Big Ten could break attendance record

One of the best things about covering the Big Ten is the enormous fan interest, which never wavers. And though the league still has some work to do in the postseason to improve its national reputation, Big Ten football remains as popular as ever in the places it matters most.

The final Big Ten home game for 2009 takes place Saturday as Illinois hosts Fresno State (Big Ten Network, 12:30 p.m. ET), and the league likely will set a new attendance record at Memorial Stadium. In 76 home contests this season, the Big Ten has drawn 5,477,699 fans. The league set an attendance record in 2002 with 5,499,439 fans for 78 home dates. So as long as Illinois draws more than 21,740 fans on Saturday, a new mark will be reached (Illinois has averaged 61,746 fans through its first five home dates).

The Big Ten has drawn more than 5 million fans for the past five seasons. This year's average attendance of 72,075 ranks second best in league history behind the 2005 season, when the league had an attendance average of 72,566.