Winners and Losers from 2014 Big Ten Media Days
CHICAGO — “Talking season,” as Steve Spurrier likes to call it, is over. It’s time for football.
The best and brightest of the Big Ten flocked to the Chicago Hilton for Big Ten Media Days, one of the final stops before fall camp.
Day 1 consisted of a more formal podium session, giving each coach in the conference 15 minutes to address the media and answer questions. Day 2 wasn’t nearly as structured. All players and coaches in attendance sat at roundtables, answering questions for roughly two hours as media members pinballed around the room.
As for the winners and losers of the weekend—including a cameo from Kenny Bell and his fabulous media-day attire—here are some takeaways.
Adam Kramer is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
Winner: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio
For one moment, Mark Dantonio broke protocol. The typically reserved and quiet head coach let us in, even if it was only for a moment.
When asked how he thought Michigan State would have fared had the College Football Playoff started last season, he gave an unexpected response.
“I’ve thought about that,” Dantonio said on the playoff. “I thought we would have been national champions, to be perfectly honest with you. I think we would have had a shot to do that.
“Coming out at the end of the season, we were playing great football.”
On top of offering the deepest answer on a hypothetical playoff question, Dantonio also provided the best response when asked how he keeps the Michigan rivalry alive and well after Michigan State has won five of the last six games.
“I continue to live in Michigan,” Dantonio said. “That ought to do it.”
Loser: Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke
It wasn’t anything Brady Hoke said. Quite frankly, there’s nothing that can be said, and that’s exactly why Chicago was less kind to Hoke than it’s been in recent years.
Hoke was hit with a barrage of questions surrounding his job security and the pressure mounting with the season approaching. He handled them well, offering up a necessary look at the bigger picture that can be easily lost along the way.
"You know, why do you coach? I mean, why do you really coach? If we're doing everything we can for 115 guys, sons on our roster, from the graduation, since we've been there, 69 of 69 seniors have graduated. That's important.
"So when you talk about that, that's the only pressure as a coach that I've ever felt—making sure we're doing it for the student-athletes."
Despite the uncertainty hovering overhead and the unanswerable questions tossed in his direction over the two-day stretch, Hoke received a vote of confidence from athletic director Dave Brandon.
“I’m not troubled,” Brandon told Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News. “I have a high level of confidence that the pieces are being put together for this program to be what we all want it to be. I have to be patient because I know what’s involved. I know what was here when coach Hoke arrived, in terms of how we needed to change.”
What should we take from a vote of confidence? It certainly beats the alternative.
Winner: Nebraska Wideout Kenny Bell
The hair was magnificent as always, but it was Kenny Bell’s colorful attire that took home our annual “Best Dressed at Big Ten Media Days" award. This isn’t an actual award (although it really should be).
Rocking pink suspenders and a fashionable pink tie, the Nebraska wide receiver was easy to find on Day 2.
“I’m a big suit guy,” Bell said, pointing to his suspenders. “I’ve got quite a few. I wish we could wear suits for home games.”
If all goes accordingly for Bell—one of the most explosive wideouts in the conference—perhaps the NFL could have its own version of Russell Westbrook in the near future.
As for his expectations for the offense heading into the season, Bell also delivered, voicing his confidence in a unit that will return some of the better skill-position players in the conference.
“We’ve got the pieces of the puzzle, it’s all about putting them together,” Bell said. “There’s no question in my mind that we could be one of the best offenses in the Big Ten.”
Loser: Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz (and the Media)
There’s no sugarcoating it: It was awkward.
Following a short opening statement, Kirk Ferentz waited for questions. The questions, however, never came.
Ferentz was the last coach to speak on Day 1, and his session was cut short simply because the room (apparently) had nothing to ask. The 15-minute session only lasted about eight minutes, which wasn’t the case for any other coach.
Of course, being the final coach of the day didn’t help his cause. The day moved quickly, and the room likely ran out of steam or found their story before his turn at the podium. What makes this even more curious is the fact that Iowa brought three impressive talents to Chicago.
Running back Mark Weisman, defensive tackle Carl Davis and tackle Brandon Scherff—who is garnering buzz as being one of the top prospects in the upcoming draft—all made the trip. All could have been touched on in a greater capacity. Given some of the other intriguing pieces in place—plus a favorable Big Ten schedule—there was plenty of Hawkeye conversation to be had. But it didn't happen.
This wasn’t a Kirk Ferentz problem or an Iowa problem; it was a media stamina problem, and we promise to be better next time.
Winner: Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini
Bo Pelini has spent the better part of the past few years fighting a reputation that he is a hothead—whether he was yelling at an official or taking on a room full of reporters—and he has been unable to shake this label.
It’s extreme, and perhaps "unfair" is the more appropriate way to categorize his relationship with the national media. But this is not who he is, and his Chicago showing highlighted that.
“My personality is one where I'm not that intense, competitive animal running around all the time,” Pelini said. “I'm a much different person away from the field. I'm actually pretty laid-back off the field and away from my job, when I'm with my family, when I'm with my kids and really a lot of times when I'm with the football team.”
Nebraska safety Corey Cooper, who had a breakout season in 2013, agrees.
“I see him on a daily basis, so I know what kind of person he is,” Cooper said. “He’s a passionate coach, but he’s also a player-friendly coach.”
As for the season ahead, Pelini was both honest and optimistic while addressing his team’s expectations and goals heading into camp.
“We're looking for a championship,” Pelini said. “I think we have the pieces. We have a lot of potential on our football team, but there's going to be a lot of hard work that needs to be done for that to make that become a reality.”
Loser: Penn State Head Coach James Franklin
Make no mistake about it, James Franklin won BIG in his B1G debut. Except for one area.
The only critique one could have of Franklin on his first Big Ten Media Day appearance—and we’re being overly critical here—is that he didn’t bring his quarterback to Chicago.
Is this a big deal? Goodness no, not in the slightest. In fact, from Franklin's standpoint, this was probably a smart decision.
Selfishly, as a member of the media, you want to hear from the nation’s elite, and that’s exactly what Christian Hackenberg is on his way to becoming. But Franklin does not care about our tape recorders, nor should he, and right now he's focusing less on individual players and more on the bigger picture.
“He's going to have to continue to develop, and part of his development is us being able to surround him with the right type of talent,” Franklin said on Hackenberg. “That's creating the depth and things like that. We’re so excited about Christian, but our focus is more about supporting Christian with the pieces of the puzzle around him.”
It makes complete and utter sense—and so does the decision to work his quarterback into stardom slowly—but we still would have loved to hear from him.
In a star-packed room, he would have fit right in.
Winner: The Present (and Future) of the Big Ten
The narratives for the Big Ten are obvious, and a lot of times they sway toward the negative.
It can’t recruit.
The schedules stink.
The coaches don’t stack up.
I could go on, but you’re well aware of such narratives. Maybe you even speak this language.
Some of these troubles are a reality. Recruiting, first and foremost, needs to improve beyond some of the top programs delivering. This is the origin of many of these perceived inadequacies, and there is harsh truth to this criticism.
But I also can't help leaving the Hilton feeling more optimistic about the Big Ten than I have in some time.
There is talent. Lots of it. And many of these players held court in Chicago.
Braxton Miller, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Connor Cook, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Scherff and Stefon Diggs; all made appearances and all should excel—if healthy—in 2014.
From a coaching standpoint, Urban Meyer’s football-centric approach was refreshing; it also painted a picture of how much Ohio State will return this season. Mark Dantonio’s relaxed (but confident) demeanor reminded us that this team should remain in the conversation, not just in the Big Ten but among up-and-coming national powers.
And new Penn State head coach James Franklin provided a glimpse into the future, some infused energy that the conference has clearly lacked. Although the sanctions will be difficult to overcome, there’s reason to believe that—under his leadership—they will be conquered.
What does this mean for the national perspective on the conference? For now, not much. In order to change this—and for the rebuild to begin—a College Football Playoff appearance will be necessary. Better yet, the Big Ten could desperately use a national championship.
Whether this is realized is a question to be answered in the coming months, although there are reasons to be optimistic about where the Big Ten is and, more importantly, where it’s going.
For now, however, we’re headed for actual football. And what better way to close things out in Chicago than have the conference's new coach carry us to the next step?
“Summer is over,” James Franklin said. “It’s time to get to work.”