Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten's sagging national reputation isn't lost on the league's coaches, who have had internal discussions about the need to pick things up across the board.
It's obvious where the Big Ten must make the biggest jump -- in late December and January. The league's recent bowl performances, particularly in the Rose Bowl and other BCS games, have fueled the negative perception more than any other factor.
"All it takes is one or two wins in a bowl game and that will go away," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said.
The Big Ten's lengthy layoff before bowl season has been a hot topic in recent years, and though the league has no plans to add a 12th team and play a championship game in early December, some teams are finding ways to extend their seasons. Many Big Ten coaches seem to like the idea.
Illinois will wrap-up regular-season play Dec. 5 against Fresno State, while Wisconsin likely will play the final regular-season game of the 2009 season Dec. 5 at Hawaii.
"It's a great opportunity for our guys to prolong the season," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "To me, that's one way we feel we can help ourselves. I thought it was important to have some open dates and some rest."
Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two Big Ten teams with bye weeks this fall, as the league plays its final season without open dates. Starting in 2010, the regular season will end after Thanksgiving, bridging the gap between the bowls by a week.
Rodriguez had a shorter bowl prep during his time at West Virginia and hopes the Big Ten will follow suit. Michigan and Ohio State play their traditional pre-Thanksgiving game Nov. 21, but that will change in future years.
"Having six weeks as opposed to four weeks before you play another game does make a [negative] difference," Rodriguez said. "There's a difference in execution and rhythm and just playing the game. ... So I think it will help."