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July 24, 2008

Big Ten Notes: Paterno gives no hints

MORE BIG TEN MEDIA DAYS: Media Days Central | Day One photo gallery

CHICAGO Everyone in the media room at the Big Ten Football Kickoff event Thursday at the Hyatt Regency knew the question was coming the moment Penn State coach Joe Paterno sauntered up to the dais.

"So, Joe, how much longer will you coach?"

That sent Paterno into a terrific imitation of Mr. Hand from Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

"I don't know," Paterno stated emphatically. "Do you want me to spell it for you? I don't know."

HONOR ROLL
More observations from Big Ten Media Days:
BEST DRESSED: Joe Paterno, Penn State. Nattily attired in a gray suit his wife surely picked out.
MOST CASUAL: Joe Tiller, Purdue. He must have left his tie at the Wyoming retirement home he's building. Who are we kidding: Tiller probably doesn't even own a tie. A cowboy hat? Yes.
MOST DRAB: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. There are many reasons for a long face, what with the horrible flooding in Iowa and the raft of off-field issues facing his program.
BEST JOKE: Rich Rodriguez, Michigan. He cracked that he wanted to show Tiller a new snake-oil he had developed, a reference to Tiller's remark after National Signing Day aimed at Rodriguez for stealing one of Tiller's recruits at the 11th hour.
MOST INSPIRATIONAL: Tim Brewster, Minnesota. His passion and fire had this writer ready to run through the buffet line with gusto. Brewster should be a general.
MOST PRESIDENTIAL: Jim Tressel, Ohio State. No coach can speak so long and say so little and look so good doing it.

Paterno, 81, is in a hot chase with Florida State's Bobby Bowden to become Division I-A's all-time victory leader. Bowden leads 373-372. But unlike Paterno, Bowden has moved forward with plans to step aside in the near feature, agreeing to a succession plan that will see offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher assume command sometime in the next three years.

"I get tired of answering the same question," said Paterno, whose contract expires after this season. "I don't know. I will retire when I feel I can't make a contribution to Penn State. I will get out of it when I feel it's appropriate.

"When I do retire, I want to do it like (former Penn State coach) Rip Engle. He left a lot of good meat on the bone. I inherited a good team from him. I hope I can do the same thing. I am having fun, but I don't want to be stupid and not leave it the way I want to leave it."

OHIO'S WORLD-VIEW

If one thing was clear at the Kickoff event, it's that this is Ohio State's world and every other Big Ten school is just living in it.

The Buckeyes are gunning for their third consecutive outright Big Ten championship. If Ohio State pulls off the trifecta, it will be the first time that has happened in the Big Ten's 112 years. OSU's back-to-back outright titles in 2006-07 were the first by a school since Michigan did it in 1991-92. Ohio State shared the title with Penn State in 2005.

"At Ohio State, we are expected to win the conference every year," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "That's what it is. Just because a poll says it, I don't know if that adds anything."

The only "Big Six" schools with similar current runs are USC - which is aiming for its seventh Pac-10 crown in a row - and Oklahoma, which is in the hunt for a third consecutive Big 12 championship. But Ohio State has as much to prove as anyone coming off blowout losses to Florida and LSU in the past two BCS title games.

"We have had very good players," Tressel said. "You have to make sure you continue to challenge guys so they know it's not the same old same old. But all of this preseason hype is kind of irrelevant. Outside of this week, there isn't much discussion of the preseason poll."

BLACK AND BLUE BIG TEN

Bashing the Big Ten is all the rage. It's a fad, really, ranking up there with the hula hoop, pet rock and bell bottoms.

Why not pile on the Big Ten? Ohio State not only has lost but flat-out got whipped in the past two BCS title games. Even worse, many around the nation felt the Buckeyes had no business being in the title game last season.

BY THE NUMBERS
Conference records in BCS title games:
SEC: 4-0
Pac-10: 1-1
Big 12: 2-3
ACC: 1-2
Big East: 1-2
Big Ten: 1-2

"I am sure nationally there is that perception (that the Big Ten is down)," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "It's important that we go in there and win (the title game). The Big Ten is a great league, but we have to go out and win."

Don't look now, Ohio State haters, but the Buckeyes are poised to get back to the BCS title game this season. The game is Jan. 8 in Dolphin Stadium in Miami.

"Maybe we can short-circuit all the bloggers in the world," said Purdue coach Joe Tiller, who says he doesn't have an e-mail address. "The league is very healthy, but a lot has been put on that one game, which is unfortunate. Let's just focus on our league.

"I don't put much stock in the Big Ten not winning the national title. I saw (Colorado coach) Dan Hawkins say at Big 12 media days that all their teams beat up on each other. Well, guess what? That happens in every league."

Ohio State will get an early opportunity to show its mettle when it plays at USC on Sept. 13 in what is the most-anticipated non-conference game of the season.

SPREAD THE WORD

The spread offense has taken the nation by storm, reaching into every nook and cranny of conference across the nation. The influence of the attack is felt across the Big Ten.

"There is so much flexibility in the system," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I think there are eight schools in our league who run some form of the spread. The offense puts the defense on its heels. You can go vertical or run the option out of it."

Wisconsin is an anomaly, with the Badgers still running a traditional two-back set that relies heavily on the run.

"We are unique," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I like that. Now, they have to go into a certain prep mode when teams get ready to play us."

Of course, the man who sparked this trend was Purdue coach Joe Tiller, who brought the spread offense with him from Wyoming in 1997. Tiller has had great success, taking the Boilermakers to bowls in 10 of his 11 seasons. But just as the offense he used to alter the landscape of the conference is taking over, Tiller is retiring after what will be his 12th season on the job. He'll give way to Danny Hope, a former Tiller assistant (1997-2001) who was coach at Eastern Kentucky the past five seasons. Hope is an assistant on Tiller's staff this season.

"Joe came in and started to open offenses and create a lot of problems," Paterno said.

If there are no other coaching changes after this season, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz will be the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten behind Paterno. This will be Ferentz's 10th season in Iowa City. Paterno is entering his 43rd season in State College.

WHERE IS MICHIGAN?

Perhaps no program in the Big Ten or the nation, for that matter will be watched as closely as Michigan. Rich Rodriguez continues his makeover of a college football power with his spread-option offense. And if the media poll at this event is any indication, not much is expected from the Wolverines - who weren't picked to finish in the top three. (The poll only went three-deep and had Ohio State first, Wisconsin second and Illinois third.)

"This is a building process," Rodriguez said. "We made some good strides in the spring. But we lost a lot of good players, guys like Jake Long, Chad Henne and Mike Hart."

While the offensive changes at Michigan will be most noticeable, several other Big Ten schools will look differently on the offensive side of the ball because of coordinator or scheme changes.

Northwestern hired Mick McCall as coordinator from Bowling Green. Look for the Wildcats to speed up their operations, much like Northwestern did under Randy Walker.

Penn State didn't change offensive coordinators, but Galen Hall plans to utilize more spread sets, as he did in 2005. That year, the Nittany Lions tied for the Big Ten title and beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Hall likes the athletic fit of quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin.

Like Penn State, Ohio State isn't changing coordinators. But the Buckeyes often will use spread sets as they did in 2005-06, when Troy Smith was the quarterback. The move isn't being made to suit the skills of incumbent Todd Boeckman. Rather, the spread sets will be used because of the talent of incoming freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the No. 1 recruit in the nation.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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