Notes: Let them Rest

Extending the schedule, moving the kickoffs back, new introductions, Bielema's singing ability and Joe Paterno all were the topic of discussion at the big Ten's annual media day.

CHICAGO – Among the many topics and changes discussed at the annual Big Ten Media Day, the issue of tweaking the Big Ten schedule was at the forefront.

Starting with the first non-conference game on September 1st, the 11 members of the conference begin a 12-week marathon that doesn't end until the final conference weekend on November 17th. With the latest addition of the adding of a 12th game, the Big Ten no longer has the flexibility of having a bye week for each team, as that week is now filled with a non-conference opponent.

Entering the second year of having the extra game, the 11 coaches feel that it's time to try to work a week off back into the schedule.

"I am a big proponent of an open date," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. "We're playing 12 games and it's awfully hard for people going 12 straight weeks. Whether we play earlier or later, it's important to have a break.

Northwestern's head coach Pat Fitzgerald agreed and also was a fan of not pushing the schedule back so the Big Ten has conference games heading into the month of December.

"I enjoy the opportunity to go home for Thanksgiving," Fitzgerald said. "That was a big selling point for me in my recruiting to enjoy time with the family and rest before having to prepare for a bowl game."

Ironically, one of the newest Big Ten coaches, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, was the first coach of the afternoon to seemingly propose moving the end of the season to the end of November.

"If we put off Thanksgiving for a week, we'll all be all right," Dantonio said pointedly.

If the Big Ten were to have a week off, coaches will still be limited to 20 hours of contact with players per week, according to NCAA rules and regulations.

Push them Back

A year after the kicking tee was lower from two inches to one inch to begin the 2006 season, Big Ten teams will have to adjust to another change in the kicking game. Starting in week one, kickoffs will be pushed back five yards from the 35-yard line to the 30. The consensus from the coaches is that special teams units will need to be on top of their game at all times.

"It's a good rule change [for the betterment of the game]," new Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. "It's going to be great for the fans to put the most exciting play back in football."

"It's going to add to the speed of the game, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "I just wish they had added it last year when we had number seven [Ted Ginn Jr.] back there. The one thing [the rule] is going to do is put pressure on the kicker to do his job."

While opposing coaches suddenly have a new problem to worry about, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema won't be loosing any over the kicking changes. Three-year letter winner Taylor Mehlhaff more than adjusted to the change in height, leading the Big Ten with 42 touchbacks on 76 attempts.

"We found that almost 67 percent of our touchbacks we had a year ago would have been returned based on where the ball landed," Bielema said. "We need to be effective in where we put the ball and be sure that 10 games are running to the ball. It will affect the game, but I like our kicker. He thinks the right way and thinks ahead of the game. He told me that he will kick the ball a lot better [this year] because he can drive the ball further from a shorter tee. As long as he believes that, I'm behind him 100 percent."

A Northern Proclamation?

Wisconsin fans better get used to the name Tim Brewster because he's already become familiar with them. The 46-year-old rookie head coach and former two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection at the University of Illinois, Brewster stood at the podium, talking in a loud, boisterous voice and lauding the university, the fans and the new stadium the Gophers are building on conference. What intrigues Wisconsin fans, however, is that Brewster almost went as far as guarantee that Minnesota will possess the Little Brown Jug and Paul Bunyan's Axe in no time at all.

"University of Michigan stands for excellence in terms of athletics and academics," Brewster proclaimed. "Wisconsin is up there as well. We understand how great those teams are and the trophy games are oh so special. But, we're going to get that jug. We're going to get that axe and we're going to get it done."

Ageless Wonder

Entering his 42nd season running the show at Penn State, Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno is not ready to hang up the whistle quite yet and doesn't want to listen to any one else's opinion.

"The good Lord has been good to me," Paterno said in his usual raspy voice. "I don't bother what people think [when they talk about my future]. When I think I can't do the job or it's time for a change, then I'll have to sit down and think about it."

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Before addressing the media on Tuesday, Bielema got a chance of a lifetime when he sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame' during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field on Monday night. Wearing a Cubs jersey he describe as being ‘a little snug,' Bielema did the whole song and dance like Harry Carey himself, including saying root for the Cubbies. It didn't help, as the Cubs lost 4-1.

"I think it went all right. I'm really scared of heights, so that was one of the things that surprised me was how high the [press box] was and, if you weren't careful, that you could take a tumble. It was fun.

"I was a little nervous last night," Bielema added. "Today will be a piece of cake."

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