Big Ten mailbag
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Good number of questions this week. You are clearly ready for spring ball. And for those Iowa fans wondering when I'm coming out to cover your team, I'll be in Iowa City a week from today.
Greg from Cleveland wites: Hi Adam, Love the blog and love the work you do. Big PSU fan for you and just had an opinion and wanted your take. I know everyone is saying that WR is going to be a major concern because of the 3 seniors leaving, but is that really going to be the case? Other than D Will taking back a few kicks against Illinois, can you name another game that one of those guys came up big in during the past few seasons? They were good receivers, but I believe a lot of their success was due to longevity, not necessarily skill. They were all under-sized and seemed to fade against better teams like OSU & USC. I know the receiving corp is young, but they are tall and athletic and fast. I think they have a chance to be really good.
Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I have a hard time overlooking Deon Butler's steady production the last four years. You don't just replace a guy like him overnight. And while Derrick Williams had an excellent senior season, Butler was the more reliable performer. I agree about the undersized part, but Butler had 97 receiving yards against USC in the Rose Bowl. And I seem to remember all of those guys coming up big against Michigan State, Wisconsin and several other teams last year. Penn State should undoubtedly have some more variety at wide receiver this season, especially with bigger receivers like Brett Brackett (6-foot-6), Derek Moye (6-5) and incoming freshman Justin Brown (6-3). A mixture of wideouts never hurts, and Penn State has talent at that position. Still, the Lions are replacing a ton of production.
Paul from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, interesting bit about OSU's change-up in offenses. No doubt that Pryor is a great athlete and probably one of the fastest QB's I've ever seen, but do you think the offense change will help or hurt OSU in the long run? In my opinion, Pryor needs to really improve his passing skills to help OSU's cause. Well coached defenses, even at the college level, usually trump a QB that can run, but cannot pass. The thing that burned OSU last year was the fact that Pryor simply can't throw...and let's be honest, Pryor's passes last year looked like wounded ducks being heaved to the moon--awful...if he's able to throw at all against a mediocre PSU secondary in Columbus, OSU wins that game. I assume the new offense will allow Pryor to run even more (true?)...do you really think making Pryor even more one-dimensional is beneficial to the Buckeyes?
Adam Rittenberg: I wouldn't expect Ohio State to overload the offense from plays out of the Wildcat formation, and the pistol offense could open up the passing game. Obviously, Terrelle Pryor needs to make strides as a passer, but I'm less concerned about the deep routes. He needs to consistently make short and intermediate throws and give his wide receivers, who could be dynamic this fall, multiple chances to make plays. If Pryor can make throws on the run, defenses won't have much chance to stop him. You bring up a good point about the Penn State game -- Penn State's struggles in the secondary against USC in the Rose Bowl were truly an indictment of the bad Big Ten offenses last fall -- and Pryor didn't have his best outing. But if he can do the little things better this fall, Ohio State should move the ball.
Chris from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, I've noticed that some of the other bloggers have lists of the "Top 30 Players for 2009" running for their respective conferences. Do you plan on doing anything like this?
Adam Rittenberg: I like the idea, Chris, and plan to do something similar after spring ball quiets down. There's plenty to blog about regarding the teams right now, but check back during May or June -- college football's Sahara -- and I'll put together a list.
Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, perhaps you can answer this since you live in Chicago. You say this all the time, and it always confuses me. Why aren't there very many Northwestern alumni in Chicago? This completely baffles me, why people wouldn't stay in Chicago upon graduation. The University of Iowa has a strong contingent from the Chicago area, and many of them return there after graduating. Why isn't it similar for the Wildcats?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Aaron. There are a couple of factors going on here. Northwestern is the only private school in the Big Ten, and has the smallest student body/alumni base. More importantly, Northwestern is a national school more than a regional one, largely because of its academic reputation. While students from the Midwest form the largest percentage of NU's student body, it draws from a national pool, particularly places like Washington D.C., New York/New Jersey and California. Take me, for example. I grew up in northern California but went to Northwestern. My best friends there grew up in Seattle, Oregon, Boston, New Jersey and yes, Evanston. And very few of my college friends stuck around Chicago after graduation. There are many more in New York, L.A. and other cities outside the Midwest.
Northwestern will always face a challenge of filling its stadium because most of its alumni don't live in the Chicago area. Bowl attendance isn't a major hurdle for Northwestern, but attendance at Ryan Field always will be. Penn State is the only Big Ten school with fewer alumni in Chicago than Northwestern.
Dale from Richmond, Texas, writes: What is your opinion on incoming Buckeye Recruit Jaamal Berry? I might be a complete moron but all the film I have seen on all the running backs coming into college, this kid seems to jump out talent wise compared to all the others.
Adam Rittenberg: There's a lot to like with Berry. He's extremely quick and gets into high gear in a hurry, giving him home-run ability every time he touches the ball. He'll definitely need to get bigger to play in the Big Ten, but he doesn't want to add too much weight to sacrifice speed. I also like the way he doesn't mess around when he sees a hole in the defense. No dancing, just boom, hits it and he's off. He might not play right away, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't see the field at some point this fall.