Conference football teams smell Roses

Todd Zolecki

Five football teams remain in contention for the Big Ten championship with Northwestern and Ohio State on the inside track. The two teams are undefeated in the conference. Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan have one loss each.
The Wildcats will not face Ohio State this year. Ohio State has the easier schedule: Its only considerable challenge comes the last week of the season against Michigan. Northwestern plays at Penn State on Saturday.
Big Ten coaches believe Ohio State is the favorite to win the title and play in the Rose Bowl. But with so many teams bunched up toward the top of the standings it’s hard to tell.
“As you go through it, I don’t think you can be an accurate prognosticator in the Big Ten this year,” said Iowa coach Hayden Fry. “And I say that in all sincerity, although Ohio State looks like the best football team at this point. But I don’t think you can really come out and say Ohio State is going to win it.”
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez gives the Buckeyes an edge over Northwestern.
“Of the teams we’ve played I think maybe on overall talent, speed and big playmakers on offense, Ohio State probably has the most talent,” he said.
Here is the remaining schedule for the five teams still in contention:
Northwestern: at Penn State, at Iowa, Purdue.
Ohio State: Minnesota, at Illinois, at Indiana, Michigan.
Iowa: at Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, at Minnesota.
Michigan State: at Michigan, Indiana, at Penn State.
Michigan: Michigan State, at Purdue, Penn State, at Ohio State.

In-state showdown
One of the biggest Big Ten rivalries — maybe greater than the border battle between Minnesota and Wisconsin — takes place Saturday. Michigan and Michigan State square off in Ann Arbor, Mich., for annual bragging rights.
The Spartans upset Michigan last year 28-25 in East Lansing, Mich. Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr said the impact of this game lasts more than one day.
“Everyone in the state takes a side,” he said. “That creates tremendous enthusiasm and tremendous interest. Obviously there are a lot of players on our team and their team from Michigan.
“Those guys have to go back to their high schools and communities during the winter and summer. You’d much rather go back and talk about a victory than getting beat. That carries over into the competitiveness on Saturday.”
Spartans coach Nick Saban said those distractions must be minimized this week.
“They need to be focused,” he said. “Those that have gone through this aren’t as easily distracted. Hopefully the hype won’t affect us.”

Gophers need two more wins
Jim Wacker discussed his status as Gophers football coach Tuesday during the weekly Big Ten teleconference. Reporters asked Wacker about the stipulation in his contract that states he must win five games this season or offer his resignation.
“It’s our fifth year here and the fifth year you’re supposed to win football games,” Wacker said. “You’re supposed to have a winning season, and I have no problem with that.”
If the Gophers coaching staff can’t get the job done, somebody else will be brought in to do it. Wacker said that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
This is Wacker’s fifth head coaching job, and he said it is by far his most difficult.
“I didn’t realize the program was as down,” he said. “The former staff had to deal with some NCAA probation. I think it hurt the program a lot more coming in than I realized. Maybe I was blinded because I always wanted to coach in the Big Ten.”