Originally published on 7/28/2014
CHICAGO, Ill. – A long pause punctuated Kirk Ferentz's appearance at the Big Ten dais.
A room full of reporters fell silent after Iowa's football coach answered just five questions — in approximately 6 minutes — during Monday's media session.
It may have been because Ferentz was the last coach to speak. It may also have something to do with preseason perceptions.
The Hawkeyes are bona-fide contenders in the Big Ten's West Division, but most pundits feel the balance of power tilts toward the East Division.
"I think the East is a little bit better than the West," ESPN analyst Chris Spielman said. "If we're going to be honest, that's the way it looks."
Several publications reflect that view.
Ohio State and Michigan State, both East Division members, were ranked among the top 10 nationally by Phil Steele, Lindy's and USA TODAY Sports.
Wisconsin was the only West Division team to be ranked by all three, and none had the Badgers higher than 14th.
"That's the perception, but I don't know if it's the reality," Fox Sports analyst Dave Wannstedt said. "With the teams in the western part of the league, it's going to be just as competitive, and we'll see what happens at the end."
A Big Ten media poll, conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, picked Iowa to finish second in the West, behind Wisconsin.
The Hawkeyes and Badgers are also at the forefront when it comes to inflicting bumps and bruises.
"The physicality and what it takes to sustain and maintain a team throughout the week is important," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "After (playing) Iowa (last year), we were one sore football team. I'm sure they were, too.
"And in the Big Ten, you better deal with that."
Hawkeye defensive end Carl Davis seems to prefer a rough-and-tumble style.
"Down in the trenches, doing the dirty work, I feel like that's what we do best," Davis said. "I love playing Wisconsin, because they've got those big guys up front.'
But are the West Division heavyweights too brutish to cause much of a buzz?
"Sometimes, old school is a good school," Ferentz said. "We've been accused of being stubborn, hard-headed.
"To me, it's all about figuring out what's best for your players, what you can coach the best and then doing it to the best of your abilities."
Wisconsin's Andersen echoed those sentiments while complimenting the Hawkeyes.
"I've heard it stated many times, it's a little bit easier to prepare for (a team like Iowa) than maybe the spread or playing a fast offense," Andersen said. "I disagree. They're both very difficult, because you've got to be able to handle the physicality."
While Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska are expected to pummel each other, Ohio State offers a little more pizzazz.
Senior quarterback Braxton Miller is a Heisman Trophy candidate, with 8,346 total yards the past three seasons.
The Buckeyes also benefit from coach Urban Meyer, who owns a 4-0 record against the Hawkeyes, Cornhuskers and Badgers since arriving in Columbus two years ago (with an average winning margin of 12.3 points).
"The East Division is really strong," Meyer said. "As we get close to the season, start looking at the schedule, there's a tough run."
So, how does the West compare?
"If Nebraska plays where I think they can play," Spielman speculated, "And you have Wisconsin, who I think is very good. Iowa is supposed to have people back, and being an up-and-comer … Northwestern is good.
"I think both (divisions) are better than people think."