Follow me at @PeteFiutak
2015 Big Ten Media Days kicked off with Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin taking center stage. Here are the six things that mattered from Day One.
The New Big Ten Media Days Format
I’m not going to whine about the ten minute walk in Chicago’s cavernous McCormick Place to get to one of the workroom areas, and the guesswork required to find the media lunch area, mainly because I hate people with ridiculously cool jobs who cry about the mundane. Other than that, with a little tweaking, the new media days format should work out better over the long haul.
The Big Ten has done a great job of spacing things out over two days – especially compared to the four-day slugfest that is the SEC media event. The goal was to give each school a little more time in the spotlight, but to also keep it moving at a quick pace. On the first day, it worked just fine.
The biggest positive continues to be the access to the players and coaches at individual round tables in an informal setting – seriously, SEC, this is what you’re really missing – which has a humanizing effect in the conversational format. Doing this in the afternoon – unlike the old days when it was from 8 to 10 am after most of the players and writers came in ridiculously hungover and tired – was also a great stroke, especially considering the unknown players and mediocre teams always got ignored in the two hour bum rush.
With that said, schools, please, give us media types what we want when it comes to the players. We all know that a lot of college kids aren’t great with the media, and the schools want to put their best representatives forward, but this is the Year of the Quarterback in the Big Ten, and there’s no Christian Hackenberg, there’s no Wes Lunt, there’s no C.J. Beathard. And most conspicuously absent was the lack of an Ohio State backfield star.
Ezekiel Elliott was terrific in the playoff media spotlight, and Cardale Jones was fantastic. It would’ve been the national sports big thing on Thursday if the Buckeyes had brought Jones, J.T. Barrett, and Braxton Miller as the three representatives to Chicago – the media would’ve absolutely eaten it up.
But for now, the Big Ten is still doing it right.
Ohio State’s Suspension Timing
Urban Meyer can be extremely engaging and tremendously interesting in the right setting and when talking about football, football, football. But as soon as there’s an uncomfortable situation to talk about, especially in a room full of 500 media types, the shields go up. Instead of owning the moment as the reigning national champion and the best coach in college football, he clumsily pushed through the opening question about the suspensions of Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Corey Smith.
“I kind of knew about this for a little bit. It was a university I think the department has policies that we expect and I 100 percent am fully supportive of it. … However, we have recruited very well. So get going, move forward.”
Meyer later went on to say, “Internally, it was a violation of team policies. And that’s as far as I’ll go.”
However, it was absolutely the right PR move to announce the suspensions an hour before going in front of the media. Had the news been released a few days ago, the buildup would’ve made this a bigger thing and the sole focus of the media event. Had Meyer waited until next week, everyone would’ve been screaming that he did it to avoid the media attention.
So while Meyer might not have made the smoothest statements about the controversy, the situation was diffused as much as possible.
Nine questions later, someone asked about the quarterback situation.
Tim Beckman Didn’t Disappoint
I don’t ask for much in this world. All I wanted was Becks being Becks at Big Ten Media Days, and the Illini head coach came through.
“Before I get started, I would like to express something that I want to make sure that everybody understands about our program. We use the word Oskee not just because of the word Oskee or that it’s a battle cry of the University of Illinois. But it also stands for something. That stance that we use that word for is our success equals the knowledge of being the K, the knowledge, of being a great student athlete on and off the football field. Understanding how to be supportive. How to understand to be successful in the classroom.”
Forgetting that what he’s trying to do here actually starts with the letter O, the gift just kept on giving.
“The E stands for effort, giving all out effort in everything you do each and every day. And then the last E stands for energy. Energy, being a positive influence on the people around you. Having that belief and that system as being a teammate, being a brother, the band of brothers.”
And about that little issue of the mistreatment and abuse allegations?
“The philosophy that we continue to use is what these football players believe in football.”
Tweet that, Simon Cvijanovic.
It’s Michigan State, And You’re Not
It’s an easy narrative to try to push forward – guilty as charged – that Michigan State would naturally feel slighted with all the attention paid to Ohio State and Michigan with the Jim Harbaugh hiring. If that’s true, you couldn’t tell by the collective yawn from the Spartans when anyone played the disrespect card.
The cool part about Michigan State is that the program appears to still be having a whole bunch of fun being really good. The school is used to the basketball success, but the football side is just now figuring out what it’s like to be among the elite of the elite – and the swagger is kicking in.
It wasn’t all that long ago that this was the flaky team that couldn’t seem to put together a consistent season and always seemed to come up with the puzzling clunker at the weirdest of times. Mark Dantonio has changed that, and now it’s about doing what Michigan State does and not worrying about everyone else.
Dantonio’s line when asked about Notre Dame and a perceived advantage in the playoff chase applies to the attitude he and the rest of the MSU players seemed to have when it comes to the Big Ten.
“Everybody’s got their own program to run. So that’s what we’ll do with ours.”
Dantonio is like a professional when it comes to not getting caught up in the goofy rhetoric of rivalries and grudges – he gave credit where it was due to Ohio State, and paid lip-service where needed. But being great isn’t new anymore for the program like it was after the great 2013 season, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
No one around MSU really cares if you want to focus on Ohio State or Michigan. This is a group that appeared very, very comfortable being Michigan State, led by …
Connor Cook’s World
Michigan State quarterbacks always seem to fit a type. They’re almost all 6-4 with a pro-style look and feel to their games, and they can almost always talk and talk and talk. Connor Cook was no exception as the rare college athlete who brings equal parts cockiness, leadership thoughts, and meathead football fire.
Defensive end Shilique Calhoun might have been the more entertaining interview, but Cook was the one who knows the season is on his shoulders. I asked what’s missing before Michigan State goes from being very good to playoff great.
“Connor Cook’s gotta finish … Connor Cook’s gotta finish.”
He deflected any questions and thoughts from others about the Heisman, and got mad me when I asked if he’d win the Ohio State quarterback derby, but when it came to knowing the ins and outs of the Spartans, and acting like the ambassador for the team, he’s all over it.
He should be in an NFL training camp right now, but instead he’s leading Michigan State. That’s a huge reason – along with a loaded defensive front – that this might not be the Ohio State cakewalk back into the Big Ten title game.
Paul Chryst Fits
While he’s not as brash and jacked up as Bret Bielema, and he’s not as “aw shucks” as Gary Andersen came off, Paul Chryst did what he had to do at his first Big Ten Media Days as the new Wisconsin head coach.
He held serve.
There’s nothing flashy about him or his style, and he’s not going to wow the crowd as a speaker, but he was personable when he had to be, relaxed for the most part, and considering the pressure on him to win right away, he handled it all fine.
More than anything else, considering he’s from Madison, played for the Badgers, and grew into his coaching life as an assistant at UW, he’s hitting the ground running.
There’s a familiarity with him from the top on down. It’s not always a good thing to hire a guy just because he’s a part of the program’s past, but in this case, for the continuity of the coaching progression, and what Wisconsin has to do to keep things going with the academic requirements to go along with the on-field success, he gets it.
He’s not going to be blindsided by things that recent coaches were – Bielema complained about assistant’s salaries while Andersen was rumored to have an issue with the academic standards – but Chryst knows how this works.
All of this – combined with the strong team returning – means one thing for Chryst and the Badgers. There’s no reason not to win right away.