Aug. 31, 2009
Big Ten Celebrates 114th Year: The 114th season of Big Ten football kicks off Thursday, Sept. 3, as Indiana hosts Eastern Kentucky in a primetime matchup to be shown live on the Big Ten Network. The conference's other 10 teams open their seasons on Saturday, Sept. 5, including eight which begin their 2009 campaigns at home. For the third consecutive season, Illinois starts its slate on neutral turf, taking on Missouri in St. Louis. Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin open play in front of their home crowds, while Minnesota heads out east to face Syracuse. Every Big Ten home game during the first week will reach a national television audience, broadcast either on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network.
Big Ten Polling Place: The Big Ten was one of only three conferences with multiple teams appearing among the top 10 in both the Associated Press (AP) or USA Today Coaches' polls, with nine of the 11 conference programs receiving at least one vote in one of the two polls. Four-time defending Big Ten Champion Ohio State led the way rating sixth nationally in both rankings. Penn State, which shared the conference crown with the Buckeyes last season and in 2005, also cracked the top 10, ranking eighth among the coaches and tying for ninth among the media. The Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC are the only conferences to feature multiple top-10 teams. Iowa was the Big Ten's third top-25 program, rating 21st by the coaches and 22nd by the media. Six other Big Ten schools also received at least one vote in the preseason polls. Illinois and Michigan State were both just outside the top 25 in the AP poll, with the Illini ranked 27th and the Spartans rated 29th. MSU also ranked 27th in the USA Today Coaches' poll. Illinois, Michigan State and Northwestern received votes from both the coaches and media, while Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota appeared among the list of others receiving votes in the preseason coaches' poll.
Preseason Picks: Media members attending the Big Ten football media days selected four-time defending conference champion Ohio State as the preseason favorite while Penn State was tabbed to finish second and Michigan State was dubbed the third pick (the Big Ten only releases a top three poll). Buckeyes' quarterback and 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Terrelle Pryor was chosen as the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year while Spartans' linebacker and returning first-team All-Big Ten selection Greg Jones was named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
The 800 Club: In the history of college football, only six schools have compiled 800 or more all-time victories, and half of those teams are members of the Big Ten. Michigan leads the way with 872 triumphs while two other Big Ten programs joined the 800 club last season. Ohio State enters the 2009 campaign with 808 victories, while Penn State earned its 800th win in last year's regular season finale to clinch a share of the conference title. The Wolverines, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are joined by Texas (832), Notre Dame (831) and Nebraska (817) in the current 800-plus victory club.
Buckeyes Look For Fifth-Straight Title: Ohio State has won at least a share of the last four Big Ten Championships and will look to become the first school in conference history to win five or more straight crowns on multiple occasions during the 2009 campaign. The Buckeyes shared the crown with Penn State in 2005 and 2008 and ended the 2006 and 2007 seasons alone atop the standings to compile a Big Ten mark of 29-3 over the last four years. OSU is the first conference team in over 15 years to claim four straight titles since Michigan won at least a share of five consecutive championships from 1988-92. Ohio State has clinched four consecutive crowns for the first time since posting a Big Ten-record six straight titles from 1972-77. Michigan and Ohio State are the only two teams in Big Ten annals to post four or more consecutive first-place finishes on multiple occasions, accomplishing the feat a combined seven different times.
Welcome Back: Returning to Big Ten fields in 2009 are 26 All-Conference players from last season, including 10 first-team honorees and 16 second-team selections. The first-team returnees are comprised of four offensive, five defensive and one punter. The second-team picks include seven players on offense, six on defense and three special teams standouts. In addition, 22 honorable mention honorees from last season also return to campus.
Familiar Faces: Ten of the 11 Big Ten teams return at least half of their starters from a season ago, with Minnesota leading the way with an impressive 18 of 24 starters back on the field in 2009. Indiana brings back nine defensive starters from 2008 to lead the Big Ten. Michigan welcomes back 10.5 offensive full-timers from last season, most among conference squads. Both Iowa and Michigan State welcome back 17 total starters, including eight on defense. The Wolverines bring back 16.5 total starters while Illinois and Indiana welcome back 16 returning starters.
Paterno Still the One: Penn State's Joe Paterno ended the 2008 season with 383 career victories and currently holds the all-time victory record among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches. Paterno stands at 383-127-3 in his 43 seasons leading the Nittany Lions. Paterno has been on the sidelines for 513 career games, one of only three mentors in NCAA history to crack that barrier along with former Big Ten coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (548 games from 1890-1946 with Springfield, Chicago and Pacific) and Florida State's Bobby Bowden (508 games).
A New Face at Purdue: The Big Ten will welcome one new head coach for the 2009 season in Purdue's Danny Hope. Hope spent 2008 as the Boilermakers' associate head coach working with the offensive line and managing all recruiting efforts before taking over after Joe Tiller retired at the end of the season. From 2003-07, Hope compiled a 35-22 winning percentage as head coach at Eastern Kentucky with a 32-8 mark in Ohio Valley Conference games. In his last year at EKU, Hope guided the Colonials to an OVC championship, the school's first since 1997, a No. 13 rank in the final D-I AA poll and named OVC Coach of the Year while also being named a finalist for both the American Football Coaches Association and Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year honors. Hope also served as an assistant under Tiller at Purdue from 1997-2001 and in 1996 at Wyoming. Hope will open his first campaign as the Boilermakers' head coach by hosting Toledo.
Paterno Continues Climb Up Big Ten Century Club: Penn State's Joe Paterno is the lone active coach appearing among the list of 12 mentors to collect 100 or more wins at a Big Ten school. Paterno posted 11 triumphs last season to move past Illinois' Robert Zuppke and tie Minnesota's Henry Williams, coaches who combined for 51 years of Big Ten service. Paterno has built a mark of 136-60 since the Nittany Lions joined the conference in 1993 to rank eighth, just seven wins shy of Iowa's Hayden Fry (143-89-6) for fifth place. Among other active Big Ten coaches, Ohio State's Jim Tressel has racked up 83 victories in eight seasons with the Buckeyes while Iowa's Kirk Ferentz has totaled 70 triumphs during his 10-year stay in Iowa City.
Big Ten Mentors Near Coaching Landmarks: Two Big Ten coaches enter the 2009 campaign on the verge of coaching landmarks. Ron Zook will serve as Illinois' head coach for the 50th time on Sept. 12 against Illinois State. He has won 14 games over the last two seasons, including taking the Illini to the Rose Bowl following the 2007 campaign. Ohio State's Jim Tressel has served as a head coach in 296 games in 23 years of head coaching. He is set to pace the sidelines for the 300th time as a head coach in the 2009 Big Ten opener against Illinois on Sept. 26. In eight seasons in Columbus, Tressel has produced a record of 83-19, and his 81.4 percent winning percentage would rank him second all-time among Big Ten coaches with 10 or more years in the conference. Michigan's Fielding Yost won 83.3 percent of his games between 1901 and 1926.
Big Ten on Watch Lists: The Big Ten now features 51 student-athletes on preseason watch lists for 19 different national awards. Among the honored conference players, 27 appear on more than one list and five Big Ten standouts lead the way by appearing on five different lists. Every Big Ten team has at least one player appearing on a watch list. Iowa, Ohio State and Penn State top all Big Ten schools with seven different players appearing on watch lists, followed by six nominees from Illinois and Michigan and five selections for Michigan State and Wisconsin.
On the offensive side of the ball, returning first-team All-Big Ten quarterback Daryll Clark of Penn State appears on the watch lists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Manning, Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards. Illinois signal caller Juice Williams, a second-team All-Big Ten choice last year, appears on four different lists for the Manning, Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards. Illini wideout Arrelious Benn (Biletnikoff, Walter Camp Player of the Year, Maxwell) and Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Manning, Maxwell, Davey O'Brien) appear on three different watch lists. Players appearing on two lists include Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, Michigan running back Brandon Minor and offensive lineman David Molk, Michigan State center Joel Nitchman, Minnesota wideout Eric Decker and quarterback Adam Weber, Northwestern center Ben Burkett, Ohio State center Mike Brewster, Penn State running back Evan Royster and offensive lineman Stefan Wisniewski and the Wisconsin trio of running back John Clay, tight end Garrett Graham and center John Moffitt.
On the defensive side of the ball, four standouts appear on five different watch lists. Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and returning first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones of Michigan State has been named to the watch lists for the Bednarik, Butkus and Rotary Lombardi Awards and the Lott and Nagurski Trophies. Fellow linebacker Sean Lee of Penn State, who missed last season due to injury after earning second-team All-Big Ten accolades in 2007, appears on the same five watch lists as Jones. Defensive ends Brandon Graham of Michigan and Corey Wootton of Northwestern were both tabbed for the Bednarik, Ted Hendricks, Rotary Lombardi, Lott and Nagurski watch lists. Wootton was a first-team All-Big Ten choice last year while Graham was named to the second team. Two more Nittany Lion standouts were named to four watch lists in linebacker Navorro Bowman (Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski) and defensive tackle Jared Odrick (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland). Other defensive standouts to appear on multiple lists include Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, Indiana defensive end Jammie Kirlew, Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer and Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman.
Big Ten Record Chasers: Six different Big Ten standouts enter the 2009 season ranked among or nearing the top 10 in the Big Ten career records book. Illinois signal caller Juice Williams has compiled 2,050 rushing yards, which already ranks fifth among quarterbacks in conference history, just 30 yards away from fourth place. Williams has also compiled 8,456 yards of total offense, only 424 yards from matching former quarterback Kurt Kittner for the Illinois school record, which ranks 10th in conference annals. On the receiving end, Minnesota wideout Eric Decker has hauled in 177 passes, just 21 catches from equaling former Gopher Ron Johnson for the school record, which rates 10th in Big Ten history. On special teams, Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson ranks just outside the top 10 with 276 kicking points, 52 field goals and 120 extra points. Wisconsin's David Gilreath has already produced 82 kickoff returns in only two seasons, to rank sixth in Big Ten annals. His 1,751 kickoff return yards are just 11 yards shy of cracking the conference's top 10. Two other Big Ten kickoff returners enter the 2009 campaign ranked among the conference's career leaders in average per return. Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire is averaging 25.3 yards per kickoff return to tie for seventh all-time, while Penn State's A.J. Wallace is averaging 24.7 yards per boot to stand in a tie for 10th.
Big Ten on TV: The Big Ten Conference is enjoying its greatest national television exposure ever. For the third straight year, each Big Ten home game during the first three weeks of the season will be nationally televised either on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network. These networks will combine to broadcast more than 20 contests in the opening weeks, including all nine home games in Week 1. During the past two seasons, the Big Ten's media agreements resulted in the most television coverage in history, with every home game televised nationally. Last year, 98 percent of the Big Ten's games were nationally aired, while no other conference had more than 75 percent of its games on national TV. Once again, every ABC game during the early or late afternoon window will be broadcast nationally, either on ABC or simultaneously on ESPN or ESPN2. The Big Ten Network is available to approximately 73 million homes in the U.S. and Canada through agreements with more than 250 cable or satellite affiliates.
Big Ten Takes on Bowl Teams: The 2009 Big Ten non-conference schedule features 20 games against 2008-09 bowl opponents, seven more than last season, as nine of the 11 conference programs will face at least one bowl team with seven teams playing at least two bowl squads. Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin will face off against three bowl programs, the most games among Big Ten teams. The Illini will begin the 2009 season by meeting Missouri (Alamo) for the third time in three years while finishing the season against Cincinnati (Orange) and Fresno State (New Mexico). The Spartans will meet up with Central Michigan (Motor City), Notre Dame (Hawaii) and Western Michigan (International). Notre Dame will finish its annual Big Ten three-play against Purdue on Sept. 26, two weeks after the Boilermakers kickoff against Oregon (Holiday) and one week after they play Northern Illinois (Independence). Wisconsin also plays the Huskies this year and finishes its two-game deal with Fresno State before ending the year at Hawaii (Hawaii). Michigan will square off with Western Michigan and Notre Dame in its first two games of the season. Indiana plays the Broncos one week after Michigan. Ohio State opens its first two games of 2009 at home against Navy (EagleBank) and USC (Rose) while Minnesota will battle Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl) and California (Emerald) in its first two home contests of the year. Iowa welcomes Arizona (Las Vegas) to Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 19.
No Plays for 2009: Each year, two Big Ten teams do not meet. Below is the breakdown of "no-plays" in 2009:
Team -- Does not play
Illinois -- Iowa, Wisconsin
Indiana -- Michigan State, Minnesota
Iowa -- Illinois, Purdue
Michigan -- Minnesota, Northwestern
Michigan State -- Indiana, Ohio State
Minnesota -- Indiana, Michigan
Northwestern -- Michigan, Ohio State
Ohio State -- Michigan State, Northwestern
Penn State -- Purdue, Wisconsin
Purdue -- Iowa, Penn State
Wisconsin -- Illinois, Penn State