CHICAGO This past weekend, the Big Ten held its annual media day at the Sheraton Inn in Chicago. The conference”s 11 head coaches answered many questions relating to the upcoming Big Ten season.
Among the topics of discussion was Northwestern”s meteoric from being projected last in the Big Ten to earning a share of the conference title last year and being picked to win the title again this year by the media.
“I am very optimistic,” Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. “We have a lot of work to do to become a great team.”
Walker also warned fans to be weary of projections by the media and preseason magazines.
“I just remind the guys that the same experts that picked us last are the same experts that are picking us first,” Walker said.
Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr noted that the success of teams like Northwestern and Purdue has added a new element to the Big Ten, which is traditionally a conference that relies on strong defenses and running games.
“There is an old saying that says, “Offense wins games, defense wins championships,” and certainly that went out the window last fall,” Carr said.
Much of Northwestern”s success has been attributed to its spread offense, which opens up the field by using just one running back and runs most sets out of the shotgun. Walker does not necessarily agree with this assessment.
“I think we were a better team (last year), not because of the spread, but because we executed better we played the game better,” Walker said.
Another topic on everyone”s mind was the status of Indiana”s Antwaan Randle El, who has played his first three years of his college career at quarterback, before making the switch to wide receiver this year.
“(Randle El) is a quarterback/wide receiver/punt returner in that order,”
Indiana head coach Cam Cameron said: “We are not as deep at receiver as we were last year so we will also need his help in that area.”
The versatile Randle El is being touted as a frontrunner for the Heisman trophy by the Indiana Athletic department and with good reason. Randle El has amassed 8,736 yards of total offense thus far in his college career, averaging 1,935 yards passing and 977 yards rushing per season.
While Randle El anticipates taking many snaps at both wide receiver and quarterback, some Big Ten coaches are less than thrilled at the prospect of preparing a defense not knowing where Randle El will line up.
“I”ve been around a lot of great players and I don”t know if there”s any of them that can do the things that he can do with the ball,” Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said.
“Wherever he is playing, whether at quarterback, wide receiver, tailback or wherever he is, you better know where he is and you better give him extra attention.”
Above all, perhaps nothing was on coaches” minds more that the death of former Ohio State standout and Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer. Stringer died Thursday of heat exhaustion.
“Those of us who have been in coaching for many years have watched the evolution of dealing with the heat,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. “Our hearts go out to Korey”s family. It”s a tough reminder of the real world.”
Stringer”s death, as well as the deaths of Florida”s Eraste Austin and Northwestern”s Rashidi Wheeler have caused many football programs to rethink the way they are training in the offseason.
“We put a lot of emphasis on working hard, but we need to work on educating athletes on the dangers of overtraining,” Illinois coach Ron Turner said.