Nov. 7, 2005
Five Teams Maintain Hopes of Earning Big Ten Title: With just two weekends of Big Ten play remaining, five teams still have a shot at claiming the league crown. In a battle of conference leaders last weekend, Penn State (6-1) knocked off Wisconsin (5-2) to claim sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. Ohio State (5-1) defeated Illinois to keep pace with the Nittany Lions as the only two teams with one Big Ten defeat. The Badgers dropped to third place in the standings, while Michigan (4-2) and Northwestern (4-2) remain one game back in the loss column and could still share the crown. Penn State has a bye this weekend but could still clinch at least a share of its second Big Ten title in school history with a loss by Ohio State. The Buckeyes host Northwestern on Saturday, as the Wildcats need to win their final two games and hope for a PSU loss in the season finale to share the Big Ten title. Michigan, which hosts Indiana and OSU in the final two weekends, also must win out and hope for a Penn State defeat. Wisconsin wraps up conference play against Iowa on Saturday.
The Road Ahead: Of the five teams still remaining in the Big Ten title chase, Ohio State faces the toughest remaining schedule with a home game against Northwestern and a road finale at Michigan -- two teams that have a combined winning percentage of 66.7 (8-4; 4-2 for both). The Buckeyes, Wildcats and Wolverines all have two games remaining in league play, although Michigan's final two games are at home while Northwestern will hit the road for two more contests. Both Penn State and Wisconsin have only one Big Ten game left. The Badgers will conclude their conference season at home on Saturday against Iowa before playing their final non-conference contest on Nov. 25 at Hawaii. The Nittany Lions have a bye this weekend and finish the year on the road at Michigan State.
Battle for BCS Bid: Penn State now has the inside track to earn the Big Ten's automatic berth into the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). The Nittany Lions can clinch the BCS bid by winning their season finale at Michigan State to wrap up a 7-1 campaign. Even if Ohio State wins its final two games to tie for the Big Ten title, PSU will earn the league's automatic BCS berth based on the Nittany Lions' 17-10 victory over the Buckeyes back on Oct. 8.
Farewell to a Legend: Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez will take part in the final home game of an illustrious 16-year career on Saturday when the Badgers host Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium. Alvarez is currently one of only 12 coaches in Big Ten history with 100 or more wins at a single institution and ranks eighth on that list with an all-time mark of 116-72-4. He is the winningest coach in school history, has won three Big Ten titles and is the only coach in league annals to win the Rose Bowl in back-to-back years (1998, 1999). In all, Alvarez boasts a 7-3 mark in bowl games including a perfect 3-0 record in the Rose Bowl. He will step down from coaching after the season but will remain as Wisconsin's Director of Athletics.
Minnesota and Northwestern Become Bowl-Eligible: The Big Ten's number of bowl-eligible teams increased to six on Saturday when Minnesota (6-3) and Northwestern (6-3) picked up their sixth wins to join Michigan (6-3), Ohio State (7-2), Penn State (9-1) and Wisconsin (8-2) as the league squads that are eligible for postseason play. The Golden Gophers won at Indiana on Saturday to secure the program's fourth straight bowl trip for the first time in school history. Head coach Glen Mason will take part in his sixth bowl in seven seasons after the program earned only five bids prior to his arrival on campus. The Wildcats rallied to defeat Iowa last weekend to earn their first bowl trip since the 2003 Motor City Bowl and third bowl under head coach Randy Walker, which matches the program's total postseason bids prior to his arrival in 1999. 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.
Three More Teams Maintain Bowl Dreams: With six Big Ten teams already bowl eligible, three other league squads maintain hopes of earning a spot in the postseason in Iowa (5-4), Michigan State (5-4) and Indiana (4-5). The Hawkeyes and Spartans need just one win in their final two games to become eligible for postseason play while the Hoosiers must sweep their final two contests. All three teams will hit the road on Saturday looking to keep their bowl dreams alive by taking on teams that have already collected bowl-eligibility -- Indiana travels to Michigan, Iowa will be challenged at Wisconsin and Michigan State will visit Minnesota. The Hawkeyes are looking for their fifth straight bowl trip under head coach Kirk Ferentz, which would mark the school's first streak of five straight postseason bids since reaching eight straight bowls from 1981-88. MSU is seeking its second postseason excursion in three seasons under head coach John L. Smith and first since playing in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. The Hoosiers are looking to end the Big Ten's longest active bowl drought as their last postseason game was the 1993 Independence Bowl.
Putting Points on the Board: Big Ten offenses are producing points at a record pace during the 2005 season with the 11 teams tallying an average of 30.9 points per outing, the highest total for the league since at least 1990. The Big Ten's previous high over the last 15 seasons was an average of 28.5 points per contest in 2002. Five conference attacks are rated among the top 25 scoring offenses in the country including Wisconsin (10th at 37.1 ppg), Michigan State (11th at 36.9), Minnesota (12th at 36.6), Penn State (15th at 35.6) and Northwestern (T22nd at 33.9). The Badgers are on pace to set a school record for scoring offense, with a previous high of 34.1 points per game set in 1999. In all, six programs are producing more than 30 points per game including Ohio State at 31.7 points per contest, while Iowa is on the verge of the 30-point plateau with a scoring average of 29.3 points per game. The last time that six Big Ten teams produced more than 30 points per game was during the 1999 campaign, when league schools ended the year with an average of 27.3 points per game.
The 500-Yard Club: The Big Ten features some of the most productive offensive attacks in league history with three programs racking up more than 500 yards of offense per game, a feat that has been accomplished only one other time in the previous 109 seasons of Big Ten football. During the 1994 season, Penn State established a league record with 512.7 yards per outing, becoming the first school to crack the 500-yard plateau. So far in 2005, Michigan State (5th nationally with 512.4 ypg), Minnesota (6th with 509.1) and Northwestern (7th with 508.1) are all aiming to become members of the prestigious 500-yard club.
Big Ten Standouts Attack Single-Season Marks: Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun have already cracked the top 10 in the conference offensive records book. Stanton currently appears among the Big Ten's single-season record holders with a completion percentage of .674 (2nd all-time behind only Wisconsin's Darrell Bevell -- .678 in 1993) and a pass efficiency rating of 162.4 (6th). Calhoun has broken into the top 10 with 20 rushing touchdowns (9th), 22 total scores (10th) and 132 points (10th). A complete list of single-season records that are being challenged in 2005 appears on page 12.
Basanez Nears 10,000-Yard Mark: Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez continued his attack on the Big Ten records book last weekend by completing 31 of 51 passes for 338 yards and adding 55 yards on 12 carries in a win over Iowa. The senior quarterback currently ranks second on the Big Ten career list with 1,452 attempts and 835 completions, trailing only Purdue's Drew Brees in those categories (1,678 attempts, 1,026 completions). Basanez also moved closer to becoming just the third player in league annals to surpass the 10,000-yard plateau in passing yards. He currently has 9,803 yards through the air to trail only Purdue's Mark Herrmann (9,946), Iowa's Chuck Long (10,461) and Brees (11,792). Basanez also ranks third in Big Ten history in total offense with 1,815 plays and 10,696 yards, making him just the third player to appear among the top five in career passes, completions, passing yards, total offensive plays and total offensive yards along with Purdue's Brees and Kyle Orton. A complete list of current Big Ten players among the career leaders appears on page 12.
A New Golden Age of Coaching?: With Alvarez, Paterno and Carr in the century club, the Big Ten features 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 Four Million Fan March: The Big Ten surpassed the four million mark in all games attendance last weekend for the 13th straight season and the 16th time in league annals while staying on pace to shatter the single-season marks for average attendance in both all games and league contests only. Through 59 contests, the Big Ten is averaging 72,316 patrons per outing (4,266,655 total) which would shatter the previous league best of 70,505 fans per game set in 2002. In addition, league schools boast an average attendance of 71,618 in Big Ten games only (2,435,015 total) which would surpass the conference record of 71,326 fans through the turnstile for 44 matchups in 2001. Ten of the Big Ten's 11 teams boast at least one sellout this season and the league's total of 32 packed houses so far in 2005 is tied for the seventh-highest sum in conference history. The Big Ten sold out all five games the weekend of Oct. 15, which marked the first time the league featured packed stadiums for every game in a single week since the 1998 season and perhaps longer, as week-by-week information is unavailable prior to that time. In addition, the conference set a single-day attendance record during the opening week of non-conference play with an average of 76,475 fans for eight home games, besting the previous record average of 70,270 patrons for eight games on Sept. 14, 1985.
Big Ten Schedule Set for Nov. 19: The following schedule has been confirmed for games on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Minnesota at Iowa, ESPN2, 11 a.m. CST
Northwestern at Illinois, ESPN Plus, 11 a.m. CST
Ohio State at Michigan, ABC Sports, 1 p.m. EST
Penn State at Michigan State, ESPN, 4 p.m. EST
Purdue at Indiana, TBD
More National Honors for Big Ten Standouts: Five more Big Ten student-athletes were named semifinalists for national awards last week. The Big Ten led all conferences with four of the 12 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which honors the nation's top defensive player. The league's four honorees were Iowa's Chad Greenway, Northwestern's Tim McGarigle, Ohio State's A.J. Hawk and Penn State's Paul Posluszny, the same foursome that cracked the list of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which honors the country's top linebacker. Hawk and Posluszny have now been named semifinalists for three national awards, including the Lombardi Award which is reserved for the nation's outstanding lineman. Big Ten standouts have claimed the Bednarik Award on four occasions, most recently when PSU linebacker LaVar Arrington was honored in 1999. Other Big Ten winners include Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997 and Wildcats' linebacker Pat Fitzgerald in 1995 and 1996, the only player to win the award multiple times. In other national award news, Purdue's Dave Brytus was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, presented annually to the nation's outstanding punter. The Big Ten has earned the Ray Guy Award three times overall, with each honor coming in the previous five seasons -- Ohio State's B.J. Sander in 2003, the Boilermakers' Travis Dorsch in 2001 and Wisconsin's Kevin Stemke in 2000.
Two Trophies On The Line: In a conference that boasts 15 traditional trophy games, two trophies will be up for grabs on Saturday when Purdue and Illinois battle for the Purdue Cannon and Iowa and Wisconsin compete for the Heartland Trophy. The Cannon made its first trip to Champaign in 1905 when a group of Purdue students brought it to fire after a Boilermakers victory. However, an Illinois student found the Cannon before the game and confiscated it, holding it on campus until 1943 when it was donated as a symbol of the rivalry. The Fighting Illini and Boilermakers have battled for the Cannon 55 times overall, with Purdue holding a slight 27-26-2 advantage, including a current two-game winning streak. The Hawkeyes and Badgers will take part in the newest trophy game as Iowa claimed the first Heartland Trophy matchup in 2004. The Big Ten played one trophy game last weekend, with Ohio State defeating Illinois to maintain possession of the "Illibuck."
Big Ten on TV: The eighth 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
IOWA RB Albert Young: Surpassed 1,000-yard mark for the year with 38 carries for a career-best 202 yards (5.3 avg.) and two TDs at Northwestern.
NU QB Brett Basanez: 31 of 51 (60.8 percent) for 338 yards and two TDs, including the game-winning scoring strike with 42 seconds left; Also added 55 yards on 12 carries (4.6 avg.) for 393 yards of total offense.
OSU QB Troy Smith: 13 of 21 (61.9 percent) for a career-high 298 yards and three TDs and seven carries for 55 yards (7.9 avg.) against Illinois.
PSU QB Michael Robinson: 13 of 28 (46.4 percent) for 238 yards and two TDs and a career-best 125 rushing yards on 16 carries (7.8 avg.) against Wisconsin; His 363 yards of total offense ranked sixth in school history.
PUR RB Jerod Void: 24 carries for 134 yards (5.6 avg.) and three TDs in win over Michigan State.
IOWA LB Abdul Hodge: Twelve tackles (six solo) and a TFL at NU.
NU LB Tim McGarigle: Thirteen tackles (six solo) and a PBU against Iowa to become NU's all-time leader with 511 career defensive stops.
OSU LB A.J. Hawk: Ten tackles (six solo) and two sacks (-22 yards) as OSU limited Illinois to no offensive points.
PUR DE Rob Ninkovich: Seven tackles (five solo) and four TFLs (-10 yards), including a five-yard sack, in win over Michigan State.
IOWA P Andy Fenstermaker: Six punts for 234 yards (39.0 avg.), including four inside the 20-yard line, at Northwestern.
OSU K Josh Huston: Two-of-two (29, 22) on field goals and eight touchbacks against Illinois.