Big Ten mailbag


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The bowl assignments are out, and you have opinions. I hopefully have some answers.

Frank from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Can Iowa Break Into Top 25 before Outback Bowl??

Adam Rittenberg: The next AP Poll won't come out until after the BCS title game, so Iowa won't move up or down in the rankings until after the Outback Bowl. If the Hawkeyes take care of business against South Carolina, they'll definitely be ranked in the final poll.

Matt from Midland, Mich., writes: How could Rich Rodriguez put Northwestern at 16 and Michigan State at 18 if MSU won by 17 at Northwestern, they both lost to Ohio State but Northwestern lost to Indiana who MSU beat, so MSU has a better Big Ten record too?

Adam Rittenberg: It's an interesting placement, to say the least. Michigan State also beat Michigan by more than Northwestern did (14 vs. 7). I know Rodriguez has more of a connection to Northwestern's staff through his offensive system, which Northwestern implemented almost verbatim after former coach Randy Walker and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson visited Rodriguez at Clemson in 2000. But it's hard not to see this as a dig at intrastate rival Michigan State.

Jim from Parts Unknown: Hey Adam, Do you have any insight if Shon Greene will be coming back to Iowa for his senior year? When does his decision need to be made?

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, I'd be surprised if Shonn Greene returns for his senior season. A lot depends on his draft projection, but he looked like an NFL back this season and at 23 years old, he's ready for the next level. He's not the greatest pass-blocker and wasn't used much as a receiver out of the backfield, so there could be teams hesitant to draft him in the first two rounds. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is Jan. 15.

Steve from Chicago writes: Can you rank the Big Ten bowls by the chance each Big Ten team has at winning its game?

Adam Rittenberg: The outlook seems pretty daunting for the Big Ten. Big Ten teams should be underdogs in all but one or two of the bowl games. Iowa has the best chance for a win against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Next would be Wisconsin (Champs Sports), Michigan State (Capital One), Penn State (Rose), Ohio State (Fiesta), Northwestern (Alamo) and Minnesota (Insight). I could see this turning out poorly for the Big Ten, but if Penn State and/or Ohio State breaks through, the league's national reputation will be repaired a bit.

J.Z. from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Adam, Now that we know for better or worse that Bill Lynch is staying at IU, are we IU fans at least going to see some changes on the rest of the coaching staff. No matter what my opinions are of Coach Lynch, I want the football team to succeed. I am shocked that none of the other coaches have been let go. What are your thoughts on shaking the staff up? Will other coaches not want to come to IU because they feel the writing is on the wall. There is no reason to keep the staff intact for recruiting sake as we are already people change to soft verbals and look around left and right. Thanks for the insight as always.

Adam Rittenberg: I'd really be surprised if Lynch doesn't make changes on his staff, particularly on the defensive side. Indiana boasts talent on defense in guys like Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton, Matt Mayberry and Austin Thomas, but the unit really underachieved this fall. It might be time for a new approach there. But coaches often won't make changes until after recruiting concludes in late January/early February. We could see a move or two in the next few weeks, but it might be a while before any changes are made.

Matt from Champaign, Ill., writes: Adam, I'll be honest. I was never the biggest fan of Locksley's play calling. I thought Juice's play sophomore year was a disappoint because Locksley never believed in him enough to let Juice air it out. Especially the Rose Bowl; let's run the option over and over for negative yards. Not to mention the inability to finish drives this year. Yet, I fear the unknown. Who do you expect to be the candidates to takeover for the Illini?

Adam Rittenberg: Illinois was a different team in 2007 and could rely much more on Rashard Mendenhall and the run game. But Juice Williams came into school very raw (by his own admission), and it took time to evolve as a passer. Mike Locksley did a pretty solid job this season as a playcaller, but Illinois slipped into a pattern of big yards, little points. The Illini regularly moved the ball between the 20s but made mistakes in the red zone. Still, he's an excellent offensive mind and an invaluable recruiter.

Jim from Parts Unknown writes: Adam, PSU deserved much more consideration for the title game (and a higher rank). I also believe that everyone's analysis of the Rose Bowl scenario is seriously flawed. Yes, PSU did not really want a rematch against a team they already dominated. But instead, they got a team that WAS dominated by that potential rematch opponent just two weeks after that game. I do not see USC being able to score 10 points against the Lions (just look at some of the numbers they put up against inferior big 12 opponents outside the state of Washington), and if they don't turn the ball over, the Lions will put up at least 20. I see a quick 10 or 14 point lead by PSU holding up into the 4th quarter, where granted a big turnover or penalty could be impactful but barring that, they hold on to win. 21-9 is your final score! Hopefully next year the conference will actually be treated fairly (although I am not holding my breath).

Adam Rittenberg: I like the confidence, Jim. USC's offense is no great shakes, and if Penn State bottles up the run game and forces Mark Sanchez to beat them down the field, the Trojans could struggle to score. I'd be surprised if Penn State holds USC under 20 points, but you never know. The key will be Penn State's offense against USC's hyped defense. Penn State has to be aggressive and attack the Trojans down the field. Limiting turnovers is critical, but Penn State won't score if it comes out passive.

Tim from Evanston, Ill., writes: Dear Adam, As a Northwestern fan I am extremely dissapointed that although the team earned the right to play in a New Year's Day bowl game on the field, they were not selected because of their "smaller fan base." Since NU has by far the smallest enrollment of any Big Ten school we naturally have a smaller fan base. This is not the football team's fault, nor is it the first time they have been penalized because of it (see 2000 for an example). My question is this: what does NU have to do to earn its rightful spot in the bowl pecking order? We beat Iowa at Iowa, had a better record, and are ranked higher than them. Does this mean we need to be at least two games better than anyone else to get selected ahead of them? I know that bowl games are a business, but I don't think that that means they should be able to completely ignore on-the-field results. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a tough situation for Northwestern, and I can't imagine Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is too pleased that the Outback Bowl passed over the Wildcats again. Northwestern simply has to find a way to better connect with the Chicago sports market and fill seats for its home games. It shouldn't take a Rose Bowl appearance for Chicago fans to start getting behind this tea
m, which has been pretty decent since 1995. Most bowl games could care less about head-to-head, records and rankings. Northwestern tried to sell its national fan base to the bowls, but when bowl reps see tons of empty seats at Ryan Field it's a tough argument to make.