The 2014-2015 Big Ten football season unofficially kicked off Monday in Chicago with coaches and star players representing all 14-conference teams in attendance.
With the lobby decked out in Big Ten football pennants and the elevator doors painted with school logos, the Hilton Chicago and the Big Ten were ready for the country’s eyes to peer upon them.
The day started out with a video of past and present Big Ten athletes welcoming the conference’s two new teams: Rutgers University and The University of Maryland. Afterwards, each of the team’s coaches came up for a 15-minute question and answer session with the media in attendance and the Big Ten Championship trophy gleaming on a table next to them.
Unlike the more famous Super Bowl media day, this day it was all business for media members and the coaches; no weird or humorous questions were posed save for the one question about Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini’s cat.
And while it was an event focused on the current coaches and players, there were some former stars in attendance that took up some of the spotlight. People like Dave Wannstedt and Barry Alvarez gave their inputs on the upcoming season to any reporters willing to ask.
For Indiana’s coach Kevin Wilson and his players, media day was an exciting experience and a chance for them to show off their talent and confidence to the country.
“We’re very excited to be part of the Big Ten East,” Wilson said. “Being in the Eastern Time zone with our recruiting region and whatnot.”
With the Big Ten Eastern division expected to be the better of the two divisions in the conference, Indiana’s got a hard road ahead of them to get to the top. Nonetheless, Wilson explained that he’s happy about the way the summer’s going, especially with the freshman.
“(I’m) very, very pleased now having had those guys in the summer,” Wilson said. “I think even with so many returning players, we have a number of freshman that I would anticipate to being in the mix to compete and play this year.”
Citing a good health record this summer and being “off the charts” academically, Wilson expressed satisfaction with the direction his team is headed going into the season. Specifically, he talked about his offensive line and the fact that they’re going to be getting Peyton Eckert and David Kaminski back after they both missed last year with injuries.
“We’ve got an outstanding offensive line,” Wilson said. “I think it’s one of the better offensive lines in the league. And what I like about our offensive line is that our starting right guard and starting right tackle…missed all 12 games. So we were able to accomplish decent offensive numbers with basically half the line out.”
As for one of the star players from last year’s squad, Wilson was hesitant to place him as the number one featured player this year. Rushing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns, running back Tevin Coleman was the breakout freshman of the team last year. However Wilson spoke cautiously of crowning Coleman as the center of the offense.
“Will Tevin be the featured guy? He kind of was last year, but I do think we’re going to have to play with more than one back…I mean, we’re going to have to compliment Tevin,” Wilson said.
Throughout the day, Wilson expressed trust in his new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr and how good his defense could be now that it has switched to a 3-4 formation.
As an early sign that Knorr’s defense can be a difficult one, the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld talked about his difficulty playing against the 3-4 defense in practice.
“The 3-4 is a lot harder, I think for me, than the 4-3 because there’s a lot more guys that can drop into coverage and a lot more looks you can do,” Sudfeld said.
A big concern for the defense last year had a lot to do with the offense. Critics expressed their concern that Wilson’s no-huddle offense was scoring too quickly and not giving the defense enough time to rest, which subsequently would allow teams to score easily late in games. Wilson shot this idea down, telling media members he didn’t believe that his offense did or will hurt the defense.
The other big storyline surrounding the Hoosiers this season is the loss of quarterback Tre Roberson. The other half of the two-man quarterback combination last season decided to transfer to Illinois State at the end of the year. As a result, Sudfeld became QB1 this year and the backup position is wide open for the taking, according to Wilson.
“It’s going to be a three-man battle between a more veteran guy with Nate Boudreau, and then we’ll see where Zander Diamont with his talent is, a young athletic guy, I think Danny Cameron is a coach’s kid, kind of gym rat, we’ll have a second,” Wilson said.
For now, Nate Sudfeld remains the field general for Wilson. As the only quarterback expected to get a majority of the playing time, Sudfeld has had to take on the role of being a more vocal leader, a position he hasn’t truly embraced yet, but expects to fulfill successfully.
I’ve never been a ‘ra-ra’ type of guy, so it’s definitely a little out of my comfort zone,” Sudfeld said. “But I’ve been getting more comfortable with it and leading when it’s necessary.”
With each day leading up to kickoff, this Hoosier team seems to be getting more confident. With a new defensive coordinator bringing a new-look defense and the burden of managing two quarterbacks being lifted from Kevin Wilson’s shoulders, this upcoming season has a lot of reasons for IU fans and players to not only be confident, but excited as well.
Story and Photos by: Ben Wittenstein