"I think it's encouraging to all the people that care about Ohio State that people think highly of us," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel told the media yesterday. "And granted we do have to replace a lot of good folks. We have been working hard to do that since January. How legitimate is it? I don't know if we know the answer to that. We will find out by the end of November. But it's always nice to be mentioned."
Despite the 7-5 record from last season, the Wolverines were selected to finish second according to the media. With 18 starters returning on a Michigan team with a new found focus, coach Lloyd Carr has reason to be excited as he enters his 12th season at the helm "I'm very excited about this Michigan team. We have an excellent nucleus of returning players offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. We've had a great offseason, with the only disappointment being the loss of Antonio Bass in the spring. With that exception we go into fall practice healthy. I think we have a great attitude, a strong nucleus of leaders and our goals are extremely high."
Iowa, who finished tied with Michigan for third in the conferenc rankings at the end of last season, collected the final team accolades with the media's third place selection. One advantage that the Hawkeyes have on preseason fav Ohio State, however, is home field advantage in an early season night game.
"It is only the second night game ever played at Kinnick Stadium," said Iowa headman coach Kirk Ferentz. "Formerly it was a logistical problem to have a night game due to the lack of parking around the stadium. Outside of that, the environment is going to be excellent with Ohio State coming to town."
Penn State, one of last year's co-champions, was left off the list of favorites heading into the 2006 season, but coaching legend Joe Paterno is still optimistic about his squad's chances of a successful title defense. "August to me is a very demanding time for coaching," Paterno said. "In preparing for a championship season, you need August to tie up all the loose ends and replace the exiting football players. We have some good football players returning though. Paul Posluszny and Levi Brown are good football players."
As was the case with Paterno last season, Minnesota headman Glen Mason is a coach looking to see his program take another step in the right direction. "I'm really anxious for our upcoming season," Mason said. "We're losing very few players from our 2005 ball club, but the players we lost were pretty darn good players," said Mason. "I've been impressed with the work ethic of the returning players." Along with the expectations for the upcoming season, Mason also spoke with excitement about the Gophers new football stadium. Despite not being ready for the upcoming year, an on campus facility is coming in the near future for Minnesota. "The stadium will be there, it's a done deal," Mason said. "When is it going to be there? Not soon enough. There is a possibility of our game with Penn State (Oct. 7) being moved because the Minnesota Twins are the hottest team in baseball right now. We plan to open the 2009 season in the new venue."
Michigan State and Purdue were two teams that could not live up to high expectations set for them in 2005, but are now looking to bounce back in 2006 behind coaches John L. Smith and Joe Tiller. Still relatively fresh at Michigan State, Smith is looking to get over the proverbial hump, and is counting on Drew Stanton to help get him there. "Going into spring ball I made a little bet with him that he couldn't go through the spring without throwing an interception- which he did [successfully]," recalled Smith. "We're trying to have Drew get a little more confidence in the offense and a little lower interception ratio."
At Purdue, Tiller will benefit from the Boilermakers missing both Ohio State and Michigan for a second year in a row. A quick start will be important for the club as they look to make their first trip to Pasadena since Drew Brees led them to the conference crown five years ago. "How we come out of the shoot will say a lot in determining the way our season goes," Tiller said. "If we get off to a respectable start, we will have the type of team that improves as the season goes along. Sometimes you have a team that looks the same at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season. I don't think we have that type of team."
Illinois, under second year coach Ron Zook, is another team hoping to move up the conference standings. The Illini are looking to build on a strong recruiting class that has given hope to fans throughout the state of Illinois. A native of the Midwest, Zook knows he has his work cut out for him. Still, he believes that isn't impossible to scratch his way to the top of the conference in the years to come.
"Growing up in Ohio, I know how prestigious and competitive this conference is," said Zook. "We have everything we need. There's no reason why our program shouldn't be up there with everyone else. Since the 2000s, there have been four teams that have won the conference and Illinois is one of those teams. We've done it; we just haven't done it consistently."
One face that was sadly absent from this year's media day was that of former Northwestern head coach Randy Walker. After signing a four-year contract extension at the conclusion of 2005 season, Walker tragically died on June 29 as a result of an apparent heart attack. "It was with mixed emotions that I drove into the city last night because I was here just a short time ago to pay respects to Coach Walker," said Indiana head man Terry Hoeppner. "In fact driving into the city last night I called his brother Rob, but I know `Coach Walk' would all want us to move on and we'll do that. I think that will be part of his legacy for sure."
Pat Fitzgerald, a former linebacker for the Wildcats, was named head coach shortly after Walker's unexpected death. Despite the reservations about his young age, (31), Fitzgerald feels he has what it takes to bring Northwestern back to the top of the Big 10.
"It's a great benefit being 31," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not too far away from my playing days and I know what it's like to be a student at Northwestern. I know what it's like when the cameras are off, when you have to walk to class in the snow and what it is to sacrifice."
Another first year coach in the Big 10, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, has a similar task in front of him. Replacing Barry Alvarez, the most successful coach in Wisconsin's history, will be no small task for the Badgers new headman. It doesn't help matters that last year's leading rusher, Brian Calhoun, is gone from a team that has traditionally used its running game to bury opponents.
"He had some special talents," Bielema said regarding Calhoun. "In addition to his abilities, he had great composure on the sidelines and could not be rattled easily. He had three freshmen that were able to come in last year and watch and learn from him; people like PJ Hill. If we have to switch guys on first, second, third and fourth downs to get the job done in the best way possible, then that is what we need to do."