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Favorites, comebacks, controversies: 10 topics for Big Ten football media days

Any chance this is the year Jim Harbaugh starts gaining real ground on Urban Meyer? (AP/Tony Ding)

Move over, Northwestern. You, too, Illinois. For the next couple of days, Chicago will have 14 Big Ten teams.

Football media days have arrived.

That means coaches and player representatives from around the conference will gather at the downtown Marriott and crow about educational milestones, family atmospheres, unstoppable offenses, impenetrable defenses and championships to be won.

It also means a sudden influx of scribes from such traditional Midwestern outposts as West Lafayette, Indiana; East Lansing, Michigan; and Piscataway, New Jersey, who will carouse along the Magnificent Mile in celebration of surviving another year in journalism.

But back to football.

Here are 10 topics that will fuel much of the discussion Monday and Tuesday:

1. Buckeyes and Badgers

Those are the favorites — probably in that order — in what shapes up as a strong year for the conference. Ohio State will be in everyone’s top five. Wisconsin could sneak into the top five of the national preseason polls, as well.

2. East-West imbalance

Many leading voices in the college game contend that the Big Ten East has supplanted the SEC West as the best division in any conference. Is it true? Only if Penn State maintains its recent form, Michigan State returns fully to prominence and Michigan wakes up and remembers it’s Michigan. Either way, though, the Wisconsin-led West still has a lot of catching up to do. The rest of the division considers itself on the uptick, but isn’t that always the case this time of year?

3. Great Scott

On a scale of one ear of corn to 10 ears of corn, Nebraskans’ excitement level about the homecoming of former quarterback and new coach Scott Frost is approximately 1.4 billion ears of corn. Frost is the guy who coached UCF to an unbeaten season in 2017. The Huskers, on the other hand, haven’t reached double digits in victories since 2012.

4. Clock’s ticking

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh has lost eight league games in three seasons since his return to his alma mater. He’s 0-3 against Ohio State and 1-2 against Michigan State. The Wolverines will play on the road against both rivals this season. When is Harbaugh’s reputed excellence going to manifest itself in the form of, you know, a really good season?

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5. Thorson’s comeback

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson will make the 40th start of his career in the season opener at Purdue and his first start since he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the bowl game last year. As unpleasant a topic as the injury is, Thorson will be asked about it by merely everyone with a notepad and/or recording device.

6. Stars in absentia

If the media could choose three Big Ten players to speak with, they might be new Ohio State No. 1 quarterback Dwayne Haskins, new Michigan No. 1 quarterback Shea Patterson and Wisconsin running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Jonathan Taylor. Alas, those three will be off doing whatever it is they do when they’re not in Chicago answering dozens of versions of the same few questions.

7. The Fedora factor

After North Carolina coach Larry Fedora’s recent preposterous comments about football being “under attack” — for one thing, he expressed doubt about the sport’s link to brain disease — each Big Ten coach can expect to be asked to elucidate his position on CTE and player safety. Ignorance will not be regarded kindly.

8. The redshirt rule

According to a new rules amendment that came in June, a player can play in up to four games without burning a year of eligibility if he then suffers a season-ending injury. This will allow for some nice second-chance stories.

9. National injury report?

The Big Ten is encouraging the NCAA to institute an NFL-style injury reporting system. Why? The answer revolves around the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that allows states to legalize gambling on sports. It’s about preserving the integrity of the sport, according to the league. The very idea, though, just plain has to rub some control-freakish coaches the wrong way.

10. The playoff

Last year — the fourth season with a four-team playoff — the Big Ten was left on the cutting-room floor. And the league’s champion has been left out of the playoff in each of the last two seasons. Should the playoff field be expanded? Isn’t a playoff that doesn’t involve the Big Ten an abomination against mankind?