The Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago kicked off the grind of the college football season, a chance for players and coaches to reflect on “what could be,” in the final days of the offseason. While the football season doesn’t officially kick off until the end of August, this is where players start to finish up their offseason training and coaches get closer to naming their starters.
The Big Ten has not seen a team be named to the college football playoff since the 2016 season. Perhaps for the first time in several years, Ohio State may not the conference favorite, and Jim Delany gets set to embark on his final season as Big Ten Commissioner, a role he has held since 1989.
At the recent Big Ten football days, several prominent coaches spoke to the media and addressed their team’s outlook for the upcoming season. This includes new faces, such as Ryan Day at Ohio State, who’s taking over for Urban Meyer. This summer, Meyer has had to dodge speculation that he will resurface at Southern Cal.
Ryan Day: In what is usually considered a well-oiled machine, Ohio State enters the season with the most uncertainty they’ve had in years. Many pundits feel that Michigan should be the Big Ten favorite this year, so Ryan Day has a lot to prove in his first season as Urban Meyer’s successor.
Dwayne Haskins is moving on to the NFL, and Day has yet to name Josh Fields as the starting quarterback. “One of our core philosophies is you don’t just get given a starting position, you have to earn everything around here, and he hasn’t done that,” Day said. “The hard thing for everybody to realize is he’s coming off the heels of Dwayne Haskins.” Despite this, the expectations at Ohio State remain to the same, and so does the philosophy. Day made it abundantly clear that plans on keeping the Buckeyes moving in the same direction as the team under Meyer.
Jim Harbaugh: 2019 could prove to be a make it or break it year for Jim Harbaugh. Blessed with talented recruiting classes in his four years as head coach, Harbaugh still hasn’t been able to put it all together and eclipse rival Ohio State.
Harbaugh recently made a comment on a podcast regarding former Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, stating that “controversy follows everywhere he’s been.” Some reporters at the Big Ten Media Days felt that this could be a deflection strategy for his inability to surpass Ohio State, but Harbaugh vehemently denied those accusations, particularly with one reporter who made an animal analogy to suggest that Harbaugh was stirring the pot.
It was just me giving my opinion. I’m not into making animal analogies, so the poking the bear thing doesn’t resonate– Jim Harbaugh
As far as the talent on the field, Harbaugh expressed his satisfaction with the depth that he has to work with this year, mentioning that he has a greater ability to take some of the burden off of incoming freshman in 2019.
Quarterbacks Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey complement each other well, according to Harbaugh, as Michigan boasts one of the best quarterback situations in the country in 2019.
Pat Fitzgerald: Northwestern is coming off of one of their best seasons in recent program history, winning the Big Ten West with an 8-1 conference record before losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.
Despite winning bowl games in the last three seasons, Northwestern is largely overlooked in a conference with more popular teams and big-name players.
We’re not great click-bait I guess, picking us first isn’t real sexy. We’ll just earn it.Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
Four year starter Clayton Thorson is gone, so Northwestern has a lot on their plate, simply ensuring their next starter can be just as successful. Hunter Johnson, a transfer from Clemson and former 5-star recruit seems like the logical choice, although Fitzgerald has yet to name him as the starter.
In order to repeat as Big Ten West champions, Northwestern will need to rely heavily on their defense yet again, with Senior Joe Gaziano and Junior Paddy Fisher leading the way.
Mark Dantonio: It wasn’t long ago that Michigan State was considered one of the best teams in the nation, having qualified for the 2015 College Football Playoff. Last year’s 7-6 record was especially disappointing, and it looks like Mark Dantonio’s best days as head coach could be behind him.
The Spartans defense has remained elite, while the offense sputtered in 2018, ranking 125th out of 129 in scoring offense at 18.7 points per game.
If Michigan State is going to challenge Michigan and Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten East, major changes are needed on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Brian Lewerke needs to stay healthy in order to have a bounce back campaign in a revamped offense. Dantonio says that the team will return nine starters back on offense, which conceivably will help with chemistry as the offense eyes a turnaround.
Paul Chryst: The Wisconsin Badgers are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2018 campaign where they finished with an 8-5 record and second place in the Big Ten West. The Badgers faced more intense pressure after winning a program-best 13 games and the Orange Bowl in 2017.
They haven’t been receiving as much attention this offseason. Still, Wisconsin will be primed to contend for the Big Ten West, as they look to reestablish their footing atop that division. However, they will face a particularly tough schedule featuring five teams who will be coming off their bye weeks.
I think you have to take it week to week. That’s when you as a team are at your best, if you can be in a moment and make the best out of that moment.Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst
Arguably the best running back in the country, Junior Jonathan Taylor will be leaned upon just as much in 2019. However, Wisconsin will have to adjust to a new quarterback, as Junior Jack Coan is battling redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and Graham Mertz for the starting job.
James Franklin: Penn State is another perennial contender that will have to face a quarterback transition for the 2019 season. Sean Clifford and Will Levis have become the likely contenders for the job, since Tommy Stevens transferred in July. Clifford is the only one with in-game experience.
Penn State took a bit of a step back in 2018, after back-to-back 11 win seasons in 2016 and 2017. The Nittany Lions, finished with a 9-4 record after losing in the Citrus Bowl. Despite the changes for an overall young team, Penn State is still very much in the mix in the Big Ten East in 2019 thanks to strong returning talent on both sides of the ball. The leading receiver a year ago, redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler’s presence will be key on offense for a team that will be using an inexperienced quarterback.
Our Predictions: Each side of the conference has multiple realistic contenders in 2019, with the west being much more wide open than the east. We feel that Michigan will finally surpass Ohio State in the east and Wisconsin will re-emerge at the top of the west. Michigan will beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.