Bears

A look inside Big Ten Media Day

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A look inside Big Ten Media Day

ROSEMONT Conference depth was the hot topic at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at the Hyatt Regency OHare. Some coaches marveled at the strength of the league, which has three teams in the top five of the USA Today coaches poll. Others spoke, jokingly, as if it were a subject of pain.

I knew somebody would ask that. Why ruin a good day? Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during his press conference.

And his team is one of them. In the preseason poll, Indiana is No. 1, followed by No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan, No. 14 Michigan State and No. 21 Wisconsin.

I dont start thinking about the Big Ten really until late December, trying to keep my sanity, knowing how good this league is going to be this year, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

Even beyond those five ranked teams, there are no slouches in the Big Ten, several coaches insisted. Last season, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all shared the Big Ten title, and six teams went to the NCAA tournament. Three others went to the NIT.

Time will tell, but the bottom half of our league is so good, Purdue coach Matt Painter said. However you want to categorize that, I dont know what teams you want to put there, but that makes our league pretty special. There are no easy outs throughout the season.

Indiana tops the USA Today coaches, Sporting News, Blue Ribbon Yearbook and Athlon Sports preseason polls after going 27-9 and falling to eventual champion Kentucky in the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers are enjoying the attention after enduring three consecutive losing seasons.

I know it feels good for us to be back in that conversation, to be back and mentioned in the same breath of other great teams, Indiana coach Tom Crean said, who mentioned the strength of college basketball in the overall Midwest. Not only having a great program, which Indiana has been for decades, but back to having a chance to be successful.

Picks to click

Conference media tabbed Indiana as the favorite to win the Big Ten, followed by Michigan and Ohio State. Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller was selected as the preseason player of the year. He joins Michigans Trey Burke, Ohio States Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas and Penn States Tim Frazier on the preseason all-Big Ten team.

Painter said he considers Zeller the best player in college basketball. The 7-foot sophomore from Washington, Ind., combines confidence and a desire to improve with a humble spirit, Crean said. I dont think Cody is somebody who has responded to pressure. I think thats what makes him as mentally tough as he is at his age, Crean said.

A funny moment

Before he left the podium following his press conference, first-year Nebraska coach Tim Miles snapped a panoramic photo of the crowd of reporters for his Twitter account. Hes a frequent tweeter.

Miles also joked about the strength of the league, saying Technically, I havent had my brains beat in yet. He also thanked the Big Ten for scheduling Nebraskas conference opener as a road game at Ohio State.

Miles recalled watching Big Ten basketball when he was a child growing up in South Dakota.

Its a league that you have Hall of Fame coaches, he said. You have unbelievable teams with traditions and were trying to put our mark up there with them.

Cutting to the chase

A child sex abuse scandal has rocked Penn State, as former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing boys during 15 years. The incident has affected the entire university, and Nittany Lions basketball coach Patrick Chambers said he addresses the controversy head on during his recruiting.

Its there, and there is no denying it, and I try to stay out in front of it, especially when it comes to recruiting, Chambers said. I talk to the parents about it and the kids, and I dont want it to be the elephant in the room. I would rather get it out in front of us, and lets discuss it and if there are issues, (this) might not be the right place for you. Then you are going to get amazing kids that are serious about getting degrees, that are winners and that want to help build this program.

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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USA TODAY

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: