Big Ten Football

The Big Ten logo is seen on the field before an NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

STATE COLLEGE – Football media days for the Big Ten resumes on Thursday when the annual event rolls through Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The preseason kickoff event concludes on Friday.

The conference canceled Big Ten Football Media Days last year because of concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic. 

Each of the Big Ten’s 14 head coaches, along with selected student-athletes, will take center stage this week. Here are five topics to keep an eye out for during 2021 Big Ten Football Media Days.

1) Passing the torch in Columbus

Justin Fields’ departure to the NFL means Ohio State will debut a new quarterback for the first time in two seasons. Fields leaves large shoes to fill, as he guided the Buckeyes to two College Football Playoff semifinals and an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship.

While either Kyle McCord, C.J. Stroud or Jack Miller will emerge as Fields’ successor, Stroud is the presumed favorite to win the position battle. Stroud is a former five-star prospect from California who enrolled at Ohio State in early 2020.

2) Name, image and likeness

NIL has been a literal game-changer. For the first time in the history of the NCAA, its student-athletes can profit from their name, image and likeness. On Tuesday, Chris Hummer of 247Sports shared that Nick Saban while speaking at an event in Texas, said, “Our QB has already approached ungodly numbers, and he hasn’t even played yet. If I told you what it is … it’s almost 7-figures."

Thursday will present the first opportunity for the Big Ten’s collective contingent of media members to ask conference players and coaches about the NIL, its implementation and just how much money has been offered to players.

3) Will anyone other than Ohio State stand up?

Only two Big Ten teams have appeared in the College Football Playoffs since its inception in 2014 – Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes have played in three postseasons, while the Spartans have one appearance to their name. Ohio State won the national championship in 2014.

For a 14-team league, the Big Ten has been noticeably absent from the postseason. The postseason is expected to expand to include 12 teams soon, but an appearance this season from a team other than Ohio State would further legitimize the nation’s oldest conference and boost its national profile.

4) All eyes on Indiana

After the impressive season Indiana produced last year, it’s only fitting preseason festivities this year open in the Hoosier State. Indiana went 6-2 and ended the season ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Indiana peaked at No. 7 in the AP Poll and finished the season No. 2 in the Big Ten East.

The Hoosiers’ rebuild under four-year coach Tom Allen has included back-to-back bowl games. Indiana brass extended Allen’s contract through the 2027 season and included a nice pay increase. The Hoosiers, which are 14-7 over the past two seasons, are expected to again contend in the Big Ten East. 

5) COVID protocols

Big Ten teams last year played a shortened nine-game, conference-only schedule in an attempt to field a season. Maryland played just five games in 2020. Penn State and Rutgers were the only two programs in the 14-team conference to complete all nine contests.

The 2021 season should be a bit easier to navigate as COVID-19 vaccines have been readily available to the public, but it seems highly unlikely that teams this fall will make it through the season unscathed. The Big Ten this week should share its 2021 COVID protocols and an understanding of how it plans to deal with scheduling around potential cancellations, etc.  

Elton Hayes is a veteran sports writer who covers Penn State for CNHI LLC publications. Contact him at ehayes@cnhi.com or follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

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