Welcome to what counts around here (and this is my column) as the official start of football season: The first day of Big Ten football media days.
The Bengals formally start the season tomorrow with a media luncheon (more on them later), and we’ve got our series of the best high school football players from many area schools going strong.
Later this week, I’m heading to Canton to check out MAC football media days (What a difference a year makes for Miami, eh?) and hopefully see the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well, so there’s no turning back now.
Let’s start with the proceedings in Chicago.
The Big Ten was overrated the last years, and it probably will be again this year.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun watching it all play out, though!
Besides, being overrated is an essential part of college football, where the rankings mean everything until the last game (now two) of the year then we crown a champion based on who survived.
Writers’ best guesses at the quality of teams are how Penn State and Boise State got to be where they are. It’s why Nebraska is still where it is.
And of course being overrated is a way of life for Michigan football.
What about Ohio’s Big Ten team?
In all seriousness, defining just how good the Buckeyes were last year (or in 2015, but I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here) is actually kinda tough (but that’s generally a key aspect of figuring out how good they will be this year).
There were a lot of new faces who have already moved on, so getting a feel for them was challenging.
I really do think it was a team that at the end of the day was worse than the sum of its parts, as evidenced by the near-death experiences at Wisconsin and Michigan State, three quarters of struggles against Michigan and of course the absolute drubbing they received from Clemson.
Ohio State also had no business losing that game at Penn State, though at the same time the Nittany Lions deserved the win because they made the plays to flip the outcome at the end.
Every season’s failings are often blamed on the coaching…. well, in this case the shoe fits.
But that’s where the good news begins for 2017. I see Kevin Wilson as exactly what Ohio State needed to fix its offensive woes.
The former Miami University head coach was actually onto the spread football craze before his new boss, Urban Meyer. He has experience coaching super-talented college offenses but spent the last six years at Indiana having to build around what talent was available — and he did a fantastic job for the most part, at least on offense.
I believe that experience should be very valuable to him, but most importantly, Wilson appears to be a guy who can tell Meyer to leave him alone when the head coach tries to meddle with what he is doing. From what I’ve gathered about Tom Herman’s time in Columbus, that was the most important factor to his success at the end of year three (following about 2.5 years of fans calling for his head).
This year the balance of power figures to sit squarely in the South and East as the ACC’s ascent is complete with another team winning a national championship and the SEC looks like it could actually field some competent offenses this fall.
There will be plenty of time to pick apart the national picture later, though.
What about the Big Ten? Well, as we sit here on the first day of the last full week of July, everyone at the top is showing lots of key holes in their lineups from last year.
We know Ohio State can reload, but that doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion the Buckeyes will find as many good answers as they did last year when they plug in new faces.
The offensive line and offensive plans should be better. What about J.T. Barrett? We’ll have to wait and see.
The defensive front seven should be a nightmare for opponents, but the secondary is as full of questions as it is potential.
Michigan was decimated by graduation, but the Wolverines should be more talented than they have been in years. They’ll just be very young.
Jim Harbaugh hasn’t won a conference championship yet, but he does know how to coach offense — and how to get the most out of his personnel.
Penn State has a lot back, including superstar running back Saquon Barkley, but what if they just caught lightning in a bottle last year?
Wisconsin has a very weak schedule so you’ll see them as a sexy pick to win 11 or so games. For some reason, it never works out that way.
We’ll start learning more about those teams and the rest of the league today…
How about the Bengals?
Well, we start the league with some bad news.
Pro Football Focus is not too enthused about Cincinnati’s prospects on defense.
The site ranked the Bengals secondary 18th in the league, noting William Jackson’s lack of experience and Dre Kirkpatrick’s inconsistency while calling safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams respectable.
The site is more down on the front seven. That group is ranked 23rd (just ahead of the Browns but only two spots behind Baltimore) as poorly graded 2016 seasons by Michael Johnson, Wallace Gilberry and Pat Sims offset good ones by Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunalp, Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey.
And then there are those pesky Cincinnati Reds.
Sometimes it all seems so simple, right?
Take the Reds’ 6-3 win over the Miami Marlins yesterday for example.
Six strong innings from rookie Sal Romano backed up by six runs (including three home runs) from the offense and two scoreless innings by closer Raisel Iglesias.
They even overcame a poor outing by Michael Lorenzen to pick up their second victory since the All-Star break.
RELATED: Romano, home runs lead Reds to win
After getting strong starts from first-round-picks-turned-would-be-aces Homer Bailey and Robert Stephenson in losses Friday night and Saturday night, there are actually some things to feel good about again for a club that had been lacking them for more than a week.
So, there are still things to watch as the season winds down... but football is here, too.