What time is it when eleven football coaches that comprise the Big Ten Conference get together to discuss the upcoming season? Why, the start of football, and sadly, the beginning of the end of summer. The Big Ten held their Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago last Monday and Tuesday, and if what they had to say was any indication, this should be quite a football season in the midwest. As is normally the case at the start of the season, optimism runs at a fever pitch, and that is certainly no different for Ron Zook and his Illini squad. Back for his senior season, Juice Williams will lead the Illini into Camp Rantoul as the #1 signal caller, with Eddie McGee, Jacob Charest and true freshman Nathan Scheelhaase waiting in the wings in case anything goes wrong. Williams, along with Arrelious Benn and defensive lineman Doug Pilcher, were representing the Illini at the meetings, and the throng of media that attended asked them some pretty demanding questions. Juice has been around this for awhile, as has Benn, but Pilcher is a bit newer to all of this, but still handled himself pretty well. The media collectively picked Ohio State to finish first, Penn State to finish second, and Michigan State to finish third in the conference, which seems about right, given what each school brings to the table. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are well versed in coaching, with veterans Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno respectively leading the charge. Joe Pa, who has been at the helm at Penn State for what seems like forever, says that he keeps coming back year after year because he enjoys it and doesn't know what else he would do. Darryl Clark leads Penn State at quarterback, but it might be the offensive line that determines how well they do. The line is inexperienced, and according to Paterno, some of the younger players are going to have to step up for them. Paterno never ceases to amaze me with his wit and wisdom, and should be the model for most coaches today. Ohio State will once again be led by their signal caller Terrelle Pryor, who was the first Buckeye to start at quarterback as a freshman in over 30 years. Pryor, who can run as well as pass, poses as good of a dual threat as there is in college football today. But, as most teams have found out, playing big games out of conference on the road can prove disastrous. They lost badly to USC last season, but this year the Trojans come to Columbus to play. The Buckeyes also host Navy in the season opener, and go to Cleveland to play Toledo, which, according to Tressel, won't be easy. Then, the conference opener against Zook and the Illini, which has given Ohio State fits over the years. You can't argue about their pre-conference schedule. Michigan State has been steady over the years, and with their coach Mark D'Antonio, the trend has definitely continued. However, the Spartans lost quite a bit of star power when they lost Javon Ringer at the end of last season. Ringer was quite a player, and they will have to replace him in order to stabilize their recent success. They may have a sleeper in linebacker Greg Jones, whom D'Antonio seems to be pretty high on. Only time will tell as to how good the Spartans will be. Michigan fell back to reality last season, missing a bowl game for the first time in quite a while under new coach Rich Rodriguez. Coming from West Virginia and the Big East, Rodriguez sees some differences between the two conferences, but also noted that some of the teams in the Big East were no slouches. The Wolverines will concentrate on the defensive side of the ball, since there will be a new coordinator calling the shots. One of the players that Rodriguez brought with him was punter Zoltan Mesko, who should be one of the top kickers in the conference this coming season. Michigan cannot do much worse than they did last season, so the sky is the limit for them this season.
Coming up next week, the remainder of the Big Ten will be previewed, as well as a report on week 1 of practice from Illini camp. Illinois hosts their media day on Sunday, August 9th, and as a trend that is apparently happening across the country in this lean economy is the elimination of media guides distributed. At the Big Ten media day, all media in attendance were given a flash drive that had all 11 Big Ten teams' guides, as well as conference information. Not sure if Illinois is following that trend and will print some, but in the quest to become "greener", that is the norm nowadays.
Even though football season has yet to start, Illini basketball also is making some news of its own. In conjunction with Illini Madness, the Illinois volleyball team will look to "Spike The Record" at Assembly Hall on October 16 when the Fighting Illini battle Minnesota. New coach Kevin Hambly is very excited to be a part of this venture that will feature a volleyball match that will start at 6:30 that evening, which is to be followed by the men's and women's basketball teams conducting their event. In the past, such events such as the "Pink Out" and the "World's Largest Outdoor Basketball Practice", marketing genius Chris Hanna hopes to top them all with this latest venture. Tickets will be free to the event and will be distributed throughout the area. 125,000 such tickets will be given out, with only the first 16,600 inside the Assembly Hall guaranteed a seat. Once the hall is filled, people will be turned away. By the way, the NCAA record for volleyball attendance is 13,797, the mark that the Illini hope to break. Stay tuned to more details on this event as it draws closer.