A Big 10 on the Big Ten: Things we learned on Day 1 of media days in Chicago
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Half the Big Ten’s 14 schools — including Northwestern, but not Illinois — were represented Monday at the downtown Marriott, the site of the conference’s annual gathering of fired-up coaches, semi-bored players and hungry, thirsty reporters.
Where we come from, half of 14 is about seven. Then again, math long has been confusing when it comes to the Big Fourteen Minus Four.
Thus, the name of this new column: ‘‘The Big 10.’’ Where 10 actually means, you know, 10. Here are 10 things we learned on the first day of the event:
1. Cat trap?
Purdue hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2007. But a 7-6 success last season — and it was a success — has emboldened the Boilermakers, who host Northwestern in a Thursday-night opener on ESPN.
‘‘Let’s hope our fans come out and sell out the stadium,’’ said all-conference linebacker Markus Bailey. ‘‘Because we’re going to put on a show for them.’’
The Wildcats are coming off a 10-victory season, but who would know by the early betting line? It favors Purdue by a field goal.
2. No excuses
Don’t tell Minnesota’s gung-ho second-year coach, P.J. Fleck, that Illinois is a difficult place to win.
Many a frustrated Illini supporter has made that excuse. Is there truth to it? Fleck, who grew up in Aurora and played at Northern Illinois, waved off the very notion.
‘‘I don’t see it that way,’’ he said. ‘‘Here’s why: I’m from the area. There’s a lot of players around here who fit me. Recruiting’s all about fit. If you’re recruiting an area just to recruit an area — because there’s players, and that’s all you care about —you’re going to end up with a lot of players and people you don’t want.’’
Some former Illinois coaches undoubtedly can relate.
3. Long divisions
Competitive imbalance? What competitive imbalance?
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, in his 30th year on the job, said the big-shot East and the long-shot West divisions will remain as is.
‘‘I’m not sure that we’ve had a long enough window to really arrive at that conclusion,’’ he said of the common thinking that Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State all on one side of the standings is a bit much.
Translation: Deal with it, Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana.
4. Feeling Frost
Integrity, character, unity, player development, hunger and a blue-collar culture.
According to new Nebraska coach Scott Frost, all those attributes that defined the Huskers’ program in its heyday have been compromised at times over the years.
‘‘Nebraska stood for a lot of things when it was great,’’ he said.
Frost, who quarterbacked the 1997 team to a perfect season, really tells it like it is. It’s easy to see why Husker Nation is so high on him.
5. To tell the truth
If the college game is headed toward greater transparency in regard to player injuries and suspensions, Big Ten coaches seem to be on board. It’s a new trick and these are old dogs, though.
‘‘You know, we have an injury report at Northwestern that we’ve done for a number of years,’’ Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘I’ve been accused of sometimes being honest and sometimes being less than honest. I would agree with that.’’
6. Life’s a gamble
With so much talk about sports wagering potentially being legalized across the land, just imagine how sticky an issue it might be for a coach at Rutgers.
‘‘In the state of New Jersey, gambling is a big deal,’’ Chris Ash said. ‘‘People are constantly trying to find information about your football team and injuries.’’
Distractions? What distractions?
7. Don’t ever change
Does Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh feel pressure to turn the tables on rival Ohio State?
‘‘We need to improve,’’ he said. ‘‘And that will lead to success. It will lead to championships. It’s that simple.’’
What might that improvement look like this season?
‘‘The improvement will lead to success, will lead to championships.’’
Translation: Harbaugh is still Harbaugh.
8. ‘Hate’ is a strong word
Penn State has been as impressive as anybody in the conference the last couple of seasons. No matter how many high-stakes games the Nittany Lions have played, though, there’s still a little something missing from their Big Ten experience.
‘‘It doesn’t always have the hatred that’s been there between, like, Michigan and Ohio State,’’ Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. ‘‘I don’t necessarily know that we’ll ever have that.’’
9. The commish — again
Delany, on the Big Ten in 2017: ‘‘I honestly think it was one of the finest seasons in modern football, here or elsewhere.’’
You know, in case anyone thought missing out on the College Football Playoff was a sign of weakness.
10. Parting shot
From Northwestern linebacker Nate Hall to Illinois:
‘‘I think Chicago owns us and we own Chicago,’’ he said. ‘‘We call ourselves ‘Chicago’s Big Ten team’ for a reason.’’