Wolverines, Badgers picked to top Big Ten

Tyler Rushmeyer

Media members attending the Big Ten’s football media days announced their preseason honors and favorites Wednesday in preparation for the conference’s 112th season of play.

Michigan is selected as the conference favorite, despite beginning last season 11-0 before dropping its final two contests, including a fourth straight bowl loss.

Coach Lloyd Carr, who has compiled a 113-36 mark at Michigan despite harboring 1-5 records both in bowl games and against rival Ohio State in the past six seasons, said the potential and expectations for his team in 2007 are high.

“There are a lot of teams that surprise and do things that no one expected them to do,” he said. “This team is not going to have that luxury because we’re picked pretty high.”

That’s because the Wolverines are ranked fifth in the preseason USA Today national poll.

Following Michigan in the rankings is Wisconsin, coming off a single-season record 12 wins and its second consecutive Capital One Bowl victory.

With 18 starters returning, the Badgers, who have won the most conference games over the course of the last three seasons, look to once again be dangerous.

Bret Bielema, entering his second season as Wisconsin’s head coach, said his team plays with a chip on its shoulder as they are oftentimes largely ignored on the national scene.

It appears that this is not the case in 2007, as the Badgers are sitting seventh-ranked heading into September.

With the national recognition, Bielema said there is no doubt teams will be gunning for Wisconsin this season.

“Obviously we’re picked to do things nationally,” he said. “When that happens, you’re going to have a target on your back.”

Ohio State, who fell to Florida in last year’s national championship game, finds itself in a lower preseason position.

The Buckeyes are ranked 10th and are not a top-two conference contender like in recent years due to the younger squad it will field in 2007 – a vast change from the No. 1 overall status they held last year from the preseason all the way to their lopsided, upset loss to the Gators in January.

Coach Jim Tressel, whose team picked up their third conference title during his six-year tenure last season, said his team being picked third in a tough conference despite all their losses is a sign of respect.

“I don’t concern myself much with preseason rankings,” he said. “We have a lot of holes to fill Ö but the opportunity for young guys to step up is here.”

Individual accolades

Aside from announcing the preseason top-three teams of the Big Ten conference, media members also awarded preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.

Michigan’s senior running back Mike Hart, entering his fourth year as a starter in the backfield, earned Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Hart rushed for 1,562 yards last season along with scoring 14 touchdowns, earning his first-team Big Ten selection.

His career 3,679 rushing yards are sixth in Wolverine history.

Picking up the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors was Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Laurinaitis, a Wayzata graduate, led the Buckeyes in 2006 with 115 tackles along with five interceptions and four sacks.

He also concluded his sophomore season as an All-American and Nagurski Trophy recipient.