JoePa, A Big Ten Shootout & Hoops

By Jeff Rapp, November 10th, 2010

It was another momentous week for the Big Ten with men’s and women’s basketball teams unveiling themselves in exhibition action, several fall sports nearing the stretch run and member football teams nearing an exciting conclusion to the regular season.

But the headliner from recent days can be extolled in just five letters: JoePa.

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno captured his 400th career win Nov. 6 before a soldout crowd at Beaver Stadium but not before the Nittany Lions staged a furious comeback against pesky competitor Northwestern.

The Lions (6-3, 3-2) became bowl eligible by storming back from a 21-0 deficit to post a 35-21 victory, which was aided in large part by former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin and his four touchdown tosses.

Paterno, who has headed up the PSU program since 1966, became the first Football Bowl Subdivision head coach to record 400 career victories. He has amassed a mark of 400-132-3 in his 45 years as head coach at PSU and will take that ridiculous achievement into Columbus this weekend for a nationally televised showdown with No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday (3:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC).

His total of 535 games coached is second all-time in FBS history behind only the 578 games for Chicago’s Amos Alonzo Stagg. In comparison, the 10 other current Big Ten coaches have been on the sidelines for a combined 610 games at conference schools with 367 triumphs.

Counting all 120 FBS schools’ current coaches, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel ranks second behind Paterno in career wins with 237.

Paterno joins current St. John’s (Minn.) coach John Gagliardi (477) and former Grambling boss Eddie Robinson (408) as the only coaches in NCAA history with 400 victories.

Paterno also won his 100th, 200th and 300th games at Beaver Stadium and passed Paul “Bear” Bryant as the all-time winningest coach in Division I history in PSU’s 29-27 come-from behind win there over OSU and Tressel in 2001.

Pinball Wizards

Before the season, the conference boasted the return of several noteworthy skill players and yet they weren’t expected to breeze into the end zone and put up astronomical yardage totals – at least not against Big Ten foes.

“Our defenses in this league are so talented and so sound, you’re not going to have crazy numbers like you have in some conferences,” Tressel said. “It’s not going to happen. You’re going to earn every dime you get here. People don’t blow coverages and stuff like that.”

Well, OSU’s coach probably didn’t foresee the offensive explosion Illinois and Michigan staged Nov. 6 at Michigan Stadium.

The game went triple-overtime but even before that drama the Wolverines rallied to tie the score at 45 at the end of regulation. They would go on to register a 67-65 victory to become bowl eligible at 6-3 overall and 2-3 in league play.

The Illini were forced to go for a two-point conversion at the end of the third extra session but QB Nathan Scheelhaasse couldn’t set and throw and was forced into a blind flip of the football with defenders draped on him.

Before that ending, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez appeared to mouth the words “one play” and he got it, albeit one of the very rare defensive stops of the entire afternoon.

The 132 total points shattered the conference record and the two teams combined for 1,237 yards of total offense – 665 passing and another 572 rushing. There were a whopping 58 first downs in the game.

The previous Big Ten record for combined scoring in a conference game was 115 points when Minnesota defeated Purdue, 59-56, on Oct. 9, 1993. The last time two Big Ten teams combined for 105 or more points was on Nov. 4, 2000, when Northwestern defeated Michigan, 54-51.

The last college football game to feature more points occurred on Nov. 10, 2007, when Navy defeated North Texas, 72-64. The last game with two teams each scoring at least 65 points was Oct. 14, 2007, when Boise State edged Nevada, 69-67.

Title Up For Grabs

With just a handful of games remaining, four Big Ten football teams were still eyeing the regular-season crown as Michigan State stood at 5-1 with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa all 4-1. The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes meet Nov. 20 in Iowa City so no more than three teams figure to share the title unless they also stumble and Penn State continues its surge.

Among the top four teams in the standings, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin face only one more road game, while Iowa must hit the road for two of its final three contests. The Spartans have a bye Nov. 13 then finish with a home contest against Purdue and a trip to Penn State. Wisconsin also was in good position heading into the stretch run with home games against Indiana and Northwestern sandwiched around an important Nov. 20 trip to Michigan. Iowa’s ledger reads at Northwestern, vs. Ohio State, at Minnesota.

The Buckeyes have the most challenging closing slate as their final three opponents have a combined mark of 9-6 (.600) in Big Ten play, including the huge roadie at Iowa.

The conference would recognize co-champions but in case of a logjam at the top of the standings the league’s automatic qualifier goes to the winner of a tiebreaking procedure of head-to-head, combined record against the other school(s) involved and highest BCS ranking. That puts Wisconsin in the best position at the moment since the Badgers already have defeated OSU and Iowa.

Michigan State beat Wisconsin but lost to Iowa and doesn’t play Ohio State. The Buckeyes need to win out and hope someone bumps off the Badgers.

Feet Of Clay

With Wisconsin seemingly in the driver’s seat for the Rose Bowl, running back John Clay may now be the odds-on favorite to win the coveted Silver Football as the Big Ten’s most outstanding player.

Through nine games the bruising tailback already had amassed 929 yards rushing, second only to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. He also was leading the conference in scoring with 13 touchdowns.

Clay told SportsRappUp.com prior to the season that he was driven throughout the summer by a key fumble he committed last season against Northwestern.

“That has motivated me because in my eyes I felt that I lost that game for our team,” he said.

Clay is a punishing runner who is listed at 255 pounds and looks even bigger. He said he played at 248 pounds last year but used to embellish that figure since everyone else did.

“I find it hilarious,” he said. “Sitting down talking with Coach (offensive coordinator Paul) Chryst, he just told me to make up a whole bunch of numbers. He told me to tell people, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve lost like 5 or 10 pounds and now I’m at a solid 285.’ It gets so ridiculous to have people keep talking about it.”

Clay said he tries to stay somewhere around 250.

“I feel good at that weight but with another 5 pounds lost I can have more speed, too, along with my power,” he said.

Hoops Are Here

The Big Ten is looking like an elite conference on paper when it comes to men’s basketball.

The league welcomes back 17 players who graced last season’s All-Big Ten teams, including five players that have earned first-team honors over the last two seasons and a previous Player of the Year.

Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2009 and the point guard is considered the top player once again now that he’s healthy and Evan Turner has departed Ohio State for the NBA. Lucas was named the Preseason Player of the Year at the Big Ten basketball media conference in Chicago and is joined on the preseason first team by Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey, Purdue guard E’Twaun Moore, Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer and Purdue center JaJuan Johnson.

Also returning from last year’s All-Big Ten teams are Illinois’ Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale; Indiana’s Verdell Jones; Iowa’s Matt Gatens; Michigan State’s Draymond Green; Northwestern’s Drew Crawford, John Shurna and Michael Thompson; Ohio State’s William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty; and Penn State’s Talor Battle.

The conference placed four teams in the preseason top 25 as voted on by The Associated Press: No. 2 Michigan State, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 13 Illinois and No. 14 Purdue. Wisconsin and Minnesota also received votes.

A voting panel at the conference in Chicago hailed Michigan State as the team to beat this season followed by Ohio State and Purdue, which has lost star forward Robbie Hummel for the season with a torn ACL.

Notes

* During his time as Penn State’s head coach, Paterno has had 1,050 players letter for him and there have been 863 coaching changes at the Division I level.

* With just three weekends left in the women’s volleyball regular season, the Big Ten was showing more balance than ever.

Illinois (12-2) was just ahead of traditional power Penn State (11-3) with Michigan (10-4) also lingering. The Nittany Lions still had hope to reclaim their crown as they were preparing to host UI in a key match.

Meanwhile, the latest AVCA Division I Coaches Poll included five Big Ten teams – No. 8 Penn State, No. 9 Illinois, No. 16 Michigan, No. 22 Minnesota and No. 24 Northwestern. Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue were among the other teams receiving votes.

* The Big Ten wrestling season is underway and nine of the squads earned recognition in the InterMat and National Wrestling Coaches Association/USA Today preseason polls that were released in late October. The conference also placed 54 wrestlers in InterMat’s individual top-20 rankings across the 10 weight classes.

Wisconsin leads the way in the InterMat poll at No. 4 with No. 5 Minnesota, No. 7 Penn State, No. 8 Iowa and No. 10 Illinois rounding out the top 10. Michigan checks in at No. 13, while Ohio State debuts at No. 14, Northwestern begins the season at No. 17 and Purdue enters the poll at No. 23.

Minnesota takes the top spot among Big Ten teams in the NWCA rankings at No. 4 followed by Wisconsin at No. 5, Penn State at No. 6, Iowa at No. 7, Illinois at No. 10 and Ohio State at No. 12. Michigan debuts at No. 18 in the poll with No. 19 Northwestern and No. 20 Purdue following closely behind. Indiana is also receiving votes in the inaugural poll of 2010.

* Illinois was the first Big Ten men’s basketball squad to get on the board with a win as the 13th-ranked Illini took down UC-Irvine Nov. 9 in Champaign, 79-65. Sophomore guard Brandon Paul led the way with 18 points, all of his baskets coming from behind the arc. Paul, in fact, only shot from deep and was 6 of 8 from there. Illinois improved to 41-7 in home openers at Assembly Hall.

* Four Big Ten women’s basketball standouts were named to the 2010-11 Preseason Naismith Award watch list including Ohio State teammates Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis.

A preseason All-American, Lavender is a 6-4 senior center who is threatening to become the conference’s only four-time Player of the Year. Prahalis is a 5-7 junior point guard and perhaps the Big Ten’s most exciting player.

The other two league members named to the Naismith watch list are Iowa’s Kachine Alexander and Northwestern’s Amy Jaeschke. The list will be narrowed to 30 by the end of February. Four finalists will be selected in March, with the award being presented at the Final Four.

* Michigan State has advanced to the last two men’s Final Fours and is looking to become the first program since UCLA in 2006-08 to make three consecutive Final Four appearances. The Spartans had a three-year run that deep in the tournament from 1999 to 2001 and won the 2000 national championship.

* ESPN’s “College GameDay” has tabbed two Big Ten games for all-day on-site coverage.

The show will feature the Jan. 22 matchup between MSU and Purdue at West Lafayette and the Feb. 19 contest between the Spartans and Illinois in East Lansing. Both games will tip at 9 p.m. Eastern.

* It turns out the Dallas Football Classic wasn’t much of a classic at all. The fledgling Texas-based bowl game, which has a Big Ten tie-in, has found full sponsorship and has changed its name to the TicketCity Bowl.

The inaugural bowl with pit a Big 12 team against a Big Ten participant and will be played on New Year’s Day with a noon Eastern kickoff. The host site for the game is a familiar one of college football fans: the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

“We’re thrilled to be able to play a part in bringing a bowl game back to a venue so rich in history and tradition as the Cotton Bowl,” said Randy Cohen, founder and CEO of TicketCity.