Big Ten mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A day late, but better than not at all ...

Krag from Phoenix writes: I was at the Fiesta Bowl, so I saw this live and was wondering if you could clear something up for me. On Texas' final drive, on the first-down immediately before the touchdown throw, the clock didn't stop. Why? I thought the clock stopped after EVERY first down. At first, I thought it was going to be bad for Texas (not having enough time to score) and then it hurt the Buckeyes since there was :16 seconds left, rather than the :20-:25 there might have been had it stopped. Any explanation would be helpful. Maybe I'm missing something here.

Adam Rittenberg: The clock stops so the officials can reset the chains, but then it winds again. Ohio State took a timeout with 38 seconds left. Texas then completed a 14-yard pass to the Buckeyes' 26, setting up the final play. Though the clock stopped around 25-27 seconds, it moved after the chains were reset. I was a little surprised Texas didn't take a timeout, but the Longhorns ended up managing the clock perfectly.

Ryan from Waukee, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam! Enjoyed reading the blogs all season long and looking forward to next season. As the season is now ever so close to wrapping up, I am looking forward to the 2009 season. I think the Big Ten has a lot to prove next season (where have I heard that before?) and think it could be strong even with some of the big names leaving. Clearly, OSU will be favorite but who could contend with them next season? I don't want to sound biased but Iowa should be a team to look out for. I know Greene, Olsen, Kroul, King and Fletcher leave but we have a lot of young talent with quality PT and a decent group of recruits that will fill in nicely. What do you think about Iowa next season? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State could enter 2009 ranked higher than Ohio State and likely will be tabbed the Big Ten preseason favorite. Your Hawkeyes will be right there as well. Shonn Greene is a big loss, but I really liked what I saw from Jewel Hampton. The bigger losses, honestly, are Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa usually has good defensive linemen, but it will be impossible to replace what King and Kroul brought to the table. I project Iowa at 8-10 wins in 2009. If the road schedule wasn't so difficult, I'd put the Hawkeyes in the league title mix, though they could get there with a few breaks.

Christine from Los Angeles writes: Hi Adam- Just some thoughts after watching the Fiesta Bowl last night. I don't think the Rose Bowl was a fair measuring stick of how the Big 10 matches up against other conferences. As much as I hate to admit it, it seems that USC (esp with their offensive performance at the Rose Bowl) is in a league of their own; and given the opportunity USC would demolish Ohio State, Texas or Oklahoma. I think Penn State could've beaten Texas as well. While the Lions were no match for USC I believe USC has the edge on talent and coaching over most teams this season. I'll wait until after the Nat. Champ. to make any evaluation on Florida and the SEC. Blog has been great all season! Christine PS: The bf and I made it through the Rose Bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Glad to hear it, Christine! Facing USC in Pasadena is never easy, and as my colleague Ted Miller pointed out in his Tuesday mailbag, Texas likely would be crushed by the Trojans as well. Still, Penn State had its chances after answering Penn State's first punch with a nice touchdown drive. I was very impressed with the way Daryll Clark carried himself during a very difficult game. If the Penn State defense had given him a chance, he would have made it a nail-biter. Ohio State was in position to beat Texas, but the Buckeyes have a better secondary than the Lions (as we all saw) and Colt McCoy could have had more success against Penn State. We'll never know, though.

Ron from Belleville, Ill., writes: I'm tired of hearing about OSU tough non-conference schedule--they schedule one top-5 opponent and three cupcakes. If they are lucky enough to win the one tough game, they get so much credit that everyone overlooks Youngstown State, Akron, etc. Look at USC non-conference schedule--UVA, OSU, ND. And USC does this every year. I think that they have NEVER played a I-AA team.

Adam Rittenberg: I love USC's approach to scheduling, and I wish more Big Ten teams would follow the Pac-10's lead in taking chances in nonconference play. One thing to point out is the non-BCS conferences in the Pac-10 region (Mountain West, WAC) are stronger than the one in the Big Ten region (MAC). I have mixed feelings on Ohio State's strategy. On the one hand, the Buckeyes take a big chance every year by playing a marquee team like USC, Texas, Miami (future) or Cal (future). Having one showcase game often puts Ohio State ahead of other Big Ten schedules. Look at Penn State's nonleague slate in 2009. Sure, it gets better with Alabama in 2010, but next year's schedule is a joke (Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois). The Big Ten really needs some exciting nonconference games to distinguish itself, but it's not going to happen right away. Obviously, it would help if Notre Dame raised its profile since three Big Ten teams (Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue) always play the Irish.

Ryan from South Bend, Ind., writes: Hey Adam, how would you grade the OSU coaching staff in the Fiesta Bowl? You don't play your DB's 10-12 yards off when their offense just throws screens and slants all game. Also you don't all out blitz McCoy with 16 seconds left!

Adam Rittenberg: For the most part, the defensive game plan worked. Sure, McCoy put up yards, but Texas didn't score a first-half touchdown and had to work for every score. In some ways, it was too bad the game came down to a missed tackle because Ohio State tackled extremely well for most of the night. After watching the way both Ohio State and Northwestern tackled against Big 12 opponents, I think poor tackling in the Big 12 contributed greatly to all the video-game scores this season. Those offenses really don't attack down the field very much. As for the final drive, we always complain about the prevent defense, but with so little time left, I was surprised defensive coordinator Jim Heacock called a blitz on Colt McCoy. Texas only had three or four plays to reach the end zone from the 26-yard line. A zone coverage might have served the Buckeyes well.

Dan from Jersey writes: Hey Adam, great blog. I've been reading it all year. After watching OSU lose last night, the Big10 this year went 1-6 in bowl games with both OSU and my Penn State team going 0-2 in BCS games. Can you think of some explanation as to why the Big 10 has done pretty awful in recent bowl game memories? Our reputation has been getting killed lately and this certainly adds a couple of more feet in the grave we're digging for ourselves. I think the so-called "southern speed" is an absolute myth. Players are fast and talented no matter where they're from. Could it be coaching? It seems like the other conferences are just flat-out better coaches than some of the Big10 coaches. Paterno and Tressel are fantastic coaches so this is why I'm not sure if this is the reason to the Big10s poor showing. Sure NW and OSU made the games closer than people thought they were going to be but in the end, they lost and the Big10 went 1-6. Are we setting ourselves up by matching up ag
ainst the better teams from the better conferences? What?s the deal? It kills me and I'm sure a lot of other people in the Big10 nation to watch our conference do so poorly.

Adam Rittenberg: There are several reasons, Dan, but I really think a lot of it comes down to quarterback play. The Big Ten really struggled at the quarterback position this fall, and defenses weren't conditioned to facing the caliber of quarterbacks they saw in bowl games. Look at the quarterbacks Big Ten teams faced in bowls: Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel and Todd Reesing. Florida State's Christian Ponder isn't bad, either. Penn State's secondary was a problem all season, but it took USC's Sanchez to fully expose it. Speed has something to do with it, but the Big Ten must upgrade its quarterback play in 2009, and I think it will.

Andy from Greensboro, N.C., writes: After last nights BCS game for OSU (what a great one at that), how does OSU look perception wise ending the year? Do you think it helped improve an image that has been tarnished, or will the media still see an "L" in the box score and think OSU cant win a big game? Also, aren't you glad Boise State did not go in place of Ohio State, with the game the way it played out?

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State certainly improved its image, though as the players said afterward, the final result is all that matters. A win against a heavily favored Texas team would have been huge for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten, and Ohio State was a play or two away. Next year's game against USC is huge. Though the Trojans are always good, the game is in Columbus and USC will lose almost all of its defense plus two coordinators. If Ohio State wins that one, its reputation will be repaired. As for Boise State, the Broncos could have made thing interesting with their offense, but I agree that Ohio State was the better bowl opponent for Texas.

Greg from Glendora, Calif., writes: Adam- The door is closing on your conference, man. Don't be too arrogant to believe it. How many more free passes does the Big 10 get to send a relatively leadfooted, lumberjack team to a big stage? You know, it doesn't matter how big you are and how hard you hit if you can't catch anyone. Recruit some athletes, please! I'm tired of seeing the Big 10 unjustly get two -yes TWO!- teams in the BCS every year.

Adam Rittenberg: I think you'll get your wish in 2009, Greg, though the power of large fan bases with money to spend will be hard for the BCS bowls to turn down. As far as the lead-footed, lumberjack comment, you're right to a certain extent, but the label doesn't apply to all Big Ten teams. Ohio State showed it could run with Texas, who really couldn't catch Terrelle Pryor all night, especially around the edges. The Big Ten needs some more speed on the defensive line, but the skill positions look sufficient to me.