Lots of questions for Ohio State, rest of Big Ten

The three most optimistic days of the year for every college football coach are: 1. The day they’re hired, if they’re a new coach; 2. National signing day when they talk about their recruiting classes; 3. Their league’s media days.

Everyone is undefeated on media days and every coach can dream, or try to convince themselves that their team will stay that way.

Even if you’re Purdue. Even if you’re Rutgers. Well, maybe not Rutgers. But everybody else can do it.

The Big Ten’s version of media days starts Monday in Chicago. Here are a few questions and answers for Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten with the start of the season just over five weeks away:

Question: What is the most dangerous game on Ohio State’s schedule?

Answer: Some Buckeyes fans always get nervous about playing Michigan, especially when the game is in Ann Arbor. It’s tempting to possibly go with a road trip to Nebraska or Iowa.

But history says to look elsewhere.

Urban Meyer has a 61-6 record at Ohio State. Five of the six teams to beat him had 11 or more wins. The only exception was a seven-win Virginia Tech team in 2014.

So, therefore, go with the obvious choice, a very talented Penn State team on Oct. 28 in Ohio Stadium.

Question: Does the Big Ten have a Heisman Trophy candidate?

Answer: If things fall right, like their teams being in the Top Ten, it could have three. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions’ quarterback Trace McSorley and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett all could be considered.

Question: Which is a bigger concern for Ohio State – restoring the deep pass to its offense or replacing three first-round NFL draft choices in its defensive backfield?

Answer: Last year’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach no longer work for Ohio State. Last year’s defensive backs coach got a promotion. That might be a pretty good indicator of what needs to improve in a hurry.

Question: Why are some Ohio State fans so down on J.T. Barrett?

Answer: That’s just fans being fans. The Big Ten coaches voted him first-team All-Big Ten over every other quarterback in the league last year. That’s a pretty solid endorsement.

Barrett was at his best when Tom Herman was Ohio State’s offensive coordinator in 2014. Hiring Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator could be the best thing to happen to Barrett since Herman left.

Question: Who is the hardest working man in the Big Ten?

Answer: No disrespect to all the hours anyone else spent sweating in the weight room or on the practice field, but it might be Northwestern’s Justin Jackson.

The senior running back, who has rushed for 1,187 yards, 1,418 yards and 1,524 yards his first three seasons, has 855 carries in his career. If he stays healthy he will become only the fifth Big Ten player to carry the ball more than 1,000 times.

In comparison, Ezekiel Elliott carried 592 times in college, Eddie George rushed the ball 683 times and Archie Griffin had 924 carries.

Question: In a recent poll of 38 sports media people who cover Big Ten football, 29 of them picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten championship. Is that a good thing?

Answer: Yes and no. Being good is always better than not being good. But this group, me included, has done this for seven years and is 0 for 6 at correctly predicting the Big Ten champion so far.

Question: Darron Lee and Malik Hooker went from relative unknowns to showing first-round NFL draft choice type talent in one year. Jerome Baker did it last season. Is there someone on Ohio State’s roster ready to do the same thing this year?

Answer: The Buckeyes hope so. It might be linebacker Dante Booker. Remember, Ohio State’s coaches would have started Booker ahead of Baker until his season-ending injury opened the door for Baker.

Question: Michigan State has fallen. Can it get back up?

Answer: Sparty tumbled to 3-9 last season after winning 36 games over the previous three seasons. And the program got some nasty headlines for bad off-the-field behavior.

The question is which was the aberration for MSU? Was it the crash last year or the high flying years that came before it?

Question: Speaking of maintaining momentum, can Michigan win 10 or more games for a third year in a row with Jim Harbaugh as coach despite heavy losses to graduation and the NFL?

Answer: Michigan lost 11 NFL draft picks and 10 starters on defense. It also lost its top two receivers, its tight end and three offensive linemen.

Harbaugh might need everything he can get his hands on, including any blessing he got from the Pope when he took the Wolverines to Rome, to get 10 wins out of such an inexperienced team. But don’t count him out yet.

Question: Is new Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck the real deal or is he just a mighty wind, a mile-a-minute talker, a carnival barker and all those things critics call him?

Answer: He took Western Michigan from 1-11 in his first season as a head coach anywhere in 2013 to playing Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl last season. Jim Tressel hired him as a graduate assistant in 2006 and Greg Schiano hired him twice. So there must be some substance there.

Fleck also walked into a good situation at Minnesota. The Gophers were 9-4 last season and have won eight or more games three of the last four seasons.

Question: Is there a sleeper team in the Big Ten who could surprise people the way Penn State did last year?

Answer: Nebraska could be somewhat of a surprise. But no overlooked team is going to win a Big Ten championship like Penn State did last year.

Northwestern, coming off a 7-6 season, could be a challenger in the West Division and possibly get to the championship game. Or it could be out of contention after it plays its first two Big Ten games against Wisconsin and Penn State.

But the safe bet is that either Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin or Michigan is going to win the Big Ten.

Question: What’s a good guess for Ohio State’s regular-season record:

Answer: It’s just a guess, but 11-1. A lot of things can happen on the way to 12-0.

Penn State is really good. The Michigan game is in Ann Arbor this year. Iowa could pull a November surprise when OSU goes to Kinnick Stadium. Someone could exploit the inexperience of the defensive backfield. The kicker and punter are both question marks at this point.

Question: Will that 31-0 loss to Clemson last year in a playoff semifinal hurt Ohio State’s chances of getting into the College Football Playoff this year?

Answer: If OSU is 13-0 or 12-1 on selection day after winning the Big Ten championship game, it will be in the playoff. If it’s a close call, last year could hurt a little.


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