July 27, 2008
by Jeff Smith
[ONE // are you ready for some football?]
For nearly 3,000 fans and several hundred media members in attendance at the Big Ten Football Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon this past week, the answer to the question above was a resounding yes. All 11 head football coaches and 33 talented conference standouts took part in the annual two-day event in downtown Chicago, talking about the upcoming season and the strides their respective teams have made since last season. On Thursday, each Big Ten coach spoke to the assembled media in a question-and-answer format. Full transcripts and video of those segments can be found by clicking here.
[TWO // buckeyes sweep preseason football honors]
Congratulations to Ohio State and two Buckeye standouts for sweeping the conference's preseason football awards this past week. On Thursday, Ohio State was named the league's preseason favorite, followed by Wisconsin and Illinois in the top three. Individually, members of the media voted Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells as the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year while teammate and linebacker James Laurinaitis was tabbed Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. For more on the Big Ten's preseason favorites, click here.
[THREE // just the beginning to be focused on the end]
Six Big Ten standouts were named last Tuesday as preseason candidates for the 2008 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award. Illinois' Will Davis, Indiana's Greg Middleton, Michigan's Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison, Penn State's Maurice Evans, and Wisconsin's Matt Shaughnessy were all named to the watch list. The list is subject to change until the Final Midseason Watch List is issued in November. The 2008 winner will be announced on December 10.
[FOUR // focused on his future and football]
While several Big Ten football standouts were in Chicago this past week being interviewed about the upcoming season, one particular student-athlete was seen in Indianapolis doing the actual interviewing. Indiana junior running back Bryan Payton spent this past weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway covering the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Allstate 400 at the Brickyard as a writer for the Indiana Daily Student. Payton, who finished third on the team in yardage last year and was the first IU running back since 2003 to score three TDs in a game, is a general studies major and is focused on a career in journalism. That is of course until next week when the Hoosiers report to camp.
"My first story was published May 15, so I'm still new to it," Payton said Sunday. "It took me three years to figure out what I want to do, but journalism is definitely the road I want to go down. As far as football goes, we report to camp next Sunday and I can't wait to get going, put the helmets and pads on, and start hitting somebody."
[FIVE // ah 1, ah 2, ah 3...]
As if Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald had not done enough talking at this past week's Big Ten Media Days, he turned to singing on Sunday at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Fitzgerald was the guest conductor for the seventh-inning stretch at the Cubs' afternoon game with the Florida Marlins. His tune must have worked as the Cubs, who were trailing 6-5 entering the bottom of the seventh, scored four runs and eventually won 9-6. The Wildcat mentor, who also threw out the first pitch, made his third annual trip to Wrigley Field to take part in one of baseball's most unique traditions.
[SIX // speaking of wildcats, honors and unique traditions...]
Another Northwestern notable was honored this week, along with several U.S. representatives bound for Beijing. Former swimming star Matt Grevers, who recently qualified for his first Olympic Games and was featured this past week in the BigTen.org Olympic Spotlight, was honored at the White House in Washington, D.C. President George W. Bush recognized all the U.S. Olympians participating in the Beijing Olympics and offered them words of encouragement before they left for China. In his actual address, Bush singled out the inspiring story of Grevers, who turned down the opportunity to swim for another country to qualify as an underdog for the U.S. in the 100-meter backstroke.
"We will be fascinated by the different stories behind each athlete," Bush said. "We will marvel at your hard work and your discipline. For example, the story of Matt Grevers. Matt seemed like a long shot to qualify for the U.S. team in the 100-meter backstroke. Because his parents are Dutch, the Netherlands tried to recruit Matt to swim for their team -- offering him nearly a certain trip to Beijing. Instead he chose to compete for the U.S. team, and ended up qualifying in both the freestyle and the backstroke. And when he swims in Beijing, it will be as a proud citizen of the United States of America."
[SEVEN // redd, white and blue]
Keeping with Olympic news, former Ohio State basketball star Michael Redd netted 20 points in Team USA's exhibition opener over Canada on Friday. The current Milwaukee Buck leader, who was recently focused in a BigTen.org Olympic Spotlight, scored a team-high 20 points in a 120-65 victory in the 2008 State Farm USA Basketball Challenge. Redd was 6-of-8 from the field, while former Illinois star Deron Williams also made a solid contribution with 14 points.
[EIGHT // indiana's loukas tuning up for beijing]
Weeks after qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games, Indiana's Christina Loukas remains sharp on the diving board as she successfully defended her one-meter springboard title at the 2008 Kaiser Permanente National Diving Championships this past week. The Hoosier senior posted a score of 264.80 in the final round of the competition, which was being held at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center in Pasadena, Calif. Loukas, who earned her invitation to Beijing by winning the three-meter springboard at the U.S. Olympic Trials, beat out her synchro partner Amanda Miller by just over five points to take the gold on Friday.
[NINE // big ten runners go the distance for nacac wins]
Congratulations to Iowa's Meghan Armstrong and Michigan State's Nicole Bush for their gold-medal wins at the 2008 North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) Under 23 Championships this past week. Armstrong won the 10,000 meters in 37:31.28, while Bush took home the 3,000-meter steeplechase event in 10:42.17.
[TEN // spartan golfer turns in warrior-like performance]
While we are talking about Michigan State, let's give a tip of the cap to junior Jack Newman, who captured the 83rd United States Amateur Public Links Championship last Saturday. The 2008 second-team All-Big Ten selection beat UC-Irvine's John Chin, the reigning Big West Player of the Year, by a score of 5&3 in Saturday's scheduled 36-hole final at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo. The U.S. Pub Links is considered one of the most prestigious amateur events in all of golf. With the win, Newman will now have an exemption from local qualifying for the next three U.S. Open Championships, an exemption from sectional qualifying for the 2008 and 2009 U.S. Amateur, and among other honors, a likely invitation to compete in the next Masters Tournament.
[ELEVEN // start your engines...]
Finally this week, the Big Ten was pleased to announce Thursday a marketing agreement with Nissan as the exclusive automotive sponsor of the Big Ten throughout the 2008-09 academic year. As an official sponsor of the Big Ten, Nissan, who is also partnering with Sports Illustrated to help promote the league, will be granted marketing opportunities for all 25 conference sports, including each of the Big Ten Championships or Tournaments. Benefits also include promotional and on-line opportunities, special event and on-site marketing, tickets and hospitality, use of the Big Ten mark and presence in select publications. For more on this significant announcement, view the complete press release by clicking here.