By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) The Big Ten is in the running.

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For a national championship? Well, I don’t know about that.

But come July 26, it’ll definitely be in the running in Chicago when Big Ten Network hosts its third annual Big 10K, which has grown from 5,000 runners wearing school colors in its first year to 13,000 last year, with the hopes of reaching 17,000 this season.

If only Illini football win totals rose so rapidly.

On Tuesday morning, I attended a kickoff event for the Big 10K at the BTN Studios during which network officials announced that Ohio State legend Archie Griffin – the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy – will serve as grand marshal and how this year’s race will wrap up in the heart of a Big Ten-themed tailgate party outside Soldier Field.

But before then, with spring football now a wrap at all of the Big Ten’s soon-to-be 14 schools, I wanted to take my own quick run through the conference and share some interesting tidbits dropped by the BTN this week, along with a few of my own thoughts about each of them.

Hello, Maryland and Rutgers

On Tuesday, BTN president Mark Silverman announced that the network will be welcoming new Big Ten members Maryland and Rutgers into the conference this summer by dedicating a day of programming to each.

July 1 will be “Maryland Day” on BTN, with the network airing some of Maryland’s best victories from past years as well as taped interviews with most of the school’s coaches. July 2 will then be “Rutgers Day,” with the New Jersey school getting the same treatment. Silverman explained that the days are lined up as such because Rutgers joined the league one day after Maryland.

Silverman also said that the BTN is organizing an event in New York City on June 25 to celebrate the debut of the network in that media market, followed by an event in Washington, D.C., a couple of days later.

With the ACC set to move its conference basketball tournament from Greensboro, N.C., to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2017, it will be interesting to see exactly how the Big Ten and the ACC battle each other for attention in the Big Apple over the coming years.

Illini lows – and highs web editor Sean Merriman on Tuesday listed his top three Big Ten players at each position. Illinois was one of only two schools – along with Purdue – to not have a player make the list, perhaps not surprisingly since the Illini and Boilermakers were league cellar dwellers in 2013.

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However, on a brighter note for Illinois, senior writer Tom Dienhart on Tuesday did place two Illini on his all-spring team with running back Josh Ferguson and linebacker Earnest Thomas getting the nod.

Describing him as “diminutive but powerful,” Dienhart wrote that Ferguson is “tough enough to run between the tackles but also is shifty enough in space and a terrific pass catcher,” while lauding Thomas – the Illini’s top returning tackler – for his speed.

If Illinois is to make a bowl this season, it’s likely going to need newcomer Wes Lunt to play like a top-three quarterback in the league, Ferguson and Thomas to make their autumns as impressive as their springs and a few other players to turn in performances worthy of all-Big Ten consideration.

NU needs to put the ‘D’ in rebound

With some prognosticators going so far as to predict Rose Bowl glory for Northwestern in 2013, the Wildcats instead ended up suffering through a thorny 5-7 season that deflated some of the air from Pat Fitzgerald’s ballooning reputation.

However, there is hope for the Wildcats in 2014, with Merriman listing two NU players among his top three  at each position in linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo and safety Ibraheim Campbell. About Rodriguez, he writes that he’s a “flat-out playmaker for Pat Fitzgerald’s defense. If Northwestern is going to have a bounce-back season, it starts on the defensive side of the ball with Chi Chi,” while he says that Campbell “has been a three-year standout for the Wildcats and should be poised for a huge senior season.”

As for Dienhart’s all-spring team, only one Wildcat made the list, but it was at the most important position. He wrote about quarterback Trevor Siemian that he “lacks the mobility of previous NU signal-caller’s. But he has a superior arm. Expect the pass to be a bigger part of the Wildcats attack in the fall because of it.”

Who has the cupcake schedule?

If you’re looking for a favorite in the Big Ten East this season, look no further than Wisconsin, whose 2014 opponents have a combined won-lost record of just 22-42 from 2013.

Who has the cupcake schedule? 

Jesse Temple of FOX Sports Wisconsin calculated the most recent won-loss records of all the Big Ten teams’ opponents, with the .343 winning percentage of the Badgers’ foes looking most favorable, thanks in large part to Wisconsin avoiding Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan this season.

Iowa has the next most favorable schedule (23-41 for .359), followed by Nebraska and Northwestern (both 28-36, .437) and Michigan State (29-35, .453). The toughest schedules belong to Big Ten newcomers Maryland (40-24, .625) and Rutgers (41-23, .640).

Illinois, meanwhile, is in the middle of the pack with its foes having gone 33-31 (.515) last season.

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Follow Dave on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his columns here.