Sept. 25, 2006
Four Big Ten Teams Remain Unbeaten: The Big Ten continues to lead all conferences with four unbeaten teams in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue. Overall, only 19 Division I-A programs have not suffered a loss so far this season. The Big East (Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia) and SEC (Auburn, Florida, Georgia) rate second to the Big Ten with three perfect teams each while the ACC (Virginia Tech, Wake Forest), Big 12 (Missouri, Texas A&M) and Pac-10 (Oregon, USC) each boast two programs with unblemished records. The remaining unbeatens are Boise State (WAC), Houston (Conference USA) and TCU (Mountain West). Of the 19 undefeated teams, 16 have produced 4-0 records. At least one of the Big Ten unbeatens will suffer their first loss next weekend when the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes battle in Iowa City.
The Big Ten Unbeatens: Four Big Ten teams have yet to lose a game so far in 2006 with Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue boasting 4-0 marks. The Hawkeyes have opened the year with four straight triumphs for just the second time under head coach Kirk Ferentz and the first time since the 2003 campaign, when Iowa ended the year with 10 wins and a victory in the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes have not opened with a 5-0 mark since 1995. Michigan has jumped out to a 4-0 start for the fourth season under Lloyd Carr and the first time since starting the 1999 campaign with five triumphs on the way to a 10-win season and an Orange Bowl win. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is off to a 4-0 start for the third time in six seasons at the helm and the first time since opening with a 5-0 mark in 2003, a season that concluded with 11 victories and a Fiesta Bowl triumph. Purdue's Joe Tiller has started the season with four straight wins for the third time in his tenure in West Lafayette, as the Boilermakers opened with a 5-0 record in 2004.
Undefeated Teams Square Off Saturday: The second weekend of Big Ten action will be highlighted by two of the league's four unbeaten teams squaring off when Iowa hosts Ohio State. One of these two programs has won the Big Ten title in three of the last four seasons, with the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes sharing first place in 2002 with identical 8-0 marks before Iowa split the title with Michigan in 2004 and Ohio State shared the crown with Penn State in 2005. The Buckeyes have won nine of the last 10 games against the Hawkeyes to build a 43-14-3 advantage in the all-time series, with Iowa's lone victory in that span coming in Iowa City in 2004.
Other Big Ten Games: In addition to the Iowa-Ohio State matchup, the coming weekend will feature one of the longest rivalries in conference annals and a familiar non-conference foe. Michigan and Minnesota will square off for the 95th time since 1892, which ranks as the seventh-longest series in Big Ten history. The Gophers are part of the longest series in conference history, 115 games against Wisconsin since 1890, while the Wolverines series with Ohio State, 102 games since 1897, rates as the third-longest. Michigan holds a 67-24-3 advantage against Minnesota but the Gophers won the latest matchup last season to snap a 16-game losing streak in the series and reclaim the Little Brown Jug, the conference's oldest trophy. In other conference battles, Penn State has won eight of 11 games against Northwestern, Wisconsin holds a 32-18-2 advantage in the all-time series with Indiana while Michigan State has built a 23-16-2 record against Illinois. In the lone non-conference game this weekend, Purdue is looking to bounce back from a loss last season to Notre Dame, which holds a 50-25-2 edge in their matchups.
Streaking Buckeyes: With a victory over Penn State on Saturday, Ohio State has now won 11 straight games. The Buckeyes' 11-game winning streak ranks second nationally behind only TCU, which has won 13 consecutive games. OSU's last defeat occurred on Oct. 8 of last season against the Nittany Lions before the Buckeyes wrapped up the 2005 campaign with seven straight triumphs, including a victory in the Fiesta Bowl. This 11-game string of success marks the longest winning streak for Ohio State since the program claimed 19 straight victories during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, including a perfect 14-0 mark and a national championship in 2002. Michigan holds the Big Ten record with a 29-game winning streak from 1901-03.
Hoosiers Coach Returns From Surgery: Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner will return to the sidelines on Saturday for the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin just over two weeks after undergoing brain surgery. Hoeppner, who had surgery last December to remove a tumor from his right temple, underwent a second procedure on Sept. 13 after a routine scan revealed a spot on his brain. He rejoined his team on Sunday in order to begin preparations for the Badgers.
Another Big Ten Debut: For the second straight weekend, one of the Big Ten's newest head coaches will square off against one of the conference veterans in his Big Ten head coaching debut. Last weekend, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, the second-youngest mentor in Division I-A, got his first taste of Big Ten action as a head coach when he took on Michigan and head coach Lloyd Carr, who ranks second among all active conference coaches in his 12th year with the Wolverines. On Saturday, the nation's youngest Division I-A head coach, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, will serve as the head coach in his first Big Ten game at Penn State with Joe Paterno entering his 14th conference campaign and 41st season overall. Fitzgerald is familiar with Big Ten play after serving as a Wildcats assistant coach from 2001-05 while also playing for NU from 1993-96, winning a pair of conference titles and becoming the only player to win the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards in back-to-back seasons. He was part of the first Northwestern squad to play a game against Penn State in 1993 but lost three of his four games against Paterno and the Nittany Lions during his playing career.
Two Trophies On The Line Saturday: In a conference with 15 traditional trophy games, two trophies will be up for grabs on Saturday when Minnesota hosts Michigan and Purdue challenges Notre Dame. The Wolverines and Gophers will be playing for the conference's oldest trophy -- the Little Brown Jug. Michigan coaching legend Fielding Yost left the jug in Minneapolis after a tie in 1903 and Minnesota refused to return it until the Wolverines earned it with a win. UM reclaimed the jug in their next matchup in 1909 and the two teams have played for the trophy ever since, with the Wolverines holding a 63-22-3 advantage. However, the Gophers ended a 16-game losing streak to Michigan last season to reclaim the jug for the first time since 1986. The other trophy on the line will be the Shillelagh, which has been awarded to the victor of the Purdue-Notre Dame game every season since 1958. The Fighting Irish snapped a two-game losing streak in the series last season to reclaim the Shillelagh and have won 31 of the 49 trophy games. Notre Dame was also involved in a Big Ten trophy game last week, claiming possession of the Megaphone with a victory over Michigan State.
Penn State at Minnesota Football Game May Be Rescheduled: The Big Ten Conference announced that it will wait until the conclusion of the Major League Baseball regular season on Sunday, Oct. 1, to determine if it is necessary to move the Oct. 7 Penn State at Minnesota football game to Saturday, Nov. 25. If the Minnesota Twins do not qualify for the playoffs or win the American League Central division with the best or second-best record among division winners, the Penn State at Minnesota football game will be played on Oct. 7 as scheduled. If the Twins earn the wild card or win the division with the third-best record among division winners, the Penn State at Minnesota football game will be played on Nov. 25.
Big Ten Schedule Partially Set for Oct. 7: Due to the possibility of the Penn State-Minnesota game being moved to later in the season, the Big Ten confirmed the following partial schedule for games on Saturday, Oct. 7. Television plans for the Penn State-Minnesota, Northwestern-Wisconsin and Indiana-Illinois games will be made no later than Monday, Oct. 2.
Penn State at Minnesota (tentative), 11 a.m. CDT, TV TBD
Northwestern at Wisconsin, 11 a.m. CDT, TV TBD
Indiana at Illinois, 11 a.m. CDT, TV TBD
Purdue at Iowa, 11 a.m. CDT, ESPNU
Bowling Green at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN Plus Local
Michigan State at Michigan, 4:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN
The Amazing Shrinking Victory Margin: Over the last four decades, winning a Big Ten title has become increasingly difficult for the team or teams that survives the eight-game grind of the conference race. The average margin of victory for the Big Ten champion stands at 12.8 points per outing since the 2000 campaign. However, the 2005 campaign saw a reversal of that trend with Ohio State (victory margin of 19.6) and Penn State (17.6) both outscoring their opponents by more than 17 points per contest. Only two other teams since 2000 have accomplished that feat -- the 2002 Iowa squad (21.5) and the 2003 Michigan team (17.0). The margin of victory for the Big Ten champs has steadily decreased over the last 40 years. In the 1970's, the conference winners defeated their foes by an average of 23.6 points per contest. That deficit dropped to 17.5 points per game in the 1980's and 15.8 points per outing in the 1990's before falling to its current level over the past six seasons. Five of the 11 conference champions since 2000 have produced a margin of victory below 10 points, including the 2000 Purdue squad which edged its opponents by a mere 5.5 points in eight contests, the second-lowest victory margin in almost 40 years. The 1996 Northwestern team produced a victory margin of 4.1 points in eight games, which was the lowest since the 1967 Indiana squad squeaked by its opponents by 1.3 points per outing.
Spreading the Love: Parity has reigned over the Big Ten landscape for the last decade (1996-2005) 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 (`96, `00), Ohio State (`96, `98, `02, '05), Penn State ('05), Purdue (`00) and Wisconsin (`98, `99). The title has been shared by at least two teams six times in this span, with a pair of three-team ties in 1998 and 2000 and two teams atop the standings in 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2005.
Preseason Picks: Media members attending the Big Ten Conference media days in August selected Ohio State to repeat as league champions while Michigan was dubbed the preseason No. 2 pick and Iowa was tabbed for third place (the Big Ten only releases a top three poll). Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith was chosen as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year while Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Michigan Continues Assault on Big Ten Records Book: Three Michigan standouts continued to climb the Big Ten career rankings last week as wideout Steve Breaston moved up to second in punt returns, kicker Garrett Rivas cracked the top 10 in kicking points while quarterback Chad Henne is just outside the top 10 in passing touchdowns. Breaston set a school record with nine punt returns, the second-highest total in conference annals, for a career-best 116 yards against Wisconsin to move into second place with 115 career returns, just 10 returns away from surpassing Iowa's Peter Marciano (124 from 1986-89) for the Big Ten record. Breaston already holds the conference career mark with 1,468 punt return yards. Rivas converted both of his field goals and tallied nine points against the Badgers to boost his career numbers to 300 points and pass Ohio State's Vlade Janakievski (295 from 1977-80) for 10th place on the Big Ten career charts. Rivas now has 55 field goals in his time in Ann Arbor, just two shy of cracking the career top 10 on that list. In just his third season with the Wolverines, Henne has already compiled 55 touchdown passes, including two scoring strikes against Wisconsin last weekend. The junior quarterback is only two touchdown passes away from equaling the Buckeyes' Bobby Hoying (57 from 1992-95) for 10th place on the Big Ten career list. The complete list of Big Ten players among or nearing the top 10 career leaders in conference annals appears on page seven.
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS LAST WEEK
IOWA RB Albert Young: 14 carries for 57 yards (4.1 avg.) and one TD and six catches for 40 yards (6.7 avg.) at Illinois.
MINN RB Amir Pinnix: 28 carries for 173 yards (6.2 avg.) and three catches for 47 yards (15.7 avg.) at Purdue.
OSU RB Antonio Pittman: 20 carries for 110 yards (5.5 avg.) and one TD against Penn State.
PUR RB Jaycen Taylor: 11 carries for 90 yards (8.2 avg.) and one TD and two catches for 20 yards (10.0 avg.) and another TD vs. Gophers.
WIS RB P.J. Hill: 20 carries for 54 yards (2.7 avg.) and five catches for 64 yards (12.8 avg.) and a TD at Michigan.
ILL S Kevin Mitchell: 10 tackles (six solo) and first interception and sack (-7 yards) of his career against Iowa.
IND CB Tracy Porter: Three tackles (all solo), two interceptions and a pass breakup against Connecticut.
IOWA CB Adam Shada: Five tackles (four solo) and two interceptions at Illinois.
MICH LB David Harris: 10 tackles (career-high nine solo) and two TFLs (-5 yards) in win over Wisconsin.
NU LB Adam Kadela: Nine tackles (eight solo) and a TFL at Nevada.
OSU CB Malcolm Jenkins: Four tackles (three solo) and a 61-yard interception return for a TD to give OSU a 21-6 lead in the fourth quarter vs. PSU.
WIS CB Allen Langford: Four tackles (all solo) and two interceptions at Michigan.
IND RB Marcus Thigpen: Became first Hoosier to record two kickoff return TDs in one season after breaking loose for an 87-yard score vs. Connecticut.
IOWA P Andy Fenstermaker: Eight punts for 286 yards (35.8 avg.) with three inside the 20-yard line at Illinois.
MICH WR Steve Breaston: School-record nine punt returns for a career-high 116 yards (12.9 avg.) against Wisconsin.
PUR P Jared Armstrong: Three punts for 132 yards (44.0 avg.) against Minnesota.