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Football circus comes to town

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Big Ten media days are the first opportunity for the public to catch up with Big Ten football, and Iowa fans likely have some, if not many,questions

No Scherff, no problem?

The success of Iowa football, and any team, for that matter, will always depend largely on the effectiveness of the offensive line.

It’s especially true for the Hawkeyes this season; the team needs to replace Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal, who are now rookies in the NFL. Add to that uncertainty at quarterback, and the offensive line is under serious pressure.

Senior center Austin Blythe may face some heat about the prospect of moving on, but it remains that he and guards Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh are returning starters.

The questions will revolve around tackle, which could be filled by Ike Boettger and Boone Myers.

Anytime a team loses a player such as Scherff, the 2015 Outland Trophy Winner for best interior lineman, it’s going to create questions about replacing him. But the interior of the line looks set for now, and it turns heads toward the outside.

And yes, after years of mediocrity, Kirk Ferentz figures to get some “hot seat,” questions, such as “After four years of mediocre football in a mediocre conference with mediocre expectations for this season, will 2015 be the mediocre campaign that finally does you in?”

Will Ohio State clue us in on its plans at quarterback?

The short answer is no, probably not.

The long answer takes a hard look at college football’s most fortunate problem. Ohio State’s 2014 national-championship season, its first since 2002, went through three highly talented quarterbacks.

To sum it up, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder before the start of the season, leaving him out for the year with one more year of eligibility. J.T. Barrett set a conference record for touchdown passes in a season, only to break his ankle in the final week against Michigan. Cardale Jones stepped in and led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, followed by wins over top-ranked Alabama and Oregon en route to the national title.

Basically, there’s no shortage of talent in Columbus — a problem most teams would kill to have as their biggest question mark heading into training camp.

Miller appears content with making the switch into the backfield, although as his shoulder heals up, he will likely take limited reps at quarterback as well.

The real question is whether head coach Urban Meyer updates the media on his thoughts regarding the competition with Barrett and Jones. It’s hard to think the team would bench Jones, considering how he played in the team’s most important three games of the season, especially after watching from the sideline for most of the year (and his career).

Then again, Barrett finished fifth in Heisman voting in 2014, so it should be interesting to see what the Buckeyes have to say about the situation — and if they plan on considering using both quarterbacks to run the offense.

How will new coaches hold up?

Today and Friday mark the first Big Ten media days for new head coaches Jim Harbaugh of Michigan, Mike Riley of Nebraska, and Paul Chryst of Wisconsin. All three enter the season with high expectations.

Given the success he had at Stanford and in the NFL, not to mention the media hype that surrounds his character and dramatic departure with the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh figures to be a hot talking point regarding his plans to revive one of college football’s most sacred programs. Is first year strictly rebuilding? When can this team compete with Ohio State, as it did in the old days? How long will it take to bring the Wolverines back into college-football relevancy?

Chryst is back at Wisconsin, where he served as the offensive coordinator from 2005-11 before accepting a head coach job at Pittsburgh.

Power-running has long been the strength of Wisconsin football, and the offense never really swayed much from the one Chryst built in the two years under Gary Andersen (now at Oregon State).

But now the man the Badgers should have had after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas (Chryst had already accepted the Pitt job) is back in Madison, possibly a better fit for the job than Bielema himself.

He enters as the best coach for the best immediate situation of the three, with questions at quarterback, on defense, and most definitely that 59-0 debacle in last year’s Big Ten championship game on the minds of fans. Oh yeah, there’s also that guy Melvin Gordon, who won’t be in Badger uniform come September.

Mike Riley takes over for Bo Pelini, who compiled a lot of wins at Nebraska but was consistently thumped by the conference’s best teams. Riley faces the challenge of taking Nebraska past the likes of Wisconsin in the West Division and replacing Ameer Abdullah in the Huskers’ backfield.

Side note: Nebraska has gone 1-3 against the Badgers since joining the Big Ten; in those games, Wisconsin has outscored the Huskers, 204-102.


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