At the beginning of the year, many college football experts predicted that the Big Ten would go through a down year in 2007.
But as the season is now unfolding, there is a good chance that ten of the eleven teams in the conference are going to be bowl eligible by the end of the year.
Seven teams in the Big Ten have already become bowl eligible in Ohio State (10-0), Michigan (8-2), Illinois (7-3), Penn State (7-3), Purdue (7-3), Wisconsin (7-3) and Indiana (6-4).
There are currently three Big Ten teams that sit at a 5-5 record, just one win away from that ever-elusive bowl game with two games left in the season, in Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State.
There is a strong possibility that all three teams at 5-5 will gain their sixth win as soon as Saturday, as Northwestern hosts Indiana, Michigan State travels to Purdue, and Iowa comes back home to take their chances against Big Ten bottom feeder Minnesota.
“It would be great, but that’s way down the road right now for us,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about playing in a bowl game. “Right now I’d be really happy just to win this week.”
The Gophers, being the one team in the conference that will for sure be playing only 12 games this season, will not be participating in a bowl game for just the second time in the past nine seasons.
In its illustrious history, the Big Ten has never qualified 10 different teams for post season action and has never produced 10 teams with a record of .500 or better.
Two-way race for the title
There is no surprise that this year’s Big Ten title is coming down to Ohio State and Michigan, as both teams currently hold conference records of 6-0 and have distanced themselves as the only two teams with a chance to gain the conference crown.
The winner of the Big Ten title receives an automatic bid to a Bowl Championship Series game, which may be decided next week as the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet up in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Both teams face tough competition this week, however, which could give each of them their first loss of the conference season.
Ohio State hosts Illinois on Saturday, who is currently ranked third in the Big Ten with just two conference losses, and Michigan hits the road to face Wisconsin, who is 3-3 in the Big Ten.
Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel was asked earlier this week if his players were already looking forward to the Michigan game.
He said no, but also recognized that it is the red letter day on the schedule every season.
“I think this group really understands that we’ve got work to do,” Tressel said about the focus of his team. “They’ve been good at being very attentive and staying on task.”
The Wolverines have won a Big Ten record 42 championships and are aiming for their third first-place finish in the last five seasons.
The Buckeyes rank second to Michigan with 31 Big Ten titles and are seeking their third consecutive crown for the first time since winning six straight from 1972-77.
Players of the week
After equaling a school record with four touchdown passes against in-state rival Michigan State, Michigan’s Chad Henne picked up the offensive player of the week award.
After missing the previous week against Minnesota with a shoulder injury, the senior quarterback completed 18-of-33 passes for 211 yards to help rally the Wolverines from a ten-point deficit to beat the Spartans.
For the defensive players of the week, junior linebacker James Laurinaitis of Ohio State racked up a career-best 19 tackles to lead the Buckeyes over Wisconsin, and fellow junior linebacker Sean Lee of Penn State collected 12 tackles, a pass breakup, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery to help the Nittany Lions’ defense limit the high-powered offense of Purdue.
The special teams honor went to kicker Jason Reda of Illinois, who hit 3-of-3 field goal attempts, including his third 50-yarder this season, in the Illini’s road triumph over Minnesota.