Sept. 24, 2012
Conference Play Begins: The 117th season of Big Ten football begins Saturday with five conference matchups. A season ago, Wisconsin was victorious in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, clinching its second straight title. The Badgers eye a third consecutive conference crown when it opens the conference season against Nebraska. Michigan State begins defense of its Legends Division crown when it welcomes Ohio State on Saturday.
Divisional Play Underway: Saturday’s opening weekend of Big Ten contests will feature the 2012 debut of divisional play within the conference. Each school in the two six-team divisions will play the other five schools within its own division and will face three teams from the other, including one guaranteed cross-division matchup on an annual basis. The team, or teams, with the best conference record within each division will earn the division championship. However, divisional record plays an important role in determining the participants for the Big Ten Football Championship Game, serving as the second tiebreaker behind head-to-head matchups (see Page 10). This weekend, one Legends Division and one Leaders Division matchup highlights the schedule, with Iowa hosting Minnesota in a Legends Division contest, while Illinois welcomes Penn State in a Leaders Division showdown.
The Road to the Title Game: The second annual Big Ten Football Championship Game will begin at 8:17 p.m. ET on December 1, 2012, and will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Representatives from the Legends and Leaders Divisions will meet with the winner earning the Big Ten Championship and a chance to play in the Rose Bowl Game. FOX will serve as the official broadcast partner of the Big Ten Football Championship Games through 2016, and Lucas Oil Stadium will host the title games through 2015.
Where We Rank: Eight Big Ten teams are receiving votes in the latest Associated Press (AP) or USA Today coaches polls, released Sunday. Ohio State leads the way at No. 14 in the AP poll, while Michigan State and Nebraska join the Buckeyes in the top 20. The Spartans are No. 18 in the coaches’ poll and No. 20 in the AP poll, while the Huskers are No. 20 in the coaches rankings and 22nd in the AP vote. Wisconsin moved up one spot and is rated No. 23 in the coaches’ rankings and is receiving votes in the writers’ poll. Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue are also receiving votes from both the AP and coaches groups, while Minnesota is receiving votes from the coaches.
Keeping the Streak Alive: Three Big Ten teams carry unblemished records into the beginning of conference play following wins last weekend. Minnesota moved to 4-0 after knocking off Syracuse, Northwestern won its fourth straight to start the year with a win over South Dakota, and Ohio State earned its fourth victory after the Buckeyes defeated UAB. The Big Ten is one of only two conferences in the nation with three or more teams holding 4-0 marks through the first four weeks of the 2012 campaign.
History of the 4-0: The Big Ten’s three unbeaten squads are among just 17 teams in the nation that have opened with four straight triumphs to start the 2012 season. Minnesota improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2008, and can move to 5-0 for the first time since 2004 with a win against Iowa on Saturday. Northwestern saw its record climb to 4-0 for the third time in five seasons and can move to 5-0, also for the third time since 2008, should the Wildcats knock off Indiana this weekend. Ohio State is 4-0, the first time the Buckeyes have started with four straight wins to begin the year since 2007, when they won 10 straight contests. A win Saturday against Michigan State would mark the sixth time since 2000 Ohio State would start a season with a least five straight triumphs.
Putting Up Big Numbers: Several Big Ten standouts enjoyed successful outings on Saturday as seven Big Ten running backs rushed for more than 100 yards, four quarterbacks threw for 200 or more yards and five conference standouts finished with at least two sacks or tackles for loss. Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Michigan to lead all conference rushers, while Iowa’s Mark Weisman also finished with more than 200 yards on the ground, totaling 217 yards and three touchdowns against Central Michigan. Penn State’s Matt McGloin led all conference signal callers with a career-best 318 yards passing against Temple. Defensively, Nebraska’s Eric Martin had 2.5 sacks, and Wisconsin’s Chris Borland had two sacks on the day, while three others also finished with two or more tackles for loss. A complete list of Week 4 stat leaders can be found on the Big Ten football blog at bigten.org.
Head of the CLASS: Four Big Ten standouts, Indiana’s Adam Replogle, Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead, Ohio State’s John Simon and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, were selected as candidates for the 2012 Senior CLASS Award, which honors the nation’s top senior student-athlete who excels in four areas – community, classroom, character and competition. The list of candidates will be narrowed to 10 midway through the season. In the four seasons of the Senior CLASS Award, two Big Ten student-athletes have won the honor, including Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis, who won the inaugural award in 2008, and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins last season.
Putting in the Work: Two Big Ten student-athletes were among the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) standouts named to the 2012 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, one of the sport’s premier service honors. Michigan’s Patrick Omameh and Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead were named to the squad, which spotlights the positive, off-the-field impact that student-athletes have on their communities. It is the second straight year the conference has had two student-athletes named to the AFCA Good Works Team, following Nebraska’s Jared Crick and Northwestern’s Al Netter in 2011.
The Battle for Floyd: In a conference that features 16 traditional trophy games, two traveling keepsakes will be up for grabs in the next two weekends. On Saturday, Minnesota visits Iowa in the annual battle for the Floyd of Rosedale. It will be the 78th time since 1935 the Gophers and Hawkeyes will square off for the trophy, with Minnesota holding a 41-34-2 advantage with the trophy at stake. Minnesota has won back-to-back matchups in 2010 and 2011 and heads to Iowa City looking for a three-game win streak in the series. On Oct. 6, Indiana and Michigan will meet for the Old Brass Spittoon.
Thanks to the Fans: Last weekend’s attendance figures allowed the conference to surpass the two-million mark in total attendance through the first four weeks of the season. Entering conference play, Big Ten stadiums have welcomed more than 2.4 million fans through 34 games this season, averaging 70,466 fans per contest, which currently ranks sixth all-time. The conference is on pace to average more than 70,000 fans per contest for the 10th time in history and the seventh time in the last eight seasons.