On Colleges, On Golf
9:15 PM EDT, July 25, 2012
The conference of Legends and Leaders is dotted with liars and lawbreakers.
It has been another brutal offseason for the Big Ten, whose coaches and players will huddle Thursday (10 a.m., BTN, ESPNU) and Friday in Chicago for its annual Media Days.
A year ago, Commissioner Jim Delany lectured the league's 12 head football coaches. Embarrassed by Jim Tressel's deception at Ohio State and Rich Rodriguez's practice-time infractions at Michigan, Delany told them: "We do not want two more such cases."
Then came the ugliest scandal in the history of college sports. And while the world digested the Penn State penalties, Michigan announced the suspension of two players arrested over the last five days.
The blows keep coming for a league that fancies itself as more academically minded, less desperate for victories and far less likely to have fans poison trees of their rival school.
While league officials will continue to debate whether to shift to a nine-game conference slate following the breakdown of the Pac-12 collaboration, here's a look at questions each school will face.
Illinois: Where's Ron Zook?
Probably water-skiing on a lake near his Orlando-area home. Zook hasn't returned to coaching after being replaced by Tim Beckman, whose hiring was met with skepticism because he's a defensive-minded coach whose 2011 Toledo team gave up 63 points to both Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. But Beckman is loaded with energy and doing his best to make Northwestern a legit rival.
Indiana: Does Kevin Wilson want a mulligan?
After getting drunk on success while coordinating Oklahoma's offense, Kevin Wilson went to Indiana and lost. And then lost some more. His Hoosiers went 0-11 against FBS foes last season, surrendering 59 points to Wisconsin and Northwestern. That's not combined. Quarterback Tre Roberson showed promise, but he threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last season and can't play defense.
Iowa: Who is more cursed — the Cubs or Iowa running backs?
Since Shonn Greene's Tribune Silver Football-winning 2008 campaign, a half-dozen Hawkeyes ballcarriers have left the program. Marcus Coker, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last season, reportedly could have returned after a bowl suspension but instead bolted for FCS school Stony Brook. Marcus Binns was dropped from the team last week and Jordan Canzeri tore an ACL in spring practice.
Michigan: Is Michigan the Big Ten's best national hope?
Could be. The Wolverines are coming off a Sugar Bowl victory, have a Heisman Trophy contender in Denard Robinson and face Alabama in Week 1's national glamour game. But the Wolverines' front four has holes, and running back Fitz Toussaint's arrest on DUI charges and indefinite suspension did two things — leave Michigan with a crater in the backfield and belie the s-a-i-n-t in his name.
Michigan State: Does Kirk have any football-playing Cousins?
The Spartans will miss quarterback Kirk Cousins. So will the media. And grandmothers in East Lansing who need help crossing the street. His leadership will be nearly impossible to replace, but fourth-year junior Andrew Maxwell will try. Maxwell has the requisite arm strength, accuracy and athletic ability but remains unproven on the big stage.
Minnesota: Can MarQueis Gray get some help?
He was a one-man gang last season, throwing for 295 yards at Michigan State and rushing for 167 against Illinois. But as you might have heard, it takes 11 to run an offense. Coach Jerry Kill hopes to get a boost from freshman receiver Andre McDonald and tailback James Gillum, a junior-college transfer.
Nebraska: Will the Blackshirts earn their colors?
The Cornhuskers' defense was supposed to dominate last season. Didn't happen. And now linebacker Lavonte David is in the NFL and coordinator Carl Pelini, the head coach's brother, is the top dog at Florida Atlantic. Bo Pelini promoted John Papuchis to take over, and both expect results. So do Nebraska fans following a 5-3 (9-4 overall) Big Ten debut.
Northwestern: Will Kyle Prater give NU's passing game a new dimension?
Only if the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder is permitted to play. The NCAA has yet to decide whether he will have to sit out a season after transferring from USC. Prater would be a sexy addition, but the Wildcats won't return to aNew Year's Day bowl without upgrading their defense, which managed just 17 sacks last season.
Ohio State: What's there to play for?
The Buckeyes will not be in Indianapolis on Dec. 1 for the Big Ten title game. They're banned from postseason play thanks to Terrelle Pryor's tattoos and Tressel's fibs. So the season-ender at Michigan becomes Ohio State's bowl game. And a 10-victory season following a 6-7 puke-fest becomes a legitimate goal.
Penn State: Who will stay, and who will go?
Every team will bring three players to Media Days. Except Penn State. With opposing coaches descending on State College to court potential transfers — ESPN.com reported that six Illinois coaches went shopping Wednesday — the Nittany Lions would have been wise to bring their entire roster to Chicago. Instead the school apparently could not find three articulate veterans to speak positively about their teammates, their school and new coachBill O'Brien. Sad to say, but Penn State can't do anything right.
Purdue: Will the Boilermakers be le surprise of the Big Ten?
Only if new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who engineered the CFL's top-rated run defense last season for the Montreal Alouettes, gives his Boilermaker corps a raison d'etre. Defensive tackle Kawann Short, who passed on probable third-round NFL money, will help.
Wisconsin: What will Bret Bielema say?
The newly married Bielema has become the toast of Media Days, last year recommending that the NCAA "hammer" cheating coaches. Then he called out new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer in February for supposedly "illegal" recruiting tactics and told The Sporting News: "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC — in any way, shape or form." Southern-fried fans jumped on that quote, but hopefully the response won't leave Bielema gun-shy.
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