Big Ten Football Preview

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It's bad enough, Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis said, that the rest of the country badmouths the Big Ten.
Even worse, he felt that reporters who cover the conference put it down at the preseason football meetings in late July.
After lopsided losses in the last two Bowl Championship Series title games, Laurinaitis' Buckeyes in particular have been slammed by college football fans for playing a weak-sister schedule. An All-American and last year's Butkus Award winner, he was asked what the perception was of Ohio State's program outside of the state.
"There's a lot of different opinions. For the most part you feel like, even when we were at Big Ten media day, people within our Big Ten media were asking about the whole perception of our strength of schedule and stuff," he said. "There's not really much you can say about any of that. The only thing that will change any of that is just to win."
Big Ten teams open play on Saturday with only three games against topflight opponents.
No. 20 Illinois meets No. 6 Missouri in St. Louis, Michigan hosts a Utah team that is coming off a 9-4 record and Michigan State travels to California.
The rest of the schedule includes Western Kentucky at Indiana, Maine at Iowa, Northern Illinois at Minnesota, Syracuse at Northwestern, Coastal Carolina at No. 22 Penn State and Akron at No. 13 Wisconsin. No. 2 Ohio State takes on Youngstown State, which like Maine and Coastal Carolina is in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Just one Big Ten team (Illinois, at No. 6) was among the top 19 teams in the nation in strength of schedule in 2007.
PHELPS FAN:@ Not many people can claim they beat Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps in the swimming pool. Penn State safety Mark Rubin can.
Eight years ago when he was 14, Rubin beat Phelps in some races in Northeast region swim tournaments, including the 50 freestyle, the 100 free and the 100 backstroke.
But the victories didn't come very often over Phelps, who is from Baltimore. Rubin was a state high school champion swimmer from the Buffalo, N.Y., suburb of Amherst.
"I beat him five, six, seven times," Rubin said about Phelps. "He beat me 20, 30, 40 times."
Rubin found himself glued to the TV after football practice this preseason to watch Phelps's record-setting performance in the pool in Beijing. He also got playful teasing from teammates and even coach Joe Paterno about his brushes with Phelps.
In his prep career Rubin also swam against another U.S. gold-medal swimmer, Ryan Lochte, who, like Rubin, is from upstate New York.
Competitive swimming ended for Rubin in high school. Today, he hits the pool mainly in the summer for leisurely swims.
"In a perfect world, maybe I'd play football," Rubin said jokingly, "and maybe coach Paterno would give me a couple weeks off to swim in Beijing."
FRESH JUICE:@ Illinois' Juice Williams worked in the off season with an expert on multi-tooled quarterbacking, Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Williams, a junior known more for his running than throwing, said he worked out with McNabb for a week and exchanged text messages with him.
"He shared some of his experiences in college and the NFL, so it helped out a lot," Williams said.
McNabb advised him to "play with confidence and have fun. You can't live and die with the game of football, so just go out there and have fun."
Williams was the top running QB in the Big Ten last fall with 755 yards but he threw for just 134 yards a game, last among all conference starters.
IT'S ACADEMIC:@ Iowa will be counting heavily on two players who were forced to leave the program last season to get their grades in order.
Running back Shonn Greene, who rushed for 205 yards in 2006, has been tabbed the starter after spending last season at Kirkwood Community College (Iowa). Cornerback Amari Spievey, who redshirted in 2006 and spent 2007 at Iowa Central Community College, is a first-teamer as well.
SOMETHING OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE:@ Rich Rodriguez's debut as Michigan coach will be preceded by what's being called "The Victors Walk."
The team will get off a bus and will walk about 200 yards with the band leading the way and fans lining the route.
In Lloyd Carr's finale at the Capital One Bowl, the Wolverines walked in a similar fashion off the bus and toward the stadium. The late Bo Schembechler had his team do a similar walk, but it stopped in the mid-1970s.
"We talked to some of the players and they are really excited about it," Rodriguez said. "You work like crazy, seven or eight months of the year to play twelve games and hopefully play in a thirteenth, so those twelve games ought to be very, very exciting for them all the time."

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