Sept. 17, 2007
Big Ten Title Chase Begins: The 112th season of Big Ten football kicks off on Saturday with 10 of the 11 teams opening conference play. Parity has reigned over the Big Ten landscape for the last decade with eight different teams winning the conference title either outright or as a co-champion: Illinois ('01), Iowa (`02, '04), Michigan (`97, `98, `00, '03, '04), Northwestern (`00), Ohio State (`98, `02, '05, '06), Penn State ('05), Purdue (`00) and Wisconsin (`98, `99). The title has been shared by at least two teams five times in this span, with a pair of three-team ties in 1998 and 2000 and two teams atop the standings in 2002, 2004 and 2005. Last season, the Big Ten championship was decided in the regular-season finale between a pair of undefeated teams -- Michigan and Ohio State. The Buckeyes edged the Wolverines to maintain their unblemished record, claim their first outright title since 1984 and post back-to-back championships for the first time since the school won six straight titles from 1972-77. OSU picked up its 31st Big Ten crown, which ranks second only to the 42 titles earned by Michigan.
Big Ten Tied For Conference Lead With Six Unbeaten Teams: With conference play beginning on Saturday, the Big Ten boasts six undefeated teams with identical 3-0 records in Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. The Big Ten and Big 12 are tied for the national lead as both feature six unbeaten squads, followed by the Big East and SEC with five undefeated programs each. Overall, there are only 31 teams with perfect records in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including 28 with a 3-0 mark.
Non-Conference Success: After winning eight of 11 games in the third weekend of non-conference play, the Big Ten has now compiled a record of 26-7 (.788), marking the third straight season the conference has earned 26 or more wins through three weeks of play. The Big Ten opened with 27 wins through three weekends in each of the last two seasons, including a mark of 27-6 in 2006 and 27-5 in 2005. With 11 non-conference games remaining (one for each team), the Big Ten has a chance to shatter the conference's modern era record for non-conference wins prior to bowl play. The Big Ten produced a 33-13 mark in 2002 and equaled that win total last season with a record of 33-12, two of only three other 12-game seasons in conference annals (30-14 in 2003). The Big Ten's all-time record for non-conference triumphs occurred when the conference built a 57-3-1 out-of-league mark in 1905, the sixth straight year with 40 or more non-conference triumphs.
The Nation's Longest Winning Streak: Wisconsin continued its winning ways on Saturday against The Citadel by extending the school's current victory streak to 12 games, the longest active winning streak among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools and the second-longest winning streak in program history. The Badgers have opened the 2007 campaign with three victories after ending last season with nine straight wins, including a triumph in the Capital One Bowl. The last time UW won more than 11 games in a row was more than 100 years ago, when the Badgers set the school record with 17 straight victories spanning the 1900, 1901 and 1902 campaigns. Penn State ranks second among all Big Ten schools with a current six-game winning streak, including three wins this season and a triumph over Tennessee in last season's Outback Bowl.
Badgers Also Streaking in Non-Conference Play: With a victory over The Citadel on Saturday, Wisconsin extended its regular-season winning streak against non-conference teams to 15 straight games, a span of success now in its fourth season. The Badgers have actually defeated 17 straight non-conference opponents with bowl games included, as Wisconsin knocked off Auburn and Arkansas in its last two postseason appearances. UW's last regular-season non-conference loss occurred on Sept. 13, 2003, against UNLV. The Badgers schedule features one more out-of-league contest on Oct. 20 against Northern Illinois.
Buckeyes Streaking Towards Big Ten Record: Ohio State holds the longest current winning streak in conference play as the Buckeyes wrapped up a perfect 2006 campaign to extend their current string of success to 14 contests. OSU's 14-game winning streak is the school's longest string of in-conference success since winning 15 in a row from 1979-80. OSU set a school record by winning 17 straight Big Ten games on three different occasions, most recently from 1974-76. Michigan is the only team to win more consecutive conference games, setting the all-time record with 19 straight victories from 1990-92. Wisconsin ranks second to Ohio State with a current seven-game Big Ten winning streak. The Badgers reeled off seven straight triumphs last season after opening with a loss at Michigan, the school's longest string of success in Big Ten play since closing the 1999 campaign with seven straight Big Ten wins.
Two Big Ten Debuts: Indiana's Bill Lynch and Minnesota's Tim Brewster will get their first taste of Big Ten action as a head coach on Saturday when the Hoosiers host Illinois and the Gophers take on Purdue. Lynch, who is leading the Hoosiers after the untimely passing of Terry Hoeppner during the offseason, served as an IU assistant coach the last two seasons along with a stint as the school's quarterbacks coach from 1993-94. Brewster is also familiar with Big Ten play after beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Boilermakers in 1986 while also playing tight end at Illinois during the 1982 and 1983 campaigns. The first-year head coach spent the past two seasons as tight ends coach for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. The conference's third new head coach, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, will look to remain unbeaten on the year when he concludes his non-league slate on Saturday with a road trip to Notre Dame. Dantonio, who joined the Spartans after serving as Cincinnati's head coach for the past three seasons, also has a history in the Big Ten with previous assistant coaching stints at Purdue (graduate assistant in 1981), Ohio State (graduate assistant from 1983-84; defensive coordinator from 2001-03) and Michigan State (defensive secondary coach from 1995-2000).
Still Perfect: Indiana's Bill Lynch and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio remain the only Big Ten head coaches to never suffer a defeat after both improved to 3-0 last weekend. Lynch is just the third IU leader in school history and the second since 1906 to open with three straight triumphs along with his predecessor, Terry Hoeppner, who began his tenure in Bloomington with a 3-0 mark in 2005, and James Sheldon, who opened at 3-0 in 1905. No Hoosiers coach has ever started his career with four straight victories. Dantonio is only the fourth MSU head coach in program annals to start his time in East Lansing with at least three straight wins and the first since Bobby Williams won his first four contests, including the Citrus Bowl to conclude the 1999 season and a 3-0 start to the 2000 campaign. The only other Spartans mentors to open at 3-0 were George Gauthier in 1918 and Frank Sommers in 1916. Lynch and Dantonio join two other active conference coaches to begin their tenure at their current school with three wins, including last year's Big Ten Coach of the Year, Bret Bielema of Wisconsin, who opened with three wins before leading the Badgers to their first 12-win season in school history. Michigan's Lloyd Carr won his first five games with the Wolverines in 1995, the most successful opening stretch of the Big Ten's active coaches.
Bielema's Amazing Start: The 15-1 record for Wisconsin's Bret Bielema as head coach of the Badgers is one of the best coaching starts in Big Ten history. Only three other coaches in conference history won at least 15 of their first 16 games -- Michigan's Fielding Yost (55-0-1 from 1901- 05) and the Ohio State pair of John B. Eckstrom (16-0-1 from 1899-1900) and Carroll C. Widdoes (16-1 from 1944-45). Each of these three coaches lost their next game after the records listed above.
Tressel Claims 200th Win: With a victory at Washington on Saturday, Ohio State's Jim Tressel earned his 200th career win. In his seventh season in Columbus and 22nd year as a head coach, Tressel boasts an overall record of 200-71-2. In other coaching landmarks, Purdue's Joe Tiller will coach in his 200th game on Oct. 6 against Ohio State.
Paterno Passes Alvarez for Eighth in Big Ten Century Club: With a victory over Buffalo on Saturday, Penn State's Joe Paterno earned his 119th win since the Nittany Lions joined the conference in 1993 to pass current Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez for sole possession of eighth place in the Big Ten century club. Paterno has built a record of 119-54 over the last 15 seasons while Alvarez wrapped up his 16-year coaching tenure in Madison following the 2005 campaign with a record of 118-73-4. Michigan's Lloyd Carr also appears among the group of coaches with 100 or more wins at a Big Ten school, ranking 10th with a mark of 114-38 in his 13th season leading the Wolverines.
Two More Trophy Games: In a conference with 15 traditional trophy games, two more will be on the line on Saturday when Michigan State and Notre Dame battle for the Megaphone trophy while Iowa and Wisconsin compete for the Heartland Trophy. The Fighting Irish edged the Spartans last year to reclaim the Megaphone but MSU has won seven of the last 10 matchups overall. The Hawkeyes and Badgers will take part in the newest trophy game after Wisconsin claimed the Heartland Trophy for the first time last season since the trophy debuted in 2004.
Pre-Season Picks: Media members attending the Big Ten football media days selected Michigan as the preseason favorite while Wisconsin was dubbed the preseason No. 2 pick and defending conference champion Ohio State was tabbed for third place (the Big Ten only releases a top three poll). Wolverines running back Mike Hart was chosen as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year while Buckeyes linebacker James Laurinaitis was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Big Ten Championships for Current Coaches: Five current conference coaches have earned at least one Big Ten crown in their careers. The complete list is below:
5 -- Lloyd Carr, MICH (1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004)
3 -- Jim Tressel, OSU (2002, 2005, 2006)
2 -- Kirk Ferentz, IOWA (2002, 2004)
2 -- Joe Paterno, PSU (1994, 2005)
1 -- Joe Tiller, PUR (2000)
Big Ten Schedule Announced for September 29: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Sept. 29. ESPN/ABC will use one of its allowable six-day picks to choose between Michigan State-Wisconsin and Notre Dame-Purdue, with one game appearing at Noon EDT on ESPN and the other appearing at 3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC. Selection of that game will be made no later than Monday, Sept. 24.
Penn State at Illinois, 11 a.m. CDT, Big Ten Network
Indiana at Iowa, 11 a.m. CDT, Big Ten Network
Michigan at Northwestern, 11 a.m. CDT, Big Ten Network
Michigan State at Wisconsin or Notre Dame at Purdue, Noon EDT, ESPN
Michigan State at Wisconsin or Notre Dame at Purdue, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
Ohio State at Minnesota, 7 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS LAST WEEK
ILL RB Rashard Mendenhall: Averaged 9.4 yards per carry to rack up 150 yards and three TDs on only 16 attempts at Syracuse.
MICH RB Mike Hart: 35 carries for 187 yards (5.3 avg.) and two TDs vs. Notre Dame.
NU QB CJ Bacher: Set career highs with 30 completions, 50 attempts and 368 passing yards with a rushing score against Duke.
PSU QB Anthony Morelli: 20 of 27 (74.1 pct.) for 202 yards and a career-best four TDs against Buffalo.
PUR QB Curtis Painter: 29 of 39 (74.4 pct.) for 360 yards and three TDs vs. CMU.
WIS RB P.J. Hill: Equaled a school record with five touchdowns, including four rushing scores, while compiling 168 yards on 25 carries (6.7 avg.).
IND DE Greg Middleton: Career-high six tackles (three solo), two sacks (-16 yards) and a PBU.
MICH LB Shawn Crable: Five tackles (three solo), a PBU and four TFLs (-16 yards), including three sacks (-10 yards), in shutout of Notre Dame.
NU DE Kevin Mims: Set career highs with 10 tackles (three solo) and two TFLs (-6 yards).
PSU LB Dan Connor: 12 tackles (nine solo) and a six-yard sack to help PSU hold Buffalo to only 56 rushing yards.
PUR S Justin Scott: Eight tackles (seven solo), one PBU and one interception vs. CMU.
WIS S Shane Carter: Three tackles (all solo) and an interception versus The Citadel
ILL K Jason Reda: Two-of-two (32, 50) on field goals and five-of-five on PATs at Syracuse.
IND K Austin Starr: Two-of-two (30, 21) on field goals and five-of-five on PATs vs. Akron.
NU P Stefan Damos: Two punts for 94 yards (47.0 avg.) with both landing inside the 20.
PUR PR/KR Dorien Bryant: Racked up 221 all-purpose yards against Central Michigan, including three kickoff returns for 88 yards (29.3 avg.).