Big Ten mailbag: Bowl leftovers

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I should have time to put together a Friday mailbag from Arizona, so send in your questions and comments before and after the New Year's Day bowls.

Dan from Sidney, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam, Wanted to get your thoughts on USC and the Big Ten/Pac Ten setup for this game. As you can see, I am from Big Ten Country with a daughter attending OSU and another heading there next year (So this may come off biased but trying to look at objectively; and I'm a Notre Dame fan). USC has a great program (no question), they played in 4 of the last 5 Rose Bowls (winning 3). But with this setup they are really playing a home game in L.A. Is this a topic of conversation amongst writers/analysts? I don't hear Mark May bring this up when he is grinding on the Big Ten and Penn State being competitive in this game(I'm not pretending the conference is not weak now, but the setup of this Great Game is not neutral for the Big Ten representative); thoughts? If Penn State was to play across town @ State College, I know this would be a point advantage for the Lions. Last years OSU-LSU game at the Sugar Bowl (80 miles away from Baton Rouge) a 14 pt game in the end. I'm not suggesting to change the bowl setup but location whether heading west or as we've seen recently in the NFL heading east is a disadvantage for those on the road. Thanks Dan

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, while I understand the frustration of Big Ten fans about the bowl locations, it's not going to change. Big Ten teams simply have to start performing better in these "road" games. The topic bothers fans more than writers/analysts because the system is what it is and Big Ten teams have won these games before. Until the Motor City Bowl or the International Bowl starts selling out every year, I don't see many more northern cities getting involved in the bowl mix. Penn State could quiet a lot of this talk by knocking off USC, and the Nittany Lions are certainly capable of doing so.

Jeff from Raleigh, N.C., writes: How far has the Big Ten fallen? Already into this bowl season and the Big Ten is off to an 0-2 start. The only BCS conference to not have a win. For the Big Ten to get back on the national stage, they will need wins by Ohio St, Penn St, Michigan St, and Iowa. Personally I can't see that taking place. Iowa will beat South Carolina. Minnesota, Michigan St, Penn St, and Ohio St will all lose. This will put another black eye on the Big Ten going 1 and 6 in bowls games this year. Big Ten needs to stop waiting around for Notre Dame and get another team into the league. Get a team such as Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Cincinnati, or even Syracuse to join. I'm sure the Big Ten Network would love to be in the NY region. I would actually like to see the Big Ten make it the Big 14. Add Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that this could be an especially rough bowl season for the Big Ten, but everything rides on the BCS games. Should Penn State and Ohio State pull off upsets, nothing else should matter, just like the Big Ten's wins in non-BCS bowls last year didn't matter as the league still got ripped nationally. Should Penn State and/or Ohio State prevail, the Big Ten won't take quite a beating. Though the 0-2 start isn't good, Northwestern performed well against Missouri, and it would help if either Minnesota or Michigan State stepped up in their bowls. I'm not sure that a 12th team would greatly enhance the Big Ten's reputation. And 14 teams would be a logistical nightmare.

Brad from Washington D.C., writes: Adam- I have enjoyed reading your coverage of the Big Ten all season and look forward to many more in the seasons ahead. I just finished reading your article about Maybin, you comment on how he's projected to be top 10 pick possibly. Has Aaron Maybin filed paperwork to see where he would be drafted and what do you think the likelyhood of him jumping to the pros would be? I haven't seen any articles where Maybin, himself, comments on it... just plenty of speculation. happy new year adam, great work!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Brad. Both Maybin and fellow defensive lineman Jared Odrick have filed paperwork with the NFL draft advisory committee. If the committee likes Maybin as much as ESPN's Todd McShay and others, he might make the jump this season. Maybin, like most of the players in his position, isn't talking much about the NFL and remains focused on his upcoming bowl game (which he should). Though Maybin was the Big Ten's top defender in my opinion, he could use another season to add some size, unless he's projected to play linebacker in the NFL. He's a bit too undersized to play defensive end at the next level, so another year and 15-20 extra pounds could serve him well.

Thomas from Chicago writes: How many times did Fitz and company just run out the clock to end halves this year, even in scoring territory. Out of character and it cost them the game, enough of my negative thoughts, great season and sign Fitz to a long term deal right now.

Adam Rittenberg: Pat Fitzgerald takes a more conservative approach than his predecessor, Randy Walker, and for the most part it has served him well. Northwestern is establishing an identity based around defense and ball-control offense, which will benefit the program in the long run. But Northwestern did go too conservative at the end of the first half and particularly at the end of regulation when it got the ball back with 2:49 left. In past seasons, the Wildcats would have been bolder and possibly mounted a game-winning drive. Agree completely on locking up Fitzgerald to a long-term deal.

Andrew from Geneva writes: I was wondering if Purdue's quarterback Curtis Painter has any chance at being drafted or for that matter, getting into the NFL at all. It's obvious that he has the ability to be a standout quarterback as seen in his passing records, but the problem as I see it is that he has a problem with big pressure situations which could easily lead make teams avoid him when it comes time for the draft.

Adam Rittenberg: Painter didn't help his draft stock this season, but he still has some opportunities before the draft. He's got an excellent arm and can make most of the throws necessary to compete at the next level. You bring up a good point about the pressure situations, though, and if I were an NFL general manager I'd be leery of his struggles against the Big Ten's best teams. Painter's lack of mobility is also a concern, but he could flourish in a pass-first offense.

Matt from Galesville, Wis., writes: hey adam, just wondering if brett bielema is the right coach for wisconsin, he had pretty good teams in the years but it just seemed like they didnt perform just right in the bowls or the season. how do we get back to the glory days with barry alvarez?

Adam Rittenberg: Things have definitely gone south quickly for Bielema after an amazing start, though a drop-off seemed inevitable. Coaches just don't keep winning 11 games. Wisconsin was one of the nation's bigger disappointments this season, and though injuries played a role, so did coaching. Not only did the Badgers' fundamentals suffer, but they seemed to fold the tent pretty quickly in games. That's a sign of shaky leadership. Bielema is a confident guy who has brought in some decent recruits and certainly could turn things around in 2009. But Wisconsin will never be talented enough to overcome fundamental errors, mistakes from the quarterback position and a lack of poise when things go bad. All three of those problems surfaced this fa

Karl from Pflugerville, Texas, writes: Come on already = PSU is chained to the Big Ten??? Really-? They asked to join. They wanted to be a part of it. yet you always want to blame OSU for all the Big Ten troubles - look how bad PSU was for some of the last few seasons - that also had an impact on the quality of the big ten. Quit trying to make PSU this poor sucker that is being brought down, they are just as much to blame. On top of it, what do you have against OSU. Lets be clear the FLA loss was bad, but prior to that - OSU did win in 02. Now if you look at last year. Where was OSU ranked the day they played MICHIGAN? How many teams had to lose for OSU to even get into the BCS. Who did they play - LSU -the #1 team pre-season and most of the season - where was OSU pre-season,- they never belonged in that game in the first place. Then because the Rose wanted the Pac 10 - Big 10 connection they choose Illinois who was not nearly ready for that Big of a Game or Team with USC. So quit your damm gushing over PSU, every team and conference has its cycle - no one likes it or wants it - buts its the fact.

Adam Rittenberg: Karl, let me start out by saying Ohio State receives too much of the blame for the Big Ten's struggles and doesn't deserve all of it. But we live in a sports climate where recent results mean everything, and Ohio State hasn't performed well in "national" games since the Texas contest in 2006. The Buckeyes' success before that time shouldn't be discounted, but they need a win to reestablish themselves as a national power. Michigan's historically poor season is arguably a bigger reason for the Big Ten's poor perception. A conference needs its signature programs to always be strong, and when one falls off as far as Michigan did this season, there is some damage done. Penn State hasn't been nearly as competitive in the Big Ten as many envisioned when the Nittany Lions joined in 1993, but Joe Paterno's squad continues to win bowl games, which means something. I will agree that both Ohio State and Illinois found themselves overmatched in last year's BCS matchups. The same could be said for Ohio State this season, but at some point, the Big Ten's top teams have to win these big games.