Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It has been exactly one month since a Big Ten team played a game that counted.
Thankfully, we're less than a week away from the end of the drought, as Wisconsin will take the field Saturday afternoon in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET). Two days later, Northwestern faces Missouri in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Minnesota follows with an Insight Bowl matchup against Kansas, bringing us right to New Year's Day.
Bottom line: Big Ten Nation can start getting excited for real football again.
Though the last month featured nothing on the field, there were several interesting happenings around the league.
Here's a quick recap of the Big Ten's top storylines for those who might have stepped away for a bit.
Penn State and head coach Joe Paterno agreed to a contract extension through the 2011 season. Paterno, the 2008 Big Ten Coach of the Year, previously had a contract that expired following the Rose Bowl. But after helping Penn State to an 11-1 record and a Big Ten co-championship, Paterno was rewarded with a three-year extension. Paterno turned 82 years old on Sunday, and the university's statement about the extension stated that "the parties might re-evaluate their circumstances and alter the arrangement by either shortening or extending its length as necessary." There was no mention of a succession plan.
Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned after only one season. The Wolverines finished 68th nationally in total defense but struggled at times, getting little to no help from the offense. It appeared as though a philosophical difference between Shafer and head coach Rich Rodriguez led to the split, as Michigan began the season in a base 4-3 before switching to a 3-3-5. Rodriguez said recruiting is his top priority before looking for a replacement at defensive coordinator.
Other coaching changes included Purdue's new head coach Danny Hope hiring Gary Nord as his new offensive coordinator. Hope, who didn't retain Ed Zaunbrecher, also must look for a defensive coordinator after Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's coach. Illinois lost a key member of its coaching staff, as offensive coordinator and top recruiter Mike Locksley left to become head coach at New Mexico. Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster scored a coup by hiring veteran offensive line coach Tim Davis to oversee the Gophers' struggling front five.
There were two prominent transfers, as Penn State backup quarterback Pat Devlin and Michigan running back Sam McGuffie both decided to leave their schools. Devlin likely will latch on with an FCS team, while McGuffie is looking at programs in his home state of Texas.
Nothing official yet on any juniors who plan to enter the NFL draft, but it would be surprising if Iowa running back Shonn Greene, Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis don't make the jump.
It was a good month for awards in the Big Ten. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Players who won national awards included Iowa's Greene (Doak Walker), Penn State center A.Q. Shipley (Rimington), Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (Thorpe) and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (Lott).
Indiana head coach Bill Lynch received a vote of confidence for the 2009 season from his new boss, athletic director Fred Glass. Lynch will definitely be on the hot seat next fall after a 3-9 campaign.
Illinois sophomore linebacker Martez Wilson suffered two stab wounds while trying to help a former teammate (D'Angelo McCray), who was being beaten by several men outside a bar in Champaign. Wilson underwent surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. Head coach Ron Zook praised Wilson for coming to the aid of a friend.