Big Ten Friday mailbag

January, 30, 2009
1/30/09
2:18
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I'm looking at Penn State's schedule for the fall, and then Iowa's. Do you think Iowa has a chance to knock off the Lions at home due to being tested prior to the game? Like you said, Penn State doesn't play anyone in the nonconference, and this game will be the conference opener for both teams. Iowa has two tough games at Iowa State and home versus Arizona leading up to the showdown at Beaver Stadium. What are your thoughts? Is the winner of this game the favorite to win the conference?

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa certainly will be better prepared for the game, but Penn State is extremely tough at home and remains mostly a veteran team in 2009, led by quarterback Daryll Clark, linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee, and others. Despite the rivalry factor, I wouldn't call Iowa State a tough game next year. Arizona, on the other hand, should provide a really nice test for Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa really didn't have a signature road victory last year, so this game certainly qualifies. Penn State obviously wants revenge after the loss at Kinnick on Nov. 8. Should be a great one. As for the winner being the Big Ten favorite, there still is a team named Ohio State to consider. Last I checked, the Buckeyes know how to win Big Ten road games. Iowa must follow suit in State College.


Todd from Wilmington, Ohio, writes: Adam, first I just want to thank you for your blog, you give me my daily Big Ten news fix. I just had a few comments regarding your article about Penn State's schedule for next year and the Big Ten's 2009 schedule in general. You mentioned that several Big Ten teams have solid non-conference schedules next season, but you didn't list Ohio State among them. They play USC and Navy, as well as a neutral site game against Toledo, an in state FBS opponent who historically contends for the MAC title on a regular basis. New Mexico seems to be the lone bomb on the schedule. Any insight into why you don't count the Buckeyes schedule among the strong?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Todd. I certainly wouldn't put Ohio State at the bottom of the Big Ten in nonconference schedule strength, but I have mixed feelings on the Buckeyes' scheduling philosophy. Though I love the one marquee game every year -- Texas in 2005 and 2006, USC in 2008 and 2009, Miami in 2010 and 2011 -- the other three games are usually unexciting. Navy is sort of an exception next year, but you can't really sell me on the Toledo argument. Sure, they beat Michigan last year and had some excellent teams in the early part of the decade, but Toledo is in rebuilding mode and Ohio State will stomp them in Cleveland. Sometimes I wonder if Ohio State would be better off scheduling two decent, above-average BCS teams instead of the one top-tier team. It could create some problems with having enough home games, but what if Ohio State played, say, Kansas and Arizona State every year. Or North Carolina and Rutgers. The Buckeyes would almost always be favored in those games, and having two solid BCS opponents might change the perception held by some that their nonconference slate isn't tough enough.


Zeus from Mt. Olympus writes: If you got a chance to do it all over again, which Big Ten campus would you spend your four (five?) years?

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Zeus. Love it. Hmmmm ... sadly, I wouldn't go back to Northwestern for four more years. I'd have to say Wisconsin. Madison is an awesome city and reminds me a bit of where I grew up (Berkeley, Calif.). Sports are certainly big enough at Wisconsin with football, basketball and hockey, and there's a lot going on in town. After Wisconsin, I'd put Michigan (fun town, big-time sports) and Indiana (great campus). I haven't spent much time at Penn State yet, and my list might change after a few more trips to State College.

Tim from Columbus, Ohio, writes: This is just out of frustration of falling in maybe the past four big games, but since it is assumed that the Ohio State coaching staff will remain intact, what will it take for new assistants and/or ideas to be introduced to the program? Something is wrong.

Adam Rittenberg: It will take administrators or high-level boosters to force Jim Tressel to make changes. Or it will take assistants leaving for head-coaching jobs. Tressel is extremely loyal to his assistants, and Ohio State has created some good continuity in recruiting, so I don't see him making many changes any time soon. There has been a lot of vitriol directed toward offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman. If the play-calling is the problem, though, the blame really rests with Tressel himself. If the offensive line play has declined, which you could argue it did this past season, Bollman is at fault. It's an interesting situation because Ohio State has won so much and done so well in the Big Ten. A change or two might be in the program's best interest, but I don't see it happening.


Derek from Glen Gardner, N.J., writes: I know I send you my 2-cents more often than you care for. But. In your recent mailbag you mentioned Zug and Brackett and 'somebody with speed to replace DWill' (to paraphrase.) You forgot Chaz Powell, who will probably be their #1 receiver next year (maybe not statistically, but he will be their 'DWill' for their offense next year).

Adam Rittenberg: Keep 'em coming, Derek. I appreciate your interest. Powell could play a bigger role next year as Penn State looks for a speed receiver. But he only had two receptions for 37 yards this season. That doesn't scream No. 1 receiver to me, but the competition at that position certainly will be wide open come spring ball. Powell will have a chance to step up, as will Graham Zug, Brett Brackett and some of the incoming freshmen.


Jeremy from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hey Adam. I assume you have seen the argument about Big East vs. Mountain West. No offense to Brian Bennett, but he's the blogger for the Big East. So, I want to ask your opinion on the situation, sans bias. Do you think the Mountain West is a better candidate for as a BCS conference then the Big East? And can we take in officiating crews into consideration? The Big East officiating crew should be reffing junior high ball.

Adam Rittenberg: First off, Brian does a great job with the Big East blog and provides a sound opinion on this subject. The Big East's relatively strong performance in BCS bowls legitimizes the league as a worthy BCS member. On the other hand, the Mountain West has progressively become stronger over the years, with programs like Utah, TCU and BYU regularly in the Top 25 and top-15. I'm still not sold on the bottom of the Mountain West, however, and while several Big East teams have been down (Syracuse, Louisville), there's still more solid programs top to bottom in that league. If I had my way, both leagues would be part of the BCS in some way. Unfortunately, a lot of this comes down to money and market size, and the Big East, much like the Big Ten, still occupies a stronger market than the Mountain West. What could change all of this is if Boise State joins the Mountain West, which has come up before. With Boise State, Utah, BYU and TCU in the same conference, the argument for BCS inclusion would be even stronger.

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