Jody Victor: The Big Ten Conference announced last week that Ohio State has been selected as the preseason favorite among members of the media attending the conference's football media day. Wisconsin was chosen to place second, while Illinois was selected third. The Big Ten announces only the top three teams in its preseason poll. The voting members of the media also honored Ohio State running back Chris Wells as the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year while teammate and linebacker James Laurinaitis was tabbed Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Ohio State enters the 2008 campaign aiming for a fourth straight Big Ten title and looks to become the first team in conference annals to win three straight outright crowns. The Buckeyes were 11-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play last season under head coach Jim Tressel, who became the first Ohio State coach to win four Big Ten titles in his first seven years on campus. With a conference-best 20 starters returning this year, the Buckeyes will look to capture their 33rd conference title.
Wisconsin was selected second in the preseason poll after finisheing fourth last year. The Badgers went 5-3 in conference play and 9-4 overall under Bret Bielema, who is entering his third year. Wisconsin returns 17 starters this season, including tight end Travis Beckum, a 2007 first-team Walter Camp All-American.
Fresh off its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1984, Illinois was tabbed to finish third in 2008. The Illini ended the 2007 campaign tied for second in the conference with a 9-4 record overall and 6-2 in Big Ten games. Illinois returns 13 starters under the direction of 2007 Liberty Mutual National and Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year Ron Zook.
Ohio State's Wells headlines the conference's offensive players this season after an impressive 2007 campaign that saw him rush for 1,609 yards – a total that ranks fourth-best in OSU single-season history. The Buckeye junior also scampered for 15 touchdowns last season and was tabbed a first-team All-Big Ten selection and a second-team All-American by The Sporting News.
Laurinaitis received the Big Ten's top preseason defensive honor after concluding his junior season as a consensus All-American, Butkus Award winner and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He is the second OSU linebacker in the last five years to earn back-to-back preseason accolades after A.J. Hawk was named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Laurinaitis led the team with 121 tackles and added two interceptions and five sacks in 2007.
The 113th season of Big Ten football kicks off Saturday, Aug. 30th with 10 teams in nationally televised action, broadcast either on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network.