Big Ten Weekly Football Release - Sept. 22
Sept. 22, 2008
FACES OF THE BIG TEN
JACK SIMMONS, minnesota senior tight end
BIG TEN. BIG NEWS.
Big Ten Title Chase Begins: The 113th 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 (1998-2007) with eight different teams winning the conference title either outright or as co-champions: Illinois ('01), Iowa (`02, '04), Michigan (`98, `00, '03, '04), Northwestern (`00), Ohio State (`98, `02, '05, '06, '07), 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, Ohio State picked up its third straight Big Ten title and second straight outright championship by going on the road to knock off Michigan, which ended the season tied with Illinois for second place, just one game back in the standings. The Buckeyes have now won 32 Big Ten crowns, which ranks second only to the 42 titles earned by the Wolverines.
Big Ten Tied for National Lead with Three 4-0 Teams: Through four weeks of play, the Big Ten remains one of only three Football Bowl Subdivision conferences to feature at least four undefeated teams and joins the SEC as the only conference with three teams standing at 4-0. The Big Ten's undefeated group includes Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State at 4-0 and Wisconsin at 3-0 after a bye last weekend. The Big 12 leads all conferences with seven unblemished programs, including two 4-0 teams, while the SEC boasts six unbeatens, including three teams at 4-0. The only other conferences with more than one undefeated team are the Mountain West (3) and Big East (2). Overall, there are only 27 teams with perfect records in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including 14 squads with a 4-0 mark.
Breaking Down the Unbeatens: The Big Ten's undefeated quartet includes three schools off to familiar starts, while one team has opened at 4-0 for the first time in more than four decades. Northwestern swept through non-conference play to post a 4-0 mark for the first time since 1962, when Ara Parseghian led the Wildcats to six consecutive triumphs to open the season before finishing 7-2. After winning only one game last season, Minnesota has quadrupled its win total with a 4-0 record, the Gophers fifth 4-0 start in the last seven seasons and the first since 2005. Minnesota's last 5-0 start occurred in 2004. Penn State has jumped out to a 4-0 record for the second time in the last four seasons, after the Nittany Lions opened with six straight victories in 2005 on their way to an 11-1 campaign. Wisconsin, which had a bye last weekend, has started the season with three straight triumphs for the fifth straight year, including a 5-0 start last season.
Non-Conference Success: With six more triumphs last weekend, Big Ten teams have compiled a mark of 31-8 in non-conference play to collect 30 or more out-of-conference victories prior to bowl play for a third straight season. In addition, with five more non-conference games remaining, the Big Ten has a chance to surpass the modern-era record of 35 non-conference wins prior to postseason action set last season, when Big Ten schools produced a mark of 35-9 against out-of-conference foes. The Big Ten's all-time record for non-conference triumphs occurred when the conference built a 57-3-1 out-of-conference mark in 1905, the sixth straight year with 40 or more non-conference triumphs.
Paterno Stands Alone: With a victory over Temple on Saturday, Penn State's Joe Paterno picked up his 376th career victory to claim sole possession of the all-time victory record among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches. Paterno improved to 376-125-3 in his 43rd season leading the Nittany Lions to pass Florida State's Bobby Bowden, who lost to Wake Forest on Saturday to remain at 375 career triumphs. Paterno has now been on the sidelines for 504 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 377 on Saturday against Illinois.
Tiller on Top: Purdue head coach Joe Tiller rallied his team to a late victory over Central Michigan on Saturday to pick up his 85th triumph, a new school record. In his final season in West Lafayette, Tiller improved to 85-55 with the Boilermakers to pass Jack Mollenkopf for the school's career coaching wins record. Mollenkopf collected 84 wins as the Purdue head coach from 1956-69.
Buckeyes Make Run for Four Straight Titles: Ohio State has won the last three Big Ten Championships and will look to join Michigan as the only school to win four or more straight crowns on multiple occasions this season. The Buckeyes shared the crown with Penn State in 2005 before ending the 2006 and 2007 seasons alone atop the standings to compile a Big Ten mark of 22-2 over the last three years. OSU is the first conference team in more than a decade to claim three straight titles since Michigan won at least a share of five consecutive championships from 1988-92. Ohio State has clinched three consecutive crowns for the first time since posting a Big Ten-record six straight titles from 1972-77. The Wolverines are the only team in Big Ten annals to post four or more consecutive first-place finishes on multiple occasions, accomplishing the feat five different times including the five-title string from 1988-92.
OSU Aiming for Big Ten First: In 112 years of Big Ten football, no team has ever stood alone atop the standings in three straight seasons, a feat Ohio State is looking to accomplish. The Buckeyes won outright crowns in 2006 and 2007, becoming the first back-to-back outright champs since Michigan in 1991-92. Only six Big Ten programs have produced consecutive outright titles, including Chicago (1907-08), Michigan (1947-48, 1988-89, 1991-92), Michigan State (1965-66), Minnesota (1937-38, 1940-41), Ohio State (1916-17, 1954-55, 2006-07) and Wisconsin (1896-97). The Buckeyes are the third conference team to accomplish the feat multiple times, joining the Wolverines and Golden Gophers.
Tressel Targeting Rare Coaching Fraternity: After winning four Big Ten Championships in his first seven seasons in Columbus, Ohio State's Jim Tressel will join an elite group of coaches if he can lead his team to a fifth crown this season. In the previous 112 years of Big Ten football, only three other coaches have earned five or more titles in their first eight years with a Big Ten institution. Michigan's Bo Schembechler holds the Big Ten record by finishing first in six of his first eight campaigns from 1969-76. Fellow-Wolverine Fielding Yost collected five championships from 1901-08, while Minnesota's Bernie Bierman won five titles from 1932-39. Last season, Tressel became the first Buckeyes mentor and just the seventh coach in conference annals to produce four titles in their first seven years on campus, a group that also included Illinois' Bob Zuppke (four from 1913-19), Michigan's Harry Kipke (four from 1929-35) and Minnesota's Henry Williams (four from 1900-06).
More on the Four: Tressel is also aiming to become just the fifth coach in Big Ten history to win four straight titles and the first since fellow-Buckeye Woody Hayes claimed a school-record six straight crowns from 1972-77. The other mentors to finish first in four straight seasons include Schembechler (1971-74), Kipke (1930-33) and Yost (1901-04).
Pre-Season Picks: Media members attending the Big Ten football media days selected three-time defending conference champion Ohio State as the preseason favorite while Wisconsin was dubbed the preseason No. 2 pick and Illinois was tabbed for third place (the Big Ten only releases a top three poll). Buckeyes running back Chris "Beanie" Wells was chosen as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year while Buckeyes linebacker James Laurinaitis was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. He was the second OSU linebacker in the last five years to earn back-to-back preseason accolades after A.J. Hawk was named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005.
Big Ten Championships for Current Coaches: Four current conference coaches have earned at least one Big Ten crown in their careers. The complete list is below:
Two More Trophy Games: In a conference with 15 traditional trophy games, two more will be on the line on Saturday when Indiana and Michigan State battle for the Old Brass Spittoon and Purdue and Notre Dame square off for the Shillelagh. The Hoosiers and Spartans have competed for the Old Brass Spittoon since 1950, with the Spartans holding a 39-12-1 advantage, including a victory last season to reclaim the trophy. The Boilermakers and Fighting Irish have played for the Shillelagh since 1958, with Notre Dame holding a 32-19 edge in those games. But Purdue currently holds the trophy after earning a victory last season. Michigan State and Notre Dame are both coming off of their own traditional trophy game, with the Spartans holding onto the Megaphone trophy with a 23-7 triumph over Notre Dame in East Lansing, Mich.
Penn State at Purdue, Noon EDT, ESPN or ESPN2*
* network to be identified after games of Sept. 27
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS