Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Big Ten Football - Let the games begin!

Now that the calendar has turned to August, most people's attention turn to the gridiron and the start of football season. Unless you are a fan of the Chicago White Sox or St. Louis Cardinals, this season cannot come soon enough. This season's Big Ten football campaign promises yet again to be another competitive one, with the usual band of suspects near the top regaining that status. The season officially kicked off on Monday and Tuesday with the Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. All 11 coaches, as well as commissioner Jim Delaney and director of officials Bill Carollo were available to the media for interviews. The top 3 teams, as selected by the attending media contingent, for the preseason included Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin in that order. No surprise that the Illini were nowhere near that list, and what follows is a brief snippet of all 11 coaches and their prospects on the upcoming season.

First on the podium was Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. Bielema is beginning his fifth season at
the helm of the Badgers, and doesn't feel any immense pressure on being selected as the #3
team in the preseason conference standings. A main knock on Bielema in the past was not
being more media friendly, something he hopes to change this
season. Already during the summer,
he welcomed a television crew into his home for a cooking lesson, and played golf with a writer. Also thinks that the evolution of
social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have
changed the game a bit, anywhere from keeping track of players to interactions with fans. As far as his expectations for the season, they have a lot of fifth year seniors, led by their quarterback Scott Tolzien. The flux of experience will hopefully mean great things for Bielema and the Badgers this season.

The second coach to take the mike was Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Being the youngest coach in the league, he is once again dealing with another quarterback that has seen limited action in games. In regards to the Wildcats' meeting with the Fighting Illini at Wrigley Field in November, he likes the idea and thinks it will be nothing but a positive boos
t for the program, not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play on the same field as George Halas and Gale Sayers.Fitzgerald still thinks about the play in last season's Outback Bowl, and how it could have gone differently. But, it was just one of about 50 plays that could have gone either way and the game was more or less forgotten once he got off the plane after returning home.
Next to speak was Illinois coach Ron Zook. Zook, who is entering his seventh season as coach of the Fighting Illini, has faced some intense pressure over the summer, as recruiting took a bit of a downturn and several new coaches were hired to replace ones that were let go during the off-season. Still, Zook remains optimistic that they can rebound this
season said today that this season's team looks better on paper than the 2008 Rose Bowl team. Well, football games are not played on paper, they are played by little men inside your television set. Not sure who said that quote, but it was pointed out to me up in Chicago and I thought that this was a fitting occasion to use it. Quarterback will be a major question, as the top 3 signal callers on the roster have thrown a grand total of 0 passes between them. That being said, Eddie McGee, who converted to wide
receiver from quarterback last season, has the most experience of any player on the roster at that position. Not a good situation to be in, but hopefully Nathan Scheelhaase, who was named the starter earlier in the summer, can mature quickly and be the type of signal caller that he can be.

Speaking of hot seats, the next coach that came to the podium was Michigan coach Rich
Rodriguez. Rodriguez has endured much criticism during his short tenure, mainly because of not getting the job done. The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is one like no other, and often a coach's legacy is determined by how often they beat the other team. One wonders if Rodriguez cannot get the job done this season, how hot
the seat will get in Ann Arbor. The tradition that Michigan football brings speaks a lot, and Rodriguez said that one of the main concerns of the Wolverine fan base was for the team to win more games, something that he hopes to change. He went on to say that is is never easy as a coach to please everyone, and ever the showman, said that he would choose to go for 2 points almost always instead of kicking an extra point if the game was on the line. Statements like that certainly cannot endear him to the hostile Michigan fan base.

Michigan State's Mark D'Antonio was next on the list, and started off by saying that their team will pretty much evolve around Greg Jones, who was voted as the preseason defensive player of the year by the Big Ten media. The Spartans have a lot of depth returning, and are looking to
improve on a season that saw them go to yet another bowl game.
In D'Antonio's 3 seasons in East Lansing, they have been to a bowl game each and every year. The quarterback returns for Michigan State, Kirk Cousins, and has quite an array of receivers to go to. They return a stable of receivers, as well as all four tight ends from a year ago. The main concern, according to D'Antonio, will be at running back, where they saw five different players last season see action. Once that hurdle is cleared, the Spartans may very well be on the road to yet another bowl appearance.

Indiana's Bill Lynch was next on the dais, and his main concern was finishing games, citing they were about 12 plays from having a great season in 2009 and qualifying for a pretty good
bowl game. The Hoosiers return their quarterback,
Ben Chappell, as well as one of the top receivers in Tandon Doss.
In addition to catching the ball, Doss is down right dangerous on special teams, being the main returner on both punts and kickof
fs. Lynch said that once Doss catches the ball, he is tough to bring down, but getting him the ball will be the main concern. They worked very hard in the spring and summer, and brought in a
couple of junior college transfers at the corners in the secondary, which will no doubt bolster their defense.

Taking the stand next was Purdue coach Danny Hope, who was excited to report that they had over 90 players on campus during the summer workout sessions, so team chemistry will be key going into the season. He talked about the slow start that the
Boilermakers had in 2009, but also added that they finished strong, including a dramatic win over Ohio State in West Lafayette. Regarding expansion of the leafue, Hope said that he
welcomes the idea of new rivalry games, but also wanted the
current rivalry games with Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State to remain intact as well. The Boilers should be well represented at
running back and the receiver position, but the quarterback slot may be another story, as they are inexperienced there.

A fan and media favorite, Joe Paterno, took the podium next, and as usual, had the media in attendance in stitches with his quips and one-liners. Never one to shy away from a question, Joe Pa was cornered with the question that he seems to get every year, when he will step down as
coach of the Nittany Lions. And, the answer that he gives every year, is that he has no plans to retire. After all, he has been doing this for 44 years, and probably will continue until he can no longer coach effectively. When posed with the question of what he think
s about Nebraska coming into the league, he recalled when Penn State came into the league and relished the idea, much as he doe
s now with the Cornhuskers set to debut in 2011. One wish that
Paterno had was if the conference does any additional expansion, that they find a couple teams from the eastern part of the country to cut down on the travel expenses for the Nittany Lions. Sounds like a winner of an idea to me.

Minnesota coach Tim Brewster spoke next, and was very humbled to be following the legend that is Joe Paterno. Brewster, who played his collegiate ball at Illinois, has been trying to
improve the non-conference scheduling of the Gophers, and with USC coming to the Twin Cities this fall, thinks he is well on the way to accomplishing that goal. Often in the past, Minnesota had scheduled a light pre-conference schedule, only to falter down th
e stretch, but with the early cupcake slate, almost assuredly qualified for a bowl game. Brewster likes the idea of quality teams coming into their new home, TCF Bank Stadium, and wants to
show it off as much as possible. On the field, Adam Weber returns behind center and with a good recruiting class in the off-season, looks to get back to a bowl game sooner, rather than later.

Kirk Ferentz hit the podium next, and is second to Paterno in years of service inside the league, beginning his 12th season in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes were picked to finish second in the preseason by the media, and Ferentz understands the lofty expectations that come with that.
Offensively, the Hawkeyes have lost some linemen, but return quarterback Ricky Stanzi to lead the offense, James Vandeburg stepped in last season when Stanzi was injured, but going into fall camp it is Stanzi who will lead them. Ferentz hopes that they can replace some of the depleted linemen to help protect his signal caller. As most of the coaches today concurred, Ferentz likes the idea of expansion, and with Nebraska set to come aboard next
season, is excited of the instant rivalry that will be created from this game. Iowa and Nebraska border each other, and it could very well become a game along the lines of Ohio State and Michigan.

The final coach to speak was Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. Tressel, who is beginning his 1oth season in Columbus, knows that being the preseason favorite comes with a target on their backs. The Buckeyes also have the conference's preseason offensive play
er of the year in quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Tressel knows that they will get everyone's best shot when they play the Buckeyes, and even though they lost a lot of seniors last season, knows that they will bounce back, especially with Pryor leading the offense. Regarding the expansion question, Tressel likes the idea of new rivalries being created, but doesn't think that it will hurt the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry at all.

Later in the day, commissioner Jim Delaney met the media and pretty much gave the idea that there will be a Big Ten Championship game, starting as early as the 2012 season. Details are very sketchy at this point, and more information will definitely be forthcoming once Nebraska officially joins the league next July.

11 coaches, 1 exciting day of speculation. Yes, sports fans, football season is here!


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Jim Cotter said...

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