Another year, another bulls-eye. Michigan, led by preseason Big Ten offensive player of the year Mike Hart, has been picked to win the conference by voting members of the media in Chicago present for the Big Ten's media day.
Wisconsin, which finished 12-1 and No 7 nationally last year on the strength of a defense that allowed only 12.1 points per game, was picked to finish second while Ohio State ranks third. Buckeye linebacker James Laurinaitis was tagged with preseason defensive player of the year honors.
Michigan seeks its record 43rd Big Ten title this year.
In other rumblings from the Windy City …
Big Ten Expansion?
The fledgling Big Ten Network (which has yet to reach a deal with media giant Comcast with football season closing in) seems to be fueling commissioner Jim Delaney's push for expansion to 12 teams. With Notre Dame an unlikely candidate, having already spurned the Big Ten twice in recent years (and recently signing a 20-year extension with Michigan), talk of schools like Missouri, Syrcause and Pittsburgh potentially joining has begun.
"We need to look at it in the next year," Delany recently told The Des Moines Register. "We have eight states. With expansion, you could have nine."
Talk among Penn State beat writers last night was all about PSU's defense, which boasts an outstanding linebacking corps, talent in the secondary and a young but intriguing defensive line. Some believed the Nittany Lions were a lock to be picked in the preseason top three (they weren't), while others believe the jury was still out on quarterback Anthony Morelli.
Pittsburgh Tribune writer Sam Ross Jr. noted the Nittany Lions have yet to beat Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State in the same season, have haven't beaten the latter two in the same year since 1994. Of course, it's been since 1996 that the Nittany Lions have beaten U-M, having dropped eight straight contests.
Wisconsin in the spotlight
It's unfamiliar territory, but Wisconsin, led by second-year head coach Bret Bielema, will likely be picked in the top 10 of the national preseason polls, expectations extremely high for a team that upset Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl on its way to a 12-1 season.
""When we weren't ranked last year that was fueling the fire for us to grow stronger," junior defensive tackle Jason Chapman told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, referring to UW's absence from the 2006 pre-season top-25 polls. "I don't want people to think that since we're ranked that we're going to let up. We're going to keep the same mentality we did last year."
The Badgers are expected to be ranked in the top 10 of both the Associated Press and USA Today pre-season polls for the first time since 2000, when they opened at No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 5 in the ESPN / USA Today poll.
Missing from the official Michigan roster released today are fullback Quintin Patilla, defensive lineman James McKinney, and offensive lineman Justin Schifano.