Time for on-field questions for Big Ten

Conference will try to put scandals aside at media days

The conference of Legends and Leaders is dotted with liars and lawbreakers.

It has been another brutal offseason for the Big Ten, whose coaches and players will huddle Thursday (10 a.m., BTN, ESPNU) and Friday in Chicago for its annual Media Days.

A year ago, Commissioner Jim Delany lectured the league's 12 head football coaches. Embarrassed by Jim Tressel's deception at Ohio State and Rich Rodriguez's practice-time infractions at Michigan, Delany told them: "We do not want two more such cases."

Then came the ugliest scandal in the history of college sports. And while the world digested the Penn State penalties, Michigan announced the suspension of two players arrested over the last five days.

The blows keep coming for a league that fancies itself as more academically minded, less desperate for victories and far less likely to have fans poison trees of their rival school.

While league officials will continue to debate whether to shift to a nine-game conference slate following the breakdown of the Pac-12 collaboration, here's a look at questions each school will face.

Illinois: Where's Ron Zook?

Probably water-skiing on a lake near his Orlando-area home. Zook hasn't returned to coaching after being replaced by Tim Beckman, whose hiring was met with skepticism because he's a defensive-minded coach whose 2011 Toledo team gave up 63 points to both Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. But Beckman is loaded with energy and doing his best to make Northwestern a legit rival.

Indiana: Does Kevin Wilson want a mulligan?

After getting drunk on success while coordinating Oklahoma's offense, Kevin Wilson went to Indiana and lost. And then lost some more. His Hoosiers went 0-11 against FBS foes last season, surrendering 59 points to Wisconsin and Northwestern. That's not combined. Quarterback Tre Roberson showed promise, but he threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last season and can't play defense.

Iowa: Who is more cursed — the Cubs or Iowa running backs?

Since Shonn Greene's Tribune Silver Football-winning 2008 campaign, a half-dozen Hawkeyes ballcarriers have left the program. Marcus Coker, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last season, reportedly could have returned after a bowl suspension but instead bolted for FCS school Stony Brook. Marcus Binns was dropped from the team last week and Jordan Canzeri tore an ACL in spring practice.

Michigan: Is Michigan the Big Ten's best national hope?

Could be. The Wolverines are coming off a Sugar Bowl victory, have a Heisman Trophy contender in Denard Robinson and face Alabama in Week 1's national glamour game. But the Wolverines' front four has holes, and running back Fitz Toussaint's arrest on DUI charges and indefinite suspension did two things — leave Michigan with a crater in the backfield and belie the s-a-i-n-t in his name.

Michigan State: Does Kirk have any football-playing Cousins?

The Spartans will miss quarterback Kirk Cousins. So will the media. And grandmothers in East Lansing who need help crossing the street. His leadership will be nearly impossible to replace, but fourth-year junior Andrew Maxwell will try. Maxwell has the requisite arm strength, accuracy and athletic ability but remains unproven on the big stage.

Minnesota: Can MarQueis Gray get some help?

He was a one-man gang last season, throwing for 295 yards at Michigan State and rushing for 167 against Illinois. But as you might have heard, it takes 11 to run an offense. Coach Jerry Kill hopes to get a boost from freshman receiver Andre McDonald and tailback James Gillum, a junior-college transfer.

Nebraska: Will the Blackshirts earn their colors?