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Big Ten is talk of the town this week

CHICAGO - In January of 1895, seven presidents of Midwestern universities met at the now historic Palmer House Hotel here to discuss a framework for organized college athletics. Their efforts hatched the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.

Through some morphing, this entity became the Western Conference, and in 1917 it was first referenced as the "Big Ten Conference." After extensive further evolution and some still fuzzy math, the eleven members of the Big Ten meet here today, in another downtown hotel just a few blocks from the Palmer House where it all started.

The 2009 football season gets its official shotgun start as the coaches and top players gather for two days of meetings, media sessions and a sold out Kickoff Luncheon that will bring more than 1,700 fans tomorrow into the grand ballroom at Hyatt Regency.

Besides comments and interviews with all coaches and three players from each team, today's session will include an announcement of the top three teams in the preseason media poll, which is expected to put Ohio State in the favorite's spot for the third time in the past four years. The Buckeyes have gone on to win outright or a share of the title the last four seasons.

Steve Helwagen, managing editor of the OSU fan site Bucknuts.com, said the Buckeyes should be on top.

"It speaks to the relative mediocrity of the Big Ten - few people see any viable contenders to challenge Ohio State and Penn State for the conference title," Helwagen said. "The winner of their game could decide the Big Ten championship."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who became just the fourth head coach in 113 years of Big Ten football to win five or more championships in his first eight years, will most likely pursue a fifth straight crown with the moniker as preseason favorite.

The Buckeyes were picked to win the Big Ten in nearly every other preseason poll and ranking released to date.

Michigan legend Bo Schembechler owns the Big Ten record with six conference titles (outright or shared) in his first eight seasons (1969-76). UM coach Fielding Yost won five crowns from 1901-08, while Minnesota's Bernie Bierman took five in the 1932-39 era.

Besides Tressel, Ohio State will be represented at the preview by senior tight end Jake Ballard, senior defensive back Kurt Coleman, and senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington.

Second-year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez will be accompanied at the event by senior safety Stevie Brown, senior punter Zoltan Mesko, and senior offensive tackle Mark Ortmann.

Contact Matt Markey at

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510

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