Last week in Chicago provided two days jam-packed with interviews and interactions with the Big Ten's 14 head coaches and 42 of its veteran players. From silly to serious, we learned more about what to expect from the conference on Thursday and Friday than we have in the seven months since last season ended with an Ohio State national championship. With so much to be gleaned, our Big Ten writers have a wide variety of topics at the top of their minds as the start of training camp approaches this week. Here are our biggest takeaways from the trip to Chicago.
Mitch Sherman: Michigan State is set up to succeed
I left Chicago wondering if Michigan State may face a less treacherous path to the College Football Playoff than Ohio State. If nothing else, I'm open to the idea that the Spartans will get to their major challenge of September on better footing than the Buckeyes. MSU finds itself in a more comfortable spot at quarterback than every Big Ten team, including Ohio State. And the suspensions of Joey Bosa and three receivers against Virginia Tech puts the Buckeyes on shaky ground in a dangerous environment. If the Buckeyes are ever to be vulnerable, it's in Week 1. Of course, even if Michigan State survives Week 2 against Oregon, there is the matter of Nov. 21, when MSU visits the Horseshoe. Regardless, the Spartans have got a shot. And with Connor Cook, they may not need much else.
Josh Moyer: The B1G is loaded with BIG personalities
OK, so some of the conference’s biggest names -- like Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and Christian Hackenberg -- didn’t make it to Chicago this year. But we still experienced a few entertaining days, thanks to the array of different personalities. We got to see Iowa DE Drew Ott eat a raw egg, Rutgers DT Darius Hamilton profess his love -- and call out his roommate -- for boy-band “One Direction,” and hear Penn State DT Anthony Zettel perform a spot-on imitation of a Velociraptor and dying pig. (Video upcoming.) Bottom line: This is a wacky crew, and I loved it. So should the fans.
Brian Bennett: Harbaugh can turn on the charm
A big question heading into Chicago was how Jim Harbaugh would handle the enormous spotlight he was put under on Friday. Would awkwardness ensue, like in some of his offseason media appearances? In retrospect, that was a silly thought. This is a guy, after all, who coached in the NFL and went through a Super Bowl media day. He knows how and when to turn it on. Harbaugh remained his eccentric self -- pulling out a Mike Ditka jersey, turning a reporter’s question into a query of his own about old sportswriting days and stopping and talking to random people in the hall, for example. But he was perfectly pleasant, if still vague and elusive on specifics. I still don’t know much about Michigan’s actual team right now, as players’ names almost never appeared in any of Harbaugh’s answers. It’s clear that Harbaugh will be the story all year in Ann Arbor, and he can deal with that.
Dan Murphy: The East is still focused on the fronts
The Big Ten's stronger division has had an influx of offense while helping to raise the league's national profile during the past several years. Ohio State and Michigan State were two of the seven highest-scoring offenses in the country in 2014. Despite spreading out and lighting up scoreboards, the East hasn't lost its cloud-of-dust mentality. Eleven of the 21 players who came to Chicago from those seven schools were offensive or defensive linemen. The only team that didn't pack a 300-pounder was Michigan, who brought two run-stuffing linebackers and is expected to take an old-school approach on offense under Harbaugh. There was plenty of talk of coaches instilling "Midwestern values" in their rosters last week, and while things are getting flashier around here, the grinders up front still carry a lot weight in the Big Ten.
Austin Ward: Urban Meyer is ready to turn Braxton Miller loose
Initially Meyer tried again to tap the brakes on the conversation about shifting his former starting quarterback and the league's two-time player of the year to wide receiver and H-back. But eventually all the Ohio State coach did was slam the accelerator and ramp up the hype for Miller's position switch, raising the already sky-high expectations for his return by calling him a potential "impact player" and indicating that Meyer will personally coach him when training camp starts next week. Even more gas was thrown on the fire when the Buckeyes announced suspensions for four players shortly before media days opened on Thursday, since the absence of H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson clears the depth chart in front of Miller and could put him in line for work right away in the opener at Virginia Tech.