue at traditional powers Michigan and Nebraska, which have been under-achieving for so long that they’ve started a new tradition. . . At Michigan, Jim Harbaugh has a new contract and a new coaching staff. The question is, can he find a true star quarterback? The answer to that has been a resounding, `No!’ since he returned to his alma mater. . . At Nebraska, Scott Frost has a new athletic director, a record of 12-20 in three years at his alma mater and a schedule that includes Oklahoma, Michigan and Ohio State. . . Can these guys keep their fan bases happy? Stay tuned.