Welcome to Big Ten media days. Or as some schools view it, “Congrats on being a senior and having an awesome attitude so we’re rewarding you with a trip to Chicago” days.
Only the Big Ten could hold an annual event to promote its best players and never invite Saquon Barkley.
This year’s list of 42 players features 12 linemen, 11 linebackers and two quarterbacks. The gift bag should include a knee brace and neck roll.
But though it’s fun to mock, every selection is justifiable. Except one. And it’s spelled out below. (By the way, props to Nebraska for bringing quarterback Adrian Martinez, the super soph.)
Some schools (Wisconsin, Illinois) are unsure who will start at quarterback. Others (Purdue, Michigan State) brought their current starters last year. And, hey, this is the conference of Bo, Woody and clouds of dust, so linebackers and big uglies are more than welcome.
OK, on to one pertinent question for each team, plus their over/under win totals courtesy of SportsBetting.ag:
You ready,Ryan Day? Ohio State lost Urban Meyer and Dwayne Haskins and has to play Michigan in Ann Arbor, yet the Buckeyes remain the betting favorites (11-10) to win the conference. It speaks to the machine Meyer built — and the belief that Georgia transfer and run-pass threat Justin Fields will rock.
Over/under win total: 10
Shea it ain’t so? Shea Patterson, a 22-year-old senior tabbed as the conference’s top quarterback by publications such as Athlon Sports, is not coming to Chicago. Michigan is bringing two linebackers and a guard. Is this a sign Patterson is vulnerable to getting beaten out by Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton? A reflection on Patterson’s leadership skills? Or simply another way for Jim Harbaugh to be Coach Weird?
Over/under win total: 9.5
Can Jonathan Taylor make a run? Taylor broke Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards in 2017 and followed that last season by chewing up another 2,194. He has had fumbling issues, including two in a loss at Northwestern last season, and quarterbacks have claimed eight of the last nine Heisman Trophies and 16 of the last 19. But let’s see if this astrophysics buff can join the stars in New York.
Over/under win total: 8.5
Is this an elite program? Coach James Franklin said no after watching his team squander a 12-point fourth-quarter lead to Ohio State: “We will no longer be comfortable being great.” The Nittany Lions weren’t all that great last year (9-4) and need to break in a new quarterback, redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford, after Trace McSorley graduated and Tommy Stevens transferred.
Over/under win total: 8.5
When is 4-8 better than 4-8? Scott Frost’s first season mirrored Mike Riley’s final one in record alone. Frost’s crew should have beaten Colorado and Northwestern and went 4-2 down the stretch with tight losses at Ohio State and Iowa. Frost, a former Cornhuskers quarterback who has hijacked the moxie that once belonged to Harbaugh, said of Martinez: “I hope he’s thought of as the greatest ever to play at Nebraska at that position.”
Will the offense show up? Not in Chicago. Michigan State is the only school bringing exclusively defensive players. That’s symbolism you can’t buy. The Spartans finished 126th in scoring (18.7 ppg) and 125th in yards per play (4.6) after injuries wreaked havoc. If quarterback Brian Lewerke stays upright, things will get better.
Can Tristan Wirfscarry this team? If you haven’t heard of Wirfs, check out Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List. The 6-foot-5, 322-pound junior offensive tackle did four reps of 450 pounds in the power clean. It will take more heavy lifting (see what we did there?) to get Iowa to Indianapolis for the first time since 2015. Quarterback Nate Stanley returns, but two tight ends (T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant) went in the top 20 of the NFL draft.
Over/under win total: 7.5
Can the Gophers, in the words of Sammy Sosa, “keep it continue”? Minnesota thrived down the stretch, throttling Purdue, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl and losing by 10 to Northwestern. Then-freshman Mohamed Ibrahim gobbled up 592 yards during that stretch, and top receiver Tyler Johnson also returns. Don’t sleep on the Gophers, who have favorable Big Ten East crossover games (at Rutgers, vs. Maryland and vs. Penn State).
Over/under win total: 7.5
Will Rondale Moore get a speeding ticket? Not in a car. Out by himself. Moore runs faster than 20 mph, as Ohio State and Northwestern found out last season. The 5-9 blazer won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. That’s good because Purdue is light at running back, and Moore averaged 11.3 yards on his 18 carries as a freshman.
Over/under win total: 7
Again, really? All the Wildcats did last season was win the Big Ten West by three games and beat Utah, which never loses bowl games, in a West Coast bowl game. So naturally Northwestern enters 2019 with the conference’s 10th-highest projected win total. Perhaps Clayton Thorson should be flattered. Then again, Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson could be better than Thorson.
Is it bowl or bust for Tom Allen? His .384 winning percentage is kin to those of his three predecessors: Terry Hoeppner (.391), Bill Lynch (.388) and Kevin Wilson (.409 if you kindly eliminate his first season of 1-11). So either Indiana is not hiring the best and brightest or, more likely, it’s really hard to win there.
Over/under win total: 6
Can favorite son Mike Locksley get it done? They don’t love “Lox” in New Mexico, where his tenure stunk worse than a dirty diaper left out in the sun. But they do love him in the DMV, where he killed it in recruiting for Illinois, among others. Locksley is smooth and affable — and this program needs all the good vibes it can get after the Jordan McNair tragedy and DJ Durkin debacle.
Over/under win total: 4.5
Will this be Lovie Smith’s last stand? This is the year the question finally must be asked. After three seasons of brutal defenses, a roulettewheel of quarterbacks and whiplash transfers, it might actually be incumbent on the former Bears coach to win more than four games.
Over/under win total: 4
You’re still here? That applies to both the school and coach Chris Ash. Rutgers was truly pitiful last year, going 1-11 and averaging 13.5 points. (Next-lowest among non-bowl teams: Illinois at 26 points per game.) At least the Scarlet Knights have lively legs in running back Raheem Blackshear.