Sept. 14, 2009
FACES OF THE BIG TEN: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
A 2008 All-Big Ten first team selection, senior punter Zoltan Mesko has experienced it all: emigrating from Romania to the United States, learning the game of football, earning a scholarship to Michigan and becoming one of the most prolific punters in school history. Mesko's family won the lottery, literally, as one of 50,000 Romanian families out of 19 million seeking Green Cards to come to the U.S. His family first settled in Queens before moving to the Midwest. Mesko took up football on the recommendation of a gym teacher who saw him obliterate a light during a game of kickball. Having graduated with a degree in marketing and finance, Mesko is pursuing his master's degree in sports management, following his mother's wishes of putting academics over athletics.
BIG TEN. BIG NEWS.
Eight Wins in Week Two: Despite taking on seven opponents that appeared in bowls last season, the Big Ten produced an 8-3 mark in the second weekend. Conference squads defeated four teams that played in the postseason a year ago, including Michigan knocking off a nationally ranked Notre Dame team that played in the Hawaii Bowl last season. In other matchups with bowl teams, three Big Ten schools remained undefeated as Indiana beat Western Michigan (International Bowl), Minnesota shut down Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl) and Wisconsin edged Fresno State (New Mexico Bowl) in double overtime. All three of the Big Ten's defeats were narrow losses decided in the final minutes. Ohio State led No. 3/3 USC (Rose Bowl) in the fourth quarter before the Trojans took the lead with just over a minute to play. Purdue went on the road to give Oregon (Holiday Bowl) all it could handle before falling 38-36 after a failed two-point attempt with just over a minute left. Michigan State was edged by Central Michigan (Motor City Bowl) on a last-second field goal after the visitors recovered an onside kick. Other teams to post wins on Saturday were Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State.
Running to Glory: After eight Big Ten wideouts surpassed the 100-yard mark in the first week, conference running backs took center stage on Saturday with six century performers. Wisconsin's John Clay led the way with 143 yards and a 72-yard touchdown against Fresno State while Purdue's Ralph Bolden posted his second straight triple-figure effort with 123 yards and two touchdowns at Oregon. Other rushers over 100 yards were Illinois' Jason Ford (137 yards, 1 TD), Indiana's Demetrius McCray (134 yards, 1 TD), Michigan's Brandon Minor (106 yards, 1 TD) and Iowa's Brandon Wegher (101 yards, 1 TD).
Big Ten Boasts Seven Unbeaten Teams: Through two weeks of non-conference play, seven Big Ten programs maintain unblemished records with Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin producing 2-0 marks. The conference has also produced 18 victories through two weeks of action for the fifth straight season with a mark of 18-4 (.818) this year after opening with records of 18-3 in 2008 and 2005 and 18-4 in 2007 and 2006. Over the last decade, the Big Ten has boasted seven or more teams with perfect records entering week three on seven occasions, including eight unbeatens in 2008, 2007 and 2005 and seven undefeated squads in 2009, 2006, 2002 and 2000.
A Familiar Sight for 2-0 Teams: Starting the year with two victories is nothing new for the Big Ten programs boasting 2-0 records as all seven schools have started the season with two wins at least once in the previous three seasons. Wisconsin leads the way as the Badgers have opened with a 2-0 mark in each of the last eight seasons, including a 3-0 opening stretch last year. Indiana has now jumped out to a 2-0 mark in six straight campaigns, including three wins to open the 2007 season. Iowa stands at 2-0 for the fourth straight season and opened at 3-0 last year. Northwestern and Penn State have jumped out to 2-0 records for the third straight year and fourth time in the last five seasons. The Wildcats sprinted to a 5-0 start last season while the Nittany Lions won their first nine games a year ago. Minnesota has started 2-0 for the second straight campaign after jumping out to a 4-0 mark last season. Michigan has been victorious in its first two outings for the first time since 2006, when the Wolverines won their first 11 contests on the way to the Rose Bowl.
Another Long Boot: After Purdue's Carson Wiggs kicked a 59-yard field goal on the opening Saturday, Wisconsin's Philip Welch nearly matched him with a 57-yard field goal last weekend against Fresno State. Welch is just the third Badger to produce a field goal of 57 yards or longer, a group that includes school-record holder Pat O'Dea, who drop kicked a 62-yarder in 1899, and John Hall, who produced a 60-yarder in 1995 with the more traditional soccer style. Welch's 57-yarder is tied for the 11th-longest kick in Big Ten history while Wiggs 59-yarder is tied for the seventh-longest boot in conference annals.
More Sellouts: After producing a conference-record 42 sellouts and cracking the five-million barrier the last two seasons, Big Ten teams have already produced packed houses in nine of 18 games so far in 2009. Five conference schools boasted sellouts last weekend, with Ohio State shattering the program record with 106,033 patrons at Ohio Stadium for the USC game. The previous stadium record was 105,711 established against Penn State last season. Two other Big Ten games surpassed the 106,000-mark last weekend, with Michigan packing 110,278 fans at Michigan Stadium and Penn State welcoming 106,387 fans at Beaver Stadium (which actually was not a sellout, based on capacity of 107,282). Michigan State (76,221) and Wisconsin (80,353) also featured full houses on Saturday, while Minnesota produced a sellout in its first game at the new TCF Bank Stadium, with 50,805 fans watching the Gophers knock off Air Force. The Wolverines, Nittany Lions and Buckeyes ranked first, second and third, respectively, in last year's final NCAA attendance rankings.
Another Trophy Game: In a conference with 15 traditional trophy games, one more will be on the line on Saturday when Michigan State and Notre Dame battle for the Megaphone trophy. The Spartans held onto the trophy with a second straight triumph last season and have won nine of the last 12 matchups overall. Iowa was victorious in the first trophy game of the 2009 campaign, winning at Iowa State to hold onto the Cy-Hawk Trophy and improve to 22-11 against the Cyclones since the trophy series began.
Big Ten Schedule Announced for September 26: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Sept. 26. Final determination of television for Indiana-Michigan and Michigan State-Wisconsin will be made following the contests on Sept. 19.
Indiana at Michigan, Noon ET, ESPN or ESPN2
Michigan State at Wisconsin, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN or ESPN2
Minnesota at Northwestern, 11 a.m. CT, Big Ten Network
Illinois at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (regional -- ESPN outer-market)
Iowa at Penn State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC (national)
Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS - SEPT. 12
ILL RB Jason Ford: Averaged 13.7 yards per carry to rack up 137 yards on 10 attempts with a TD.
IND RB Demetrius McCray: Rushed for a career-high 134 yards on 17 carries, his first 100-yard outing, including a 59-yard TD vs. Western Michigan.
IOWA QB Ricky Stanzi: Tossed a career-best four TDs, completing 18-of-34 passes (52.9 pct.) for 197 yards in road victory over Iowa State.
MINN WR Eric Decker: Recorded second-straight outing of more than 100 receiving yards with 10 catches for 113 yards (11.3 avg.) vs. Air Force.
NU RB Stephen Simmons: Totaled a game-high 196 all-purpose yards, including a team-best 73 rushing yards on 13 carries (5.6 avg.) with two TDs, a 15-yard reception and 108 kickoff return yards.
PSU QB Daryll Clark: Completed 20-of-31 passes (64.5 pct.) for 240 yards and three TDs, including scoring strikes of 1, 20 and 49 yards vs. Syracuse.
PUR RB Ralph Bolden: Broke 100-yard barrier for second straight week with 123 yards on 29 carries (4.2 avg.) and two TDs, while adding three catches for 52 yards (17.3 avg.) and another TD at Oregon.
WIS RB John Clay: Posted fourth career 100-yard outing with 143 yards on 21 carries (6.8 avg.), highlighted by a 72-yard TD with less than six minutes left for the go-ahead score against Fresno State.
ILL LB Russell Ellington: Recorded eight tackles (five solo), two pass breakups and returned an interception 78 yards in the fourth quarter.
IND DE Jammie Kirlew: Collected five tackles (three solo) with three TFLs (-12 yards), including 1.5 sacks (-10 yards), while helping hold Western Michigan to only 22 rushing yards.
MICH CB Donovan Warren: Recorded a career-high three pass breakups and added six tackles (three solo) to help lead Michigan past Notre Dame.
MSU LB Greg Jones: Matched career high with 15 tackles (five solo), his ninth straight game with 10 or more stops, and added 1.5 TFLs (-3 yards).
NU LB Ben Johnson: Posted four tackles (three solo), a TFL (-2 yards) and returned first career interception 70 yards for a TD.
OSU LB Ross Homan: Led team with nine tackles (three solo) and picked off a pass against USC.
PSU LB Sean Lee: Produced a game-high 13 tackles (six solo) while adding three TFLs (-17 yards), including a 13-yard sack, to help hold Syracuse to only 65 rushing yards.
PUR LB Jason Werner: Collected six tackles (five solo), a forced fumble and a career-best three TFLs (-6 yards), including a three-yard sack, at Oregon.
WIS DE O'Brien Schofield: Registered career highs with 11 tackles (seven solo) and four TFLs (-13 yards), including a one-yard sack.
ILL PK Matt Eller: Connected on a 38-yard field goal and all six PATs in win over Illinois State.
IND P Chris Hagerup: Recorded five punts for 212 yards (42.4 avg.) with a long of 48 yards.
IOWA P Ryan Donahue: Posted four punts for 156 yards (39.0 avg.), including a long of 57 yards with three inside the 20 at Iowa State.
MSU P Aaron Bates: Registered five punts for 228 yards (45.6 avg.) with four inside the 20.
MINN PK Eric Ellestad: Scored first points at TCF Bank Stadium while connecting on both field goal attempts (34, 39) and two PATs vs. Air Force.
NU PK Stefan Demos: Connected on both field goal attempts (20, 49), including a 49-yarder with six seconds left for the win; also recorded three punts for 106 yards (35.3 avg.), with two inside the 20.
OSU P Jon Thoma: Recorded six punts for 232 yards (38.7 avg.), including four inside the 20.
PSU P Jeremy Boone: Average 50 yards on three punts (150 yards), with two inside the 20, including one downed at the two-yard line vs. Syracuse.
WIS PK Philip Welch: Hit two-of-three field goals (57, 22), including a career-long 57-yarder to end the first half and a 22-yarder to win the game in double OT against Fresno State.