With the Big Ten going to 12 teams, here is Bob Asmussen's look at things that come in 12:
CLOCK: Tick, tick, tick
How do players spend their time on game day? Here's what it's like for Illinois with an 11 a.m. kickoff:
6:30 a.m. — Wakeup call from the hotel. If needed. Illinois offensive lineman Jeff Allen said he's usually up 10 minutes or so before the ring.
Allen used to not sleep well the night before games.
"I was so excited, things just racing through my mind," Allen said. "I was constantly in the playbook. The older I got, I was more at ease. I knew what to expect, so I was able to rest more easy."
7 a.m. — Breakfast. Allen doesn't eat much. A couple pieces of fruit. That's it.
"You don't want to get too full before a game. You get sluggish," Allen said.
7:30 a.m. — Breakfast ends, followed by a quick meeting.
8:15 a.m. — Get on the bus bound for the stadium.
"Normally, I have my headset on and I'm listening to something to get me pumped up," Allen said.
Pump-up music for Allen often means Jay-Z.
9 a.m. — The Illini Walk for home games, down Irwin Drive to the locker room. It's a chance for the players to see their families, who line the route.
"It makes you want to play hard because your family is in the stands," Allen said.
9:15 a.m. — Off to the training room to get taped and for any treatment.
9:45 a.m. — On the field for a short look. The offensive linemen go out together. They are wearing shorts and T-shirts.
"Just want to get a feel for the field," Allen said.
The players go back in to get dressed.
10:30 a.m. — No meetings, but one of the players takes charge and gets the rest of the team hyped.
"We have to be a player-driven team," Allen said. "You don't want to be too quiet before the game."
11 a.m. — The players sprint onto the field, led by coach Ron Zook.
12:40 p.m. — Back into the locker room for halftime. The players divide by positions and get in front of a white board in the locker room.
"We are making adjustments," Allen said.
2:30 p.m. — Game over. Players run into the locker room. When it goes the way they hope, the tradition is to sing the school fight song.
"That's the plan," Allen said.
Allen and several of his teammates report to different position rooms to meet with the media. It will be a longer session for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. The linemen don't usually have to stay too long.
3 p.m. — Players meet their families outside the football offices.
4 p.m. — Allen and his family go back to his place to watch college football, usually other Big Ten schools. He likes to see upcoming opponents.
6 p.m. — Dinner time with the family. If Allen's picking, they are going to a steakhouse. Of course.
"We switch it up a lot," Allen said.
9 p.m. — If the Illini won, Allen is still going strong. If it was a rough game, he might start to slow down.
"It depends on how the game went," Allen said. "If it was one of those games that gets you up, you're up for the rest of the day."
12 Big Ten questions and answers from Bob Asmussen
1. Can Ohio State thrive without Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor?
Honestly, they'll miss the player more than The Vest. At least this season. The only guy who has played quarterback in college, Joe Bauserman, didn't do it very well. If by "thrive" you mean win 10 games and go to a decent bowl (if allowed), then yes. If by "thrive" you mean play for another BCS title (and lose), then no.
2. What does a healthy Dan Persa mean to Northwestern?
That the defense won't be on the field as much. And based on last year's Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas Tech games, it's a good thing. The Wildcats gave up 48, 70 and 45 in their final three games last season. Persa wouldn't have made much of a difference in those three, unless he can play linebacker. If healthy, Persa has a chance to be Big Ten MVP.
3. Will Nebraska dominate the Big Ten?
Just like Penn State did in the early 1990s. Oh, never mind. Nebraska will have some advantages coming out of a speed league and having played defense at a high level. But these aren't the Tom Osborne Cornhuskers who scored points at will and controlled games with offense. Nebraska will be good, but not that good.
4. Is Jerry Kill the answer at Minnesota?
In as much as there can be an answer for the Gophers. Glen Mason had it going pretty well, but the folks in Minnesota got fooled and fired him. Tim Brewster definitely wasn't the answer, though he is a fine former Illini and a welcome addition to the Fox television announcing team. Kill wins, quickly, everywhere he goes. It won't be as easy this time.
5. Is Kevin Wilson the answer at Indiana?
Not according to Jack Trudeau. The former Illini quarterback and current Indianapolis radio personality got into an on-air squabble with the coach. The new coach defended his program. Hard to fault him for that. Indiana has gone the hire-the-hot-coordinator route before and it didn't quite work. But Wilson's got something that makes us think he's got a chance.
6. How much longer will Joe Paterno coach?
If "forever" isn't an appropriate response, then whatever is closest to that without going over. He's the most fit 84-year-old in the country. The mind is sharp and he wants to keep going. More important, the power boosters at Penn State aren't going to allow him to be forced out.
7. How is Bo Pelini going to get along with the Big Ten officials?
Better than he did with the Big 12 crews. Pelini went nutso in a loss at Texas A&M. Have to think the higher-ups in Lincoln have told him to take a chill pill. When he's calm he's one of the best defensive minds in the game. And a snazzy dresser.
8. Is the Big Ten done expanding?
Is the pope German? Don't be fooled by that subtle release from the Big Ten, which pointed out no expansion is being pursued. There's always an out. Like "We forgot we were thinking about expanding." If the SEC adds two to four, as expected, then the Big Ten looks east (Syracuse, Pitt, Maryland) and west (Missouri, Kansas). Anybody else want to see Bill Self back in the Big Ten?
9. Is John Wienke ever going to play?
That sure would be nice. The backup at Iowa is one play away from taking over at Iowa. James Vandenberg is not a world beater in our eyes. The Hawkeyes don't ask their quarterbacks to be the stars, so maybe Vandenberg is good enough.
10. Can Wisconsin win the national title?
Absolutely. The schedule isn't brutal. The league isn't overpowering and the Badgers have their usual array of road graders up front. If the defense rises just a bit, it's easy to picture Wisconsin playing for it all. No pressure.
11. Is Michigan on the upswing?
Sort of. We like the early recruiting being done by pseudo-Michigan Man Brady Hoke. But there are questions about the fit of the skill players on hand. And the defense gave up a lot of points in 2010. Keeping Rich Rodriguez wasn't an option, so the folks in Michigan are going to have to live with some ups and downs.
12. So, how many bowl teams from the Big Ten?
Let's go with eight: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State. Minnesota is a couple years away and Northwestern has a couple of difficult nonconference road games (Boston College and Army).
12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Illinois bowl possibilities and what it has to do to get there
BOWL SITE ILLINI ARE IN IF ...
1. BCS Championship New Orleans It's actually pretty simple: Go 13-0. That should do it, even for a team like Illinois that enters the season unranked
2. Rose Pasadena, Calif. Win the Big Ten championship game without a perfect record in the regular season
3. Fiesta Glendale, Ariz. Earn a BCS at-large berth, which means at least nine wins during the regular season. It will probably take 10
4. Sugar New Orleans Earn a BCS at-large berth, then have the Fiesta take a pass. The folks in New Orleans remember the big crowd that came in 2001
5. Orange Miami Earn a BCS at-large berth, then have both the Fiesta and Sugar take a pass, which is unlikely. Illinois has never played in the Orange Bowl
6. Capital One Orlando, Fla. Win at least eight games. This could be the landing spot for the loser of the Big Ten title game
7. Outback Tampa Win at least eight games and hope that Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State aren't in the mix
8. Insight Tempe, Ariz. Win at least seven games and count on the pull of a strong contingent of Illinoisans now living in the state
9. Gator Jacksonville, Fla. Win at least seven games and count on the pull of a Florida bowl featuring Ron Zook. He still has followers in the state
10. TicketCity Dallas Win at least six games and expect a matchup against one of the best from Conference USA (Southern Miss, perhaps)
11. Little Caesar's Detroit Win at least six games and be the last available Big Ten school. Otherwise, it isn't happening
12. Meineke Car Care Houston Win at least six games and have all other Big Ten bowl partners take a pass. Not likely to a return trip to the renamed Texas Bowl
12 OPPONENTS For Illinois
Vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves
2010 record: 4-8
Series: Illinois leads 2-0
Fast fact: Hugh Freeze, the team's offensive coordinator during a record-breaking 2010 season, takes over as head coach for Steve Roberts
N-G pick: Illinois
Vs. South Dakota State Jackrabbits
2010 record: 5-6
Series: First meeting
Fast fact: You might see former Centennial standout Scott Nagy at the game. He's the school's men's basketball coach
N-G pick: Illinois
Vs. Arizona State
2010 record: 6-6
Series: Arizona State leads 2-0
Fast fact: Quirk in the schedule cost the Sun Devils a bowl bid in 2010. They got two wins against FCS schools and you can't only count one toward bowl eligibility
N-G pick: Arizona State
Vs. Western Michigan
2010 record: 6-6
Series: Illinois leads 2-1
Fast fact: Teams are scheduled to play two more games in the next five years, the Broncos returning to C-U in 2012 and the Illini visiting Waldo Stadium in 2016
N-G pick: Illinois
2010 record: 7-6
Series: Illinois leads 53-46-5
Fast fact: Illinois looking for first winning streak against the Wildcats since 2001-02
N-G pick: Illinois
2010 record: 5-7
Series: Illinois leads 44-21-3
Fast fact: New coach Kevin Wilson, who coached at Northwestern before going to Oklahoma, won the Frank Broyles Award (top assistant coach) in 2008
N-G pick: Illinois
Vs. Ohio State
2010 record: 12-1
Series: Ohio State leads 63-30-4
Fast fact: New coach Luke Fickell went 3-2 against the Illini during his playing days (1992-96), winning the last two by a combined 89-3
N-G pick: Ohio State
2010 record: 4-8
Series: Illinois leads 42-38-6
Fast fact: After going to bowl games in Joe Tiller's first eight seasons (1997-2004), the Boilermakers have been to just two in the last six
N-G pick: Illinois
At Penn State
2010 record: 7-6
Series: Penn State leads 14-4
Fast fact: Joe Paterno has 401 wins in his first 45 seasons at Penn State. The other Big Ten coaches have combined for 532 wins.
N-G pick: Illinois
2010 record: 7-6
Series: Michigan leads 67-23-2
Fast fact: Since 1958, Illinois has just two home wins against the Wolverines. There have been some close games since, including the "fumble" game in 2000 that helped bring instant replay to college football
N-G pick: Illinois
2010 record: 11-2
Series: Illinois leads 36-34-7
Fast fact: Before the Barry Alvarez/Bret Bielema era, Wisconsin had been to six bowls. It has been to 16 since
N-G pick: Wisconsin
2010 record: 3-9
Series: Minnesota leads 33-28-3
Fast fact: First-year coach Jerry Kill has had winning records in 13 of his first 17 years as a college head coach, including four 10-plus win seasons
N-G pick: Illinois
Lookalikes to Illinois players and coaches
ILLINI DOUBLE COMMENT
Ron Zook/Gary Cole — Easy to picture Zook saying the Reese Bobby line "If you ain't first, you're last"
Jack Cornell/Grizzly Adams — If they do a remake of the classic show, Cornell takes Dan Haggerty's spot
Trulon Henry/Lennox Lewis — It's all about the hair. Plus, they both pack a punch
Graham Pocic/Brian Urlacher — Someday soon, the center hopes to join his hometown hero
Jay Prosch/John Cena — Have to think the wrestler would be a dynamic force at fullback
Chris Willett/Carrot Top — More the before version of the comedian, not the pumped up current model
A.J. Jenkins/Chris Tucker — Working with Jackie Chan is a piece of cake compared to Paul Petrino
Steve Hull/Jim Carrey — All righty then. Our favorite is still "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective"
Hugh Thornton/Mr. T — We pity the fool who has to try to get past the Illinois guard
Hayden Daniels/Will Ferrell— Ron Burgundy agrees with this selection. "You stay classy, Champaign-Urbana."
Nathan Scheelhaase/Drizzy Drake —If the singer/actor slipped into the Illinois huddle, would we have any idea?
Michael Heitz/Ivan Drago —Offensive tackle to the rest of the Big Ten: "I must break you"
Guys who need to bloom for Illinois to win this year
1. Ryan Lankford Receiver — He's got all the talent, but he caught just six passes as a rookie. Coaches want five times that many ... at least
2. Justin DuVernois Punter — Floridian has been handed Anthony Santella's job. First goal: Get rid of the ball. Second goal: The right direction
3. Craig Wilson Defensive tackle — They moved him in the spring and he's worked his way into the starting lineup without a fight. But can he stuff the run after years on the offensive line?
4. Michael Heitz Offensive tackle —Takes over for injured Corey Lewis as the lone new starter on the line
5. Darius Millines Receiver — Had just two catches as a freshman, but one went for a touchdown. One of the MVPs of Camp Rantoul
6. Jonathan Brown Linebacker — Strong performance at Camp Rantoul eased any concerns the coaches had about potential superstar
7. Whitney Mercilus Defensive end — First full year as a starter for the Ohioan, who needs to double his 24 career tackles
8. Jason Ford Tailback — Nobody expects him to break Mikel Leshoure's school record, but 1,000 yards seems reasonable
9. Donovonn Young Tailback — Talented Texan has a chance to become the next great No. 5 at Illinois
10. Spencer Harris Receiver — Often the third guy mentioned among the sophomores, he has ability to put up big numbers
11. Steve Hull Safety — Performance of former receiver allowed coaches to move Trulon Henry to outside linebacker
12. Houston Bates Linebacker — Redshirt freshman will be the first linebacker off the bench
What does each month mean to college football
January — New Year's Day bowl games followed, a week later, by the BCS Championship. Best week of the year
February — Signing day is the first Wednesday of the month, followed by explanations from coaches why their class is "the best in school history"
March — Spring football starts on most college campuses. First look at their teams for new coaches
April — Spring games across the land, with television networks showing more and more each year
May — Coaches hit the road for spring evaluations, though head coaches are forced to stay home. Ron Zook is not happy about the rule
June — Potential recruits visit colleges for summer camps. Scholarship offers are made and sometimes accepted
July — Mostly a quiet month for college football, except for the rare occasional scandal. Month ends with conference media days
August — Training camps start across the country, including the Illinois version at Camp Rantoul
September — Let the games, and the hype, begin. What we would really like to see is some of the SEC powers (other than Georgia and LSU) play somebody out of the conference
October —‚ Conference seasons heat up and races start to take form. Key games each year include the Red River Shootout (Texas-Oklahoma) and the Third Saturday in October (Alabama-Tennessee)
November — More traditional rivalry games. In the Big Ten that means Ohio State-Michigan. In the SEC that means Auburn-Alabama
December — For the first time, it means a Big Ten title game. In Indianapolis. Same place where they are playing the Super Bowl
Who did the Big Ten coaches learn from
Ron Zook Illinois/Mike Gottfried — Former Pitt, Kansas coach gave Zook his first college job at Murray State
Kevin Wilson Indiana/Randy Walker — Late Northwestern leader, Wilson's coach at North Carolina, hired him at Miami (Ohio) and later with the Wildcats
Kirk Ferentz Iowa/Joe Moore — Worked with late offensive line guru as a graduate assistant at Pitt in 1980
Brady Hoke Michigan/Bo Schembechler —Didn't work for him at Michigan, but nearby offices gave them time to get acquainted
Mark Dantonio Michigan State/Jim Tressel — Had two different stints with ousted Buckeyes coach, first at Youngstown State and later at Ohio State
Jerry Kill Minnesota/Dennis Franchione — Former Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU leader gave Kill his coaching start at Pittsburg State
Bo Pelini Nebraska/Don Bucci — His high school coach in Youngstown part of a long list that includes Hayden Fry, Pete Carroll, Frank Solich and others
Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern/Gary Barnett — His coach during Hall of Fame career with the Wildcats, he spent a year on Barnett's staff at Colorado
Luke Fickell Ohio State/ Jim Tressel — All but two years of his coaching career were spent under Tressel's watch
Joe Paterno Penn State/Rip Engle — The legend worked for Engle for 16 years at Penn State, with the Nittany Lions going 104-48-4
Danny Hope Purdue/ Howard Schnellenberger — Hope's first college job was coaching offensive line for Schnellenberger at Louisville
Bret Bielema Wisconsin /Hayden Fry — Played for the legend at Iowa and got his coaching start with the Hawkeyes
It's party time, Big Ten style. Here's our ranking of the league's tailgating scenes:
1. Penn State — It's RV and camper central. Parked near Beaver Stadium for days, you can smell the brats and burgers in Pittsburgh
2. Wisconsin — Visiting fans might want to keep their school colors under their coats. The home folks are rowdy, and fun, on a level that rivals the best in any conference. And there's beer. Lots and lots of beer.
3. Ohio State — Another place where visiting fans might want to lay low (especially those from Michigan). Huge stadium is surrounded by tailgaters on both sides of the Olentangy River
4. Iowa — The parking is spread out a bit, but there are houses near Kinnick Stadium that are loaded with fans. Good chance you'll find some corn on the cob
5. Michigan State — Great setup with open parking lots near the stadium and the walkable Breslin Center
6. Michigan — Parking is a bit of a problem, but the nearby golf course lots are the place to eat and drink throughout the day. Careful on State Street, where cars seem to have the right of way
7. Nebraska — Lack of close parking (unless you are Larry The Cable Guy rich), cuts into the atmosphere. Nearby downtown starts to hop five hours before kickoff
8. Illinois — Oodles of good parking surrounds Memorial Stadium, which makes for good tailgating. Illinois football parents have been running an impressive postgame feast for years
9. Northwestern — Giant lot across from Ryan Field is perfect. But except for the big games (Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois), the smallish crowds limit the electricity
10. Indiana — Could just write "See Northwestern," but the Hoosiers are trying. Push to bring more families to the stadium has helped. Still, it's a basketball school
11. Purdue — Distant parking never helps when it comes to getting folks together for food and fun. Neither does a team that isn't winning many games
12. Minnesota — The new stadium is a hit, but the parking is tight and the tailgating is taking time to get established. Maybe when Jerry Kill gets them to the Rose Bowl
12 ZODIAC SIGNS
Astrologists swear by this stuff. Who are we to argue. Here are 12 Big Ten players who match the signs:
Capricorn/Goat/Patience, perseverance/Jon Budmayr/One day, he's Wisconsin's starting quarterback. The next, it's wait until 2012
Aquarius/Water bearer/Trendsetters/Rex Burkhead/Nebraska tailback loves to throw and catch passes
Pisces/Fish/Mysterious/Chris Borland/Can the Wisconsin linebacker bounce back from shoulder surgery?
Aries/Ram/Adventurous, active, outgoing/Nathan Scheelhaase/Illinois sophomore might be the most media-friendly player in the league
Taurus/Bull/Stay out of the crowd/Marvin McNutt/Iowa receiver prefers to get beyond the secondary
Gemini/Twins/On the move, curious, mischievous/DeVier Posey/We won't see talented Ohio State receiver for a month
Cancer/Crab/Hard on the outside, caring on the inside/Mike Brewster/Don't blame the Ohio State center for being angry, he's missing four teammates
Leo/Lion/Leader, charismatic/Kirk Cousins/Michigan State quarterback's numbers aren't as impressive as his personality
Virgo/Virgin/Serve others/Jeff Allen/Watch the Illinois tailbacks, they'll be following No. 71
Libra/Scales/Strong in business/Drake Dunsmore/Standout tight end was wise enough to pick the Evanston school
Scorpio/Scorpion/Passionate, powerful /Ricky Wagner/Wisconsin offensive lineman must fill void left by Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt
Sagittarius/Archer/Take aim and hit the target/Dan Persa/Northwestern quarterback hit 74 percent of his passes last year
A dozen guys under pressure who just might crack in the Big Ten
1. Robert Marve Purdue — Not even the starting quarterback yet, he's facing scrutiny from his Miami days
2. Denard Robinson Michigan — New offense means he's going to have to adapt some of his game
3. Russell Wilson Wisconsin — Sure, it seems like a great deal. But early struggles might bring his move into question
4. Danny Hope Purdue — A bowl game would take the third-year coach off of the hottest seat in the Big Ten
5. Joe Bauserman Ohio State — Just a hunch the Buckeyes will go conservative and start the senior. One bad pass ...
6. Rob Bolden Penn State — Quarterback probably should have kept the transfer idea quiet until he actually left the school
7. Jordan Hall Ohio State — He's one of the placeholders at tailback while the Buckeyes wait for Dan Herron. Five games to prove himself
8. Gerald Gooden Purdue — Last year, end Ryan Kerrigan was a nightmare for opposing offenses. Now, it's Gooden's turn
9. James White Wisconsin — The 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year isn't sure he will get that many carries with Montee Ball in the way
10. Akeem Spence Illinois — With Corey Liuget off to the NFL, it's up to him to lead the defensive line. But he's young
11. MarQueis Gray Minnesota — He said he wanted to go back to quarterback. We'll see if he was better as a receiver
12. Max Bullough Michigan State — Middle linebacker has the thankless task of following All-American Greg Jones