After months of waiting and breaking down pretty much everything about these teams, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Big Ten football media days take place Monday and Tuesday in Chicago, marking the unofficial start to the 2010 season.
Media days are moving from downtown Chicago to McCormick Place, and that's not the only change with this year's event. In case you were in Azerbaijan for the past three months, the Big Ten expanded this summer, adding Nebraska as its 12th member. As a result, the Big Ten has some major decisions to make regarding potential division alignment, scheduling and a possible conference championship in football, and these will be the big-ticket items as league brass and all 11 athletic directors meet in Chicago. Nebraska AD Tom Osborne will be attending all the meetings next week, not entirely in a listen-only mode, although his presence certainly will be felt.
I've been told that division alignment and scheduling are the top two priorities and should be resolved before Sept. 1. The Big Ten will present data and proposals to the athletic directors, who expect to reach a consensus, like they have on other major topics in the past. Although divisions and a championship game are very likely, nothing is guaranteed. Don't expect any resolution on a championship game next week, although the league certainly has no shortage of options. The Big Ten could go with a rotation or a permanent site, as Roy Kramer advocates. Venues like Detroit's Ford Field, Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, Chicago's Soldier Field, Cleveland Browns Stadium and Green Bay's Lambeau Field all have expressed interest in hosting the event.
One item not to be overlooked is the possibility of the Big Ten going to nine conference games after Nebraska joins in 2011. There was some momentum for this even before expansion heated up, and it will be discussed seriously in Chicago.
Here are a few other major story lines sure to crop up next week:
Is the Big Ten done expanding? The league is still only eight months into its 12- to 18-month period to study expansion. Although the Big Ten already acted, it did so because of outside circumstances regarding the Big 12 and Pac-10. Before things got crazy in early June, I heard from multiple league sources that expansion likely wouldn't happen until the late fall or early winter. The Big Ten is now back on its own timetable, so it could "act again" before the study period expires in June 2011.
We haven't heard from Joe Paterno since April, as the 83-year-old Penn State head coach dealt with health issues for much of May and June. Paterno had been the Big Ten's most vocal advocate for expansion last year, and it will be interesting to get his take on Nebraska, divisions, a championship game, etc. Although Paterno has given no indication that he'll retire any time soon, the question is always relevant. He also has a quarterback competition on his hands.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Rich Rodriguez must choose one entering a make-or-break season at Michigan. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinsonenter preseason camp in a dead heat after Robinson's strong spring. Rodriguez should be happy to talk football, but he'll also be asked about his job status, his new boss Dave Brandon, and his impending trip to Seattle to appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.
Expectations have been raised for Iowa and Wisconsin entering the 2010 season. Michigan is down, and Penn State might be rebuilding a bit after losing six first-team All-Big Ten performers, so this is a real chance for the Hawkeyes and Badgers to establish themselves as league powers. Iowa reached two BCS bowls in the past decade, but can the Hawkeyes be a 10-win team year in and year out? Wisconsin has been the poster child for very good, but how can the Badgers take the next step and become great again? It'll be interesting to see how both programs are handling the high hopes.
Finally, let's take a quick look at the schedule of events.
DAY 1 (Monday, Aug. 2): All 11 head coaches plus commissioner Jim Delany will address the media at the dais from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. ET. I'll be blogging throughout this session, so be sure to check in often here as well as on Twitter.
Here's the rundown (all times Eastern):
11:00 a.m. Bret Bielema (Wisconsin)
11:15 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)
11:30 a.m. Ron Zook (Illinois)
11:45 a.m. Rich Rodriguez (Michigan)
12:15 p.m. Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)
12:30 p.m. Bill Lynch (Indiana)
12:45 p.m. Danny Hope (Purdue)
1:15 p.m. Joe Paterno (Penn State)
1:30 p.m. Tim Brewster (Minnesota)
1:45 p.m. Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
2:00 p.m. Jim Tressel (Ohio State)
2:30 p.m. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany
DAY 2 (Tuesday, Aug. 3): All 11 coaches as well as three players from each team will meet with the media from 9-11 a.m. ET in more informal, roundtable settings. Here's the roster of players who will attend.
I know I'm getting excited for media days, and the Big Ten blog is definitely the place to be for all the coverage in Chicago.