Michigan has been voted the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, both a Wolverine and Buckeye have been voted preseason offensive and defensive players of the year and, even at 80 years old, Joe Paterno can still command a room.
That much was revealed Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on the first day of the 2007
Big Ten Football Media Days and 36th Annual Kickoff Luncheon.
Even coming off an 11-2 season, which included season-ending losses to Ohio State (42-39) and a 32-18 spanking by USC in the Rose Bowl, and returning just 11 starters, Michigan was tabbed as the preseason favorite. Wisconsin is the second choice followed by Ohio State.
Michigan senior running back Mike Hart was voted the preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Ohio State junior linebacker James Laurinaitis was voted the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Paterno, starting his 42nd year as the head coach of the Nittany Lions, was his usual witty, entertaining self in front of the assembled media.
Asked whether he learned anything of value last year while sitting in the press box for a couple games while rehabbing his knee injury, Paterno smiled, warming to his response.
"I enjoyed it upstairs," he said. "You can sit on your butt and watch the game, get a cup of coffee. I felt like a newspaper guy."
His response drew laughter from the media and even straight-faced Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who was sitting with former Indiana and LSU coach Gerry DiNardo among those ink-stained wretches to whom Paterno referred.
When asked later by a Penn State beat writer whether he would seriously consider a future move to the press box, Paterno admitted the idea intrigued him, but said he planned to be on the sideline this fall.
Paterno did say that Tommy Prothro, who coached UCLA in the 1960s, coached from the press box and told the fledgling Penn State coach he liked the concept.
On a more serious note, Paterno addressed the ongoing fallout from an alleged apartment fight at least a dozen of his players were involved in during the spring. Six players originally were charged with a range of charges, but those charges were later dropped in four of those cases. Only Anthony Scirrotto and Chris Baker currently face an October trial.
Paterno announced in May that, as a result of that incident, the entire team would clean the stadium after home games. He said he saw it as a team-building experience and that, to some extent in his eyes, the whole team was to blame.
"My job is not just about discipline," he said. "It's also rehabilitation. I don't want to destroy a kid."
Future Schedules Filling In
The Penn State media got a first look at the 2007 media guide and part of that publication includes a look at future schedules.
In 2008, the Nittany Lions open the season with two home games — Aug. 30 against Coastal Carolina and Sept. 6 with Arkansas State. The next week, Sept. 13, Penn State travels to Syracuse and, as of now, Sept. 20 is open date. That date is rumored to be a pending home date with TCU.
In 2009, Penn State opens the schedule with four consecutive home games — Eastern Michigan (Sept. 5), Syracuse (Sept. 12), Temple (Sept. 19) and Iowa (Sept. 26). The only date not spoke for, as of yet, is Oct. 10, which is still listed as TBA.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany started off the day with a 45-minute session with the media.
The commissioner addressed a wide range of topics, both in his opening comments and in response to questions by the media.
Among some of the topics:
- The deaths of three current or former Big Ten coaches in the previous 14 months (Northwestern's Randy Walker, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler and Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner)
- Expansion by the conference to 12 teams. Something that Delany said the league looks at every three to five years but was not a front-burner issue. He said that when weighing expansion, the conference looks at four criteria: institutional fit, a school's reputation for broad-based programs, integrity and, to a certain extent, marketing opportunities.
- The Big Ten Network, which will launch at the end of August, is still deep in negotiations with major cable networks. It's Delany's contention that the network should be part of a basic package and not part of an extra, pay tier of channels. The commissioner said the negotiations were at "halftime."
- Delany said two negative factors that the Big Ten is always attentive to is potential gambling issues like the one that exploded recently in the NBA and drug testing for performance-enhancing drugs. He said the conference would be testing "10 percent of the conference's athletes across the board."