Traditionally, every coach in the Big Ten is full of optimism and talks about how he’s looking forward to a great season when he strides to the podium to discuss his team at the Big Ten’s Football Media Days in late July.
This year when those coaches talk about the 2021 season at media days on Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis they’ll still be hoping for a great season. But most of them will probably add another wish. They’ll be hoping they can just have a normal or close to normal season.
Last year the Big Ten canceled its football season in August because of the COVID-19 pandemic before reversing that decision and beginning to play in late October.
All of the Big Ten’s non-conference games were canceled and after the return to the playing field there were 12 conference games that never happened because of too many positive tests for COVID-19 among players on one or both of the teams involved.
Ohio State had games against Maryland, Illinois and Michigan canceled and needed a rule change to get into the Big Ten championship game. The only spectators at Buckeyes games were family and friends of the players and coaches.
This year full schedules and full stadiums will be back. And, like every year but maybe more so this year, there are questions.
Here are some of the questions for Ohio State and the Big Ten going into media days:
Question: Who will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback. It’s the biggest question OSU has. Will it be one of the redshirt freshmen, C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller? Or maybe incoming freshman Kyle McCord?
Answer: Don’t expect an answer to that question anytime soon. Check back the week of the opener at Minnesota. Or maybe a day before the game. Or maybe the day of the game. It wouldn’t be totally surprising if Ohio State uses two quarterbacks in some games this season if no one separates himself from the pack.
A quick answer from Ryan Day is probably the last thing anyone should expect. He doesn’t need any rapid transfers creating a lack of quarterback depth like OSU had in Justin Fields’ first season in 2019. Stroud might be the front runner.
Question: Is there a Big Ten coach who is on the hot seat this fall?
Answer: Nebraska’s Scott Frost has had losing records in each of his three seasons at his alma mater, which is not what Cornhuskers fans had in mind when he arrived after turning around Central Florida in three years.
The athletic director who hired him recently left Nebraska. But Frost has a contract that runs through 2026 so he’s probably not going anywhere soon.
Things might get a little uncomfortable for Jim Harbaugh if Michigan goes 7-5 or worse. But if he leaves after this season it would probably be his decision, not the school’s.
Question: Can Ohio State’s array of 5-star and 4-star receivers live up to the big expectations placed on them?
Answer: Ohio State could have the best receivers group in the country. It could still have the best receivers group in the country even if not all of them live up to those lofty expectations.
Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka were all 5-star recruits. Marvin Harrison Jr. is a 4-star. Chris Olave might be the best of the bunch even though he was only a 3-star recruit. And tight end Jeremy Ruckert and tight end in training Gee Scott Jr. were 4-stars who can catch the ball.
All they need is someone to consistently deliver the ball to them. They’ll do the rest.
Question: What is the most dangerous game on Ohio State’s schedule?
Answer: Pick one from these four: At Indiana, at Michigan, at home against Oregon and at home against Penn State.
Question: When is the last time before this year Indiana was as excited about football season as it was about basketball season?
Answer: Maybe during the Truman administration. Maybe in 1967, the only year the Hoosiers played their way into the Rose Bowl. Football will probably never be as popular as basketball in Indiana. But the Hoosiers’ football season ticket sales this year are running 10 percent above projections by IU’s athletic department.
Question: Can Ohio State and all the other Big Ten football teams make it through the season without COVID-19 canceling a game or limiting crowd size?
Answer: Hopefully, they can. But no one can guarantee that. Especially with a significant number of people refusing to be vaccinated.
Question: Is this the year Jim Harbaugh does what Michigan expected him to do when it hired him?
Answer: Probably not. But don’t write the Wolverines off too soon. They’re just unpredictable enough to lose to a team like Maryland or Michigan State but knock out a team like Penn State or Ohio State with a lucky punch.
Question: Other than quarterback, what position is the biggest question mark for Ohio State?
Answer: That’s a tough call between two position groups on defense. All three of last year’s starting linebackers are gone and last year’s defensive backfield didn’t live up to the high standards of recent OSU pass defenders. Another potential problem area that has been mostly overlooked is that the kicker and the punter will both be first-year starters.
Can Ryan Day strike gold in the transfer portal again?
Answer: In 2019, Day added quarterback Justin Fields and Jonah Jackson, who became a first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman. In 2020, Trey Sermon transferred to OSU from Oklahoma and broke Eddie George’s Ohio State single-game rushing record. This year, OSU added linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, a former 5-star recruit from USC who started 14 games for the Trojans in his career.
Question: Which Big Ten player will finish highest in the voting for the Heisman Trophy?
Answer: Maybe Indiana quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., if he stays healthy and the Hoosiers are ranked in the Top 10. He’s electric when he plays but has been able to start only 12 games in his three seasons at IU.
Question: Who has the toughest schedule in the Big Ten?
Answer: Nebraska is the early leader in this category. The Cornhuskers play a non-league game against Oklahoma, its big rival when both were in the Big Eight. They play Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota in West Division games, and have crossover games against Ohio State and Michigan.
Question: Assuming Ohio State returns to the Big Ten championship game, who will the Buckeyes play in that game?
Answer: You can’t go wrong picking Wisconsin. The Badgers have played in six of the 10 Big Ten championship games. And they appear to have the best talent in the Big Ten West Division again this year. If Wisconsin doesn’t win the West, it probably would be Iowa.
Question: What’s a good guess for Ohio State’s regular-season record this season?
Answer: 12-0. But as always it comes with a warning label that it’s just a guess.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau