Big Ten: Mark Silverman
On the other, only one of the conference's five games is expected to be close. Four of the underdogs are picked to lose by double digits this week, and the closest game isn't exactly a hot ticket: Minnesota at Illinois.
For the first time all season, we Big Ten writers all picked the same winners. But will there be an upset? Can someone surprise in the Big Ten? Let's take a closer look at the matchups:
Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4), ESPNU: The Gophers are still fighting for respect, as they appear at No. 24 in the USA Today poll -- but they're still left out of the Associated Press' top 25. They've quietly put together a solid season, with their only loss coming against TCU, and running back David Cobb could be the most underrated player in the conference. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is fighting for his job, and he and his offensive coordinator can't even seem to agree on whether a two-quarterback system is best for the team. The Illini have a plethora of defensive problems, and they can't afford to have their offense stumble.
Maryland (5-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), BTN: Melvin Gordon is one of the most dynamic backs in all of college football, and the Terrapins are one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. That's not exactly a recipe for success for the Terps. That being said, Wisconsin's woes through the air have been well-documented, and it would be no surprise to see the Terps dare Wisconsin to throw. Randy Edsall needs to get his own house in order, too. Maryland has a lot of firepower on offense, but C.J. Brown needs to find more consistency for this team to hang with the Badgers. Backup Caleb Rowe is out for the season, so it's Brown or bust. And Brown has thrown three picks to zero touchdowns in the last two games.
Rutgers (5-2) at Nebraska (6-1), ESPN2: The Scarlet Knights just can't catch a break with their schedule. They were dismantled by Ohio State 56-17 on Saturday and they play Wisconsin next week. Rutgers was the surprise team of the conference in the first half of the season, but it will have to show something in this second half to retain that title. It won't be easy. Like the Buckeyes, Nebraska boasts a balanced offense -- and Ameer Abdullah is the best back the Knights have seen since ... well ... it's been years. With one Big Ten loss already, Nebraska can't afford a slip-up. But it might just have the most talented team, overall, in the West.
Michigan (3-4) at Michigan State (6-1), ABC: Since 2008, this rivalry has basically been owned by the Spartans. Mark Dantonio's team has won five out of the last six, with the Wolverines winning only once in a 12-10 game in 2012. Michigan is coming off a bye week -- and actually won its last Big Ten game, against Penn State -- but the Spartans are on another level. If U-M can pull off this upset, maybe Brady Hoke has an outside chance to save his job and the Wolverines really have sparked a turnaround. If not, expect the same Michigan storyline that you've heard since Week 2.
Ohio State (5-1) at Penn State (4-2), ABC: The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in four straight games, but they haven't faced a defense quite like Penn State's. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions haven't faced any offense resembling Ohio State's, either. The key to an upset here is two-fold: Penn State's weak offensive line must somehow keep one of the nation's best front fours at bay (unlikely), or Penn State's defense has to play out of its mind and force turnovers (more likely). Ohio State pounded Penn State 63-14 last season, and the Lions would like nothing more than to avenge the worst loss in program history since 1899 (a 64-5 loss to Duquesne). This game will act as a good measuring stick for both J.T. Barrett and the PSU defense.
- Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman discusses the network's East Coast cable distribution agreements.
- BTN will have an on-campus presence for the Penn State-Rutgers game in Piscataway, New Jersey. Rutgers adds a wide receiver recruit for the 2015 class.
- Bob Flounders examines Penn State's defense following the loss of linebacker Ben Kline (Achilles). Kline's injury should remind PSU fans to enjoy the victories.
- Maryland must adjust to playing on the B1G stage.
- Three Big Ten teams -- Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin -- make this list of 20 playoff contenders. The Spartans undoubtedly have a chance to make the field of four.
- Some personnel updates from Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Former Gophers tight end Ben Utecht testifies to Congress about head injuries in football.
- Illinois on Wednesday added its first defensive recruit for 2015.
- A closer look at Indiana entering the 2014 season.
- Safety Anthony Gair could move up Iowa's depth chart.
- Northwestern is diversifying its passing game through 2015 recruiting.
- Reporters weigh in on the top Big Ten players of the BCS era.
- Who is on Nebraska's defensive line Mount Rushmore?
- Former Purdue star Cliff Avril is living the dream.
- The Big Ten takes the lead in pushing for athlete welfare reforms.
The coaches, players and media members have descended on the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, and the first interviews will begin shortly. ESPN has a small army of reporters at this year's event, so we'll have it all covered for you.
Here's the schedule for Day 1:
Coaches and league officials at the dais (coverage on ESPNU begins at 11 a.m. ET)
Illinois coach Ron Zook: 11 a.m.-11:15 a.m. ET
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema: 11:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m. ET
Purdue coach Danny Hope: 11:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m. ET
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell: noon-12:15 p.m. ET
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson: 12:15 p.m.-12:30 p.m. ET
Penn State coach Joe Paterno: 12:30 p.m.-12:45 p.m. ET
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald: 1 p.m.-1:15 p.m. ET
Michigan coach Brady Hoke: 1:15-1:30 p.m. ET
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: 1:30 p.m-1:45 p.m. ET
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz: 2 p.m.-2:15 p.m. ET
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill: 2:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m. ET
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio: 2:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m. ET
Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo: 2:45-3 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman: 3 p.m.-3:15 p.m. ET
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany: 3:15 p.m.-3:45 p.m. ET
Time Warner Cable and the BTN announced Monday that the network will be available on the standard service cable tier beginning Aug. 23. The Big Ten had threatened to withhold several Huskers football games unless the BTN would appear on Time Warner Cable's standard service tier rather than a more expensive premium tier.
Nebraska announced kickoff times for its first two games -- home contests against Chattanooga (Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET) and Fresno State (Sept. 10, 7 p.m. ET) -- but stated that TV plans were still being worked out.
"This is great for Husker fans, now that they're a part of the Big Ten Conference, to see games on Time Warner Cable’s standard service tier," BTN President Mark Silverman said in a prepared statement. "Time Warner Cable has a huge presence in Nebraska, and we're excited to be making this move."
BTN will begin appear on channel 24 beginning Aug. 23. Digital cable customers will continue to see BTN on channels 333 and 1333 (HD). Two BTN overflow channels (1334 and 1335) also will be available.
Time Warner Cable will carry every Huskers football game this fall on BTN, ABC or on one of the ESPN family of networks.
Maybe we all need to think outside the box.
Momentum is building for the Wolverines and Buckeyes to be on opposite sides of the league when the division dust settles, likely later this month.
The first clue came last week at Big Ten media days as coaches Rich Rodriguez (Michigan) and Jim Tressel (Ohio State) seemed open to the possibility of moving their annual rivalry game away from the final weekend of the regular season. Michigan-Ohio State has been a fixture on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, but the Big Ten's shift to a permanent bye week will end the tradition, as The Game now will be played after turkey is served. For years, Michigan and Ohio State seemed reluctant about the bye because it would move the rivalry a week later.
The fact that these two traditional powers might be willing to play earlier tells me they wouldn't mind lining up twice a year. Splitting Ohio State and Michigan into separate divisions, while preserving The Game through a protected crossover, opens up the possibility of a rematch in the Big Ten title game.
CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd wants to see it happen, and he makes a good case in today's column.
Ohio State-Michigan for the right to go to the Rose Bowl, possibly the BCS title game, would conjure up visions of Bo's and Woody's Ten Year War.
"The second game would be bigger," Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman said, just talking ratings. "As a TV person, it is one of the highest, if not the highest regular-season games out there. I don't think having a second one would impact the TV ratings."
In other words, the nation can't get enough.
You've read the phrase "move the needle" a lot on this blog in recent months. By that, I mean the Big Ten must create divisions that maximize its appeal nationally. Television dollars drive this sport. That's obvious after the events of the summer. So when deciding divisions, the Big Ten must ensure its biggest matchups are played as often as possible.
No matter how the teams are performing, Michigan-Ohio State ALWAYS moves the needle. So why not have a rematch?
"I'm fine with that," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said, "in the championship game, in Tuscaloosa. Anywhere."
"I'm sure our fans would be really excited," Rodriguez said. "If you won it the first time, you may think, 'I don't want to play a second time.' But Michigan loves to compete against Ohio State and Ohio State loves to compete against Michigan."
Dodd points out that if Michigan and Ohio State were split into two divisions, The Game would have to be moved earlier, "no later than Nov. 1."
Corporate types like to call it "monetizing" your biggest assets. You might have noticed the SEC has done a fairly good job of it. Four months from now, Florida and Alabama could be playing in the SEC championship game for the third consecutive year. The first two games have been de facto national semifinals with the winner going to, and winning, the national championship game. Meanwhile, the Big Ten speculators seem too hung up in geography in the division debate.
I definitely agree with the last line. Geography shouldn't be a deciding factor. Not that many fans travel to road games as you think.
While I'm still not certain that splitting Michigan and Ohio State is the best model for the Big Ten, I'm warming up to the idea, especially with nine conference games on the horizon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Thursday marks the official start to the Big Ten football season, as players and coaches from all 11 teams meet the media at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Unlike some of the other conferences, which sprinkle several teams into media sessions that span two or three days, the Big Ten throws everybody at us at once. Having covered Big Ten media days for the last six years, the format can be a little overwhelming, but not too awful.
Here's how things will work. The two-day event begins Thursday at 10:15 a.m. Central time with a short video showing key points for college football officials in the 2008 season. After the video, the 11 coaches will conduct 15-minute question-and-answer sessions on the dais. Each coach then leaves the ballroom and usually spends a few more minutes taking questions in the hallway before their sports information director whisks them away to do TV interviews. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany follows the coaches and does a one-hour question-and-answer session from 2-3 p.m.
Since 11 coaches appear in a fairly short time span (10:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.) with only one 30-minute break, the first day doesn't have a ton of value. Every coach says how excited he is for the season, talks about his returning starters, takes a few questions and leaves. There are exceptions, though, and this year should produce some first-day intrigue. Here's a look:
- Purdue coach Joe Tiller is always entertaining. He talks about fishing in Wyoming or Montana or someplace. Unlike his colleagues, he rarely wears a tie. Plus, he's always candid about his team, rule changes, etc. Tiller usually shows up well before the sessions begin and he'll hang out in the back of the ballroom to hear the other coaches talk.
- Joe Paterno is 81 years old, and he doesn't waste anyone's time, including his own. Paterno always passes up the long-winded, normally flavorless opening statement and goes straight to questions from the media. He'll undoubtedly be asked about his future at Penn State for the 10,000th time. I'm interested to hear his thoughts about the quarterback competition between Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin.
- Rich Rodriguez makes his first appearance at Big Ten media days, and much of the attention will be on the new Michigan coach. He might have to rehash his recent settlement with West Virginia, but I'm more interested in his outlook for Michigan's offense. His system usually doesn't click in the first year. Will this time be different?
- With everything going on at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz's 15 minutes on the dais should be, well, interesting. The Iowa coach can't say much about the ongoing sexual assault case involving two former players, but he might defend the way he and other school officials responded to the alleged victim and her family.
- Delany will discuss the Big Ten Network's long-awaited deal with Comcast and possibly his status as a college football playoff pariah.
The second day of media meetings brings better stories and more excitement, as the players join their coaches for a two-hour session with reporters. Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman and Big Ten coordinator of officials Dave Parry also will be available. Things begin at 8 a.m. Friday. Getting to all 46 interview tables in 120 minutes is impossible, but I'll do my best to bring you a solid sampling.
The biggest crowds are usually around Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel, but Rodriguez, Ferentz and Illinois coach Ron Zook will get their share of visitors. Ohio State's star threesome of James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Todd Boeckman won't be lonely. By the way, I forgot to complain about having no Beanie Wells at media days. I get the bringing-the-seniors thing, but he's a legit Heisman Trophy contender. Other players sure to be mobbed include Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum, Michigan State running back Javon Ringer, Illinois quarterback Juice Williams and all three Penn State invitees (Josh Gaines, A.Q. Shipley and Derrick Williams).
Possible highlights of Day 2 include:
- Finding out from Jenkins what really happened at the Playboy All-America event.
- Talking to Illinois linebacker Brit Miller, one of the most charismatic personalities in the league. The kid is hilarious.
- Spending some time with Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison and cornerback Morgan Trent. Everyone's focused on the offense, but the Wolverines' defense could be pretty good.
- Getting Dave Parry's thoughts on rule changes and becoming the first National Coordinator of Collegiate Football Officiating.
So there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about Big Ten media days. Unlike my colleagues, I'm not staying at the Ritz or heading to Vegas. I'll be saving the company money and making the short trip down Lake Shore Drive from my home on the city's North Side. The blog should be buzzing the next two days, so check it out. And e-mail me any questions or comments as the event goes along.