The Big Ten Conference found itself a running joke last football season. It started with Michigan losing to Appalachian State in the biggest upset in college history. The bashing didn't end until decisive losses by Ohio State in the BCS national championship game and Illinois in the Rose Bowl.
The Big Ten Conference found itself a running joke last football season.
It started with Michigan losing to Appalachian State in the biggest upset in college history. The bashing didn't end until decisive losses by Ohio State in the BCS national championship game and Illinois in the Rose Bowl.
"Michigan lost to Appalachian State,'' said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit. "That became a punch line. Michigan looked like they had ankle weights against Oregon. That became a punch line. The others … Iowa lost to Western Michigan, Wisconsin losing to Citadel at halftime. Anything that could go wrong went wrong.
"Then you go back to the bowl games, and they were saying, 'Not this year. It's going to be different.' ''
The Big Ten's image is falling faster than the dollar. Nevertheless, Ohio State is the Big Ten's preseason favorite and mentioned by some national analysts as a strong contender for a third straight appearance in the BCS title game. After losing the last two BCS title games by a total of 41 points, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel understood the root of the bashing but didn't necessarily agree.
"I know from our standpoint where it comes from is we played the national championship the last two years and haven't been successful. So is that fair?'' Tressel said. "I think that's fair. We haven't been successful. Should that paint a picture of our whole conference? I don't think so.
"But it also makes me feel a little disappointed that our performance in two championship games I guess brushes with a wider brush, but I don't think it's fair. What I think doesn't matter and what you think doesn't matter either. What happens in the games matters.''
Ohio State has 20 starters returning and freshman Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 recruit who will make an immediate impact at quarterback, earning playing time like Tim Tebow did as a Florida freshman.
Meanwhile, the only way to change the image is changing the outcome in bowl games. The league was 3-5 in bowl season last winter. The Big Ten hasn't posted a winning record in bowl season since 2002.
"That's why they keep score,'' said Illinois coach Ron Zook. "Until we go do it, we have to keep our mouths shut and go to work.''
There were other topics Thursday, the first of two Big Ten Conference preseason media days. In Purdue coach Joe Tiller's final year on the sidelines before retirement, Penn State legend Joe Paterno also faced questions about his future. Paterno and Tiller, friends whose ages allow them to say what they feel, provided the best sound bytes. In the final year of his contract, Paterno and the school will discuss his future after the season.
"I'd like to retire when I can't make a contribution to Penn State,'' said Paterno, who enters his 43rd season with 372 wins, one behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for most career victories among major college coaches. "I want to make sure I do it the way (predecessor) Rip Engle did it.
"Engle gave me a shot. He left an awful lot of meat on the bone. I hope I can do the same thing when I decide to do it. If I'm having a lot of fun, I don't want to get out of it. I don't want to be too stupid and go too far and not leave it the way I'd like to leave it.''
But the 81-year-old Paterno was giving no other hints.
"I can only say I don't know so many times,'' Paterno said.
Tiller took over a Purdue program in 1997 that had posted 11 losing seasons in the previous 12. The Boilermakers played in 10 bowl games in the first 11 seasons under Tiller. The only coach not wearing a tie to media day, Tiller gave his own eulogy.
"If you can't get along with Joe Tiller, there's something wrong with you,'' he said.
Purdue already hired Danny Hope as Tiller's successor. Hope will work as offensive line coach this fall. Tiller, 65, came to Chicago from Wyoming, where he was trout fishing. He will immediately return to Wyoming for more fishing, then head to Purdue for one last hurrah.
"He keeps telling me he wants to fish,'' Paterno said of Tiller. "I said, 'Fish, for crying out loud.' You catch three of them, you look at one and they all
look alike. What the hell.''
And Paterno won't ask Tiller on knowing when to say when.
"Do you want me to go with some guy that sits on his rear end and fishes for advice?'' Paterno said. "You're crazy, and that's exactly what I would tell him. Joe has got to do it his way. I've got to do it my way.''
As for the rest of the league, football is no laughing matter.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Big Ten Conference football
Preseason media poll
1. Ohio State
Offense -- Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie'' Wells
Defense -- Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis