Big Ten mailblog, Part II

Still catching up on the mail. Bear with me.

Jake from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, usually I respect your opinions and agree at least somewhat but your preseason team rankings took me by surprise.... ranking Iowa at 7th? behind Northwestern? Even Penn State? Iowa has a proven backup quarterback with Vandenburg, good o-line, at least decent rb, and a good wr group. The D will start with two fresh safeties but the linebackers cornerbacks and D-line should all be good. Also, dont overlook the schedule... Iowa's is favorable. Hope to see a change in the next standings

Adam Rittenberg: Let's keep some perspective here, Jake. I find it hilarious how riled up many of you get about power rankings posted in mid January. A lot will change from now until September. Also, did you ever consider that Northwestern and Penn State have more coming back than Iowa? Northwestern returns everyone on offense and doesn't suffer many major losses from a subpar senior class. Penn State loses a bit more but brings back most of its key contributors on defense. Iowa, meanwhile, not only loses its starting safeties but three starting defensive linemen and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. That said, Iowa is in the PERFECT position entering the season. The Hawkeyes always are at their best under the radar, and they're a very dangerous team in 2011. I'd think Iowa fans would want the Hawkeyes to remain lower in the power rankings, given recent history.

Mike from New York writes: At the beginning of the season you commented on Tim Brewster's scheduling of top caliber OOC opponents as a great step for getting Minnesota in the spotlight again, but made a point to say in order for it to work, they had to ultimately win games. Could the same thing be said about the Big Ten in bowl season? It can certainly be argued we consistently have the toughest bowl lineup, but the fact of the matter is we put ourselves in that position. My question is, is it better to always play on the big stage and lose more often, or to play on smaller stages and bring a few more Ws into the Big Ten every bowl season? A tough bowl lineup is admirable, but doesn't mean much if you don't win those games.

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Mike. You certainly get rewarded for winning on the big stage, and the Big Ten experienced that after last year's strong bowl showing. But college football also doesn't punish teams and leagues for who they play. It's all about perception, and if the Big Ten went 5-3 against a much softer bowl lineup, many casual observers would label the Big Ten as a very good league. So is it worth it to play such a tough bowl lineup? I would sprinkle in some easier matchups if I were Jim Delany, but he wants to play the best on the biggest stages, which is understandable and, as you say, admirable. But leagues get ZERO credit for losing tough games. It probably would benefit the Big Ten to strike a better balance. The league also might be better prepared for the tough bowl lineup by playing tougher nonconference schedules, which are steadily improving.

Jason from State College, Pa., writes: Northwestern will know if Pat Fitzgerald is a lifer or simply on loan by this time next year. All evidence (hear say) indicated that Fitzgerald will leave for State College if asked. I firmly believe that this will be Joe's last season so that loyalty will be put to a test in the near future and I would be shocked if he didn't succeed Joe.

Adam Rittenberg: Prepare to be shocked, Jason. Even you admit it's hearsay regarding Fitzgerald and Penn State. While I firmly believe Penn State will pursue Fitz, people need to start shifting their thinking. There is a strong possibility he never leaves Northwestern. I think there was a better chance Fitzgerald would leave for Michigan than Penn State. During Lloyd Carr's tenure, Northwestern and Michigan often crossed paths on the recruiting trail, and Fitzgerald is more tied to the Midwest than the Mid-Atlantic region. There's also the matter of following a legend like Paterno. It brings a ton of pressure, and coaches are wary of being the guy who follows The Guy. Could Fitz leave for Penn State? It's possible. But don't hold your breath on this one.

Scott from Chicago writes: Adam, I grew up in Minnesota and have had to endure the pangs of watching the Gophers play doormat in the Ben Ten for awhile now. Although I'm not expecting any dramatic turnaround for 2011, with the incredible tenure of Adam Weber at a close I've almost forgotten what to expect from MarQueis Gray as a quarterback. And although it almost sickens me to imagine yet ANOTHER offensive system on debut in '11, what can coach Kill and staff do to maximize Gray's unquestionable talents as a playmaker?

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, I'd suggest watching some Northern Illinois highlights from the past few seasons. I think after you see how Kill used quarterback Chandler Harnish, you'll get excited about Gray's potential in 2011. Harnish rushed for 836 yards and seven touchdowns this season and complemented his ground game with impressive passing numbers (2,530 yards, 21 TDs). Gray has to make up some ground as a passer, but he clearly can gash defenses as a ball-carrier. I don't think the transition to Kill's offense will be too tough for him.

Tom from Hong Kong writes: How come Bret Bielema didn't generate any interest from other programs for a head coach spot after his Rose Bowl season?

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, there weren't many job openings better than the one Bielema has at Wisconsin. Michigan could have looked in his direction, but I couldn't have seen him leaving an extremely comfortable situation in Madison for a somewhat shaky one in Ann Arbor. Bielema's in an incredible spot right now. He just led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, he makes good money and his boss (Barry Alvarez) loves him. Most coaches want stability and resources above anything else, and Bielema has both at Wisconsin.

Chris from Omaha, Neb., writes: Hi Adam, My wife and I are going to shoot to attend one Big Ten conference away game for Nebraska next year. I am not very familiar with Big Ten stadiums, so I ask you: Combining the importance of the game, the tradition/coolness of the stadium, the gameday atmosphere of the stadium, and the ease of getting there from Omaha, which game would you suggest? We are also attending the Wyoming game, and would attend the Big Ten Championship and bowl game if we make one or both.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you have several outstanding options, but I would go with the first one available. Nebraska plays its first Big Ten game as a league member Oct. 1 at Wisconsin. Camp Randall Stadium is an unbelievable setting, and it will be rocking when the Huskers come to down. Big Ten night games won't be finalized until the spring, but there's an excellent chance the Nebraska-Wisconsin game is played under the lights. If you can't make it to Madison, head to State College or Ann Arbor in November. Both are great towns with terrific game atmospheres, especially Penn State. Travel-wise, you'd be best served heading to Madison, Ann Arbor or Minneapolis. State College is quite a trek from Omaha.