This Week in the Big Ten

Nov. 22, 2007

By Jeff Smith

Two outright Big Ten Champions and one NCAA runner-up are among the highlights witnessed in Big Ten athletics this past week. We also saw top performances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, said farewell to a giant of a coach, distributed some football awards and witnessed a Big Ten soccer upset in NCAA play. This is the Big Ten Week in Review.

Congratulations to the Ohio State football team for clinching its 32nd Big Ten Championship and its first back-to-back outright conference titles in over half a century. The Buckeyes, who last accomplished the feat in 1954-55, have now defeated rival Michigan in four consecutive years for just the third time in school history. Prior to the current streak, Ohio State had notched four straight victories over the Wolverines from 1934-37 and 1960-63.

"It's big. A team like that, winning four years in a row, it's big," said Ohio State's Vernon Gholston. "Not too many teams have done it. You look at the tradition of both teams, as far as the history, stuff like that don't happen too often."

Saturday's contest was played before 111,941 people, which was the second-largest attendance in Michigan Stadium history, while a Wolverine-record 1,248 media credentials were also issued for the Big Game.

While the football Buckeyes earned their fourth straight over Michigan, Penn State women's volleyball scored "one for the thumb" last Saturday as its 3-0 sweep over Illinois earned the Nittany Lions their fifth consecutive Big Ten Championship. The conference title is Penn State's 11th overall since joining the league in 1991. Over the past five years of unprecedented success, the Nittany Lions have boasted a 91-7 record over league opponents and will look to finish with another two wins this weekend. On Monday, sophomore setter Alisha Glass was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week.

Speaking of the Nittany Lions, congratulations are in order for the Penn State field hockey team, which placed second in the NCAA Championship on Sunday. The Nittany Lions fell to top-ranked and top-seeded North Carolina, 3-0, in their second-ever appearance in the national championship.

"To have to beat four ACC teams to win the championship, it says a lot about the strength of their conference," said PSU head coach Charlene Morett. "I think it says a lot about the strength and heart and determination of this Penn State team."

Penn State, which was the first Big Ten team to appear in the national semifinals since 2004, finished the year 16-8 with all eight losses coming against nationally-ranked opponents.

On Monday, the college football world said goodbye to Michigan's Lloyd Carr, who announced his retirement after 28 seasons at Michigan, including the last 13 as head coach. Carr compiled a 121-40 record during that time as head coach and will look for one more win when he leads the Wolverines in their bowl game. Guiding the Maize and Blue to six 10-win campaigns, Carr is seventh among active coaches with a .752 winning percentage.

What many will remember Carr for is his first-class approach to the game. He was a "Michigan Man," but it meant more to him teaching and molding future Michigan Men. Part of that teaching stemmed from learning from both success and failure. In an exclusive interview with the Big Ten Network's Gerry DiNardo, Carr echoed those sentiments.

"At the moment you lose, that empty hollow pit in your stomach, there is a pain there," Carr said. "It's hard to get rid of, yet you know if you don't get rid of it, and if you don't determine to fight your way out of that loss, and find out why, and correct the reasons and the things that caused you to lose, you won't last."

Thank you Lloyd for lasting. You will be missed.

With Carr stepping aside, coaches such as Illinois' Ron Zook will have a chance to become one of the conference's top coaches. On Monday, the same day Carr retired, Zook was honored with the distinction of Big Ten Coach of the Year. The job Zook has done this year - there is still more season to play - has been nothing short of remarkable. He led the Fighting Illini to nine wins and a second-place finish in the Big Ten this season. The total number of victories surpasses the combined eight wins the team has had over the past four years. The seven-win difference from a year ago is the nation's top turnaround.

Monday was also a busy day for the Big Ten men's and women's cross country teams. At the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., five conference squads finished in the top 10, led by the Wisconsin men and Michigan State women, who each place fifth overall in their respective races. On the men's side, Minnesota finished eighth, followed by Michigan in 24th, Indiana in 28th and Ohio State in 30th. Illinois' Trent Hoerr led all conference runners with a 16th-place finish, just under two seconds ahead of Wisconsin's Matt Withrow in 17th.

On the women's side, Michigan State's Nicole Bush placed a school-record sixth overall and helped her Spartans to their second fifth-place finish at the national meet. It was the first time since 1981 that Michigan State led all Big Ten teams at the NCAA Championship. Just behind MSU was Illinois in sixth. Led by the Big Ten Champion Diane Nukuri, who placed a conference-best fourth overall, Iowa placed 10th as a team and was followed by Minnesota in 12th, Wisconsin in 20th and Michigan in 21st.

Three Big Ten men's soccer teams each earned one of the NCAA's top-16 seeds for the 2007 NCAA Championship. Indiana garnered the No. 4 seed, followed by No. 5 Ohio State and No. 9 Northwestern, all of which will receive first-round byes. Michigan State and head coach Joe Baum also earned an invitation into the field of 48. All first-round games will be played either Nov. 23 or 24, while all second-round action will take place on Nov. 28.

Speaking of soccer, the Big Ten saw Indiana advance to the NCAA Championship Round of 16 after upsetting No. 2 seed Purdue in West Lafayette on Sunday. The Hoosiers, who lost to their in-state rival, 7-0, to close the regular season, advanced by way on penalty kicks, 4-3, after a scoreless tie in regulation and overtimes. Lauren Hollandsworth earned a shutout for the Hoosiers with nine saves, while Kristin Arnold scored the game winner on the Hoosiers' final PK. Indiana, which has never advanced this far in NCAA action, hosts Duke on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Not all was bad news this week for the Boilermaker program. On Tuesday, senior Shauna Stapleton was selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America Women's Soccer first team. She is the first Boilermaker to receive Academic All-America recognition in the program's 10-year history.

At the 42nd annual NWCA All-Star Classic in Eugene, Ore., this week, four Big Ten wrestlers captured titles in their respective weight classes. Minnesota's Dustin Schlatter (149), Illinois' Mike Poeta (157), Michigan's Eric Tannenbaum (165) and Penn State's Phil Davis (197) were all crowned, while six other conference grapplers were runners-up.

Several other significant marks were made this week as Michigan's women's basketball team earned the Big Ten a 1-0 advantage in the inaugural Big Ten/ACC Challenge with a 65-50 win over Miami. The Wolverines' 3-0 start is their first since the 2002-03 season. Michigan also saw fifth-year senior swimmer Melissa Jaeger smash the Big Ten and U-M records in the 200-yard butterfly by touching the wall in 1:56.77.

However the entire Michigan family suffered a tragic loss this past Saturday when women's track and field athlete Joi Smith passed away after a nine-month battle with cancer. Head coach James Henry said Smith was "someone with high goals - an overachiever whose life was cut short."

Our thoughts and prayers are with the both the Smith and Michigan families.

Cancer also took the life of Indiana football coach Terry Hoeppner this season, but Saturday's dramatic Old Oaken Bucket win over rival Purdue helped the healing process for the Hoosier Nation and his widow Jane.

"I have 105 kids that are a part of my life. How fortunate can you be," she asked Tom Rinaldi in this tributethat aired on ESPN's College Football Live this week. "I count all as blessings. Every one."

Here's hoping she just has enough turkey to feed them all today.

Happy Thanksgiving.