Notes: Conference Looking for Better Results

After not having success in high-profile bowl games the last couple of seasons, the Big Ten's 11 coaches look for different ways to improve the image of the Big Ten Conference.

CHICAGO - Big Ten football officially opened for business Thursday at the 37th annual Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago.

Chief among the topics discussed by the 11 league coaches and media here was the present state of the conference, and the perception that exists throughout the nation that the Big Ten is an overrated league.

Much of that perception, comes from the conference's recent lack of success in BCS games against high-caliber competition. The Big Ten's representative in the last two Rose Bowl (Michigan and Illinois) and National Championship games (Ohio State) have been soundly defeated by teams from the Pac-10 and SEC.

"I've been fortunate to coach in two BCS conferences here in the last six years, and there's no doubt in my mind that the Big Ten conference is a great, great conference," former Florida and current Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. "Now, until we go [win] then there's not a whole lot we can say. … I think it's important we take care of business that way."

One way to reverse that national perception would be to not put all the conference's eggs in the postseason basket and schedule and win more high-profile regular season contests.

ESPN college football analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit would like to see more Big Ten teams schedule contests similar to the Buckeyes' home-and-home series with Southern California.

"I think Wisconsin, Michigan, all these programs, I think should do that," Herbstreit said. "That's how you're going to destroy this image. Right now … from what I hear from other regions, they mock the Big Ten. They laugh at the Big Ten. They think the Big Ten is the most overrated, over-hyped conference in the country every year."

Buckeyes clean up

Ohio State took home all the hardware from Media Day. The Buckeyes were chosen by the conference media as the prohibitive favorites to win the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Illinois rounded out the top three.

Individually, Ohio State junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells was selected as the conference offensive player of the year, and senior linebacker James Laurinaitis was picked as defensive player of the year.

Bye, Bye Joe

After 11 years coaching at Purdue, head coach Joe Tiller announced earlier this year he would retire following the upcoming season.

Thursday, a number of conference coaches took the opportunity to reflect on what Tiller, the longest-tenured conference coach aside from Penn State's Joe Paterno, has meant to the league.

"I think Joe Tiller will always be seen as an innovator," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Looking back, Tiller more or less began a trend that transformed the Big Ten from an offensively ugly, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust league to one in which that approach is nearly extinct.

When he arrived in West Lafayette in 1997, Tiller instituted a wide-open "basketball on grass" offense that was the forerunner to many of the spread attacks that populate the Big Ten. Eight of the 11 conference teams will run a variation of the shotgun offense this season.

"To me it's almost a reflection of our society," Tiller said. "It's instant, the spread offense. I often times refer to our society as an "instant gratification" society, so the spread offense fits right in.

"We've done our part to advance society," Tiller joked.

That, apparently, includes fashion.

"I'm a big Joe Tiller fan because he can walk in here and not wear a tie," UW head coach Bret Bielema said.

New rules

Prior to the start of the coaches' interview rotation, the league showed a video outlining new rules and points of emphasis officials will be enforcing this season. Among the new rules: classification of the "horse collar" tackle as a 15-yard personal foul, a crackdown on unsportsmanlike conduct, such as high stepping and somersaulting into the end zone, and celebrations meant to "draw attention to the player."

Quick hits

Ohio State's Jim Tressel said highly-touted quarterback recruit Terrelle Pryor would be integrated into the offense as soon as camp opens August 4. Pryor could see time at quarterback, but could also have his athleticism used in other ways as well.

Indiana coach Bill Lynch said that late-Hoosier head coach Terry Hoeppner is still important to the team, and his "Play 13" motto pushes his players to achieve bowl eligibility.

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno repeatedly said he is unsure whether this will be his last season at the school. "How many times do I have to tell you guys, "I don't know!" a perturbed Paterno said. "Do I have to spell it out for you? I. D-O-N-T. Know."

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