Big Ten Weekly Football Release - Nov. 3

Brendan Smith's game-winning interception return for a touchdown kept Northwestern in the Big Ten title race.

Brendan Smith's game-winning interception return for a touchdown kept Northwestern in the Big Ten title race.

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Nov. 3, 2008

FACES OF THE BIG TEN

RYAN McDONALD, illinois senior center
McDonald, a four-year starter, graduated summa cum laude in May 2008 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, and he currently is pursuing a master's degree in the same field. Illinois' engineering graduate programs ranked fifth nationally in the 2008 U.S. News & World Report. In the spring of 2007, McDonald's class did research for NASA on nanofibers. The Holland, Mich., native also has strong passion for philanthropy. He organized over a dozen teammates to take part in the 2008 M.S. Walk, an annual fundraiser in the Champaign-Urbana community to raise money and awareness for the crippling disease of multiple sclerosis. McDonald's mother, Jan, has suffered from M.S. for the past 15 years, spurring him to be the top fundraiser at the event by raising over $1,500.

BIG TEN. BIG NEWS.

Close Calls: Every Big Ten game was decided in the final minute last Saturday, including two game-clinching field goals, an interception returned for a touchdown and a hook-and-ladder pass for the go-ahead score. Northwestern kicked off the day of narrow triumphs as safety Brendan Smith picked off a deflected Minnesota pass and returned it 48 yards with 12 seconds left in the game to secure a 24-17 victory. In West Lafayette, a high-scoring back-and-forth game was finally ended when Purdue quarterback Justin Siller completed a four-yard pass to Greg Orton, who then lateraled to Desmond Tardy to scamper the remaining 28 yards for a touchdown and a 48-42 lead with only 26 seconds on the clock. Michigan State wrapped up the early games by rallying from a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit against Wisconsin, capped by a 44-yard field goal by Brett Swenson with seven seconds left to secure the 25-24 victory. Not to be outdone, Iowa stormed back after trailing 24-9 in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 24-24 on a two-point conversion with less than three minutes remaining, only to see Illinois drive 51 yards to set up Matt Eller's game-winning 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds on the clock.

Five-Team Race for Big Ten Crown: With three weekends of Big Ten play remaining, only five teams have a chance to win the  2008 conference crown. Michigan State edged Wisconsin on Saturday to improve to 5-1 in Big Ten play, while Penn State had a bye to remain in first place with an unblemished 5-0 mark. Since the Spartans and Nittany Lions meet in the season finale, neither team can finish with more than two losses, which means the only other teams with a shot at the title are Ohio State (4-1), Minnesota (3-2) and Northwestern (3-2). PSU returns to action next Saturday at Iowa as the Nittany Lions hope to wrap up a perfect road record in Big Ten play. MSU hosts Purdue on Saturday and then has a bye before concluding the season at Penn State. The three-time defending champion Buckeyes are back on the field with a road game against the Wildcats, while the Golden Gophers host Michigan. Penn State can clinch a share of the Big Ten title this weekend with a win over Iowa combined with losses by Michigan State and Ohio State.

A Three-Week Sprint: Among the five teams still fighting for the Big Ten title, Ohio State may face the toughest remaining schedule with two of three games on the road. Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State all have two of their three games at home while Michigan State has only two games remaining, one at home and one on the road. In regards to the opponents' records, MSU boasts the most challenging slate with its two foes producing a combined record of 6-4 (.600), including a season finale at undefeated PSU. The remaining opponents for the Nittany Lions and Wildcats stand at 8-8 in conference (.500).

Illini and Hawkeyes Stand One Win From Bowl Berth: Illinois edged Iowa on Saturday to move one step closer to back-to-back bowl berths while preventing the Hawkeyes from reaching postseason eligibility. Both teams stand at 5-4 overall, with the Illini wrapping up non-conference action against Western Michigan in Detroit while Iowa hosts Penn State on Saturday. Head coach Ron Zook is looking to lead Illinois to consecutive bowl appearances for the first time since the Illini reached the postseason in five straight seasons from 1988-92. The Hawkeyes were bowl eligible in each of the previous seven seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz, but did not play in a bowl last year despite their 6-6 record. Iowa is looking to return to postseason action for the first time since the 2006 Alamo Bowl. Among other Big Ten teams, Wisconsin stands at 4-5, just two wins from 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, 2009 in Miami, Fla.

And Then There Were Six: With two more undefeated teams suffering their first losses on Saturday, Penn State is now one of six teams boasting unblemished records this season. The Nittany Lions are one of four teams standing at 9-0 along with Alabama, Texas Tech and Utah, while Ball State and Boise State are off to 8-0 starts this season. PSU has produced its first 9-0 mark since 1999 when the team won its first nine games. The last time the Nittany Lions opened the season with more than nine victories was in 1994, when they produced a perfect 12-0 record. Head coach Joe Paterno has now led the program to a 9-0 start for the 10th time overall and a 5-0 start in conference play for the third time, including a 5-0 mark in 1999 and a perfect 8-0 season in 1994. Penn State also boasts a current 10-game winning streak, tied with Alabama and Utah for the nation's second-longest win streak among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools, trailing only Texas Tech (11).

Another Four Million Fans: The Big Ten surpassed the four-million mark in all games attendance last weekend for the 16th straight season and the 19th time in conference annals. Big Ten stadiums have welcomed 4,237,227 fans in 61 games for an average of 69,463 patrons per contest as the conference aims to average more than 69,000 fans per game for the eighth straight season. Illinois and Michigan State both boasted packed houses last Saturday, giving the Big Ten 31 sellouts through 10 weekends. With an average of more than three full houses per weekend and three Saturdays left in the regular season, the conference has the chance to produce 40 or more sellouts for just the second time in history, after setting a record with 42 packed stadiums last season. The conference also surpassed the two million mark for conference games only last weekend and boasts 2,090,642 fans for 29 contests. Big Ten schools are averaging 72,091 patrons per contest in conference games, which would mark just the second season in conference annals with an average attendance over 72,000. The Big Ten record for conference games only was set in 2005 when schools averaged 72,169 fans per outing.

OSU's Laurinaitis and PSU's Clark Named Semifinalists for National Awards: Two Big Ten standouts were named semifinalists for national honors last week when Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis was tabbed a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award while Penn State signal caller Daryll Clark was chosen as a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award. Laurinaitis was a finalist for the Lombardi Award last season, which honors the nation's top lineman or linebacker. The senior standout is a two-time consensus All-American and won the Butkus Award as the  nation's top linebacker as a junior and the Nagurski Award as the country's top defensive player as a sophomore. The Big Ten has claimed the Lombardi Award on eight occasions, most recently when the Buckeyes' A.J. Hawk and Michigan's LaMarr Woodley claimed the honor in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006. Other Lombardi Award winners from the Big Ten include Ohio State's Jim Stillwagon (1970), John Hicks (1973), Chris Spielman (1987) and Orlando Pace (1995 and 1996) and Michigan State's Percy Snow (1989). Clark was named a semifinalist for the O'Brien Award, honoring the nation's best quarterback. Four Big Ten student-athletes have claimed the O'Brien Award, including Iowa's Chuck Long (1985) and Brad Banks (2002), OSU's Troy Smith (2006) and PSU's Kerry Collins (1994).

McDonald and Robiskie Named Finalists for Top Academic Honor: Illinois' Ryan McDonald and Ohio State's Brian Robiskie  were chosen as two of 15 finalists for the 2008 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 2008 National Scholar-Athlete Class, with each player receiving an $18,000 fellowship for postgraduate 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. 9, will earn $25,000 for postgraduate work. The Big Ten boasted eight semifinalists for the Draddy Trophy as McDonald and Robiskie were joined by Indiana's Austin Starr, Iowa's Matt Kroul, Northwestern's Eric Peterman, Penn State's Gerald Cadogan, Purdue's Ryan Baker and Wisconsin's Chris Pressley. 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 or significant contributor and demonstrate strong leadership and citizenship. Two Big Ten student-athletes were named to the 2007 National Scholar-Athlete Class in Illinois' J Leman and Iowa's Mike Klinkenborg. The Big Ten boasts two former Draddy Trophy winners in Ohio State's Craig Krenzel (2003) and Bobby Hoying (1995).

Paterno Still the One: Penn State's Joe Paterno will be aiming for his 382nd victory on Saturday and currently holds the all-time victory record among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches. Paterno stands at 381-125-3 in his 43rd season leading the Nittany Lions while Florida State's Bobby Bowden remained at the 379-win mark after falling to Georgia Tech on Saturday. Paterno has now been on the sidelines for 509 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 (504 games).

Trophy Games Return: After a one-week absence, the conference's oldest trophy will be on the line this weekend when Michigan and Minnesota battle for the Little Brown Jug. Wolverines' coaching legend Fielding Yost left the jug in Minneapolis after a tie in 1903 and the Gophers refused to return it until Michigan earned it with a win. Michigan 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 65-22-3 advantage. Michigan retained the jug last season and holds a two-game winning streak in the series after the Gophers ended a 16-game losing streak in 2005 to win the trophy for the first time since 1986. The Big Ten boasts 15 traditional trophy games between schools.

Ratings Bonanza: Penn State's win at Ohio State on Oct. 25 delivered the seventh-highest number of viewers ever for an ABC primetime regular season college football telecast. According to data from ESPN, 7.35 million TV households tuned into the clash and the game earned a 6.4 rating, drawing a larger audience than Game 3 of the World Series, which was seen in 6.99 million TV households and earned a 6.1 rating. The OSU-PSU meeting is the second-highest rated college football game of the 2008 season. Only the Sept. 13 Ohio State-USC game on ABC's Saturday Night Football drew a larger audience, being seen in 7.95 million TV households and earning a 7.0 rating.

Big Ten Schedule Announced for Nov. 15: The following schedule has been confirmed for Nov. 15.
Ohio State at Illinois, 11 a.m. CST, ESPN or ESPN2*
Purdue at Iowa, 11 a.m. CST, Big Ten Network
Northwestern at Michigan, Noon EST, ESPN or ESPN2*
Indiana at Penn State, Noon EST, Big Ten Network
Minnesota at Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. CST, ABC (regional - ESPN outer-market)
* network to be identified after Nov. 8

OTHER TOP PERFORMANCES

OFFENSE:
IND RB Marcus Thigpen:
Averaged 18.2 yards per carry with 109 yards on six attempts with two TDs, including a 77-yard score in first quarter.
IOWA RB Shonn Greene: Produced ninth-straight 100-yard rushing game with 103 yards on 21 carries (4.9 avg.) with a TD at Illinois.
MICH RB Brandon Minor: Rambled 155 yards on 24 carries (6.5 avg.) with three TDs vs. Purdue.
MSU WR Blair White: Set career highs with seven receptions for 164 yards (23.4 avg.), including two catches for 52 yards on MSU's game-winning drive.
WIS RB John Clay: Set career high with 111 yards on 14 carries (7.9 avg.) with a 32-yard TD.

DEFENSE:
ILL CB Dere Hicks:
Recorded a career-high seven tackles (three solo), one sack (-8 yards) and forced and recovered a fumble for a TD against Iowa.
IND LB Matt Mayberry: Matched a school record with four sacks (-33 yards) and added a career-high 13 tackles (10 solo) vs. Central Michigan.
IOWA DT Mitch King: Amassed nine tackles (five solo) and two TFLs (-7 yards) at Illinois.
MSU LB Greg Jones: Produced his fourth straight game of double-digit tackles with 13 stops (seven solo) and a TFL (-2 yards) against Wisconsin.
MINN CB Traye Simmons: Recorded five tackles (three solo), one TFL (-1 yard) and picked off two passes, returning one 23 yards for a TD and halting a Wildcats' drive at the nine-yard line with another.
PUR DE Ryan Kerrigan: Set career highs with 10 tackles (seven solo), 3.5 TFLs (-21 yards) and 3.0 sacks (-21 yards) while adding a forced fumble and a pass breakup against the Wolverines.
WIS CB Allen Langford: Matched career best with seven tackles (six solo) and added two pass breakups at Michigan State.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
ILL K Matt Eller:
Connected on both field goal attempts (41, 46), including a 46-yarder with 29 seconds left for a 27-24 win over Iowa.
IND P Chris Hagerup: Booted four punts for 173 yards (43.3 avg.) with three inside the 20.
IOWA K Trent Mossbrucker: Connected on three-of-four field goals (26, 19, 27; Missed from 30).
MICH PR/KR Martavious Odoms: Returned three punts for 82 yards (27.3 avg.), including a 73-yard TD, and three kickoffs for 60 yards (20.0 avg.)
PUR LB Anthony Heygood: Fielded a short snap on a fake punt and rambled 61 yards to set up up a fourth-quarter TD against Michigan.