Nov. 14, 2005
Big Ten Title Chase Concludes with Three Teams Alive in Final Weekend: Entering the final weekend of conference action, the race for the 2005 Big Ten Championship will be decided in the final two games to be played on Saturday -- Ohio State at Michigan followed by Penn State at Michigan State. The Buckeyes knocked off Northwestern last weekend to tie the Nittany Lions at 6-1 atop the conference standings while the Wolverines defeated Indiana to remain one game back at 5-2. Penn State still controls its own destiny both in the race for the conference crown and the league's automatic Bowl Championship Series (BCS) berth. With a road win at MSU, the Nittany Lions would be assured a share of their second Big Ten title in school history and first since 1994. OSU could still tie for the league crown at 7-1, but the Nittany Lions would secure the conference's automatic BCS bid based on a victory over the Buckeyes on Oct. 8. However, if Penn State falls in East Lansing, the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game will earn the league's automatic BCS berth. A victory by OSU would produce a 7-1 mark and sole possession of the Big Ten Championship. A win by Michigan would lead to a three-way tie for the conference title at 6-2, and since the Wolverines would have defeated both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions (Oct. 15), they would be the league's automatic representative to the BCS.
Big Ten Title on the Line in Ann Arbor: For the sixth straight season, the Michigan-Ohio State season finale will have a direct impact on the Big Ten Championship race. In every year since the 2000 campaign, at least one of these two teams has entered this game with a shot at the conference crown. In 2000, the Wolverines knocked off the Buckeyes to clinch a three-way tie for the title with Northwestern and Purdue. In 2001, OSU's win in Ann Arbor left Michigan one game behind Illinois for the championship. In 2002, the Buckeyes wrapped up a perfect regular season with a win over the Wolverines to tie Iowa for the crown. In 2003, the two programs entered the final game atop the league standings with identical 6-1 marks before Michigan defeated Ohio State for sole possession of the championship. And last season, OSU ended the Wolverines hopes for a perfect Big Ten slate to drop the Wolverines into a tie for the title with Iowa. The last Michigan-Ohio State game to have no impact on the Big Ten Championship chase occurred in 1999, when Wisconsin clinched the title in the second-to-last weekend with a 7-1 mark before the Wolverines improved to 6-2 with a win over the Buckeyes in the final weekend.
Streaking Teams Meet in Finale: The two league teams with the longest current winning streaks will match up on Saturday when Michigan hosts Ohio State. Since falling to 1-1 in conference play, the Buckeyes have won five straight games for longest active winning streak of any league program. The Wolverines are right behind OSU with four consecutive triumphs after opening with a 1-2 mark in conference action. Penn State currently ranks third with a three-game winning streak.
A Look at the Potential Champs: While Penn State can clinch just its second Big Ten title in school history, the Wolverines are aiming to secure a share of a third straight Big Ten Championship. Michigan tied Iowa for first place in 2004 after earning a solo title in 2003. The last conference program to finish three straight seasons atop the standings was the Wolverines, who claimed five straight crowns from 1988-92. Michigan leads the Big Ten with 42 championships all-time. The Nittany Lions picked up their only other Big Ten title with a perfect 8-0 mark in 1994, their second year in the conference, and have finished second or third four other times -- in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997. Ohio State ranks second to the Wolverines with 29 Big Ten Championships, most recently during the 2002 campaign.
And The Finalists Are . . . : Four Big Ten student-athletes were named finalists for national awards last week to boost the conference's total to six finalists for national accolades. After leading the country with four of the 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, the Big Ten dominated the list of finalists with two of the three honorees -- Ohio State's A.J. Hawk and Penn State's Paul Posluszny. The Butkus Award, which is named after former Illinois All-American Dick Butkus, honors the top linebacker in the country and has been earned six times by league players, most recently when PSU's LaVar Arrington picked up the hardware in 1999. Hawk and Posluszny have already been named semifinalists for multiple national awards, including the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards. Another Penn State defender was honored last week when Tamba Hali was tabbed as one of six finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award, which honors the country's top defensive end. The Big Ten has never claimed the Hendricks Award, which was first given out in 2002. The other Big Ten finalist named last week was Northwestern's Brett Basanez, who was chosen as one of 13 finalists for the first-ever Wuerffel Trophy, an award that honors a football player who best combines community service with academic and athletic achievement. Basanez is already a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Award, rewarding the country's top senior quarterback, while Minnesota's Greg Eslinger was named a finalist for the Draddy Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman."
Other Big Ten Standouts Near National Accolades: Ten more Big Ten players were tabbed as semifinalists last week for national awards with Michigan State's Drew Stanton being selected for two different trophies. The Spartans quarterback joined a pair of running backs in Minnesota's Laurence Maroney and Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun as semifinalists for the Maxwell Award, which is given annually to the nation's collegiate player of the year. The Big Ten equaled the Pac-10 for the conference lead with three of the 12 semifinalists. The Big Ten has earned the Maxwell Award on 14 occasions, most recently when Penn State's Larry Johnson nabbed the hardware in 2002. Stanton was also named a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, presented every year to the country's top signal caller. He was joined by Northwestern's Brett Basanez and Penn State's Michael Robinson on the 15-man list to give the Big Ten three semifinalists, which matched the Big 12 for the conference lead. Three league quarterbacks have picked up the O'Brien Award, including the Iowa duo of Chuck Long (1985) and Brad Banks (2002) and PSU's Kerry Collins (1994). On special teams, three Big Ten kickers were among the 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award -- Iowa's Kyle Schlicher, Michigan's Garrett Rivas and Ohio State's Josh Huston. The Buckeyes' Mike Nugent was last year's Groza Award winner after the Hawkeyes' Nate Kaeding became the league's first honoree in 2002. On the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State's A.J. Hawk was named a semifinalist for the second annual Lott Trophy, honoring the nation's top defensive player, while Penn State's Alan Zemaitis was the lone conference semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's best college defensive back. Four Big Ten standouts have collected Thorpe Award, most recently when Wisconsin's Jamar Fletcher was honored in 2000.
Big Ten Nears Attendance Records: With just one weekend of Big Ten play remaining, the conference remains on pace to shatter the single-season marks for average attendance in both all games and league contests only and could surpass the five million mark in total attendance for just the third time ever. Through 64 contests, the Big Ten is averaging 72,944 patrons per outing (4,668,398 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 72,737 in Big Ten games only (2,836,758 total) which would surpass the conference record of 71,326 fans through the turnstile for 44 matchups in 2001. Three of the five conference games were sold out last weekend, including a school-record crowd of 83,184 at Camp Randall Stadium in the final home game for Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez. The Big Ten needs 331,602 fans to attend the five games during the final weekend (an average of 66,320) to reach the five million mark for all games attendance, a level that has been reached only two other times in league annals. The Big Ten record for total and average attendance (5,499,439 in 78 games; 70,505 avg.) was set in 2002 and the conference welcomed five million more fans in 2003 (5,282,102 in 75 games; 70,428 avg.).
Other Attendance Nuggets: Ten of the Big Ten's 11 teams boast at least one sellout this season and the league's total of 35 packed houses so far in 2005 is the fifth-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's Lucky Seven: The Big Ten's number of bowl-eligible teams increased to seven on Saturday when Iowa (6-4) picked up its sixth win to join Michigan (7-3), Minnesota (7-3), Northwestern (6-4), Ohio State (8-2), Penn State (9-1) and Wisconsin (8-3) as the league squads that are eligible for postseason play. The Hawkeyes won at Wisconsin on Saturday to clinch their fifth straight bowl trip under head coach Kirk Ferentz, which marks the school's first streak of five straight postseason bids since reaching eight straight bowls from 1981-88. 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.
MSU Still Chasing Bowl Berth: Entering the final weekend of Big Ten play, Michigan State still harbors hopes of qualifying for a bowl game. The Spartans are currently 5-5 overall and need a victory in the home finale against Big Ten co-leader Penn State to reach bowl-eligible status. 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.
Playing Smart Football: Big Ten student-athletes continue to excel both on the field and in the classroom, as 25 conference standouts were honored as first team selections to ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District Teams. The league's list of honorees includes Illinois' Jeremy Leman, Indiana's Will Lumpkin, Will Meyers, Russ Richardson and Yamar Washington, Iowa's Mike Elgin, Michael Klinkenborg and Adam Shada, Michigan's Jason Avant, Michigan State's Chris Morris, Gordon Niebylski, Eric Smith and Drew Stanton, Minnesota's Greg Eslinger, Mark Losli, Logan Payne and John Shevlin, Northwestern's Joel Howells, Ohio State's Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Schnittker and Stan White, Jr., Penn State's Nolan McCready and Paul Posluszny and Wisconsin's Jason Pociask and Joe Thomas. To be nominated, student-athletes must be a starter or important reserve and carry a cumulative grade point average of 3.20 or higher. First team selections will be added to the national ballot and are eligible for Academic All-America honors to be announced on Dec. 1. The Big Ten boasted six Academic All-Americans last season with four first team honorees (Northwestern's Jeff Backes and Luis Castillo, Penn State's Andrew Guman and Wisconsin's Jim Leonhard) and two second team choices (Minnesota's Eslinger and Michigan's Adam Finley).
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.
Return to Sender: Michigan's Steve Breaston and Wisconsin's Brandon Williams are both nearing Big Ten records in career return yardage. Breaston produced 78 yards on three punt returns against Indiana on Saturday to boost his career numbers to 1,195 yards on 91 returns. He climbed past Penn State's Bruce Branch (1,171 yards from 1998-2001) into second place on the Big Ten's career yardage list behind only Wisconsin's Jim Leonhard, who set the all-time mark last season with 1,347 punt return stripes from 2001-04. Breaston also rose to eighth overall in total punt returns. Williams recorded 57 yards on three kickoff returns against Iowa last weekend to increase his career totals to 2,326 yards on 105 returns. He is now just two shy of establishing a Big Ten record for career kickoff returns, as Michigan State's Derrick Mason mans the top spot in both career kickoff returns (106) and yardage (2,575).
Basanez' 10,000-Yard March: Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez enters his final regular season game at Illinois needing only 76 yards through the air to become just the third signal caller in Big Ten history to hit the 10,000-yard plateau in career passing yardage. The senior quarterback currently ranks fourth on the league's career charts with 9,924 passing yards, trailing only Purdue's Drew Brees (11,792) and Mark Herrmann (9,946) and Iowa's Chuck Long (10,461) on the all-time list. Basanez also appears among the top four in passing attempts (2nd with 1,483) and completions (2nd with 850) and total offensive plays (3rd with 1,849) and yardage (3rd with 10,803). He is 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.
Trophy Games Abound in Final Weekend: Four of the Big Ten's 15 traditional trophies will be on the line in the final weekend of league action, as the only non-trophy game will be the 102nd meeting between Michigan and Ohio State. Minnesota and Iowa will kick off the weekend as the two teams will battle for Floyd of Rosedale for the 71st time since 1935. The Gophers hold a 38-30-2 advantage with Floyd on the line but the Hawkeyes have won the last four games in the series. Two in-state rivals will square off for a traditional trophy when Illinois and Northwestern compete for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy. The Illini maintain a 32-26-2 record in this trophy game but the Wildcats have claimed the last two matchups. Another pair of in-state rivals will be in action when Indiana and Purdue battle for the Old Oaken Bucket for the 71st time since 1925. The Boilermakers have won the last three meetings to build their all-time record in Bucket games to 52-25-3. The two programs will be playing for the 108th time overall, the second-longest rivalry in conference annals behind the 115 games played by Minnesota and Wisconsin (the national record). Finally, one of the newest trophies will be up for grabs when Michigan State and Penn State square off for the Land Grant Trophy. The Nittany Lions hold a 9-3 edge in these trophy games including a home victory last season.
Big Ten on TV: The ninth 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: Totaled 213 all-purpose yards, including 127 rushing stripes on 26 carries (4.9 avg.), 45 receiving yards on four receptions (11.3 avg.) and 41 yards on two kickoff returns (20.5 avg.) at Wisconsin; Surpassed century mark in rushing for sixth straight game and seventh contest this season.
OSU RB Antonio Pittman: 18 carries for 132 yards (7.3 avg.) and a TD vs. NU to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
PUR RB Jerod Void: 24 carries for 107 yards (4.5 avg.) and a TD against Illinois, his fourth 100-yard effort this year.
OSU LB A.J. Hawk: Eight tackles (three solo), one sack (-7 yards) and a forced fumble while returning a blocked punt eight yards for a touchdown vs. NU.
PUR DT Brandon Villarreal: Eight tackles (five solo), including a TFL
(-4 yards), as Purdue held Illinois to just three points.
IOWA K Kyle Schlicher: Two-of-two (35, 32) on field goals at Wisconsin.
OSU K Josh Huston: Two-of-two (33, 37) on field goals and five of six kickoffs went for touchbacks against the Wildcats.