Big Ten Friday mailbag: Roses have thorns

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
6:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Your questions, my answers ...

Brad from Chicago writes: Great job on the blog this year. I think I have read it 2 to 3 times a day since you started it. My big gripe today is all this talk about how The Big Ten is not relevant in the Rose Bowl anymore. Since 1993 there has been one loss by a Big Ten team to a PAC 10 team not named Southern Cal, that loss being Washington over Purdue in 01. I am just fed up with the talk about how the Big Ten no longer can play with the elite from other conferences. The truth is USC can beat anybody, it is just every year they lose focus, get beat and then clean the clock of some Big Ten school, most recently my beloved Nittany Lions. The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000, but only one other PAC 10 school besides Southern Cal has won it since then and 3 years in there, there was no Big ten team in the game. I guess I am just a frustrated fan who can't figure out why most people in the media can't comprehend that sports are cyclical, they always have been. Eventually USC will stumble, they will go on a downward slide and the Big Ten will go on a streak of winning quite a few again and all this talk of revamping the Rose Bowl will be rendered pointless. Thanks again for a fantastic job this year.

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point about USC, and my advice for every Big Ten team is root like heck for the Trojans to reach the national championship in 2009. It might sound defeatist to some, but the Big Ten needs a manageable bowl lineup next year. The league would have gotten one this year if Oregon State had beaten Oregon on Nov. 29, but it didn't happen and Penn State was stuck with USC. The Big Ten can't compete with USC, but as you point one, no one really can right now. But the Big Ten's problem goes beyond the Rose Bowl. The league simply has to find better players. Though I agree things are cyclical and the Big Ten will eventually rebound, things look very bleak right now.


Kenny from Columbia writes: Adam, regardless of bowl records. I still believe the big 10 is far better than the ACC or Big East. If the ACC or Big East sent there conference champ out to Pasadena every year they would be destroyed too. Cincinnati lost by 26 to Oklahoma. Virginia Tech lost to east carolina. So it's kind of unfair that the big 10 is looked at as the worst BCS conference. All the big 10 needs is an OSU win over Texas, or a win over USC when they visit the Shoe next season to get total respect back. Also, one thing no one is talking about is the fact that PSU had over 400 yards of offense against "the greatest defense ever" so they say.

Adam Rittenberg: Despite the recent downturn, the Big Ten is not the worst BCS conference. I can write that with a fair degree of certainty. But the Big Ten has definitely fallen to fourth, at best, behind the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10. Some would argue the Mountain West is also better. The Big Ten wouldn't go 1-5 with the ACC's or the Big East's bowl lineup, and both of those leagues would struggle in the Rose Bowl, especially against USC. It'll take more than a Fiesta Bowl win or Ohio State beating USC next fall for the Big Ten to regain national respect, though those things would be nice for the league. The Big Ten needs to start winning Rose Bowls again, plain and simple.


Chris from Spartanburg, S.C., writes: Adam, As a die hard PSU fan, I am devastated over the loss. It seems to me that Tom Bradley and PSU can never leave a zone defense! What gives? USC exposed our awful secondary. Is it a matter of talent or coaching?

Adam Rittenberg: Bradley recognized the speed issues Penn State had in the backhalf and stuck with the zone, but he did so for way too long. USC is USC because it makes in-game adjustments, and I couldn't understand why Bradley didn't get away from the three-deep zone when Mark Sanchez and his receivers continued to connect for big plays. Obviously, the defense requires a quarterback to make great throws, but when Sanchez kept doing so, Penn State should have tried something different. I guess my answer to your question is both talent and coaching.


Michael from St. Louis writes: Thanks for the great blog. Funny you posted the BuckeyeXtra story about 2nd quarter collapses before the Rose Bowl. Watching Penn State fall apart reminded me of the Buckeyes' second quarter woes. Over the last 3 years, the Big Ten Champ has outscored their bowl opponent 55-52 in quarters 1,3, and 4. The lopsided 7-62 second quarter scores explain the national embarrassments. Perhaps the Big Ten "speed" disadvantage is in adjustments?

Adam Rittenberg: That's an excellent point, Michael, and something I was also thinking about during the Rose Bowl. It seems like Big Ten teams can't take that second punch, or like you mention, they aren't adjusting well enough. Ohio State players this week talked about how one or two things would go against them in big games and they'd have a mental letdown. Penn State had a complete mental meltdown in the second quarter Thursday. It will be an interesting storyline going forward, as the Big Ten tries to end the trend.


Eric from Honolulu writes: I'm not making "excuses" or anything, but is it just me or is there a continuing trend with all of this?: Florida St. 42 Wisconsin 13 (Orlando) Cal 24 Miami 17 (San Francisco) Mizzou 30 North Western 23 (San Antonio) Oregon 42 Oklahoma St 31 (San Deigo) Georgia 24 Michigan St 12 (Orlando) USC 38 Penn St 24 (Los Angeles) I think that to sit there and say that having a virtual home field or even regional advantage, along with jet lag and various other problems associated with long distance travel isn't an issue is ridiculous. If the NCAA is all about fairness in the league, why do all of these bowl games end up being played in places where certain teams end up with home field or distance advantages?

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, as a Honolulu resident, I'm sure you appreciate the advantages of certain locations. But I'm getting a bit tired of this argument from Big Ten fans. Bowl games are played in warm-weather cities, period. Sure, Penn State might beat USC in State College, but that's never going to happen, so why bring it up? No one wants to have bowl games in cold weather. Not the players, not the coaches and not the fans. The location will always work against Big Ten teams, but they've found ways to win these games before. Game sit should not be not the overriding factor.


Kirk from Seattle writes: Penn State beats USC and holds them to 14 points? Are you suffering from some kind of head trauma? Every year, I sit down with my friends and we laugh about how the Big-10 makes us look like a sports genius. I am a fairly informed sports fan, but no football guru, and I can usually pick a game like this within seven points of the final score. Then I get to go online and look at the bloggers who cover the Big-10 over the year and laugh when the try to convince all of us that "this time will be different" when the Buckeyes or some other Big-10 team is playing a big OOC game. Just like the USC-OSU matchup earlier this year, someone checks their logic at the door when they make these whacky predictions.

Adam Rittenberg: Head trauma very well could be my problem. My fiancee would certainly agree with you, Kirk. Needless to say I felt like a dope watching the game, having picked Penn State to win 17-14. I wasn't a believer in Mark Sanchez or the USC offense, but I also have seen Penn State's defense play much better than that. Bottom line is I've learned my lesson. I will never, ever pick against USC in a big game, especially a Rose Bowl, until the Trojans lose one. They continue to prove absolutely no evidence to pick a
gainst them when everything is on the line.


Ricky from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Is the Big Ten going to be even worse next year? Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State are all losing a good portion of their best players, and Michigan doesn't look like it will be any better next year. Will Illinois improve enough to be able to legitimately carry the Big Ten flag? Or are we in for another year of embarrassment on the national stage?

Adam Rittenberg: After this bowl season, several Big Ten teams could use a new batch of players. There certainly will be losses, but I see Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa all looking pretty strong for next year. Northwestern returns almost its entire defense, which finished as one of the Big Ten's best, and Michigan State also will be solid on the defensive side of the ball. Quarterback play simply must get better around the league, but I see several solid QBs (Minnesota's Adam Weber, Illinois' Juice Williams) coming back. My sense is there will be more bowl teams in 2009 but not a national title contender. The Big Ten needs a manageable lineup of bowls, and the league might be best served with only one BCS representative.


Rob from Medford, Mass., writes: Hi Adam, I was at the Alamo Bowl. I don't usually dwell on losses, but I have to admit that game made an impression on me. Yes, NU played well. Yes, a missed extra point and botched punt play could have made the difference. But two things bother me most. Has anyone said anything about the offensive line? What happened to it in the 4th quarter and OT? The offense's almost complete failure to move the ball seemed to be the direct result of line penalites, inability to open holes and inability to protect CJ. Did you notice anything with the line late in the game? And, yes, as great a job as Fitzgerald is doing, his conservativism seems to hurt them at times. Case in point, the opportunity they gave away at the end of the first half, when they got the ball with 53 seconds and a fresh set of downs. How much would they have liked to have the opportunity back later? Interested in your thoughts.

Adam Rittenberg: The offensive line really was a weakness all season that Northwestern masked with quick passes. Northwestern's sacks allowed total this fall really was quite deceiving given how rarely C.J. Bacher looked downfield. When the Wildcats were forced to throw late against Missouri, the line let down and Bacher went down. This group will be much improved next fall, helping Northwestern survive the loss of so many skill players. The conservative play-calling definitely is a bit of a concern for Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald, but I think he'll eventually grow out of it. The end of the first half didn't bother me as much as the play-calling near the end of regulation. A hurry-up offense in the final minutes could have disrupted Missouri and allowed Northwestern to close out the game in regulation.

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