CHICAGO — Joe Tiller has no time for ties, no use for Big Ten football bashing and no patience for know-it-all Internet talking heads.
So how do you stop Big Ten criticism and those who see the league as postseason fodder for the likes of the SEC and Pac-10? Simple, the Purdue football coach said during Thursday's Big Ten football platform.
“Short-circuit all the bloggers in the world,” he said. “Everybody wants to weigh in on everything. You have a lot of people expressing themselves through foot or horseback. You get some comparisons that are really out of whack.”
Tiller is not a fashion master (he was the only Big Ten coach to not wear a tie, instead settling for a black Purdue sports shirt) or a high-tech fan. Computers are as welcome as leprosy — “I might be the only coach in the country, well, maybe with Coach (Joe) Paterno, who doesn't have an e-mail address,” Tiller said — and Internet speculation produces fingernails-across-a-chalkboard irritation.
Yes, Ohio State has gotten crushed in the last two national championship games (a combined 79-38). Yes, USC buried Illinois in the Rose Bowl last season and the Big Ten went 3-5 in bowl games.
That's part of sports' cyclical nature, Tiller said. After 44 years of working in it (he'll retire after the season), he's seen failure turn to triumph with the arrival of the next season.
“The Big Ten is very healthy and competitive,” he said. “A lot is placed on (the national championship game) and that's unfortunate. I don't put much stock in jumping on the Big Ten for not winning the national championship.”
Neither does Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
“It's fair that we haven't been successful, but should that paint a picture of our whole conference?” he said. “I don't think so. “But it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is the games.
“I think the Big Ten in 2008 will be better than it was in '06 and '07. There are more returning players. We think this is the finest group of coaches in America.”
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The battle for Indiana's starting quarterback is wide open, coach Bill Lynch said. Forget Kellen Lewis' record-breaking season that included 3,779 total yards and 37 total touchdowns. Lewis was suspended for the spring and first half of the summer for unspecified team rules. Backup Ben Chappel took over and showed enough promise for Lynch to say the competition has been reopened.
At least for the first couple days of practice.
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Once again Ohio State is picked to rule the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are shooting for their fourth straight title and to become the first team to win three straight outright Big Ten championships. With a conference-best 20 returning starters from an 11-2 team, it's hard to pick against them.
Except, of course, in national title games.
Ohio State has the conference's two best projected players in running back Chris “Beanie” Wells and linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Wells, the preseason offensive player of the year, rushed for 1,609 yards last year, the fourth-best total in school history, along with 15 touchdowns. He did that despite a bad ankle and a broken bone in his left hand.
Laurinaitis was the preseason defensive player of the year for the second straight season. He had a team-leading 121 tackles along with five sacks and two interceptions to earn All-America and Butkus Award honors.
The media picked Wisconsin to finish second. The Badgers return 17 starters from a 9-4 team, including All-America tight end Travis Beckum. Illinois, which returns 13 starters from a 9-4 Rose Bowl squad, was picked third.
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IU might be losing Athletic Director Rick Greenspan (he's resigned effective by the end of the year in the wake of allegations of major basketball recruiting violations), but it's not losing football support, Lynch said. “Rick has been tremendous to us,” Lynch said, “and I'm happy he'll be with us through the fall, but we've had great support from the upper administration all the way down and I feel good about that.”
As for all the negative publicity from those basketball allegations, Lynch said this will pass.
“It's unfortunate. We've taken a hit with a couple of situations, but we have a lot of positive things going on at IU. We feel good about the future and we're going to stick through this.”
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Is this Penn State coach Joe Paterno's last season? He's 81 now and has coached the Nittany Lions for 43 years. Penn State officials have said they will not renew his contract after it expires after this season, but nothing is etched in stone for a coach who has won 372 games and two national titles.
“If I were a betting man,” Tressel said, “I'd bet he'll be back in 2009.”
Added Paterno: “I'm having a lot of fun. I don't want to get out, but I don't want to be too stupid and not leave (the program) the way I want to leave it.”