Big Ten mailblog

July, 9, 2009
7/09/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

My summer tour of weddings continues this weekend in Napa Valley -- congrats to David and Julia! -- so I'll be off until Tuesday. As a result, your regular Friday mailblog arrives a day early.

Shane from Winthrop, Maine, writes: Hey Adam. Love your blog, I read it everday. What do you see the Wolverines doing to improve their turnover ratio? Last year, especially the Notre Dame game, it seemed like the ball was coming out on ever play.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Shane. A greater familiarity with the spread offense will go a long way toward limiting those mistakes. Last year's offense was chaos, and chaos usually translates into mistakes. Obviously, Michigan will have some youth at quarterback, which carries the potential for more turnovers, but the Wolverines are deep and experienced at the running back position. Michigan had 18 lost fumbles last year, a total that should drop significantly. Ball security and decision-making always play major roles in turnovers, but understanding the system should be the biggest area of improvement for Michigan.


Matt from Madison, Wis., writes: As a Central Michigan alum and current Badger I'm always interested in the inevitable MAC vs. BigTen games. Who has the better shot at an early season upset CMU at Michigan State or Western Michigan at Michigan? Also, do you think I'll ever see a CMU vs. Wisconsin game or do you think its too far of a trip for the Chips with so many closer BigTen shools?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Matt. I'd say Western Michigan has a better chance at a win. Michigan remains very young on offense and will be breaking in another new system on defense, so there could be some early growing pains. Plus, the Wolverines have dropped consecutive openers. On the other hand, Central Michigan might be the MAC's best team this year, and Michigan State will be welcoming a new starting quarterback. If Dan LeFevour has a big day against what figures to be a very strong Spartans defense, the Chips could prevail. As for Wisconsin, I'm sure if the Badgers offered Central Michigan the right contract, the Chips would come to Madison. But Central probably would rather play Michigan or Michigan State. 


Dale from Richmond, Texas, writes: Is it true that Ohio State is putting Jermale Hines into the linebacker position this season? He looked like a solid player as a backup for the Buckeyes in the secondary last season. Not much has been said about Jermale Hines but do you think he can become a starter this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Hines is listed as a linebacker on Ohio State's official roster, so there you go. He'll probably play more of a linebacker-safety hybrid role, much like Brad Phillips at Northwestern and most likely Stevie Brown at Michigan. Barring injury, Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell aren't coming off the field, so Hines probably has the best chance to play at linebacker or in nickel and dime packages. Hines did a nice job last season as a nickel back, recording 31 tackles and two fumble recoveries, returning one for a touchdown. I'd expect him to play a bigger role this fall.


Josh from Minneapolis writes: Adam, in the Big Ten the last 5 years we have seen Michigan and Wisconsin struggle, Ohio State's reputation damaged, and Penn State seemingly maintain its two or three position in the conference. This is perhaps changing our traditional Big Ten pecking order. Meanwhile, teams which were once the bottom of the food chain like Northwestern, Minnesota, and Illinois have taken big steps forward. What do you think the Big Ten scene will look like in 10 years, 20 years, etc?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Josh, and it's hard to know the answer. I'm having a tough enough time predicting this coming season! A lot depends on coaching changes. Will Penn State have a smooth transition after Joe Paterno, whether it's Tom Bradley or an outsider taking over the program? Will Rich Rodriguez pan out at Michigan? Will Mark Dantonio stay at Michigan State and build the Spartans into a powerhouse, or will he eventually succeed Jim Tressel in Columbus? I can't see Ohio State making a major drop-off, and Michigan has too much history and too many resources not to be at the top of the league. But identifying a consistent third powerhouse program will be key for the Big Ten. It really hasn't happened yet. Will it be Penn State, as many anticipated with the Nittany Lions joined the league? Will it be Iowa or Wisconsin? You've got to like Northwestern's potential as long as Pat Fitzgerald remains as head coach. It's hard to predict where Minnesota and Illinois will be because those programs have been so inconsistent over time, but as long as both teams recruit well, they should be solid. 

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