A look inside Big Ten Media Day

924205.png

A look inside Big Ten Media Day

ROSEMONT Conference depth was the hot topic at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at the Hyatt Regency OHare. Some coaches marveled at the strength of the league, which has three teams in the top five of the USA Today coaches poll. Others spoke, jokingly, as if it were a subject of pain.

I knew somebody would ask that. Why ruin a good day? Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during his press conference.

And his team is one of them. In the preseason poll, Indiana is No. 1, followed by No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan, No. 14 Michigan State and No. 21 Wisconsin.

I dont start thinking about the Big Ten really until late December, trying to keep my sanity, knowing how good this league is going to be this year, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

Even beyond those five ranked teams, there are no slouches in the Big Ten, several coaches insisted. Last season, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all shared the Big Ten title, and six teams went to the NCAA tournament. Three others went to the NIT.

Time will tell, but the bottom half of our league is so good, Purdue coach Matt Painter said. However you want to categorize that, I dont know what teams you want to put there, but that makes our league pretty special. There are no easy outs throughout the season.

Indiana tops the USA Today coaches, Sporting News, Blue Ribbon Yearbook and Athlon Sports preseason polls after going 27-9 and falling to eventual champion Kentucky in the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers are enjoying the attention after enduring three consecutive losing seasons.

I know it feels good for us to be back in that conversation, to be back and mentioned in the same breath of other great teams, Indiana coach Tom Crean said, who mentioned the strength of college basketball in the overall Midwest. Not only having a great program, which Indiana has been for decades, but back to having a chance to be successful.

Picks to click

Conference media tabbed Indiana as the favorite to win the Big Ten, followed by Michigan and Ohio State. Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller was selected as the preseason player of the year. He joins Michigans Trey Burke, Ohio States Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas and Penn States Tim Frazier on the preseason all-Big Ten team.

Painter said he considers Zeller the best player in college basketball. The 7-foot sophomore from Washington, Ind., combines confidence and a desire to improve with a humble spirit, Crean said. I dont think Cody is somebody who has responded to pressure. I think thats what makes him as mentally tough as he is at his age, Crean said.

A funny moment

Before he left the podium following his press conference, first-year Nebraska coach Tim Miles snapped a panoramic photo of the crowd of reporters for his Twitter account. Hes a frequent tweeter.

Miles also joked about the strength of the league, saying Technically, I havent had my brains beat in yet. He also thanked the Big Ten for scheduling Nebraskas conference opener as a road game at Ohio State.

Miles recalled watching Big Ten basketball when he was a child growing up in South Dakota.

Its a league that you have Hall of Fame coaches, he said. You have unbelievable teams with traditions and were trying to put our mark up there with them.

Cutting to the chase

A child sex abuse scandal has rocked Penn State, as former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing boys during 15 years. The incident has affected the entire university, and Nittany Lions basketball coach Patrick Chambers said he addresses the controversy head on during his recruiting.

Its there, and there is no denying it, and I try to stay out in front of it, especially when it comes to recruiting, Chambers said. I talk to the parents about it and the kids, and I dont want it to be the elephant in the room. I would rather get it out in front of us, and lets discuss it and if there are issues, (this) might not be the right place for you. Then you are going to get amazing kids that are serious about getting degrees, that are winners and that want to help build this program.

Start spreadin' the news: Northwestern to face Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium

pat-fitzgerald-1204.jpg
USA TODAY

Start spreadin' the news: Northwestern to face Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium

Start spreadin' the news.

Northwestern is heading to New York for its bowl game this season, specifically the Bronx, where it will battle Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Though it isn't your typically warm bowl destination, the baseball-stadium setting should be pretty fantastic. The game will be played at 1 p.m. on Dec. 28.

The Wildcats reached bowl eligibility with their sixth win in the regular-season finale against Illinois. Northwestern is heading to back-to-back bowl games after missing out on the postseason in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014.

This is just the 13th-ever bowl trip for the Cats, though it's their seventh in 11 seasons under Pat Fitzgerald. Northwestern has a 1-5 record under Fitzgerald in the previous six bowl games, though that win is one of just two all-time bowl victories by the program.

This season started slowly for the Cats, who lost upsetting home games to Illinois State and Western Michigan and started 1-3. But Northwestern turned things around with back-to-back road wins over Iowa and Michigan State and finished 6-6. The Cats' offense has been particularly effective this season compared to seasons past. Wide receiver Austin Carr took home Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors and is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award after leading the conference in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Running back Justin Jackson was the league's leading rusher until getting surpassed by just a couple yards by both Wisconsin's Corey Clement and Penn State's Saquon Barkley, who both competed in Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game, adding to their respective rushing totals.

Pitt has had a pretty noteworthy season. Despite having four losses, it beat two teams that finished ranked in the top five of the College Football Playoff rankings: No. 2 Clemson and No. 5 Penn State. The Panthers are coached by former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

howard.jpg
USA Today

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

For nearly 30 minutes, the Bears offense was stuck in a snow globe.

Once Matt Barkley and the Bears (3-9) found their way out, the lowly San Francisco 49ers (1-11) had no answer as the Bears cruised to a 26-6 victory in blizzard conditions Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

It was a lackluster start for both offenses, who traded punts on four straight possessions to start the contest, and neither side completed a pass until 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick found tight end Vance McDonald nearly midway through the second quarter.

After back-to-back field goals by 49ers kicker Phil Dawson, the Bears offense finally found its footing.

Getting his second-career NFL start, Barkley (11-of-18, 192 yards, 97.5 QB rating) completed the Bears' first pass of the game with 1:38 remaining in the first half when he connected with wide receiver Deonte Thompson. After rattling off four completions, Barkley's pass to tight end Daniel Brown sailed through the back of the end zone, but the 49ers were called for pass interference. On the next play, Bears running back Jordan Howard (31 carries, 116 yards, 3 TDs) plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard score to give Chicago a 7-6 lead over San Francisco going into the half.

The Bears rode that momentum coming out of the locker room as Barkley engineered a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive which was capped off by Howard's 2-yard rushing touchdown.

Following a three-and-out by the San Francisco offense, Barkley quickly marched the Bears down the field with consecutive throws to Josh Bellamy (4 receptions, 93 yards), and Howard finished the drive off by bulldozing his way through 49ers defenders for his third touchdown of the game.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Decimated by injuries, the Bears defense played an inspired effort against the 49ers, limiting them to just 147 total yards. The Bears defense held Kaepernick to just 1-of-5 passing for 4 yards and sacked the 49ers quarterback five times before he was benched for Week 1 starter Blaine Gabbert. Akiem Hicks (2), Leonard Floyd (2), Eddie Goldman and Willie Young all had sacks for the Bears. Floyd added a safety of Gabbert late in fourth quarter.

The Bears set a 2016 season-high for points scored with 26 in Sunday's game.