Bret Bielema assures that he isn't cooking, but invited his Wisconsin football team to join him for Thanksgiving dinner.

Beginning next season, that could become a common occurrence throughout the Big Ten, when the league shifts its final week of the regular season - a rivalry week for most teams - to Thanksgiving weekend.

Bielema, whose team will be around Madison next week preparing for a Dec. 5 game at Hawaii, is among coaches who support the change.

"I had been a Big Ten guy all my life until I went to Kansas State and found myself preparing a team to play in the Big 12 Championship game," Bielema said. "People were talking about our program for two extra weeks. It was great exposure, we won the game, and it propelled us into the Fiesta Bowl. There were a lot of benefits."

Illinois coach Ron Zook, whose team has nonconference games at Cincinnati on Nov. 27 and against Fresno State on Dec. 5, sees an opportunity for greater exposure for the Big Ten.

"It's a time of year when the weather in the north begins to get cold and people watch more TV," Zook said. "There are a lot of games played after Thanksgiving across the country, and we're missing out on that exposure."

Some coaches aren't sold on the idea just yet.

The traditionalist in Ohio State coach Jim Tressel prefers the Buckeyes renew their annual rivalry with Michigan on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

He isn't quite ready to warm up to the idea of league teams playing trophy games for Floyd of Rosedale or the Old Oaken Bucket after Thanksgiving.

"I guess I'm kind of an old-timer that way. I've always felt one of the great advantages the Big Ten always had was in the fact that kids could go home for an extended Thanksgiving weekend with their families," Tressel said. "I'm not a big proponent, but I'll play when they tell us we play."

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez likes one byproduct of the change.

Teams have an in-season bye week as a result of the extended schedule.

"The opportunities for an open date are good," Rodriguez said. "That can be beneficial in a number of ways for our teams. If we cannot start the season earlier, this is the next-best alternative."

Rivalry week

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel bristles at the suggestion that Saturday's OSU-Michigan football game carries little significance given that the Buckeyes have secured the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth.

"Anyone who thinks this isn't a big game hasn't been around an Ohio State-Michigan game," Tressel said. "I think kids come to places like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State wanting to play in rivalry games like this, and no matter what the records they are always big games."

Although they are 1-6 in the Big Ten, the Wolverines can become bowl eligible if they win Saturday.

"A lot of legends have been made over the years in the Michigan-Ohio State game," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The ‘bucket' battle

Losses last weekend ended bowl hopes for Purdue and Indiana, something Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch says will add significance to Saturday's instate matchup at Indiana.

"This will be the last game for a lot of seniors on both sides of the field, and that only adds to a good rivalry," Lynch said. "Indiana isn't a state with the population of an Illinois, Michigan, Ohio or Pennsylvania, so we compete in recruiting for the same kids with Purdue. This one always means a lot."

Four-down territory

Illinois: Idle until a Nov. 27 game at Cincinnati, Illinois coach Ron Zook equates his team's practice this week to what teams would do while preparing for a bowl. He said younger players are getting plenty of extra repetitions this week before the Illini turn their attention to the Bearcats.

Minnesota: Instead of the normal quick flight to Iowa, Minnesota will travel by bus to Kinnick Stadium in hopes of returning Floyd of Rosedale to Minneapolis. Win or lose, the Minnesota athletics department anticipates saving $70,000 by hitting the highway.

Ohio State: A victory over Iowa moved the Buckeyes into some rare territory. OSU has won at least a share of the past five Big Ten titles, just the third time a league team has accomplished that feat. Ohio State won six straight titles from 1972 to 1977, while Michigan won five in a row from 1988 to 1992.

Purdue: If running back Ralph Bolden can rush for 69 yards and quarterback Joey Elliott throws for 179 yards at Indiana, Purdue will have a 1,000-yard rusher, a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard receiver - Keith Smith reached that level last week - for the first time in its 121 seasons of football.

By the numbers

13

Players from Ohio on the Michigan roster

3

Players from Michigan on the Ohio State roster

1999

Last season Wisconsin won at Northwestern, where it plays Saturday

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