Oct. 29, 2007
2007 Big Ten Title Race Enters Final Stretch: With just three weekends of Big Ten play remaining, five teams still have a shot at claiming the conference crown. Michigan and Ohio State remain a perfect 5-0 in Big Ten play and continue conference action on Saturday, with the Buckeyes hosting Wisconsin and the Wolverines facing a road test at Michigan State. Since Michigan and Ohio State will meet in the season finale, neither team can lose more than two conference games which means that only the three other teams with two Big Ten losses are still in the hunt for the championship. Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin are all tied for third place with a 3-2 mark and will hit the road this weekend for more conference competition. The Illini return to Big Ten play with a night game at Minnesota, the Boilermakers will be challenged on the road against Penn State while the Badgers take on the No. 1 team in the country in Columbus, Ohio. Michigan has won a Big Ten record 42 championships and is aiming for its third first-place finish in the last five seasons after sharing the crown in 2004 and winning the title outright in 2003. Ohio State ranks second to the Wolverines with 31 Big Ten titles and is seeking its third consecutive crown for the first time since winning six straight from 1972-77. The last Big Ten school to claim three of more consecutive Big Ten Championships was Michigan, which won five straight titles from 1988-92.
Five-Way Race for Big Ten Title: While Michigan and Ohio State are tied for first place in the Big Ten standings, both teams will face a challenging schedule down the stretch with at least two of their final three opponents appearing among the conference's top five. The Buckeyes face the most daunting slate with matchups against third-place teams Illinois and Wisconsin along with the season finale against fellow conference unbeaten Michigan. The combined record of OSU's remaining opponents in Big Ten play is 11-4 (.733), the most challenging of any of the top five. But the Buckeyes are the only team among the first five to play two of their final three games at home. The Wolverines will begin a two-game road trip on Saturday at Michigan State before travelling to Wisconsin and wrapping up the season at home against Ohio State. Michigan's remaining opponents are a combined 9-6 (.600) in conference play. Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin all play two of their final three games on the road and must win out to earn a share of the Big Ten Championship (since the worst Michigan or Ohio State can finish is 6-2). The Badgers will be tested by the toughest remaining schedule of the third-place teams with a combined opponent's winning percentage of 10-5 (.667), including games against both undefeated first-place residents the next two weekends before the season finale at Minnesota. The remaining opponents for both the Illini and Boilermakers feature a combined record under .500.
Nine Big Ten Teams Above .500: With only three games remaining for each Big Ten team, nine of the 11 conference programs currently stand above .500 including Ohio State (9-0), Michigan (7-2), Purdue (7-2), Wisconsin (7-2), Illinois (6-3), Penn State (6-3), Indiana (5-4), Michigan State (5-4) and Northwestern (5-4). In addition, Iowa defeated the Spartans last weekend to move within one game of the .500 mark at 4-5 overall. The Big Ten is one of only three conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision to boast nine or more teams with more wins than losses along with the Big 12 and SEC. The Big Ten has never concluded a season with 10 teams above .500 and has only produced nine teams with more victories than defeats on four occasions -- 1904, 1903, 1901 and 1900. The last season that eight Big Ten teams finished at .500 or better was in 1999, the first time that feat had been accomplished since the 1960 campaign.
Illini Join Big Ten's Bowl Pool: Illinois became the sixth Big Ten school to earn bowl-eligibility last Saturday by improving to 6-3 with a non-conference victory over Ball State. The Illini are joined by Ohio State (9-0), Michigan (7-2), Purdue (7-2), Wisconsin (7-2) and Penn State (6-3) as conference teams qualified for postseason action. Illinois is aiming for its first bowl trip under head coach Ron Zook and the first for the program since advancing to the Sugar Bowl after winning the 2001 Big Ten Championship. 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. 7, 2008 in New Orleans, La.
Ten Big Ten Teams Remain Alive for Bowl Bids: In addition to the conference's six bowl-eligible teams, four other Big Ten programs still have a chance to reach the six-win plateau including Indiana (5-4), Michigan State (5-4), Northwestern (5-4) and Iowa (4-5). The Big Ten has never qualified 10 different teams for postseason action and has never produced 10 teams with records of .500 or better. The conference has sent seven teams to bowl games in each of the last two years and set a Big Ten record with eight bowl teams during the 2003 campaign. Under first-year head coach Bill Lynch, the Hoosiers are looking to end the Big Ten's longest active bowl drought and return to postseason play for the first time since the 1993 campaign. In his first year in East Lansing, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio is aiming to take MSU back to a bowl game for the first time since the 2003 campaign. Second-year Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald is targeting his first bowl outing and the second postseason appearance in three years for NU after playing in the 2005 Sun Bowl. Iowa is looking for its seventh straight bowl excursion under head coach Kirk Ferentz for the first time since appearing in eight straight postseason events from 1981-88.
Buckeyes Remain Among The Five Unbeatens: With a victory at Penn State, Ohio State remained one of five undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the only one with a perfect 9-0 mark. Four schools stand at 8-0 overall including Arizona State, Boston College, Hawaii and Kansas. The Buckeyes are off to a 9-0 start for the second straight season and the third time under head coach Jim Tressel. The last two times the Buckeyes opened at 9-0 the team went on to produce perfect regular season marks, including a 12-0 record last season before falling in the national championship game and a 13-0 record in 2002 before capping a perfect 14-0 season with a Fiesta Bowl victory for a national title.
Big Ten Polling Place: Ohio State remained first overall, Michigan climbed eight spots to No. 12 and Wisconsin debuted at No. 21 in the third Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings released on Sunday. The Buckeyes have now been ranked first in the BCS poll for 11 straight weeks, a new BCS record. OSU held the top spot in all eight BCS polls during the 2006 campaign before appearing in the No. 1 position in each of the first three 2007 rankings. Ohio State's 11-week stint atop the ratings breaks the previous record held by Southern California, which was ranked first for nine straight weeks. In addition, the Buckeyes have now been ranked No. 1 in 12 BCS polls, a total that rates third only to Oklahoma (17) and USC (15).
Buckeyes Match Longest Big Ten Win Streak in History: Ohio State extended a pair of prodigious winning streaks with a victory at Penn State last Saturday, equaling the conference record with a 19th straight Big Ten victory and moving one step closer to matching the longest regular-season winning streak in conference annals. Ohio State has won 19 consecutive Big Ten games to tie Michigan for the conference's longest winning streak. The Wolverines set the all-time record with 19 straight triumphs from 1990-92. The Buckeyes have already shattered the school record of 17 straight conference triumphs accomplished on three occasions -- from 1974-76, 1967-69 and 1954-56. OSU has not lost a Big Ten game since dropping a 17-10 decision at Penn State on Oct. 8, 2005. In fact, that loss to the Nittany Lions' also marks the Buckeyes' last regular season defeat. Ohio State has now won 27 straight regular-season contests, the second-longest string of success in Big Ten history and the longest by a conference school in more than a century. The 27-game winning streak shatters the previous school mark of 21 straight triumphs set from 1967-69. The only other conference team to win 27 or more straight regular season contests was when Michigan produced 28 consecutive victories from 1901-03, including undefeated national championship seasons in 1901, 1902 and 1903, although the winning streak was stopped by a 6-6 tie at Minnesota on Oct. 31, 1903. The Wolverines' 28-game victory streak also does not include their victory over Stanford in the 1902 Rose Bowl. Ohio State will look to break the Big Ten record for consecutive conference wins and equal the mark for consecutive regular-season triumphs on Saturday when they host Wisconsin.
Four Million Fan March: The Big Ten surpassed the four million mark in all games attendance last weekend for the 15th straight season and the 18th time in conference annals. Big Ten stadiums have welcomed 4,252,824 fans in 59 games for an average of 72,082 patrons per contest, which would mark just the second time in history that conference schools have broken the 72,000-barrier for average attendance. The Big Ten set a conference record with 72,566 fans per outing in 2005. In addition, 33 of the Big Ten's 59 home games have been sellouts. With an average of more than three packed houses every weekend so far this season and three Saturdays remaining, the Big Ten could shatter the conference record of 39 sellouts established in 2004. The conference also surpassed the two million mark for conference games only last weekend. Big Ten schools are averaging 72,197 fans per contest in conference games, which would shatter the record attendance average of 72,169 established in 2005.
Big Ten Equals Non-Conference Record: With three non-conference games remaining, the Big Ten has a chance to shatter the conference's modern era record for non-conference wins prior to bowl play. Illinois produced another out-of-conference triumph last Saturday to improve the Big Ten's non-conference record to 33-8 (.805) overall. The conference is on pace to win at least 80 percent of its regular-season out-of-conference games for the second time in three seasons (28-6, .824, in 2005) and just the fourth time since 1960 (23-4, .852, in 1997; 26-1-2, .963, in 1960). In addition, the Big Ten's 33 non-conference victories so far this year equal the conference's 33 wins set prior to bowl action last season (33-12), a mark first set in 2002 (33-13). The 2006 and 2002 campaigns are two of only three other 12-game seasons in conference annals (30-14 in 2003). The Big Ten's all-time record for non-conference triumphs occurred when the conference built a 57-3-1 out-of-conference mark in 1905, the sixth straight year with 40 or more non-conference triumphs. The 2007 non-conference slate continues on Saturday when Indiana hosts Ball State.
Big Ten Standouts Named Quarterfinalists for Lott Trophy: A pair of Big Ten linebackers were named quarterfinalists for the annual Lott Trophy in Illinois' J Leman and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. The Lott Trophy is named after Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and goes to the outstanding college defensive player of the year who has had the biggest "IMPACT" on his team both on and off the field. "IMPACT" stands for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity. It represents the only college football trophy to give equal weight to personal character as well as athletic performance. In its fourth year of existence, the Big Ten is looking for its first Lott Trophy.
Leman and Klinkenborg Named Finalists for Top Academic Honor: Illinois' J Leman and Iowa's Mike Klinkenborg were chosen as two of 15 finalists for the 2007 Draddy Trophy, which recognizes one player as the best in the country for combined academic success, football performance and community leadership. The 15 honorees are part of the 2007 National Scholar-Athlete Class, with each player receiving an $18,000 fellowship for post-graduate studies. The group will also vie for the prestigious Draddy Trophy, which is selected by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The winner, named on Dec. 4, will earn a total of $25,000 for post-graduate work. The Big Ten boasted a total of six semifinalists for the Draddy Trophy as Leman and Klinkenborg were joined by Indiana's Kevin Trulock, Minnesota's Anthony Brinkhaus, Purdue's Jared Armstrong and Wisconsin's Luke Swan. Nominees for the Draddy Trophy must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player and demonstrate strong leadership and citizenship. The Big Ten boasts two former student-athletes who earned the Draddy Trophy -- Ohio State's Craig Krenzel (2003) and Bobby Hoying (1995).
Trophy Games Continue: In a conference with 15 traditional trophy games, one more will be on tap this weekend when in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State square off Saturday for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Since 1953, the winner of this game has accepted the four-foot wooden statue with the Wolverines holding a 33-19-2 advantage, including five straight wins. Michigan was also part of a trophy game last weekend, defeating Minnesota for the conference's oldest trophy, the Little Brown Jug.
National College Football Day: This Saturday, Nov. 3, is National College Football Day, celebrating the anniversary of the birth of an American institution. On the first Saturday in November of 1869, Rutgers and Princeton staged college football's first game. Ever since, the sport has become ingrained in our culture. To honor the great spectacle that is college football, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic created this annual holiday. As we celebrate the fourth annual National College Football Day, members of the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the National Association of Division I-A Football Officials are wearing commemorative lapel pins. This year, National College Football Day has taken on added significance, teaming with The V Foundation for Cancer Research to increase awareness and raise money in the fight against cancer. For more information on National College Football Day go to nationalcollegefootballday.com.
Big Ten Schedule Announced for Nov. 10: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Nov. 10:
Penn State at Temple, Noon EST, ESPNU
Michigan at Wisconsin, 11 a.m. CST, ESPN
Indiana at Northwestern, 11 a.m. CST, ESPN Classic
Minnesota at Iowa, 11 a.m. CST, Big Ten Network
Michigan State at Purdue, Noon EST, Big Ten Network
Illinois at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC
OTHER TOP PERFORMERS LAST WEEK
ILL RB Rashard Mendenhall: 189 rushing yards on 28 carries (6.8 avg.) and two TDs vs. Ball St.
IOWA RB Albert Young: Season-high 179 rushing yards on 34 carries (5.3 avg.) and two TDs in double-overtime win over Michigan State.
MICH WR Mario Manningham: Career-best 162 yards on five receptions (32.4 avg.) with a TD to lead Michigan to win over Minnesota despite absence of starting QB and RB.
PUR RB Jaycen Taylor: 157 rushing yards on 20 carries (7.9 avg.) and two TDs against NU, just one week after returning from broken wrist.
WIS RB Lance Smith: Career-high 79 rushing yards on season-best 15 carries (5.3 avg.) with two TDs after stepping in for injured P.J. Hill.
ILL LB J Leman: 11 tackles (six solo) and two TFLs (-6 yards), including a four-yard sack.
IOWA LB Mike Humpal: Matched career high with 18 tackles (two solo) with a PBU vs. MSU.
MICH LB Shawn Crable: Seven tackles (four solo) and 2.5 TFLs (-10 yards), including two sacks (-9 yards) in win over Minnesota.
OSU LB Marcus Freeman: Season-high 14 tackles (10 solo), two TFLs (-3 yards) and a forced fumble in victory at Penn State.
PSU LB Dan Connor: Career-high 18 tackles (five solo), one TFL (-2 yards) and an interception.
PUR DE Eugene Bright: Four tackles (three solo), two sacks (-13 yards) and two PBU vs. NU.
OSU K Ryan Pretorius: Three-of-three on field goals (50,37,35), including career-long 50-yarder, and four PATs against PSU.
PUR P Jared Armstrong: Six punts for 260 yards (43.3 avg.) with two inside the 20 vs. NU.
WIS P Ken DeBauche: Five punts for 207 yards (41.4 avg.), including three inside the 20 vs. IU.