Sept. 15, 2008
FACES OF THE BIG TEN
CHRIS PRESSLEY, wisconsin senior fullback
Chris Pressley once told a reporter that he simply wants to be a light that shines on others and inspires others to reach for their dreams. Having grown up amidst difficult life circumstances in Woodbury, N.J., it would have been easy for the Badger fullback to be anything but a light. Instead he earned a football scholarship to Wisconsin, from where he graduated in three years with a degree in agricultural journalism with a business emphasis. Pressley spent part of last summer in China on an educational trip for students that was sponsored by the UW School of Business. He is now in graduate school and was voted by his teammates as a 2008 captain.
BIG TEN. BIG NEWS
Big Ten Tied for National Lead with Five 3-0 Teams: Through three weeks of play, the Big Ten is one of only three Football Bowl Subdivision conferences to feature five teams with 3-0 marks along with the Big 12 and SEC. The Big Ten's 3-0 contingent includes Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin. Overall, the Big Ten boasts six undefeated programs as Indiana is off to a 2-0 start. The Big 12 and SEC lead the way with eight unbeatens, followed by the Mountain West (4), ACC (3), Big East (2), Conference USA (2) and Pac-10 (2). Overall, there are only 39 teams with perfect records in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including 24 with a 3-0 mark.
Hitting the Ground Running: In a weekend marked by wet and rainy weather, the Big Ten ground attacks proved critical last Saturday with nine different running backs cracking the century mark, including six career-best performances. Michigan State's Javon Ringer led the way with a career-best 282 yards with two touchdowns against Florida Atlantic, the fourth-best single-game effort in Spartans annals and the most for a Big Ten rusher since 2002. Purdue's Kory Sheets racked up a career-high 180 yards with two scores against Oregon, including an 80-yard sprint to open the scoring. Four other standouts set career bests on Saturday, including Michigan freshman Sam McGuffie (131 yards at Notre Dame), Illinois' Daniel Dufrene (126 yards vs. Louisiana-Lafayette), Iowa's Shonn Greene (120 yards and a TD vs. Iowa State) and Minnesota freshman DeLeon Eskridge (114 yards and 3 TDs vs. Montana State). For the rest of the century club, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill piled up 112 yards at Fresno State, Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton posted 101 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Illinois while Penn State's Evan Royster produced 101 yards at Syracuse.
Running to Glory: Through three weeks of play, Big Ten running backs are making a big impact on the national statistical rankings, with five different backs among the top 10 in various categories -- including three players featured among the top 10 in rushing yards per game and four standouts among the top five in scoring. Michigan State's Javon Ringer leads the country in scoring with 18.0 points per game (nine touchdowns), ranks third with 166.0 rushing yards per game and rates fourth with 237.7 all-purpose yards per outing. Purdue's Kory Sheets is also among the top 10 in all three categories, tied for fifth in the country in scoring (12.0 ppg, four touchdowns), ranked seventh in rushing yards (130.5 ypg) and rated ninth in all-purpose yardage (195.0 ypg). Wisconsin's P.J. Hill also ranks among the top 10 in rushing yardage, standing eighth in the country with 126.3 yards per contest. Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton and Penn State's Evan Royster are tied with Sheets at fifth nationally with 12.0 points per outing, as both players boast six touchdowns in their three contests. Both standouts also appear among the top 21 nationally in rushing yardage, as Sutton is tied for 18th with 104.0 yards per game and Royster is tied for 21st with 102.0 yards per contest. Iowa's Shonn Greene is just outside the top 10 in rushing yardage, placing 11th with 119.7 yards per outing.
Other Big Ten Players Among National Leaders: Big Ten players are also highlighted among the top 10 in multiple other categories in the NCAA statistical rankings. Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker is tied for seventh in the country with 8.33 receptions per game while also leading the conference and rating 12th nationally with 110.7 yards per outing. Iowa wideout Andy Brodell ranks eighth in the country after averaging 23.0 yards per punt return in his first three games, including an 81-yard touchdown against Iowa State. On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan State's Otis Wiley leads the country with 2.67 passes defended per game, followed by Minnesota's Marcus Sherels tied for second with 2.33 passes defended per outing. Illinois linebacker Brit Miller is tied for fifth in the nation with 12.0 tackles per game. Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Penn State's Aaron Maybin are also tied for fifth nationally with 1.33 sacks per contest. Michigan's Brandon Graham is sixth in the country with 2.17 tackles for loss per game while the Illini's Miller is right behind with 2.00 TFLs per game to tie for seventh nationally. On special teams, Ohio State's Ryan Pretorius is tied for second in the country with 2.33 field goals per game.
A Case for the Defense: One week after eight Big Ten teams rolled past the 40-point barrier, defense took center stage last Saturday with five teams holding their opponents to less than two touchdowns. Michigan State led the way with its first shutout since 1999, blanking Florida Atlantic, 17-0. The Owls entered the game averaging 19 first downs, 306.5 passing yards and 423.0 total yards but were held to only nine first downs, 143 yards through the air and 225 total yards. Iowa limited Iowa State to just a field goal in a 17-5 victory and has not allowed a touchdown in its first three games. The last time the Hawkeyes opened the season by not allowing a touchdown in three straight games was in 1924. Northwestern held Southern Illinois to a single touchdown and racked up six sacks, the most for the Wildcats since 2001. Wisconsin went on the road and held nationally-ranked Fresno State to only 10 points for a three-point triumph, after the Bulldogs scored 24 points in a season-opening win at Rutgers. Penn State was also away from home and held Syracuse to two long field goals in the first half before the hosts added a touchdown in the third quarter of a 55-13 triumph. In other top defensive performances, Illinois held on for a 20-17 win over Lousiana-Lafayette thanks to a fumble return for a touchdown while Purdue held the high-powered Oregon offense, which entered the game ranked among the top five in the country with 55.0 points per outing, to 23 points in regulation before falling in double-overtime.
375 and Counting: Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden both recorded their 375th career victory on Saturday against Syracuse and Chattanooga, respectively, to remain tied for the all-time victory record among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches. Paterno has now been on the sidelines for 503 games in his career, one of only two 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). Paterno will aim for win number 376 on Saturday against Temple while Bowden takes on Wake Forest that same day.
Paterno Moves Up in Big Ten Century Club: Penn State's Joe Paterno improved to 128-58 since PSU joined the conference in 1993 to continue climbing on the list of 12 mentors to collect 100 or more wins while at a Big Ten school. Paterno posted nine triumphs last season to move into eighth place past current Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez, who wrapped up his 16-year coaching tenure in Madison following the 2005 campaign with a record of 118-73-4. Paterno is now three wins wins shy of Illinois' Robert Zuppke (131-81-13) for seventh place. Among other active Big Ten coaches, Purdue's Joe Tiller boasts 84 wins in 11-plus years in West Lafayette while Ohio State's Jim Tressel has racked up 75 victories in seven-plus seasons with the Buckeyes.
Big Ten in the Pros: With the National Football League (NFL) season underway, the Big Ten Conference was well-represented on opening-day rosters. Michigan and Ohio State were tied for third among all college programs with 36 former players on NFL squads, equaling Georgia and trailing only Miami (44) and Florida State (37). The Big Ten also led the way at a number of positions, with the Buckeyes boasting nine defensive backs, more than any other collegiate program, and six wide receivers (along with Louisiana State) on NFL payrolls and the Wolverines tied for the lead among all schools with four quarterbacks (along with Southern California) and five offensive tackles (along with Florida State). In addition, Michigan State equalled Florida State, Tennessee and Texas with five defensive tackles playing on NFL teams. Twenty-eight Big Ten student-athletes were selected during the 2008 NFL Draft in April, including two of the first six selections for the second straight season. The Big Ten, which is the only conference to produce at least one top-six pick in each of the last five drafts, registered four first-round draftees from four different institutions while 10 schools featured at least one selection during the seven rounds. Michigan offensive lineman Jake Long was the first overall pick by the Miami Dolphins, becoming the 13th Big Ten standout to be chosen No. 1 and the first since Penn State's Courtney Brown in 2000. Buckeyes defensive end Vernon Gholston joined Long among the top six when he was chosen sixth overall by the New York Jets.
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 reclaimed the trophy last season and have won eight of the last 11 matchups overall. Iowa was victorious in the first trophy game of the 2008 campaign, defeating Iowa State to reclaim the Cy-Hawk Trophy and improve to 21-11 against the Cyclones since the trophy series began.
Big Ten Schedule Announced for September 27: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Sept. 27. ESPN/ABC will use one of its allowable six-day picks to choose between Michigan State-Indiana and Northwestern-Iowa, with both games to be played at Noon EDT on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Classic. Selection of those games will be made following the contests on Sept. 20.
Michigan State at Indiana, Noon EDT, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Classic*
Northwestern at Iowa, 11 a.m. CDT, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Classic*
Minnesota at Ohio State, Noon EDT, Big Ten Network
Wisconsin at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC (regional -- ESPN outer-market)
Purdue at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. EDT, NBC
Illinois at Penn State, 8 p.m. EDT, ABC
* network to be identified after games of Sept. 20
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS
IOWA RB Shonn Greene: Topped century mark in third straight game with 120 yards on 20 carries (6.0 avg.) with a TD in win over Iowa State.
MINN WR Eric Decker: Posted nine catches for 157 yards (17.4 avg.) with a TD and added 26 yards on three carries (8.7 avg.) against Montana State.
NU RB Tyrell Sutton: Recorded 101 yards on 17 carries (5.9 avg.) with three TDs in a victory over Southern Illinois.
PSU WR Deon Butler: Hauled in a game-high seven receptions for 110 yards (15.7 avg.) with two TDs in less than three quarters of play at Syracuse.
PUR RB Kory Sheets: Set career highs with 29 attempts and 180 yards (6.3 avg.) while scoring two TDs, including an 80-yard sprint to open the scoring, in a narrow loss to Oregon.
WIS RB P.J. Hill: Rolled to 112 yards on 26 carries (4.3 avg.) in road triumph over Fresno State.
ILL LB Brit Miller: Racked up a team-high 13 tackles (six solo) and three TFLs (-2 yards) and also forced and recovered a fumble, which he returned 27 yards for a TD in the first quarter.
IOWA S Tyler Sash: Collected a game-high 12 tackles (two solo) along with one sack (-3 yards) and first career interception at the goal line.
MSU S Otis Wiley: Broke up a career-best four passes and posted five tackles (three solo) to lead MSU to its first shutout since 1999.
MINN DE Willie VanDeSteeg: Recorded a career-best 10 tackles (seven solo) while adding three TFLs (-13 yards), including 1.5 sacks (-8 yards).
NU DE Corey Wootton: Posted four tackles (three solo) and three TFLs (-19 yards), including two sacks (-16 yards), against Southern Illinois.
PSU LB Navorro Bowman: Collected eight tackles (five solo) with a PBU against Syracuse.
PUR LB Anthony Heygood: Registered nine tackles (six solo), 0.5 TFLs (-3 yards) and an interception.
ILL K Matt Eller: Connected on two-of-three field goals (51, 27), including a career-best 51-yarder, in a three-point win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
MSU P Aaron Bates: Posted 10 punts for 408 yards (40.8 avg.), including a season-best 53-yarder, and placed two inside the 20.
MINN P Justin Kucek: Recorded nine punts for 373 yards (41.4 avg.), including five inside the 20-yard line, against Montana State.
NU K Amado Villarreal: Connected on a career-best four field goals (35, 33, 18, 20) and all three PATs in rainy conditions against SIU.
PSU K Kevin Kelly: Hit lone field goal attempt from 52 yards, a new career-best, at end of first half.
WIS K Philip Welch: Connected on two-of-three field goals (38, 23), with lone miss being blocked from 50 yards out, at Fresno State.