The Big Ten has packed up and left the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, and I've made the 25-minute drive home along Lake Shore Drive. Media days are over for 2010, and preseason practices around the league begin as early as Thursday.
As expected, there was a different feeling at this year's event after a wild summer that saw the Big Ten expand for the first time in 20 years. To see Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne on hand for Big Ten meetings certainly was a bit surreal.
Here are several lessons learned from the past two days in the Windy City:
The Big Ten's immediate focus is its transition to 12 teams. The league will split into two six-team divisions, hold a football championship game beginning in December 2011, identify a new logo and, in the biggest news of the week, adopt a nine-game conference schedule in the next five years (more on that later). Forget about a name change as the Big Ten will continue to annoy people and remain mathematically incorrect. Additional expansion could happen and the Big Ten has up to 10 months remaining on its expansion study period, but that isn't the priority right now, at least according to commissioner Jim Delany. "We're not actively involved in any expansion initiatives at this point," Delany said.
The nine-game conference schedule is a really big deal, and it likely will create some tension, despite the Big Ten's history of working things out amicably. I've reported on this possibility for more than a year, but it flew under the radar with all the expansion talk. This issue could pit coaches, many of whom oppose more league games, against athletic directors, who see the benefits for scheduling. Has a nine-game league schedule benefited the Pac-10? Not really. But from the Big Ten fan perspective, it's hard not to love.
Expect divisional alignment, scheduling and the 2011 championship game to be settled in the next 30-to-45 days. The Big Ten will pursue a one-year contract for a title game to get the initial event off the ground, and then conduct a more extensive review of the potential options. Delany said at least six venues have expressed interest in hosting the championship game.
Joe Paterno was once again a star at media days, but the legendary Penn State head coach looked and sounded different after his health issues late this spring. As The Patriot-News' David Jones writes, "Paterno sounded very much like something he never has -- an old man." He has no plans to leave his post, but many at media days wondered if we'd see him at the dais again in the summer of 2011.
Purdue quarterback Robert Marve is a changed man. I'm still interested to see how he deals with on-field adversity as a Boilermaker, but it's obvious that the junior has grown up a lot and benefited greatly from leaving Miami for the Midwest. Marve is very aware of his problems in the past and the steps he needed to take to get his life and his football career on track. It's great to see.
Penn State running back Evan Royster is noticeably bigger after gaining about 15 pounds during the offseason. He expects to lose five pounds during training camp but will play at a weight (218-219 pounds) that should help him shoulder a larger carries load. Wisconsin running back John Clay, meanwhile, looked about the same size as he did at the end of the 2009 season, which is a good thing. I heard from several Badgers fans worried that Clay had ballooned to 300 pounds or more, but he's around 255 now and hopes to lose 5-10 pounds during camp.
The Big Ten once again will be a defense-first league this fall. Media day attendees like Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State defensive end Cam Heyward and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones all are strong candidates for national awards and All-America honors. Clayborn and Heyward both are drawing comparisons to Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh, and there will be plenty of folks watching their progress. Jones will finish as one of the most decorated defenders in Big Ten history.
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez and his players know the deal this fall: win or else. In Rodriguez's case, a winning season is a must, and he needs to record several signature victories. The players insist their struggles have brought the team closer, but it will be a very interesting preseason in Ann Arbor, especially as quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson compete for both the starting job and the support in the locker room.