All 14 Big Ten coaches, three players from each Big Ten school and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren will all meet with the media over the next two days as the conference holds its preseason media days – for the first time in two years after last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic – at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Hundreds of questions, some of which will surely be more serious than others, will be asked by reporters who cover Big Ten teams and from all over the nation on Thursday and Friday. As a reporter for Eleven Warriors, most of my questions will be related to Ohio State, even when talking with coaches and players from other Big Ten schools.
That said, there are some general themes of questioning that will likely dominate the conversation over the next two days. From both an Ohio State perspective and a conference-wide perspective, we take a look at six big questions going into Big Ten Media Days and what we could learn about each of them by the end of the week.
What will we learn about Ohio State’s personnel?
Don’t hold your breath expecting Ryan Day to name a starting quarterback this week; that’s not going to happen. If the spring was any indication, Day will evade questions about the quarterback depth chart like Ted Ginn Jr. used to elude defenders; he’ll try to avoid giving any indication about how C.J. Stroud, Kyle McCord and Jack Miller compare to one another, at least until they’ve had a chance to compete with each other in preseason camp.
Day probably isn’t going to make any declarations this week about what the depth chart will look like at any position. He could drop some hints, though, about which players did what they needed to do this spring and in summer workouts to earn more playing time.
This week will also be the first time Ryan Day speaks publicly about J.T. Tuimoloau, and he’ll surely also be asked about the still-unconfirmed addition of Palaie Gaoteote. We could also learn how the other midyear enrollees have done in their first weeks on campus, whether any players have changed positions since spring (looking at you, Steele Chambers), whether Day anticipates any further additions to the Buckeyes’ 2021 roster and which teammates have impressed Thayer Munford, Zach Harrison and Jeremy Ruckert, the three Ohio State players participating in media days.
How have Ohio State’s new leaders stepped up this offseason?
By selecting them to appear in the spotlight of Big Ten Media Days, Ohio State has sent a message about how valuable it expects Harrison, Munford and Ruckert to be this season. As the Buckeyes move forward without all seven of their captains from last season, the three players making the trip to Indianapolis should all be among Ohio State’s top leaders in 2021.
Munford and Ruckert already talked this spring about why they chose to stay at Ohio State for another year, and Harrison has already been talked up by Day and other Ohio State coaches for how hard he’s worked this offseason.
Big Ten Media Days, though, will be a chance to delve into specifics about what they’ve done over the course of the spring and summer to take their leadership to new levels and set an example for the rest of the Buckeyes as they work toward pursuing a fifth straight conference title. In their first in-person interview sessions in over a year, it will also be an opportunity for them to put their individual personalities on display and demonstrate why they’re players the rest of the team will gravitate around.
What do coaches and players think about NIL and playoff expansion?
A lot has changed in the college football landscape since Ohio State coaches and players last met with the media in April. Perhaps most notably, college athletes are now able to benefit from their name, image and likeness, so this will be our first opportunity to talk to the Buckeyes and other Big Ten players and coaches about what the first few weeks of NIL in college football have been like.
Another major development of the past few months has been the College Football Playoff’s move toward expanding to 12 teams later this decade. Some coaches from other conferences, like Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and North Carolina’s Mack Brown, have expressed concerns about CFP expansion; we’ll learn this week what Day and other Big Ten coaches and players think about the 12-team playoff proposal.
One other significant change on the college football front over the past three months has been the expansion of the one-time transfer exception to all sports, allowing college football players to now transfer once without sitting out a year. Day has already been on the record in support of the one-time transfer rule, but that will surely be a topic that coaches, players and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren are asked about, as well.
Does Kevin Warren have any regrets about how last year unfolded?
Speaking of Warren, Thursday will be the first time he has ever spoken at Big Ten Media Days, as Jim Delany was still commissioner the last time media days were held in 2019. Perhaps more consequentially, Thursday will mark the first time Warren has held an in-person press conference since the saga of last summer, when the Big Ten initially canceled its 2020 fall football season before ultimately starting the season in late October, weeks after the ACC, SEC and Big 12 started theirs.
Warren drew extreme scrutiny for those decisions and his communication before and after those decisions from fans, coaches, players and their parents, and for most media members – including us here at Eleven Warriors – Thursday will be the first opportunity to ask questions we’ve wanted to ask Warren for more than a year. Seemingly anticipating that questions will be plentiful, the Big Ten announced Wednesday that Warren’s press conference would start 15 minutes earlier than originally scheduled - 10:15 a.m. rather than 10:30 a.m. – which means the commissioner will field questions for 45 minutes to kick off the two-day event.
Warren would probably prefer not to spend that time talking about everything that happened last year, but he should be prepared for plenty of questions about it.
How will the Big Ten handle COVID-19 this year?
While the Big Ten is on track to play a full football season this fall, the possibility that COVID-19 could impact the season can’t be ruled out yet. As COVID-19 cases have increased over the past few weeks due to the Delta variant, the possibility of players testing positive for the virus during the season remains in play, and there will certainly be questions about how the Big Ten will handle that in 2021.
Will the Big Ten still require players to go through a seven-day acclimation period before returning to play if they test positive for COVID-19, or will they simply follow CDC guidelines like other conferences did last year? If a vaccinated player or coach tests positive for COVID-19, will they face the same return-to-play protocols as an unvaccinated player or coach? And if a team is unable to play due to a COVID-19 outbreak, will the Big Ten consider that game forfeited?
Numerous other conferences, including the SEC and MAC, have already indicated that games canceled due to COVID-19 will be forfeited and will not be rescheduled, but if we learned anything last year, it’s that we shouldn’t simply assume the Big Ten will follow the same guidelines as other conferences.
Coaches throughout the conference are also likely to be asked about how many of their players have been vaccinated, though it would come as a significant break from precedent if Day provided any specific details about the vaccination rate within the Ohio State football program.
Can anyone else in the Big Ten challenge the Buckeyes?
Conference media days are generally a time of optimism, so you should expect to hear representatives from all 14 Big Ten teams talk about how they’ve had great offseasons and how they believe their programs are headed in the right direction. Yet the question above will loom over the 13 teams that aren’t Ohio State.
Ohio State has now won four Big Ten championships in a row, and the gap between the Buckeyes and the rest of the conference appears to be as large as it’s ever been before. Everyone else in the Big Ten is playing catch-up, both on the field and on the recruiting trail, and there’s sure to be plenty of questions – especially for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines – about what they’re doing to try to close the gap between themselves and Ohio State.
Nothing that’s said over the next two days will change Ohio State’s status as the conference’s prohibitive favorite once again in 2021, but it will give us a glimpse into what others in the conference think about how dominant the Buckeyes have been and what they need to do to have a chance to change that.