CHICAGO — As far as the Big Ten divisions are concerned, the accepted notion is that the East is best and the West is least.
Urban Meyer, coach of defending Big Ten champion Ohio State, even reiterated Tuesday what he has thought for a while about the East: "most competitive division I've ever been involved in." And in the mid-2000s he won two national championships while coach of Florida in the Southeastern Conference East Division.
The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game last year, and both are favored by various polls to meet again for the title in December. So Badgers coach Paul Chryst was asked about the premise that the power in the league resides in the East.
“My view is that I think there are some really good teams in the Big Ten, and they're in the East or in the West, and so I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out narratives,” Chryst said. “I know who we play this year. And you respect every opponent. And you know that you've got to play well to give yourself a chance.
“I feel like ever since I've been part of the Big Ten, you know each week is going to be a heck of a competition and a heck of a battle.”
Maryland a sleeper?
Maryland won in an upset at Texas in the season opener in 2017 but also lost its starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome to a knee injury and its talented backup Kasim Hill shortly after to a similar ACL tear.
So it was a shadow of that original team that lost 62-14 to Ohio State in October.
But both QBs are healthy now, and senior left tackle Derwin Gray, who opted to return for his final season rather than jump to the NFL, indicated Tuesday that the Terps have embraced the idea of being a dark-horse contender in the East.
“I feel like we have a chip on our shoulder, we’re excited to be in our position where a lot of people are not giving us any chance, and that’s the best position to be in,” Gray said. “Because when you shock a lot of people, it’s a shocker to y’all, but for us it’s like we knew it.
“So we know what we’re doing in-house. We know how hard we’re working. So we’re just going to continue to trust in our plan and go out and have a great season.”
After a dismal 3-9 season in 2016, Michigan State bounced back last year. The Spartans went 10-3, including a Holiday Bowl victory. With almost everybody returning, expectations are high this year.
“I feel a great sense of leadership, chemistry and focus from our football team,” coach Mark Dantonio said.
That was in question a year ago. The Spartans dismissed three players after they were the subject of sexual-abuse allegations amidst the Larry Nassar scandal that engulfed the school.
“We were able to get up off the mat,” Dantonio said. “That's what I was most proud of — that we were able to deal with the problems that were at hand, all the different situations that we had to experience after last season coming off a tough season.
“And yet we were able to refocus ourselves. Winning is just a product of what you do and how you do it. Winning doesn't just happen. It involves so much more than just catching a pass.”
Indiana seeks to finish
Long a Big Ten doormat, Indiana has gained respect for pushing teams to the brink, including Ohio State.
But finishing those upsets has proven difficult. The Hoosiers are sick of so-called moral victories. This offseason, coach Tom Allen spent lots of time dissecting what has gone wrong late in those games.
“To me, it came down to depth as the thing that kept surfacing as we were evaluating,” he said. “Fatigue would set in late in the games. Players were playing too many snaps, I believe.”
Depth at a program like Indiana’s is often an issue, which Allen said he is working to improve. But there are other ways to get over the hump. Allen has overhauled the strength and conditioning staff and believes a new nutrition center where players will eat all their meals will help.
Allen said the Hoosiers need to be able to run effectively late in games.
“We have to change the way we play,” Allen said. “It's pretty simple. We play with unbelievable toughness. We've competed for 60 minutes. Now it's time to finish.”