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Illinois football out of spotlight heading into Big Ten media days

FILE - In this Nov. 10 2012 file phoIllinois head coach Tim Beckman looks up during an NCAA college football

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2012, file photo, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman looks up during an NCAA college football game against Minnesota in Champaign, Ill. Coming off a 2-10 season, there will be changes in Beckman's second season as Illinois coach. Spring practice starts Tuesday, March 5, 2013, after an offseason of coaching turnover. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

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Updated: July 24, 2013 10:21AM

One year ago, Tim Beckman stepped to the podium at his first Big Ten media days knowing full well he already had become a controversial figure. The word ‘‘vulture’’ was being used to describe Illinois’ new football coach after members of his staff had been spotted in State College, Pa., recruiting
players in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

Suffice it to say, the question-and-answer session that followed was awkward.

Beckman might prefer those circumstances to the ones he’ll face Wednesday. Before hundreds of media members, Beckman will have to spin the Illini’s 0-8 Big Ten record last season into hope for the immediate future. Or at least try. There’ll be no easy answers, no satisfactory explanations, but Beckman must go to bat for his program anyway. It’s what the job calls for at an event like this.

Fortunately — and that might be the wrong word entirely — Illinois will be a relative after thought for the next couple of days. The media focus will be on the Big Ten’s banner programs, the coaches of which have issues of their own.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has taken the baton from Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the controversial figure du jour in college football. Meyer will be grilled about the four Buckeyes who faced disciplinary action this week, including starting running back Carlos Hyde and star cornerback Bradley Roby, who were arrested last weekend after unrelated barroom disturbances.

But that’s not all Meyer has on his plate. He’ll have to chew on accusations that his lax approach to discipline during his days at Florida allowed Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end charged with murder, to flourish in Gainesville despite many warning signs. Then there are the reports Ohio State tattled on Florida to the NCAA for a recruiting violation. In Southeastern Conference country, that’s a gigantic deal.

So much for the Buckeyes’ 12-0 season in 2012.

Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen has done nothing wrong — other than replace a coach, Bret Bielema, who left for Arkansas after leading the Badgers to the last three Rose Bowls.

Between Bielema and Barry Alvarez, Andersen’s two predecessors have six visits to Pasadena on their résumés. They were bold and supremely confident, too, routinely lighting up Big Ten media days with the sort of big talk that declared to Ohio State and Michigan that the conference title was up for grabs. Media eyes and ears will be trained on every move by Andersen, who arrived in Madison from Utah State, to determine whether his personality and persona cut the mustard.

And there’s Nebraska’s Bo Pelini — go on and say it, PeLLLLini — whose Cornhuskers have lost four games in each of his five seasons in Lincoln. This hasn’t been the superpower commissioner Jim Delany coveted when he roped in Nebraska from the Big 12
before the 2011 season. The Huskers’ 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game last season resounds like nobody’s business.

Pelini isn’t the only coach who enters the season on the proverbial hot seat. Look at Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, once considered an elite coach but now, presumably, fighting for his job at a school where coaching changes happen infrequently. The Hawkeyes have plummeted from 11 victories in 2009 to, in order, eight, seven and four the last three seasons.

Ferentz will be subjected to a similar line of questioning as Beckman during the next couple of days, but the intensity of those moments will be different.

Beckman, relatively speaking, will get something of a pass from the media because he isn’t a priority. Not that it’s a good thing.

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