CHICAGO - Last year at this event, Penn State coach Joe Paterno was peppered with questions about how long he would continue to coach as his Nittany Lions were coming off a fifth-place Big Ten finish.
Well, 12 months and one Big Ten co-championship later, 82-year-old JoePa wasn't badgered about how much longer he would coach.
Paterno, who enters his 44th season as Penn State's coach, is college football's all-time win king with 383 victories. And he inked a three-year contract extension in the offseason.
"I just enjoy it," Paterno said. "I've enjoyed coaching, I've enjoyed the competition, I enjoy the challenges that go into coaching on the level we're at. I enjoy being around young people. I don't know what else I'd rather do.
"There's going to come a time when I have to look in the mirror and say, 'Hey, you're not doing your job and you have more of an obligation to the university than just going out there and going through the motions.' I don't think I've reached that yet, but that day will come and I'll decide to get out of it. But right now, I'm enjoying it. I think I can do a good job."
Some in attendance were surprised that Michigan State junior linebacker Greg Jones was named the preseason defensive player of the year by the media. No doubt, Jones is worthy, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall from the coaches after ranking third in the Big Ten in tackles.
But some felt Penn State senior linebacker Navorro Bowman would have been a better choice. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last fall, leading Penn State with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss.
Some were equally as vexed by Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor being named preseason offensive player of the year. It seems Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark would have been a better choice based on numbers and performance.
WHERE IS IOWA?
It was no shock that Ohio State was picked to win the Big Ten. And the fact Penn State was chosen to finish second also wasn't unexpected. But what was a surprise was the fact Michigan State was selected by the media to finish third instead of Iowa, which arguably has fewer big questions than the Spartans.
Voters may have shied from the Hawkeyes largely because of a tough Big Ten road schedule that has Iowa playing at Penn State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State and at Ohio State.
CALLING THE SHOTS
Big Ten offenses and defenses don't figure to have radically different looks; only a handful new coordinators were hired for the 2009 season.
None will be more watched than new Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. He is one of the nation's top defensive minds, having coordinated NFL defense in Kansas City and Denver. Robinson also was defensive coordinator at Texas, and he spent the past four seasons as head coach of Syracuse. He takes over for Scott Shafer, who was asked to leave and landed the coordinator job at Syracuse.
"I think probably too much is made out of schemes, I think, on both sides of the ball, whether you run a spread or a West Coast or a 3-4 or 4-3 on defense," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Greg has a little bit more - a little different things scheme-wise than what Scott did defensively. ... There's some different coverage packages, some different blitz packages that everybody have. So there will be some subtle differences."
Minnesota has undergone the most change with two new coordinators. Offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar resigned and defensive coordinator Ted Roof took the same gig at Auburn. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster tabbed former Denver Broncos receivers coach Jedd Fisch as offensive coordinator. Brewster also brought in Tim Davis as run-game coordinator. Minnesota hired former Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove to run the defense along with Ronnie Lee, who was promoted from defensive backs coach.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
For the fifth year in a row, the Big Ten will have at least one new coach. The newbie this year is Purdue's Danny Hope. And in some ways, Hope really isn't new, having served as a coach-in-waiting last season for Joe Tiller.
And that brings us to the hot seat: Are there any coaches in the Big Ten who have a sense of urgency to win this season?
Indiana's Bill Lynch probably sits on the hottest seat. In 2007 in the wake of Terry Hoeppner's death, Lynch rallied the Hoosiers to a 7-6 record and the school's first bowl bid since 1993. Last year, IU was abysmal, finishing 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten.
It doesn't look as if any Big Ten coaches are in peril of losing their jobs this fall, but Wisconsin's Bret Bielema probably needs a strong season or risks entering 2010 with a tight collar. He has seen his win total drop each of his three seasons. Last year's 7-6 mark disappointed many people in Madison.
Wisconsin and Illinois have scheduled games into the first week of December, which is a rarity in the Big Ten. On Dec. 5, the Badgers play at Hawaii, while the Fighting Illini play host to Fresno State.
Illinois will do Wisconsin one better: The Illini are the only league team that will play two games after Thanksgiving. Illinois plays at Cincinnati on Nov. 27.
The thinking by some is the schools won't have as long a layoff between the end of the regular season and the bowl season, which hopefully will translate into better postseason performances.
The Big Ten was a postseason flop last season, posting a 1-7 bowl mark. Iowa earned the lone postseason victory, thumping South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
And so it went. …
Penn State was annihilated by USC in the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State got dumped by Texas in the Fiesta Bowl.
Minnesota was hammered by Kansas in the Insight Bowl.
Michigan State was clipped by Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
Wisconsin was embarrassed by Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
The Big Ten has gone 9-20 over the past four seasons in bowls and has dropped six consecutive BCS games.
"I do agree with the coaches that having six weeks as opposed to four weeks before you play another game does make a difference, because there is a difference of execution and rhythm and just playing the game," Rodriguez said. "For instance, I think most coaches will tell you at the end of spring ball you're playing and practicing a little bit better than you were the first of spring ball. There's a space of four weeks or a month of practice. I think it'll help.
"Again, we'll have to see. But I think all their negative perceptions of the Big Ten regarding bowl performances, all it takes is one or two big wins in a bowl game and all that will go away. And that's going to happen, and it's going to happen when we're better than all the other teams we play."
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
The Big Ten Network will begin coverage this season with a Thursday night game on Sept. 3, when Eastern Kentucky plays at Indiana.
"Kicking off the season with a Thursday night game has some merit going forward," BTN President Mark Silverman said. "But I don't know if we want to have them throughout the season."
LET IT SNOW!
Minnesota will take the wraps off TCF Bank Stadium, christening the 50,000-seat, on-campus venue on Sept. 12 against Air Force. The Gophers haven't played a home game outdoors and on campus since 1981, moving into the Metrodome for the past 27 seasons.
"Well, I think the state of Minnesota is really excited about getting back outdoors," Brewster said. "Bud Grant is a good friend of mine and a longtime Minnesota Golden Gopher and a longtime Minnesota Vikings coach. He said what we've got to do is use the outdoors to our advantage, and that's what we want to do. We're excited about going back outside and playing in the elements, playing hard-nosed physical football on campus. So we're going to embrace being outside, and hopefully we're going to have some cold, snowy days."
Where were you in 1984? That's the last time Indiana made a significant investment in its facilities.
On Aug. 1, the team and staff will move into a new $43 million complex on the north end of Memorial Stadium that has been more than two years in the works. Among other things, the digs will include the largest locker room in the nation, a Hall of Champions and 425 club seats that already have been sold.