CHICAGO -- Michigan earned the role as preseason favorite for the Big Ten Conference football title in a media vote compiled by the league office.
Michigan earned the role as preseason favorite for the Big Ten Conference football title in a media vote compiled by the league office. "For those of you who voted us as the preseason favorite, we'll try to make you look good,'' Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Tuesday during the league's two-day media session that concludes today. Michigan senior running back Mike Hart was named the league's preseason offensive player of the year, while Ohio State junior linebacker Jim Laurinaitis was chosen as the preseason defensive player of the year. The Wolverines were 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten after losing in the Rose Bowl in January. Michigan returns 11 starters from last season, and the Wolverines aim for their 43rd conference championship. Wisconsin finished second and Ohio State third in the conference poll. The league releases only the top three teams in the poll. Wisconsin returns 18 starters, including running back P.J. Hill, the conference's freshman of the year last fall. Ohio State finished with a 12-1 record last season after losing in the BCS title game. No Expansion Despite a report in the Des Moines Register last week that claimed the Big Ten was seriously considering expansion, Big Ten commisioner Jim Delany said adding a 12th member to the league "isn't a front burner issue.'' "With the exception of Notre Dame (earlier this decade), we haven't had plans to talk to anyone,'' Delany said. Rutgers and Syracuse were potential additions, the Des Moines Register said. Adding a team from another state would expand the home region for the Big Ten Network, Delany admitted, but he said currently the league "doesn't plan to expand.'' Drug Testing The Big Ten will implement sporadic testing for performance enhancing drugs in all sports this season. About 10 percent of the league's 8,500 athletes will be randomly tested, Delany said. "A greater percentage could come in sports where we feel might be more of a possibility of abuse,'' Delany said. An athlete would lose eligibility for one year with the first positive result. Delany said the league wouldn't test for "recreational'' drugs. The Big Ten plan is similar to a Big 12 Conference model already implemented, Delany said. Kickoff The kickoffs in college football were moved from the 35-yard line to the 30 this season. According to a film study conducted by Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, 67 percent of the touchbacks last season would have been returned from the 30. "I'm a defensive-minded head coach,'' Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald said. "It doesn't excite me to move it back 5 yards with all the skill in the Big Ten. It will be dramatic and change the game in a variety of ways.'' Teams may attempt more pooch and directional kicks. Purdue coach Joe Tiller didn't like the rule because the kickoff return is the game's most violent play and will likely lead to more injuries, he said. John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977 and Johnsupinie@aol.com.