CHICAGO - The Big Ten Conference isn't getting very much respect nationally these days. Then again, a 1-6 record in bowl games that ended the 2008 season does little to generate respect.

"Until we go win the bowl games and win the games out of conference, there's not a whole lot we can say," Illinois coach Ron Zook said yesterday at the conference's football media day.

The Southeastern Conference is getting the vast majority of preseason accolades. It boasts defending national champion Florida and four other teams that have been ranked in the top 15 or 20.

"They've had a couple of national championships in the last few years," Zook said. "I think there's been a few more guys drafted out of that league than our league, so people try to compare that. But if you go back and look, it kind of runs in cycles."

A related issue is the long period of idle time between the end of the Big Ten schedule, which finishes up the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and a bowl game. Other conferences play after Thanksgiving, and many have championship games that draw much attention.

Two teams, Illinois and Wisconsin, have scheduled non-conference games for Dec. 5 to keep the Big Ten name out there and not have as much down time if they were to qualify for a bowl.

One coach, Minnesota's Tim Brewster, suggested expanding to 12 teams so that the conference could split into two divisions and play a championship game in December.

"How good would that be for the exposure of this conference?" Brewster said. "I think we're missing a little something there by not having that."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said that while he felt coaches were open to expansion, the final decision was up to the presidents of the member universities.

He added that he didn't believe it was right to expand just so a conference championship game, with all its attendant publicity, could be played.

"I wouldn't think you would expand unless you had a whole other series of reasons to do so," Delany said. "I understand that we're out of the mainstream for that week to 10 days, and I don't think it's good. But I don't think it by itself is the reason" for expansion.

Preseason awards

Ohio State was selected as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten championship in a vote of media members attending yesterday, with Penn State second and Michigan State third.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions tied for the conference's best record at 7-1 last season, but Penn State got the Rose Bowl nod that goes to the champion thanks to its win over Ohio State.

Buckeyes sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor was named preseason player of the year on offense, and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones was named defensive player of the year.

- Joe Juliano