Big Ten Weekly Football Release - Sept. 29

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has the Wildcats off to their first 5-0 start since 1962.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has the Wildcats off to their first 5-0 start since 1962.

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Sept. 29, 2008

FACES OF THE BIG TEN

JAVON RINGER, michigan state senior running back
Ringer is respected not only for his success on the field, but for his time spent working with youth in the local community. One of the most active student-athletes in MSU's Multicultural Program, Ringer has participated in numerous events, including the Gear Up College Day Program in which he served as a counselor to help advise middle school children, and the Academic Gladiators program where he expressed the importance of academics to other student-athletes. His vibrant attitude has inspired children at hospitals and the MSU Child Development Lab, while his positive coaching skills at camps and clinics have made him a mentor to young football players. Ringer has proven to be a humble role model that the community has truly come to know, making him a fan favorite in the stands at Spartan Stadium.

BIG TEN. BIG NEWS.

Big Ten Tied for National Lead with Two 5-0 Teams: Following a week when nine more Football Bowl Subdivision teams suffered their first losses, two Big Ten programs remained undefeated as Northwestern and Penn State both improved to 5-0 overall. The Wildcats and Nittany Lions are two of only seven teams nationally to boast 5-0 marks, as the Big Ten and Big East (Connecticut, South Florida) are tied for the lead among all conferences with two 5-0 schools. The nation's other 5-0 programs include Alabama (SEC), Ball State (MAC) and Utah (Mountain West). The Big Ten and Big East are also two of only five conferences featuring multiple teams with unblemished records. The Big 12 leads the way with five unbeatens, all standing at 4-0, followed by the SEC (four unbeatens) and Mountain West (two). Overall, there are only 18 teams with perfect records in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

A Deep Conference: Through five weekends of action, the Big Ten and the Big 12 are the only conferences featuring no teams with losing records. Northwestern and Penn State lead the way at 5-0 overall, while Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin have suffered only one loss. Every other team stands at .500 or better entering October.

Wildcats Post Sixth 5-0 Mark in Last Century: Northwestern rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to pick up a road triumph in its Big Ten opener at Iowa to improve to 5-0 for the first time in four decades and just the sixth time in the last 100 years. The last time the Wildcats opened a season with five consecutive triumphs was in 1962, when Ara Parseghian led the program to six straight wins to open the season before finishing 7-2. NU's other 5-0 starts in the last century include 6-0 marks in 1959 and 1916 and 7-0 records in 1936 and 1930. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats have a bye this weekend  before aiming for their sixth straight triumph on Oct. 11 against Michigan State.

Familiar 5-0 Start for Penn State: Penn State has also opened the 2008 campaign with five straight victories, marking the Nittany Lions' seventh 5-0 start since joining the Big Ten in 1993. PSU has jumped out to a 5-0 mark for the second time in the last four seasons after opening with six straight triumphs in 2005 on the way to an 11-1 campaign and a share of the conference crown. Penn State's other 5-0 starts since 1993 include a perfect 12-0 season in 1994, a 9-0 start in 1999, a 7-0 record in 1997 and 5-0 marks in 1996 and 1993. The Nittany Lions will aim for their sixth straight victory on Saturday at Purdue.

Three More Strong Starts: In addition to the Big Ten's undefeated pair, three conference programs have jumped out to 4-1 starts in Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State. After being edged at California in their season opener, the Spartans have reeled off four straight triumphs to open the season at 4-1 for the second straight season under head coach Mark Dantonio and the third time in the last four years. After winning only one game last season, the Gophers have quadrupled their win total with a 4-1 record and have opened with at least four wins in their first five contests for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. The Buckeyes have triumphed in at least four of their first five games for the third straight season and the fifth time in head coach Jim Tressel's eight seasons in Columbus.

Northwestern and Penn State One Win From Bowl Berth: After improving to 5-0 last weekend, Northwestern and Penn State are just one victory from bowl eligibility. The Wildcats are aiming for their first bowl excursion since playing in the Sun Bowl following the 2005 campaign and the first postseason appearance under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Nittany Lions are looking for their fourth straight bowl trip and 35th postseason contest under head coach Joe Paterno, who is the NCAA's all-time leader in bowl victories (23) and bids (34). With 4-1 marks, Michigan State, MInnesota and Ohio State are just two triumphs away from becoming eligible for a spot in a bowl game. The Big Ten has seven bowl tie-ins this season - the Rose Bowl/Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game, Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports, Insight and Motor City Bowls. If the Big Ten champion (or co-champion) is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS rankings, then that team will participate in the BCS National Championship Game, to be played on Jan. 8, 2009 in Miami, Fla.

Rodriguez Rally Seals Impressive Big Ten Debut: In the 500th game at Michigan Stadium, Rich Rodriguez rallied the Wolverines to the largest comeback victory in the history of the Big House, becoming the fourth straight UM head coach to open his Big Ten career with a triumph. Michigan trailed nationally-ranked Wisconsin by a score of 19-0 at halftime before reeling off 27 straight second-half points and holding on for a narrow 27-25 win after the Badgers failed on a late two-point conversion attempt. The Wolverines' 19-point comeback breaks the previous record set on two occasions, when the team rallied from 17-point deficits to earn victories against Virginia in 1995 (in the first game under previous Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr) and Michigan State in 2004. The only greater comeback in school history occurred on the road when UM bounced back from a 21-point deficit at Minnesota in 2003. Rodriguez joins Carr (in 1995), Gary Moeller (in 1990) and Bo Schembecher (in 1969) as the fourth consecutive Michigan mentor to claim victory in his Big Ten opener.

The Nation's Best Fans: Four of the five Big Ten home games last weekend set or equaled season-highs in attendance with Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State boasting full houses. Two schools welcomed more than 109,000 patrons on Saturday with the Nittany Lions packing in 109,626 fans into Beaver Stadium against Illinois and the Wolverines hosting 109,833 people at Michigan Stadium for the Wisconsin game. The Buckeyes also reached six figures with 105,175 fans at Ohio Stadium for the Minnesota contest. The Hawkeyes posted their fourth sellout this season with 70,585 fans at Kinnick Stadium for the Northwestern game.The Big Ten boasts the nation's top three teams in average attendance, as Michigan leads the country with an average of 108,326 fans per contest. Penn State ranks second with 107,367 fans per outing while Ohio State rates third with 104,544 per game. In all, six Big Ten programs rank among the top 25 in national attendance including No. 16 Wisconsin (80,653), No. 20 Michigan State (72,825) and No. 21 Iowa (70,585).

Badgers Streaking at Home: Following two road games and a bye week, Wisconsin returns home on Saturday and will look to build upon its 16-game winning streak at Camp Randall Stadium.  The Badgers' victory streak is the second-longest string of home success in school history, trailing only the 25 in a row Wisconsin won from 1900-03. Wisconsin's 16-game streak is also the second-longest active streak in the country behind only Oklahoma (21 straight). UW's last home loss occurred on Nov. 12, 2005, against Iowa, the final home game for former coach Barry Alvarez. Current head coach Bret Bielema has yet to lose a home game with the Badgers.

Paterno Maintains Top Spot: With a victory over Illinois on Saturday, Penn State's Joe Paterno picked up his 377th career victory to maintain sole possession of the all-time victory record among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches. Paterno improved to 377-125-3 in his 43rd season leading the Nittany Lions while Florida State's Bobby Bowden picked up a win over Colorado to remain right behind with 376 career triumphs. Paterno has now been on the sidelines for 505 career games, one of only three 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) and Bowden (500 games). Paterno will aim for win number 378 on Saturday at Purdue.

Paterno Nearing Seventh Place in Century Club: Penn State's Joe Paterno improved to 130-58 since PSU joined the conference in 1993 to move within one triumph of equaling Illinois' Robert Zuppke for seventh place on the list of 12 mentors to collect 100 or more wins while at a Big Ten school. Zuppke posted a record of 131-81-13 in 29 seasons with the Fighting Illini from 1913-41. Among other active Big Ten coaches, Purdue's Joe Tiller boasts 85 wins in 11-plus years in West Lafayette while Ohio State's Jim Tressel has racked up 77 victories in seven-plus seasons with the Buckeyes.

Four Big Ten Punters Named to Ray Guy Award Watch List: Four Big Ten student-athletes were named to the watch list for the 2008 Ray Guy Award, granted to the nation's top punter. The Big Ten's list of honorees included Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan's Zoltan Mesko, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso. Three Big Ten players have earned the Ray Guy Award, including OSU's B.J. Sander in 2003, Purdue's Travis Dorsch in 2001 and Wisconsin's Kevin Stemke in 2000.

Trophy Bye Weeks: In a conference with 15 traditional trophy games, no trophies will be on the line the next two Saturdays. Two trophies were up for grabs last weekend, with Michigan State knocking off Indiana to hold onto the Old Brass Spittoon while Notre Dame defeated Purdue to reclaim the Shillelagh. The Big Ten's traditional trophy games will return on Oct. 18 when Iowa and Wisconsin battle for the newest award, the Heartland Trophy.

Close Calls: Iowa and Michigan State will resume one of the closest series in Big Ten annals, as the two teams have met on 39 occasions with the Hawkeyes holding a narrow 20-17-2 advantage. Only three other Big Ten series of 30 games or longer are closer than the Iowa-Michigan State rivalry, including Michigan State-Purdue (Spartans lead 29-28-3), Minnesota-Purdue (Gophers lead 31-30-3) and Iowa-Wisconsin (Badgers lead 41-40-2).

Big Ten Schedule Announced for Oct. 11: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Oct. 11. The Penn State-Wisconsin game will be played at 7 p.m. CDT on either ESPN or ESPN2, with the network determined following the contests on Oct. 4.

Minnesota at Illinois, 11 a.m. CDT, ESPN
Iowa at Indiana, Noon EDT, Big Ten Network
Toledo at Michigan, Noon EDT, Big Ten Network
Michigan State at Northwestern, 2:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
Purdue at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC (regional - ESPN outer-market)
Penn State at Wisconsin, 7 p.m. CDT, ESPN or ESPN2*
* network to be identified after games of Oct. 4

OTHER TOP PERFORMERS

OFFENSE:
ILL WR Arrelious Benn:
Collected a career-high 110 yards on four catches (27.5 avg.) including two TDs.
IND RB Marcus Thigpen: Rushed for 113 yards on nine carries (12.6 avg.) with two TDs, including a career-long 78-yarder; Added 94 yards on two catches, including a career-long 79-yard TD.
IOWA RB Shonn Greene: Recorded a career-high 159 yards on 21 carries (7.6 avg.) with a TD.
MICH QB Steven Threet: Rallied UM from a 19-0 deficit with a career-best 89 yards on nine carries (9.9 avg.), including a key 58-yard run in the fourth quarter, while adding 96 passing yards and a TD.
MSU QB Brian Hoyer: Completed 14-of-26 passes (53.8 pct.) for 261 yards and two TDs, including a career-long 82-yarder, and added a rushing TD.
MSU RB Javon Ringer: Nearly cracked 200 yards for the third straight game with 198 yards on 44 carries (4.5 avg.) with a TD at Indiana.
OSU RB Chris "Beanie" Wells: Returned from injury to record 106 yards on 14 carries (7.6 avg.).
PSU QB Daryll Clark: Connected on 14-of-20 passes (70.0 pct.) for 181 yards and two TDs and added 50 yards on 11 carries (4.5 avg.) with another TD.
PUR WR Desmond Tardy: Set career highs with 10 catches and 175 yards with a 54-yard TD.
WIS RB P.J. Hill: Collected 70 yards on 22 carries (3.2 avg.) and 38 yards on three catches (12.7 avg.).

DEFENSE:
IOWA LB Jeremiah Hunter:
Collected a career-best 12 tackles (three solo) with 0.5 TFLs (-1 yard) and an interception returned 21 yards vs. NU.
MINN CB Traye Simmons: Posted eight tackles (five solo) and three PBU at Ohio State.
NU S Brad Phillips: Totaled 11 tackles (eight solo), two TFLs (-10 yards), one sack (-8 yards) and forced a fumble to set up game-winning scoring drive.
OSU S Anderson Russell: Registered seven tackles (five solo), two forced fumbles and one recovery.
PSU LB Navorro Bowman: Collected 10 tackles (five solo), 0.5 TFLs (-1 yard), a PBU and forced fumble.
PUR LB Anthony Heygood: Posted team-high 11 tackles (five solo), one TFL (-1 yard) and a PBU.
WIS LB Jonathan Casillas: Registered eight tackles (six solo), 0.5 TFLs (-2 yards) and an interception.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
IND P Chris Hagerup:
Boomed six punts for 309 yards (51.5 avg.) with one inside the 20-yard line and four over 50 yards, including a career-long 67-yarder.
MSU K Brett Swenson: Accounted for a career-high 16 points by connecting on all four field-goal attempts (45, 48, 45, 32) and four PATs
NU KR Jeravin Matthews: Returned two kickoffs for 41 yards (20.5 avg.) and recovered two fumbles on a kickoff and punt, one of which led to a TD.
OSU P A.J. Trapasso: Recorded two punts for 109 yards (54.5 avg.) against Minnesota.
WIS K Philip Welch: Connected on four-of-five field goal attempts (21, 42, 41, 52) at Michigan, including a career-long 52-yarder, the fourth-longest kick in school history.