Big Ten Friday mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Let's see what's on your mind.

Andy from Greensboro writes: In regards to the awards ceremony last night on ESPN, I think the Big 10 got snubbed in the Bednarik. Yes Rey Maualuga missed a couple games this year, but his stats in the games he played were nothing special. He played against weaker teams in the Pac-10 than the Big 10 and I dont think he should have won. James and Aaron had much better stats (not only because they played a full season) against tougher offenses. Glad to see Malcolm win the Thorpe however.

Adam Rittenberg: I would have liked to have seen Aaron Maybin win the Bednarik Award, but Maualuga is a heck of a player who makes that defense go. Laurinaitis might have better numbers, but 75 of his 121 tackles were assists, so the stats a bit inflated. As I wrote earlier, Maybin was probably hurt a bit by only being a sophomore. He'll get his due in the years to come. Malcolm Jenkins is an excellent player and deserving of any national awards he receives, though I thought Eric Berry from Tennessee would win the Thorpe.

Jason from Reading, Va., writes: Adam- I have to take exception with your comment that Fitzgerald and Spurrier are the only active FBS coaches in the CFB Hall of Fame- What about one Joseph Vincent Paterno? ...and although the whole 'active' thing may be debatable here, what about Bobby Bowden?

Adam Rittenberg: Jason, you have to read a little more carefully. I wrote that Pat Fitzgerald and Steve Spurrier are the only active FBS coaches to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as players. Joe Paterno's playing career at Brown didn't him a Hall of Fame nod. Same goes for Bowden at Samford.

Andy from Evanston, Ill., writes: Hey Adam, great job all year. I've really enjoyed reading all your posts! Do you have any preliminary thoughts on the quarterback situation at Northwestern next year with [C.J.] Bacher graduating? Do you think Kafka will get the nod, or will they give it to someone like Evan Watkins to start getting some experience?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike Kafka will go into 2009 as the overwhelming favorite to win the starting job. In some ways, the injuries Northwestern had this year became a blessing in disguise. Kafka's performance at Minnesota helped save a promising season, and he can go into spring ball knowing it's his job to lose. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has always liked Kafka, naming him the opening-day starter back in 2006, and he would have to see something major from Watkins or Dan Persa to change his mind. My sense is Watkins will be the team's quarterback of the future, beginning in 2010.

Brad from Somerset, N.J., writes: Hey Adam, now that Pat Devlin is gone, do you think the Spread HD will continue after Daryll Clark leaves? It looked like it would be back to standard definition, but since the situation has changed what's gonna happen?

Adam Rittenberg: A lot depends on the personnel, but I'd be surprised if Penn State deviates from the current system. Devlin was more of a drop-back passer, but he had decent mobility and could have run a version of the Spread HD. The quarterbacks Penn State likely will pursue for the 2009 class (Kevin Newsome and Tahj Boyd) also have the skills to run the spread effectively. So I think the system is here to stay.

Thom from Lancaster, Pa., writes: Penn State has not settled on an opponent for their opening game for 2009. Is PSU feeling the BSC burn of a weak schedule? Is PSU holding out for a semi-blockbuster for their 1st game? Do we really need to wait until the end of bowl season to get an answer?

Adam Rittenberg: Actually, it looks like Penn State will open the 2009 season against Akron. That gives the Lions a nonconference lineup of Akron, Temple, Syracuse and Eastern Illinois. This could definitely come back to hurt the Lions if the Big Ten doesn't improve its national image. Critics pointed to Penn State's weak nonconference schedule this season while totally overlooking the Oregon State blowout victory. Though Penn State's slate wasn't any worse than those of teams from the SEC or Big 12, the Lions still got ripped for it. Unless the Big Ten as a whole raises its profile, Penn State won't get much credit for breezing through its non-league slate in 2009. Fortunately, Alabama appears on the schedule in 2010.

Larry from Indianapolis writes: Adam, I'm a big Michigan Fan offcourse this year was the worst year I've seen. How long do you think it is going to take RR to get the team back to a BCS game. One more question for you how do you think there record will look like next year. I am saying 6-6 at best. Semper Fi, LEB

Adam Rittenberg: Right now, 2010 looks like the make-or-break year for Rich Rodriguez and Michigan. There still will be some growing pains next fall as Rodriguez likely works in a freshman starting quarterback and some new defensive linemen. I think 5-7 wins is a reasonable expectation for next fall, depending on the schedule. But those expecting a quick turnaround from Michigan probably won't get one. The Wolverines will definitely be better in 2009, but 2010 is when we'll get the real read on the program.

Phil from State College, Pa., writes: When I heard that [Pat] Devlin was transferring, my thoughts immediately turned to the Rose Bowl. What happens if Daryll Clark gets hurt? Paul Cianciolo, as much as I love him for sticking with the program for 5 years and never complaining about playing time, is not going to carry us to a Rose Bowl victory. Do you see D-Will lining up at quarterback? Running the Wildcat all night long? Or do you think the coaching staff would hope for a miracle and just stick with Cianciolo???

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think Penn State would have much choice other than to use Cianciolo, who head coach Joe Paterno has praised on more than one occasion this fall. It's obviously not an ideal situation, but you can't put Derrick Williams at quarterback for more than a handful of plays against USC. The Trojans would blow it up. Williams should certainly be part of the package, but the Wildcat alone won't beat USC. It'll be interesting to see if Penn State reduces the number of quarterback runs to protect Clark.

Jake from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam: Love the blog, but I think you missed on Mark Dantonio as Big 10 COY. Minnesota didn't win a single game in the conference last year, and now they're in a bowl with 7 wins. That turnaround job is incredible for a second-year coach - and I'd guess that no one in the conference has less talent than Minn. [Tim] Brewster deserves it, hands down. Runner up has to go to the other guy you mention, Pat Fitzgerald. Northwestern is one of the most challenging jobs in the conference and Pat has the cats bowl-eligible for the second straight year, improving from 6 to 9 wins in 2008. Fitzgerald and Dantonio posted the same record this year, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks it's easier to get 9 wins at Northwestern.

Adam Ritt
Brewster did a tremendous job this fall, but keep in mind that the changes he made last year contributed in part to the 1-11 season. He got Minnesota out of the hole this year, but he helped dig it last fall. There's definitely an argument for Fitzgerald, and I agree Northwestern is one of the league's more challenging jobs. But Northwestern had a lot of seniors and a pretty favorable schedule, so 7-9 wins was certainly a reasonable expectation. Dantonio beat Fitzgerald in the head-to-head matchup Oct. 11, and he got Michigan State to third place in the league. More talented Spartans teams have fallen flat on their faces, while this one survived some adversity and so-so talent to go 9-3. It's a close call, though.

Sean from Cary, N.C., writes: Adam, bro... come on. You just called the incoming PSU call "mediocre". It's ranked the #16 incoming class thus far on Scout.com, behind only Ohio State and a spot below Michigan. http://pennstate.scout.com/a.z?s=157&p=9&c=14&yr=2009 The Kevin Newsome landing would definitely answer the question as to who will fill the mold post-Clark. My fingers are certainly crossed. Keep up the good fight, man. Love the Blog!

Adam Rittenberg: Perhaps mediocre was the wrong word, but Penn State's class is definitely behind Ohio State and Michigan, and comparable with Michigan State and Illinois. For a national program that just won a league title, it's hard to call this a stellar class -- right now, at least. The addition of Newsome or Boyd would definitely lift Penn State's haul to another level, and answer a major need behind Daryll Clark.