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Big Ten Football: Three Story Lines To Watch in 2017

Aside from rooting for my team, these are three story lines I will be watching

Western Michigan v Northwestern Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

College basketball is over, so naturally my mind started drifting toward college football. The Ohio State story lines for the upcoming season were already being talked about immediately after the playoff loss. I wont bore you with the details, as they are pretty much the same every year. How is x recruit going to handle the job left by y NFL draft prospect. Half of the fan base claims the starting QB is good enough, while the other half wants to start the new guy.

As exciting as all that is for me, a Buckeye fan, I completely understand why a non fan would be less than interested. Lucky for these people, I am a fan of all sports, all the time. There are quite a few story lines outside of Ohio State that I will be watching as the season unfolds, and I picked three that interest me the most.

Da Bears Are A Hot Mess

I fully understand that the Chicago Bears, while in Big Ten territory, are not, in fact, in the Big Ten. However, a certain ex-quarterback by the name of Jimmy Harbaugh is coaching a Big Ten team. This is going to sound sacrilegious coming from a Buckeye fan, but I actually enjoy Harbaugh in the Big Ten. I think he is great for the conference, and great for The Rivalry. So his staying in the Big Ten matters to me.

By all appearances, he is having a blast coaching his Alma Mater. The Michigan Wolverines had an excellent season last year, though it was met with a disappointing finish.

After taking a team to the Super Bowl, and having to leave because of dubious management, it’s quite perfectly acceptable to assume that there is a burning desire in Harbaugh to return to the NFL. There is no doubt in my mind, in fact. The question is does his love of the Maize and Blue and the fun he is having coaching the college game override that?

Only he can answer that, and it’s quite possible that even he can’t answer that question truthfully right now. A personal plea from the family that gave him his first NFL start would certainly trigger an emotional response. So along with watching how the Bears are faring under coach John Fox, in his third season, I’ll be watching Harbaugh and the Wolverines and looking for clues. Does he seem less interested after an early loss? Are there credible rumors? Does Fox turn it around and make it all moot? It could make for some interesting reading in the coming football season.

Is Northwestern a Sports School?

As everyone knows, Northwestern made a bit of a run in the NCAA basketball tournament. What is being overlooked a bit by the national media is that the Northwestern Wildcats football team has been doing fantastic under Pat Fitzgerald.

At least fantastic by Northwestern standards. They have had winning seasons for 3 out of the last 5, and won 2 bowl games. That’s 2 more than in previous 54 years. They also finished in the top 25 twice, something they have only done a handful of times since the end of the last world war. Included in the barrage of virtually unprecedented success are a pair of 10 win seasons. The only other one in program history happened in 1903.

If they happen to have another good season this year, the national media will likely take notice. Anything that helps the prestige of a member team also helps the entire conference.

They have a similarly regarded Duke team, Nevada, and Bowling Green in their non conference schedule. All three winnable games, and sadly, all three games they are capable of losing. If they can win two out of the three, and finish around .500 in Big Ten play, they’ll get another bowl game, and another possible chance to finish the season ranked.

The Tornado That Is P.J. Fleck

Most of you probably didn’t know who Fleck was until later in the season last year, and probably didn’t really care until the mighty Western Michigan Broncos battled the Wisconsin Badgers in the Cotton Bowl.

As I was covering MAC football for Hustle Belt, I was all too familiar with his persona. And what a persona it is. Some of you might feel like he is trying too hard because the national media is paying attention, and eventually he will calm down. Don’t hold your breath.

As a matter of fact, I expect him to ratchet it up as we get closer to the season. The guy is constant energy and emotion, that he then uses to try and motivate his players. It works. There is a reason so many recruits and players followed him to Minnesota, and it has less to do with playing in the Big Ten than playing for the man.

If you follow Big Ten football, which you likely do if you are reading this, then I can almost guarantee you will have an opinion of P.J. Fleck by the end of the season, good or bad.

The story that is most telling of his personality came in a regular season ending game against the Toledo Rockets. If the Broncos win, they are in the MAC championship, and with a win there, would likely be in the Cotton Bowl. In MAC land, that’s the equivalent of winning a national title. As the teams are changing sides of the field after the end of the quarter, he full on sprinted to the other side, racing the best player on the field, Corey Davis. I have never seen anything like it in 30 years of watching college football.

While he turned my stomach at first, I have grown to be a P.J. Fleck fan. The best way I can describe him to those that don’t know his personality, he is like an extremely stimulated version of Lou Holtz. Some will say that’s a good thing. Some will hate it. Me, I like passion. And bat crap nuts. He is both. I will be watching to see how the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the fighting Flecks fair this season.