Oct. 23, 2006
The Chase for the Big Ten Title: With the conference season now more than half complete, Michigan (5-0) and Ohio State (4-0) remain unbeaten while Wisconsin (4-1) is only one game back in the loss column. Penn State (3-2) is the only other team above .500 in conference action and stands just two games behind in the loss column, while Indiana (2-2) and Purdue (2-2) have split their first four games to tie for fifth in the standings. The Wolverines and Buckeyes will look to remain perfect in Big Ten play with home games on Saturday against Northwestern and Minnesota, respectively, while the Badgers look to stay in the race with a home matchup versus Illinois. The Nittany Lions and Boilermakers will square off on Saturday in West Lafayette while the Hoosiers host Michigan State.
Big Ten Ranks 1-2 in BCS Poll: In the second issue of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings which were released on Oct. 22, the Big Ten recorded yet another first in conference annals with Ohio State and Michigan slotted No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The Big Ten becomes the first conference to produce the top two programs in a BCS poll since Oct. 27, 2001, when the Big 12's Nebraska and Oklahoma were ranked first and second. Wisconsin rounded out the Big Ten's BCS contingent at No. 18 overall. The BCS rankings will be announced each Sunday with the final poll being released on Dec. 3 during a special prime time BCS Selection Show at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The teams ranked No. 1 and 2 in the final BCS standings will participate in the BCS National Championship Game to be played on Jan. 8, 2007 in Glendale, Ariz. If a Big Ten team is not ranked No. 1 or 2 in the final BCS poll, the conference champion (or co-champion as designated by the Big Ten tie-breaking procedures) will play in the Rose Bowl.
Big Ten Polling Place: In addition to ranking first and second in the latest BCS poll, Ohio State and Michigan remained in the top two spots in two of the other three national polls. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are ranked 1-2 in the Associated Press (AP) and Harris Interactive rankings for the second straight week while Michigan appears No. 3 overall behind No. 2 USC in the USA Today coaches poll. The Big Ten is the first conference in six years to have the top two teams in the media poll, as Nebraska and Kansas State of the Big 12 were ranked 1-2 in October of 2000. Prior to this season, the last time Big Ten programs held the top two slots in the AP poll was in 1985, when Iowa was ranked No. 1 and Michigan appeared at No. 2. The last time the Buckeyes and Wolverines were rated first and second in the AP Top 25 was for a two-week span in September of 1976, with Bo Schembechler's Michigan team holding the top spot over Woody Hayes' Ohio State squad.
The Perfect Seven: Michigan and Ohio State remain two of only three teams to open the 2006 campaign with eight straight wins (along with Boise State) and two of seven undefeated teams in the country (including three 7-0 teams: Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia; and one 6-0 team: USC). The Big Ten and the Big East are the sole Division I-A conferences with multiple unbeaten programs.
Historic Starts: The Big Ten features a pair of 8-0 programs for just the second time in the last 30 years with Michigan and Ohio State both off to perfect starts. The last time two conference teams won their first eight games was in 1998, when Wisconsin opened at 9-0 and the Buckeyes started with an 8-0 mark. Prior to that 1998 campaign, the last time two Big Ten schools started a season with eight consecutive victories was in 1974, when Ohio State jumped out to an 8-0 record before falling to Michigan State while Michigan won its first 10 games before losing to the Buckeyes. The last time that two Big Ten schools both opened at 9-0 was in 1973, when a 9-0 Buckeyes team and a 10-0 Wolverines squad played to a 10-10 tie to end their perfect seasons.
Signs of a National Title?: The Wolverines and Buckeyes are both off to 8-0 marks for the first time since the programs produced undefeated records and national titles. Michigan has jumped out to an 8-0 start for the second time under head coach Lloyd Carr and the first time since the school produced a perfect 12-0 mark and a national title in 1997, which marked the program's second 8-0 start since opening at 9-0 in 1986. Ohio State's Jim Tressel is also off to an 8-0 start for the second time as a Big Ten head coach since OSU went a perfect 14-0 and won the national championship in 2002. Prior to the 2002 title run, the Buckeyes last opened with eight or more victories when the squad jumped out to an 8-0 mark in 1998. OSU's last 9-0 start prior to 2002 was when the school opened with 10 straight triumphs in 1996.
Buckeyes Win 15th Straight: With a victory over Indiana on Saturday, Ohio State has now won 15 consecutive games, which is the longest active winning streak in the country. OSU's last defeat occurred on Oct. 8, 2005, against Penn State before the Buckeyes wrapped up the campaign with seven straight triumphs, including a victory in the Fiesta Bowl. This 15-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. The Buckeyes have also won 10 straight Big Ten matchups, the school's longest string of in-conference success since winning 10 in a row from 2001-03. OSU set a school record by winning 17 straight Big Ten games on three different occasions, most recently from 1974-76. Michigan is the only team to win more consecutive conference games, setting the all-time record with 19 straight victories from 1990-92.
Big Ten Players Near National Awards: Six Big Ten student-athletes were named semifinalists last week for the Butkus Award, honoring the nation's top linebacker, and the Rotary Lombardi Award, given to the country's outstanding lineman. Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny made the cut for both postseason honors after winning the Butkus and Bednarik (top defensive player) Awards and picking up All-American and Academic All-American accolades as a junior last season. The Big Ten led all conferences with four semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, twice as many as the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, which boasted two honorees a piece. Posluszny was joined on the 12-man list of semifinalists for the award by Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley, Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock and Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas. Buckeyes' linebacker A.J. Hawk earned the conference's seventh Lombardi Award last season. The Big Ten's three semifinalists for the Butkus Award included Posluszny, Michigan's David Harris and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. The Big Ten was one of only two conferences to boast multiple players on the list of semifinalists for the Butkus Award, ranking second only to the SEC's four honorees. Posluszny became the seventh conference standout to collect the Butkus Award, which is named after former Illinois linebacker and Hall of Famer Dick Butkus.
The Best and the Brightest: Seven Big Ten student-athletes were named semifinalists for the 2006 Draddy Trophy, which recognizes one player as the best in the country for combined academic success, football performance and community leadership. The conference's seven honorees are Indiana's Will Meyers, Iowa's Mike Elgin, Minnesota's Matt Spaeth, Ohio State's Stan White, Penn State's Paul Posluszny, Purdue's Mike Otto and Wisconsin's Joe Thomas. Nominees for the Draddy Trophy must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player and demonstrate strong leadership and citizenship. Selected by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, up to 15 finalists will be named on October 26 and the winner will pick up the trophy and a $25,000 post-graduate scholarship on Dec. 5. The Big Ten boasts two former student-athletes who earned the Draddy Trophy -- Ohio State's Craig Krenzel (2003) and Bobby Hoying (1995).
Comeback Kings: Michigan State recorded the biggest comeback in Division I-A history on Saturday, rallying from a 35-point third quarter deficit for a 41-38 victory at Northwestern. The Wildcats built a 38-3 lead with 9:54 remaining in the third quarter before the Spartans rallied for 38 straight points, capped by a 28-yard Brett Swenson field goal with 13 seconds left in the game for the final margin. The previous record for the largest comeback in Division I-A annals was a 31-point rally by two different teams -- Ohio State on Oct. 28, 1989 (41-37 win over Minnesota) and Maryland on Nov. 10, 1984 (42-40 win over Miami).
Paterno Passes Cooper in Century Club: The Big Ten's two active century club coaches both picked up victories on Saturday with Penn State's Joe Paterno knocking off Illinois and Michigan's Lloyd Carr defeating Iowa. Paterno improved to 112-53 since the Nittany Lions joined the conference in 1993 to claim sole possession of ninth place on the list of coaches with 100 or more wins at a Big Ten school. The Penn State mentor entered the weekend tied with Ohio State's John Cooper (111-43-4 from 1998-2000). Next on the chart is current Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez, who wrapped up his 16-year coaching tenure in Madison last season with118 wins. In his 12th season with the Wolverines, Carr is now just one victory behind Cooper with a record of 110-34 and sits alone in 11th place on the list, breaking a tie with Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty (109-69-5 from 1954-72).
Big Ten Schedule Set for Nov. 4: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Nov. 4:
Penn State at Wisconsin, 11 a.m. CDT, ABC
Northwestern at Iowa, 11 a.m. CDT, ESPN Plus Regional
Ball State at Michigan, Noon EDT, ESPNU
Indiana at Minnesota, TBD
Ohio State at Illinois, 2:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
Purdue at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNU
Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions Near Bowl Berths: With identical records of 5-3, Iowa and Penn State are now just one win shy of joining Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin as bowl-eligible programs. The Hawkeyes and head coach Kirk Ferentz are aiming for their sixth consecutive postseason game, the school's longest string of success since playing in eight straight bowl games from 1981-88. In addition, Iowa is one of only four squads to play a January bowl game in each of the last four seasons along with USC, Georgia and Florida State. The Nittany Lions are looking for a second straight bowl bid and 33rd postseason appearance under head coach Joe Paterno, who is the NCAA's all-time leader in bowl victories (21) and bids (32). Purdue also has a 5-3 record but with 13 games this season, the Boilermakers need two more wins to guarantee a finish of .500 or better. Indiana and Michigan State are both 4-4 on the season, just two wins away from the six-victory mark and bowl eligibility. 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, 2007 in Glendale, Ariz.
Big Ten Half-Season Leaders: With the Big Ten season more than half complete, Wisconsin and Purdue are on pace to sweep the statistical titles in the categories appearing in the conference records book. For the Badgers, freshman P.J. Hill currently stands atop a pair of categories, ranking first with 151.4 rushing yards and 10.8 points per contest in Big Ten games only. Hill is aiming to become the second freshman in the past three years to lead the Big Ten in rushing along with current Michigan standout Mike Hart (121.2 yards per game in 2004), who ranks second in the conference with 129.2 rushing yards per game in conference action. Hill would become the first Badger to lead the way in ground yardage since Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne picked up his third rushing title in four years in 1999. Wisconsin also boasted the top point-producer last season when running back Brian Calhoun average 10.5 points in eight conference games. Fellow-Badger John Stocco leads the way with a pass efficiency rating of 167.2 in five conference contests, which would make him the second UW player in the last four seasons to lead the Big Ten in pass efficiency along with Jim Sorgi, who ranked first in 2003 with a rating of 162.8. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter is looking to continue the Boilermakers' dominance of the total offense category by producing a conference-best 281.0 yards per outing this season. A Purdue signal caller has led the Big Ten in this category in five of the last nine seasons, including statistical titles for Kyle Orton (2004), Drew Brees (1998-2000) and Billy Dicken (1997). Many of Painter's passes are headed in the direction of wide receivers Dorien Bryant and Greg Orton, who are tied atop the conference rankings with 5.5 receptions per game. Bryant is one of two conference statistical leader from a year ago to top the charts at the mid-way point after ranking first with 6.6 catches per contest in 2005. The other is Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche, who leads the Big Ten with 44.8 yards per boot after topping the conference with 44.4 yards per punt in 2005. He is aiming to become the first Badger to record back-to-back punting titles since Jim Bakken accomplished the feat in 1960 and 1961. The last Big Ten player to lead the league in punting average in consecutive seasons is Michigan State's Brandon Fields, who topped the conference as a freshman and sophomore in 2003 and 2004 and currently stands fifth overall with 42.5 yards per kick. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is also close to earning a repeat statistical title, ranking second behind Stocco with a pass efficiency rating of 167.1 after leading the way with a mark of 169.6 last year.
Trophy Games Return: After a one-week absence, another trophy will be on the line this weekend when Indiana and Michigan State battle for the Old Brass Spittoon. The two programs have competed for this trophy since 1950, with the Spartans holding a 38-11-1 advantage, including a current four-game winning streak. The Big Ten boasts 15 traditional trophy games between schools.
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS LAST WEEK
ILL RB Rashard Mendenhall: 14 carries for a career-best 161 yards (11.5 avg.), including a career-long 79-yard run, the longest rush vs. PSU since at least 1974.
MICH RB Mike Hart: 31 carries for 126 yards (4.1 avg.) and two TDs vs. Iowa.
NU QB C.J. Bacher: 15 of 29 (51.7 pct.) for 245 yards and three TDs in first collegiate start against Michigan State.
WIS RB P.J. Hill: 29 carries for 161 yards (5.6 avg.) and two TDs vs. Purdue.
ILL LB J Leman: Seven tackles (five solo) and two TFLs (-10 yards), including a seven-yard sack, at Penn State.
IOWA DE Bryan Mattison: Five tackles (four solo), including two sacks (-26 yards) and a forced fumble against Michigan.
MICH LB Shawn Crable: Three solo tackles, including a career-high three sacks
(-19 yards) and a forced fumble vs. Iowa.
PUR DT Ryan Baker: Three tackles (two solo), including two sacks (-11 yards), and first career interception against Wisconsin.
WIS LB Jonathan Casillas: Team-high eight tackles (seven solo), a TFL (-2 yards) and an interception as Purdue was held to three points for the first time since 2003.
ILL K Jason Reda: Career-high four-of-four (41, 21, 40, 36) on field goals for Illinois' only points at Penn State.
MICH K Garrett Rivas: Two-of-two (20, 37) on field goals and two PATs vs. Iowa.
MSU K Brett Swenson: Two-of-two (32,28) on field goals, including a game-winning 28-yarder with 13 seconds left.
WIS K Taylor Mehlhaff: Career-long 51-yard field goal, the fifth-longest boot in school history, against Purdue.