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Big Ten mailbag

1/27/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Adel from Iowa writes: I enjoy your unbiased opinions in all of your blogs. 1 question. Does Iowa have a chance to win the big ten and return to the glory years(02-04) which all of us fans who bleed black and gold are hoping for?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Adel. Iowa certainly will be in the mix for the league title this fall, but the road schedule isn't easy with trips to Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. Shonn Greene obviously is a big loss at running back, but I like Jewel Hampton and love what the Hawkeyes bring back on defense. This should be Kirk Ferentz's deepest team since the 2004 squad, and if quarterback Ricky Stanzi continues to develop, the Hawks will win a lot of games.


Erik from Pasadena, Calif., writes: With Greg Robinson the new Defensive Coordinator at Michigan, how will this effect recruiting? Will the new coach attract some top tier defensive talent to Ann Arbor?

Adam Rittenberg: He won't have much of an effect on the 2009 class, which is practically finished, but Robinson already has started recruiting for the Wolverines and should have an impact on future classes. His poor recruiting at Syracuse certainly is a concern, but there are enough solid recruiters on Rich Rodriguez's staff. Robinson's system and success this coming fall ultimately will have the biggest impact on how he fares on the recruiting trail.


Shawn G. from Parts Unknown writes: Adam, now that Penn State has lost its top 3 receivers, who do you think will start for Penn State in that position? They have a multitude of receivers who are there already and some good recruits coming in. Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: I'd expect both Brett Brackett and Graham Zug to challenge for starting spots in 2009, but both seem like possession-type receivers. Penn State needs to identify a speedy receiver or two who can stretch the field like Deon Butler and Derrick Williams. The recent addition of former Rutgers commit Shawney Kersey could boost the Lions' receiving corps, but wideout certainly will be a question mark heading into spring ball. I also would like to see Penn State use Stephfon Green more out of the backfield. Green averaged 17.9 yards on 15 receptions in 2008 and could take on a greater pass-catching role this fall.


Scott from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, I was just wondering your opinion on the MSU QB position. Cousins has played very well when called upon aqnd seems very comfortable in the pocket. From what I have heard not many are giving him much of a chance going up against Nichols. And what do you think of Adrew Maxwell? From what I've seen on video this kid is mobile and has a very precise throw and a rocket of an arm. If he were already familiar with Dantonio's system I would give him a chance at the starting spot as well. So what are your thoughts regarding these 3 and who will come out on top. Also with the veteran receiving core that MSU I can see their passing game excel to new heights next season. What do you think? One last question: Who do you think will take over the running back position? Do you think one or both of those Freshmen will make an immediate impact?

Adam Rittenberg: It's surprising that you've heard Cousins doesn't have a chance against Keith Nichol. Cousins performed very well last year as Brian Hoyer's backup while Nichol had to sit out as a transfer. Nichol certainly could close the gap in spring practice, but Cousins has to be the frontrunner right now. He completed 74.4 percent of his passes in limited work last year and seems to have the right demeanor to be a solid leader. Andrew Maxwell had a good senior season and could be in the mix early on, but if Nichol pans out as expected, I would imagine Maxwell will redshirt this fall. Though I'm not completely sold on Michigan State's receivers, I like Mark Dell and Blair White. As for the running backs, Andre Anderson seems like a solid player, but the two incoming freshmen (Edwin Baker and Larry Caper) certainly will get a chance. If there was one mistake Michigan State made last year, it was not developing a solid back behind Javon Ringer.


Addison from Fort Myers, Fla., writes: Whats the talk surrounding Michigan's final game? Whats the chances of, Rich Rod scheduling a Florida Atlantic. A smaller program that has had success, and with a renowned coach in Howard S. it would be a good measuring stick for The U of M.

Adam Rittenberg: I could see Michigan going with a team like FAU for its 12th game on Oct. 17. After a 3-9 season, the Wolverines would be well served with a softer nonconference slate to regain some confidence. An improved Notre Dame team should provide a good test for Michigan on Sept. 12 at the Big House. Florida Atlantic already has nonconference games scheduled against Nebraska (Sept. 5), South Carolina (Sept. 19) and UAB (TBD). The Owls, who visited Michigan State and Minnesota, still need one non-league game for next fall.


Joe from Parts Unknown writes: Adam, My colleague and I have been engaged in a heated debate since word broke of the ensuing USC-Minnesota showdowns, and I'm hoping you might settle the score for us. My buddy Marc, an avid Gophers fan, believes the publicity is a can't-miss boost to Minnesota, even if it means his team is dismantled, pummeled, and embarrassed worse than if they had lost to a D-III school. The exposure justifies the pain in his opinion. My contention is that Minnesota is freely sowing its own demise, and the team would be much better off beating up on a lackluster Washington State team. Minnesota might have the same team colors as USC, but they definitely don't have comparable talent. You thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: I certainly understand your concern about a Gophers beatdown, especially given what USC has done to Big Ten teams in recent years. But for Minnesota to start getting the respect it lacked for most of the Glen Mason era, the schedule had to be upgraded. Too many teams are afraid of scheduling teams like USC, for fear it will keep them out of a minor bowl game. It leads to a largely bland nonconference season for fans to watch and reporters to cover. I understand the need for programs without a long history of bowls to reach the postseason, but we're talking about one or maybe two tough non-league games.

The way I look at it, the Big Ten always has two chances to regain national respect -- September and the bowl season. Conference play simply doesn't matter to people who regard the Big Ten as a down league. So if Minnesota can hang close with USC or even pull a huge upset, it would be a major boost for the program and the league. I agree that
beating a solid team like Cal on Sept. 19 -- or even Washington State -- seems more realistic for Minnesota, but the approach of scheduling a tough team or two is a good one. I look at a team like Penn State, which didn't get the respect I thought it deserved for much of the 2008 season. With a weak nonconference lineup for 2009, the Lions might not get any national respect until the postseason. I really hope Penn State considers adding another BCS opponent for 2009, possibly an ACC team. There's definitely a benefit not only for the program, but the league.