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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Big Ten coaches, stars invade Chicago


CHICAGO - While Amway salesmen and hedge fund traders meet in conference rooms on the levels above, the football coaches and star players from the Big Ten will gather two floors below the busy street level at the Hyatt Regency Hotel here today, to give the football season its unofficial/official start.

Each summer, the league hosts a two-day, preseason session with the media, and the Big Ten essentially takes over the lowest level of the sprawling convention center.

Ohio State is expected to be the favorite to win this year's conference title when the Big Ten releases the results of its preseason media poll. The Buckeyes have won the last two league crowns outright, and shared the title the previous year.

Ohio State will be represented at the conference event by coach Jim Tressel, senior linebacker James Laurinaitis, senior quarterback Todd Boeckman and senior defensive back Malcolm Jenkins.

National pundits envision a middle-of-the-pack conference finish for the University of Michigan under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.

Today will mark the first time Rodriguez is publicly available for questions since he agreed to pay - with the help of UM - $4 million to his former employer, West Virginia University, to satisfy a buyout clause in his contract there.

Rodriguez will likely also get questions about the low expectations for his team, his players' ability to adapt to his schemes - especially his spread-option offense - and some of the wars of words he's engaged in through the media with Tressel and Purdue coach Joe Tiller.

With Rodriguez to help field some of those questions will be senior tight end Mike Massey, senior defensive end Tim Jamison, and senior cornerback Morgan Trent.

"I don't know [right now], but a year from now, at least I'll know in my mind where we're at," Rodriguez said in May of his own expectations for the Wolverines. "Two years from now I'll really know where we're at. Right now, I'm as clueless as most, with the exception of 15 practices in the spring.

"It's a blank canvas in a lot of respects. The low expectations, whatever. I don't worry about that."

The Big Ten hosts a kickoff luncheon for fans here tomorrow, and the 37th annual installment of the event sold out, with more than 1,700 expected to attend. The players and coaches hold an autograph and photo session first, with the luncheon following.

"The luncheon is the greatest preseason promotion of the sport in the country," said Big Ten associate commissioner Andrea Williams.

"We are excited to welcome our fans, bowl and television partners and corporate sponsors to the city of Chicago for this outstanding event."

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