Big Ten players sound off on conference best, worst

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Which Big Ten school has the best fans and which is the toughest crowd? Who's the top coach in the conference and what's the best team mascot?

A Champaign newspaper put those questions to a panel of experts -- 11 Big Ten players -- to get some opinions. The News-Gazette's eighth annual survey was far from a scientific poll, but it did elicit some interesting observations from some of the conference's top players.

Six of the 11 panelists voted Iowa's crowd as the toughest in the conference, while three thought the fans at Purdue were tougher.

"Every once in a while they'll throw cigarette butts at you," Minnesota center Greg Eslinger said of fans at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. "I keep my helmet on. Sometimes, they're lit."

Wisconsin's fans got six votes as best in the conference.

"They're crazy," Purdue tight end Charles Davis said. "Their cheers are coordinated. They just love to have fun out there. They support their team. They hassle the opposing team. They do it real well and they're real loud."

Five panelists chose newly renovated Ohio Stadium in Columbus as the best in the Big Ten, while Northwestern's Ryan Field received six of the 11 votes as the worst.

"Part of it is the weather," said Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco. "It's always dreary when we're there."

The opinions were a little more varied when it came to choosing the conference's nicest player or best trash talker.

Iowa's Chad Greenway and Nick Mangold of Ohio State each got two votes as nicest player, while six other players got one vote each. Davis didn't think anybody was nice enough to deserve his vote.

"I don't think anyone's ever helped me up," he said. "This is a nasty conference."

Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney and Wisconsin receiver Brandon Williams each received two votes as best trash talker.

Bucky Badger at Wisconsin was the panel's choice as favorite team mascot, with Minnesota's Goldy Gopher a close second.

"My dad loves it," Michigan State guard Gordon Niebylski said of Bucky. "My dad has all these pictures with him."

The 11 players responded to the newspaper's questions at the end of the regular season.

Penn State's Joe Paterno and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz were the panel's favorite coaches. Ferentz received four votes but his son, Brian, was one of five who voted for Paterno.

"Hands down," center Brian Ferentz said. "He's done more for college football than anybody around today. He's like your uncle at Thanksgiving that everybody likes."