- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Germany or Argentina? Should be an interesting weekend. Enjoy it.
As you can tell, we're including more questions we receive through Twitter, so send 'em in!
Let's get to those questions ...
@ESPN_BigTen I think Ohio States run game is being underestimated, where will that unit they rank in the B1G come December?
— Chris Willeke (@ChrisWilleke2) July 11, 2014
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, it's a tough question because of the revamped offensive line with four new starters, but I expect Ohio State to work out the kinks by midseason. Ed Warinner is one of the nation's best offensive line coaches and while there's not a ton of starting experience up front, players such as Darryl Baldwin and Antonio Underwood have been in the program for a long time. Quarterback Braxton Miller will have his share of big run plays because that's what he does, but how much help he gets from the running backs remains to be seen.
Ezekiel Elliott certainly has the talent to have a big sophomore season. He's not quite as big as Carlos Hyde but runs with power. It will be interesting to see who emerges behind Elliott and how the carries are ultimately distributed. I don't expect Ohio State to be a top five rushing attack like last year, but top 15 or 20 certainly is realistic despite the new blood.
Jeff from San Diego writes: Adam, I liked your article about Ohio State and how so called experts seem to just assume the B1G is theirs. That leads nicely into my question, which is: Will any experts be bold enough to choose Iowa to win the West? I'm guessing that 99 percent of experts are going to take Wisconsin or Nebraska and not even give the Hawks a sniff. Is it just lazy journalism to pick the name brand or will these experts actually do their research and see the West as an open race?
Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, unfortunately there's a degree of laziness out there and some writers just assume things will be a certain way just because they usually are. Anyone who truly studies the teams and the schedules in the West won't see much separating Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. None is a perfect team, and each has the capability to reach the league title game. Iowa's schedule certainly is the most beneficial as it gets both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. The Hawkeyes also lose fewer key players than Wisconsin, which is going through a significant roster overhaul. Nebraska brings backs studs Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory but plays three of the league's top four teams -- Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa -- on the road.
Bottom line: I wouldn't expect 99 percent of the prognosticators to go with Wisconsin or Nebraska. Iowa will get some love. But possibly not as much as it deserves.
Chandler from Chicago writes: I think you feel it is incumbent upon you as a Big Ten reporter to continue to advance the notion that there is parity in the league, when there really is not. The nature of the recent Big Ten has been that "golden generations" come along for second-tier programs and briefly (for one to three years) provide Ohio State with a meaningful competitive challenge. Right now, that happens to be Michigan State. To look narrowly at the results from the last three seasons (one of which was Ohio State's hell year) would be to lose site of the forest through the trees (Ohio State's historical domination against Sparty). To say that Sparty should be favored to win the Big Ten this year based on last year would be like calling for a short summer based on one cold day. When it comes to talent, Ohio State homeostatic state is as good (or better than) Sparty at the peak of its upward cycle, before it inevitably drifts back down the curve toward its historical mean. The only way for Sparty to truly disrupt these up-and-down cycles in a way that could challenge OSU on a permanent basis would be to start contesting it on a top line and depth level in recruiting.
Adam Rittenberg: Chandler, I feel no such obligation to promote parity. When Ohio State has been the overwhelming favorite entering a season, I've acknowledged it repeatedly. I'm also not basing too much on last year, but returning starters/starters lost and who did what in previous seasons always shapes preseason debates. Your type of thinking -- basing so much on long-term history and recruiting rankings -- can be flawed. I agree that some Big Ten teams haven't consistently sustained at elite levels while Ohio State has, but I also think programs can rise in class with the right coaches and infrastructure in place. Michigan State, in my view, is making that rise under Mark Dantonio.
It doesn't mean MSU should be favored this year. I might pick Ohio State (haven't decided yet). But my point is there's no intelligent argument that at this stage a wide gap exists between the teams entering the 2014 season.
Steve from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, hope the summer tan is coming on ... evenly. Anyways, I got to thinking about Big Ten perception, coinciding with the rise of the SEC, etc. Generally, the unfavorable bowl record coupled with the Ohio State losses in the NCGs are highlighted as the primary reasons. Yet you never hear much about the fall of Michigan contributing to the perception. After Lloyd Carr left Michigan in 2007, its football program really fell off the map, sans one Sugar bowl win over an ACC team. I wonder how much of the "fall of the Big Ten" perception is really because Michigan has largely been irrelevant since 2007. If Michigan were to rise and be on the MSU-OSU level of talent/competitiveness consistently, would the Big Ten perception repair its reputation/dramatically improve?
Adam Rittenberg: My farmer's tan is in top form, thanks for asking, Steve. Although I disagree that you never hear about Michigan's struggles hurting Big Ten perception and performance, I agree that Michigan's irrelevance from the national main stage plays a big role in the Big Ten's backslide. In fact, it might play the biggest role. This is a program that has the history, the facilities, the money, the national appeal and all the other resources to compete for championships. Talent doesn't appear to be the problem, but Michigan has had trouble maximizing what it has on a consistent basis.
Michigan's identity changed under Rich Rodriguez, and Brady Hoke has yet to translate his vision to the field. Perhaps it happens this season. The Big Ten's national perception doesn't rest solely on Michigan, but the league would be helped by another program -- whether it's Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, etc. -- competing at the highest levels.
@ESPN_BigTen What part of Indiana's defense is the weakest, relative to the rest of the big ten?
— Luke Kleppe (@LukeKleppe) July 11, 2014
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Luke. It's easy to pick on the secondary because those players are often most exposed on big plays. But if you can't match up along the line of scrimmage in the Big Ten, you're going to pay dearly. Indiana has had some decent defensive linemen in recent years but not enough depth to consistently stop its opponents. The Hoosiers have finished 115th, 116th and 118th in rush defense during Kevin Wilson's first three seasons. That falls on the defensive line.