Oct. 17, 2005
A Wide Open Big Ten Race: The race for the 2005 Big Ten title is wide open with every league team suffering a conference loss after four or fewer games have been played for just the second time in more than two decades. Penn State was defeated for the first time this season at Michigan on Saturday to set up a three-way tie for first place with Iowa and Wisconsin, who are also 3-1 in league action. Northwestern and Ohio State are just a half game behind at 2-1 while Minnesota and Michigan trail by one game at 2-2. The last time that no Big Ten squads opened at 4-0 or better was during the 2000 campaign when the Wolverines, Gophers, Wildcats and Boilermakers were tied tied atop the standings at 3-1 after four weekends of play. The 2000 season also marks the last time that three teams tied for the conference crown with Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue concluding the season at 6-2 in league play with the Boilermakers earning their first Rose Bowl berth since 1966. Prior to 2000, the last Big Ten season where no teams started at 4-0 was 1984.
Cutting it Close: The Big Ten's five games last weekend were decided by a total of 39 points (an average of 7.8 per game) with three matchups determined by five points or fewer in the final minutes. Michigan edged Penn State, 27-25, on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham on a play that started with one second on the clock. The Wolverines comeback was preceded by a Nittany Lions rally when PSU quarterback Michael Robinson concluded an 81-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run to claim a 25-21 lead with only 53 seconds remaining. In West Lafayette, Purdue bounced back from a 28-9 halftime deficit to retake the lead at 29-28 with 5:17 on the clock before Northwestern drove 75 yards and picked up the 34-29 win thanks to a one-yard Tyrell Sutton scoring run with 1:50 left in the game. In the most amazing comeback of the day, Wisconsin rallied from a 10-point deficit with less than four minutes remaining in the final quarter at Minnesota. The hosts built a 34-24 lead at the 3:27 mark after taking nearly eight minutes off the clock on a 19-play, 80-yard drive before Badgers quarterback John Stocco hit Brandon Williams on a 21-yard scoring strike to cap a drive of barely over a minute and pull the visitors within a field goal. Wisconsin then forced a Gophers punt, which was blocked by Jonathan Casillas and recovered by Ben Strickland in the end zone for the deciding score with 30 seconds showing in a 34-29 triumph. The other league matchups were also tight, with Ohio State scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game to rally for a 35-24 win over Michigan State and Indiana pulling within three points in the fourth quarter at Iowa before two late scores led to a 38-21 victory for the Hawkeyes.
A Year of Close Calls: Last weekend's drama continued yet another competitive conference season with the 19 Big Ten games so far this year being decided by only 13.5 points per contest. That total includes 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, five outings determined by a field goal or less and two contests that went to overtime. Last season, the Big Ten's 44 matchups were decided by 13.1 points per game with 15 final scores within a touchdown or less, seven outings decided by three points or less and four overtime games.
The Linebacker League: In a conference known for producing outstanding play at the linebacker position, the 2005 crop is living up to that standard with Big Ten linebackers earning national defensive honors in each of the last three weeks. Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter was the latest linebacker to be named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, joining previous winners Tim McGarigle of Northwestern (for his play on Oct. 8) and Paul Posluszny of Penn State (Oct. 1). In addition, fellow-Buckeye linebacker A.J. Hawk was tabbed a contender for the Heisman Trophy in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Five Big Ten linebackers currently rank among the top 15 nationally in defensive stops per game, twice as many as any other conference, including the Iowa duo of Chad Greenway (4th at 13.29) and Abdul Hodge (13th at 11.43), McGarigle (6th at 13.17), Posluszny (11th at 11.71) and Hawk (T15th at 11.33). Greenway also rates third with 8.0 solo tackles per outing, followed by Michigan's Dave Harris in a fifth-place tie at 7.17 stops per contest. Carpenter is tied for second in the country in total sacks (eight) and eighth in tackles for loss per game (1.75 avg.; 10.5 total) while the Wolverines' LaMarr Woodley is seventh with 1.79 TFLs per contest (12.5 total). Greenway, Hodge, Woodley, McGarigle, Hawk and Posluszny were joined by Purdue's George Hall (T6th in Big Ten at 9.0 tackles per game) and Wisconsin's Dontez Sanders (12th at 7.7) on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, which honors the nation's top linebacker and is named for former Illinois standout Dick Butkus, a two-time All-American in 1963 and 1964 and a member of the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame.
Five Full Houses: For the first time in at least seven years, all five Big Ten games featured packed houses last weekend with an average of 82,982 fans attending games at Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue. The Big Ten has not sold out every game in a single week since the 1998 season and perhaps longer, as week-by-week information is unavailable prior to that time. The Big Ten welcomed 414,911 patrons last weekend, the highest five-game total this season, including the first sellout of the season at the Metrodome in Minneapolis with 65,089 fans witnessing the Gophers-Badgers matchup. In addition, the Wolverines (5 home games), Buckeyes (5), Hawkeyes (4) and Boilermakers (4) have now sold out every home game this season.
Three Million Fan March: The Big Ten surpassed the three million mark in total attendance for the 41st straight season last weekend and is on pace to shatter the single-season record for average attendance. The conference boasts 3,253,127 fans in 44 home games so far this year, including 25 sellouts. Seven weeks into the 2005 campaign, the league is averaging 73,935 fans per game, which would break the current high mark of 70,505 patrons per contest set in 2002.
Superlative Performances: Big Ten players put together some exceptional performances on the field last weekend, setting season-high marks in multiple categories. The list of incredible performances includes Minnesota's Laurence Maroney, who broke loose for 258 rushing yards to equal the output of Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun on Sept. 3 against Bowling Green. Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez set conference-highs with 506 yards of total offense, 463 passing yards and 37 completions at Purdue. In that same game, Boilermakers signal caller Brandon Kirsch matched his counterpart's 37 completions while attempting a Big Ten-high 58 passes. On the receiving end, Purdue's Dorien Bryant posted a conference-best 16 catches while also equaling a league-high with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Indiana's James Hardy also excelled at the wideout position, establishing a Big Ten-best with 203 receiving yards at Iowa. On special teams, Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso booted a season-long 76-yard punt against Michigan State. And on the defensive side of the ball, Buckeyes linebacker Bobby Carpenter racked up a Big Ten-high four sacks and four tackles for loss, while Michigan linebacker LaMarr Woodley also produced four TFLs against Penn State.
Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin Near Bowl Berths: After four weeks of Big Ten play, Penn State remains the only league team to secure a bowl berth while Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are now just one win away from joining the Nittany Lions in the postseason. The Hawkeyes won their third straight conference game on Saturday against Indiana to improve to 5-2 overall, just one win shy of the six triumphs required to finish above .500 and clinch a bowl bid. Iowa is looking for its fifth straight bowl trip under head coach Kirk Ferentz, which would mark the Hawkeyes' first streak of five straight postseason bids since reaching eight straight bowls from 1981-88. The Badgers picked up a road victory against the Gophers on Saturday to boost their season mark to 6-1, but Wisconsin plays 12 games this season and must win seven contests to finish above .500 and earn a bowl trip. In his final season in Madison, head coach Barry Alvarez is seeking his 11th bowl trip in 16 years and fourth straight with the Badgers. Alvarez has produced an impressive 7-3 record in bowl games, including three Rose Bowl triumphs. Minnesota is now 5-2, just one victory away from securing the program's fourth straight bowl trip for the first time in school history. Head coach Glen Mason has led the Gophers to five bowls in the past six seasons after the program earned only five bids prior to his arrival on campus. The Big Ten has seven bowl tie-ins this season -- the Rose Bowl/Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game, Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Sun, Music City 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 designated national championship game, the Rose Bowl.
Paterno Targets 350th Career Win: Penn State's Joe Paterno, who currently ranks second all-time in career victories behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden (356), is just one victory shy of 350 wins with a record of 349-117-3 in his 40th season with the Nittany Lions. Paterno, who coached in his 100th Big Ten game last week at Michigan, will aim for his 350th win at Illinois.
Carr Moves Closer to Century Club: Michigan's Lloyd Carr moved one step closer to becoming the third active coach to rack up 100 wins at a single school when he improved to 99-32 with a victory over Penn State and Joe Paterno, who joined the century club on Sept. 24 and now stands at 102-50 in his 13th year as a member of the Big Ten. In the history of Big Ten football, only 11 coaches have collected 100 victories at one institution, a group that includes Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, who currently ranks eighth on the all-time list with a record of 114-71-4. Carr is aiming to become the third Wolverine on the list along with Bo Schembechler and Fielding Yost.
A New Golden Age of Coaching?: With Alvarez and Paterno in the century club and Carr nearing the 100-victory plateau, the Big Ten could feature three active coaches with 100 or more wins at their respective institutions for the first time in more than 85 years. The last time that three league coaches all ended a season with 100 or more wins at their schools was in 1921 when Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg (158 wins at the time), Michigan's Fielding Yost (137) and Minnesota's Henry Williams (136) accomplished the feat. The conference coaching roster for 1921 also featured Illinois' Robert Zuppke, who had only 70 wins at the end of that season but would go on to rack up 131 triumphs in his career. The last time that two conference mentors concluded a year with 100 or more victories was in 1972 when Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty ended his tenure with 109 wins while Ohio State's Woody Hayes already boasted 149 triumphs. Hayes ended his time in Columbus with 205 wins in 1978 with Michigan's Bo Schembechler standing at 96 victories.
Back in the Rotation: With the Big Ten starting a new two-year rotation on the conference schedule, many league squads will be squaring off for the first time in years. A pair of reunions occur this weekend when Michigan State hosts Northwestern and Penn State travels to Illinois. The Spartans and Wildcats last met on Sept. 28, 2002, with MSU earning a 39-24 victory. The last matchup between the Illini and Nittany Lions took place on Nov. 2, 2002, with PSU collecting an 18-7 triumph.
Big Ten Schedule Set for Oct. 29: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Oct. 29.
Ohio State at Minnesota, ABC Sports, 11 a.m. CDT
Wisconsin at Illinois, ESPN, 11 a.m. CDT
Indiana at Michigan State, ESPN Plus, Noon EDT
Purdue at Penn State, ABC Sports, 3:30 p.m. EDT
Michigan at Northwestern, ESPN or ESPN2, 6 p.m. CDT
Big Ten on TV: The fifth week of conference action will be well-covered with all five contests scheduled to be televised. The 2005 campaign will feature the most televised contests in conference history for an 11-game season, with 68 of 70 home football games appearing on television. That total includes all 44 intraconference and 24 interconference games televised by either ABC Sports, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Plus, ESPNU, ESPN Classic or ESPN360. Six interconference road games will also be televised bringing to 74 the number of Big Ten football games that will appear on television. The league website (www.bigten.org) features up-to-date television information, including clearances for ABC Sports and ESPN Plus regional and local games.
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS LAST WEEKEND
IND WR James Hardy: Set career highs with 12 catches for 203 yards (16.9 avg.) and added a TD at Iowa.
IOWA RB Albert Young: 26 carries for 125 yards (4.8 avg.) and two TDs and two receptions for 63 yards (31.5 avg.) against the Hoosiers.
MICH QB Chad Henne: 21 of 36 (58.3 percent) for 212 yards and two TDs against PSU, including a 10-yard scoring strike with no time on the clock for the win.
MINN RB Laurence Maroney: 43 carries for a career-high 258 yards (6.0 avg.) and a TD against Wisconsin, the fourth-highest single-game rushing total in school history.
OSU WR Santonio Holmes: Five receptions for 150 yards (30.0 avg.) and two TDs.
PSU QB Michael Robinson: 19 of 34 (55.9 percent) for 239 yards and 17 carries for 67 yards and two fourth-quarter TDs at Michigan, the last giving PSU a 25-21 lead with 53 seconds to play.
PUR WR Dorien Bryant: Set career highs with 16 receptions for 153 yards (9.6 avg.) while also returning two kickoffs for 113 yards (56.5 avg.), including a 95-yard touchdown, against Northwestern.
WIS RB Brian Calhoun: 23 carries for 110 yards (4.8 avg.) and three TDs at Minnesota.
IOWA LB Abdul Hodge: Game-high 18 tackles (11 solo) and one TFL (-1 yard).
MICH LB LaMarr Woodley: Eight tackles (six solo) and equaled a career-best with four TFLs (-12 yards), including an eight-yard sack, in win over Penn State.
NU CB Marquice Cole: Seven tackles (six solo), a PBU and an interception with 59 seconds left in the game to preserve NU's first win at Purdue since 1995.
PSU LB Paul Posluszny: Team-best 11 tackles (eight solo) at Michigan.
WIS LB Joe Stellmacher: Career-high 14 tackles (nine solo) at Minnesota.
IOWA K Kyle Schlicher: One-of-one (35) and five-of-five on PATs vs. Indiana.
WIS P Ken DeBauche: Five punts for 232 yards (46.4 avg.), including two inside the 20-yard line and a long of 53 yards.