Asmussen's Day 1 practice report
Staff writer Bob Asmussen's news and notes from Illinois' practice Thursday at Memorial Stadium:
Starting in 2017, Big Ten teams will play nine conference games each season. That means schools will get five home games one year and four the next. Illinois is one of the six teams with five home games the first year, joining Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State.
The news didn't come as a surprise to Illinois coach Ron Zook, who heard about it earlier in the year from former athletic director Ron Guenther. Still, the coaches talked about it at their recent Big Ten meetings.
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"I said, 'Guys, this is already done,' " Zook said. "I'm sure it's made by finances. Teams are tired of paying the big money to get (nonconference) teams in here. Keep the money in the league."
Zook said Big Ten teams are going to avoid playing difficult nonconference schedules.
"They definitely don't want to play too many other top teams," Zook said.
The initial USA Today Coaches' Poll includes five Big Ten schools. Wisconsin starts at No. 10, followed by No. 11 Nebraska, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 17 Michigan State and No. 25 Penn State. Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern also received votes.
Zook is a member of the voting panel. So are Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Michigan's Brady Hoke, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Indiana's Kevin Wilson.
The players had their usual opening two-hour practice Thursday. But because the team was split into two units, the coaches worked 4 1/2 hours. How did they hold up?
"They are all a little grumpy right now," Zook said. "It's not bad."
Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was quick to praise the Illinois offense after the first day of workouts.
"You can tell the offense has done a good job this summer working through some new stuff," Koenning said. "I think that's a compliment to Nathan (Scheelhaase)."
As for the first-string defense, not so much.
"We were like a dadgum nail in saltwater out there," Koenning said. "We were rusty, rusty, rusty.
"Today was by far not a finished product. There's a lot of stuff to correct."