The Big Ten Network has made that long drought between spring football and September's kickoff tolerable, but if you're like me, you're still getting fall fever about now as the preseason publications roll out. The annual SjT predictions will be out next week (school starts the first week of August in Arizona, so my time will be limited soon!), but to get in the spirit of the season and get the spirited blood pumping, here are the SjT preseason awards … with a little help from YouTube.BEST STADIUM – INSIDE
I've been to every Big Ten stadium (plus the wannabe 12th member in South Bend) for games … all but one (OSU) on multiple occasions and half of those for games that didn't even involve Northwestern. I tried to keep my purple-colored glasses out of the equation as much as possible. Every place has its own charms and traditions and there's just nothing like the Big Ten circuit – and with a new pigskin palace in Minneapolis debuting this year, you have yet another reason to fire up the RV! Go see them all! Even Purdue and Indiana! But to get you started …
FINALISTS: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa), Michigan Stadium (Michigan) and Spartan Stadium (Michigan State)BEST STADIUM – OUTSIDE
THE WINNER: Michigan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1x_TyKMUWA)
No place puts fans directly on top of the action quite like Kinnick, and Sparty has about as perfect of a structure for the game of football as possible … but for everything inside the stadium, there's just nothing that can beat the Big House. It's deceptively small as you approach and then you enter into this massive bowl with great views and rich history. It's not as great of a home field advantage as the other places because that sound escapes, but the locals are friendly and the stadium just can't help but remind fans of that other classic venue they hope to end the season in … Pasadena's Rose Bowl.
FINALISTS: Memorial Stadium (Illinois), Ohio Stadium (Ohio State), Ryan Field (Northwestern)BEST OVERALL ATMOSPHERE
THE WINNER: Ohio State (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7JedERejQw)
I love the columns of Memorial Stadium's faccade and their history – and although it is by far the smallest stadium in the league, NU fans can be proud of the refurbished Ryan Field's arches as they tailgate amid a festive fall setting with the leaves. But if you were going to design the ideal stadium, it's hard to top The Shoe in Columbus. It's right on the banks of the river, ample tailgating space nearby and as the band marches under the entrance arch with fans gathered on multiple levels from sides around, you just get goose bumps.
FINALISTS: Beaver Stadium (Penn State), Camp Randall Stadium (Wisconsin), Ohio Stadium (Ohio State)
THE WINNER: Penn State
- White out: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN6SCrU681o)
- We Are Penn State: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqgWWVo1PmY)
- Let's Go PSU: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYjxL5IfrFU)
- Zombie Nation: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6hIQiDkz6s)
- Seven Nation Army: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evkH3RpRXoE)
If you watched all of the video links above and didn't get pumped up, then you are not a fan of college football. Quite simply, there is nothing in college football that comes close to Beaver Stadium under the lights for the Penn State Whiteout (or White House or whatever they can legally call it). It's not just the students, it's all 100,000+ strong dressed in solid white, on their feet the entire game yelling, cheering and shaking those pom pons in an avalanche of spirit. The have rituals and cheers both old ("We Are … Penn State!") and new ("Seven Nation Army") that everyone knows and participates in – and it's electric. The PSU Whiteout is often imitated, but nothing comes close. Throw in the rolling hills for tailgates, the majestic mountain setting, the charming pubs and watering holes of College Ave./Beaver Ave. for the night before the game, a trip to the Nittany Lion statue and visit to the Creamery on game day … this is football heaven.
FINALISTS: Beaver Stadium (Penn State), Kinnick Stadium (Iowa), Ohio Stadium (Ohio State)
THE WINNER: Ohio State (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-TQcqRWbDA)
There are plenty of bumblebee RVs in Iowa City, and MSU might come close if parking wasn't double what it is elsewhere (despite them having the most room), but it really comes down to PSU and OSU. State College has the best setting by far and the fans are as friendly as you'll find. But for the raw smells and sound, there's Ohio State's packed parking lots full of the smell of Sausages, kielbasa, brats and a variety of meats not seen elsewhere in Big Ten land. Plus you have that band playing (more on them later) as they march around the area.
BEST ALTERNATIVE TO TAILGATING
FINALISTS: Camp Randall Stadium (Wisconsin), Michigan Stadium (Michigan), Ryan Field (Northwestern)
THE WINNER: Wisconsin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqja4deyX5k)
It's baffling why the state with the best professional tailgating (see Lambeau Field and County Stadium/Miller Park) does not have expansive lots around Camp Randall for Cheeseheads to give their grills double duty on Badger/Packer weekends. But then again, why bother doing the tailgate both days when you can spend Saturday on State Street and the endless supply of bars and restaurant cookouts on your way to the game? State College still probably has a better Friday night pub crawl, but it's tough to top State Street on Saturday. As for the other finalists, I basically needed to fill out the category. NU has a small but strong tailgating scene (and if you use some remote lots on campus, great views of the Chicago skyline!), as does Michigan … but if you're not much for grilling out, there's still plenty to do in Evanston/Chicago and Ann Arbor on game day.
BEST HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
FINALISTS: Camp Randall Stadium (Wisconsin), Kinnick Stadium (Iowa), Ohio Stadium (Ohio State)
THE WINNER: Wisconsin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m21PXL4xKfQ)
Penn State and Michigan are intimidating atmospheres based on sheer size, but their fans are almost too nice (even with the whiteout in Happy Valley). These three schools do not have that same problem. You'll have the drunken frat boys yelling at you anywhere you go, but only in Madison and Iowa City (and Columbus to a smaller extent) will you find the 90-year-old grannies screaming profanities in your face if you dare wear the opposing team's colors as well. Iowa has its fans right on top of you, but the Badger fans are a little louder and worth a couple extra points as they start jumping around, throwing quarters and making themselves heard.
FINALISTS: Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Joe Paterno (Penn State), Jim Tressel (Ohio State)
THE WINNER: Joe Paterno (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rzzsEWvE4o)
Some good competition for the third spot in this list and it will probably intensify as some of the coaches stay in the league longer, but Fitzgerald edges out Ferentz by a nose with his wunderkind rise after taking over in a tough situation and for what he represents for the school (he is, fingers crossed, OUR JoePa for the next forty years). Tressel's star has slipped a bit lately – I'm not sure it's his coaching as much as his management of his recruits. He had the hunger to win and bring the team together as one before that national title, then it seemed to slip more into a star individual and offense vs. defense mentality. But the winner has to be JoePa. He's coached championship-caliber teams in five decades and when some thought he had lost it, he came back better than ever by winning two of the last four league crowns.
FINALISTS: Darryl Clark (Penn State), Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State), Evan Royster (Penn State)
THE WINNER: Terrelle Pryor (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RMGG_lj3qM)
Tough choice here, and I'll go with all offense because most of the big names on defense have too many questions in terms of coming back from injuries. Clark is the field general I'd want leading my team into battle, but Pryor just has so much natural ability that I think he's poised for a big breakout year. With a lot of the weapons around him from last year gone, I think Tressel and the Bucks will find new ways to unleash Pryor this year and his talents will prove to be even more expansive than we thought last year. Just a hunch.
And now for that part in the awards show when we run through some quick winners to beat the clock …
BEST STUDENTS: Penn State – White out. ‘Nuff said.
WORST FANS: Indiana – Granted they haven't had all the much to cheer for, but they don't have the limitations Northwestern does in terms of small student body and non-local fan base and the Cats still fare better most years at the gate. The drive to Bloomington is beautiful, though, and you won't have to deal with many crowds. And again in NU's defense, on average we probably have a higher percentage of our student body in the seats than any other school in the league!
BEST BAND: Ohio State – This league has some great bands, but Script Ohio and Hang on Sloopy puts TBDBITL over the top for college football games (for musical quality, you'd probably go more with Illinois, Michigan and – of course – Northwestern! But I can't be too NU biased).
BEST MASCOT: Wisconsin – It's really easy to narrow down the field here. Once you get rid of the steroid Sparty, blockhead Boiler Pete, freaky Buckeye, cartoonish new Willie the Wildcat (the old one was far better), creepy Hawkeye and rodent-like Nittany Lion, you're left with Goldie the Gopher and Bucky Badger. I'll take Bucky.
WORST MASCOT: Illinois – Political correctness or not, Chief Illiniwek and his annual dance is nothing like the tradition Florida State has and comes off as embarrassing for the school and its fans.
BEST TRADITIONS: Wisconsin – From the old (The Fifth Quarter) to the new (the jump around) to the annoying (robotically chanting Ron Dayne after the announcer says his name) to the iconic ("Varsity" at halftime), the cheeseheads are great with gameday traditions (as long as you're wearing cardinal red) and can clap in unison better than any fans in the nation.
WORST TRADITIONS: Purdue – The train whistle, "Boiler Up!" and world's largest drum make Ross Ade Stadium the most likely place in the league to get a headache. No one did more to change modern-day Big Ten football than Joe Tiller, though, so it will be very interesting to see if some of the on-field traditions of Purdue will carry on in the new era.
BEST CAMPUS: Northwestern – Again, some great ones in this league, but how can you beat the shores of Lake Michigan, the skyline of Chicago and all those beautiful colors in the fall?
BEST HOMECOMING: Illinois – because, as they tell you many times, they invented it. The student section isn't what it used to be, but they do come out for homecoming.
BEST UNIFORMS: Michigan – Some good choices here, but the winged helmet is iconic. Just don't change the maize too much to be a highlighter yellow … or like that awful halo around the stadium initially after the expansion! Otherwise, the classic nittany blues of PSU will be here.
WORST UNIFORMS: Iowa – the classic Hawkeye unis are great, but in the later Hayden years, the Hawks had these garish golden "claw marks" on the shoulder pads that looked ridiculous.
WORST FIELD: Michigan State – While speaking of "fashion don't" – no more lime green Astroturf. Ever. They've thankfully come a long way in East Lansing since then.
BEST FIELD: Penn State – The grass is so immaculate that it looks like a putting green. But JoePa needs to ease up and let the band on it every week and not just when weather permits!
BEST RIVALRY: Michigan vs. Ohio State – Duh. The Wolverines may be down, but this is now and will forever be the greatest rivalry in college football (are you listening, SPN?). How quickly they forget that less than three years ago, this game was No. 1 vs. No. 2 and a classic for the ages and less than two years ago, it still held league championship ramifications. One down year does not kill a rivalry like this.
BEST RIVALRY TROPHY: Michigan vs. Minnesots - I love the axe, the bucket and the now-retired tomahawk, but is their any rivalry award that is also a song other than the "Little Brown Jug"?
BEST GAME THIS YEAR: Ohio State @ Penn State – The Big Ten has become the Big Two once again, but with Michigan down and out, it's PSU in their place. This year's clash in Happy Valley will determine the league champ and depending on how things go with USC for the Buckeyes or with mental block for the Lions, could be a game with national title game implications.
Are you ready for some football now? Thought so.
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