Big Ten mailblog

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's Tuesday, and that means your questions and my answers.

Todd from Wilmington, Ohio, writes: Adam, I love your blog, I don't know how I survived before it. By the way, congratulations on the recent wedding. My reason for writing is to discuss the marquee non-conference games this year for the Big Ten. Although several teams have taken criticism for soft non-conference scheduling, I believe you can identify at least one non-conference game for each team as the "marquee" game for them. Some even have two such games. As follows:Illinois vs. Missouri/Cincinnati(take your pick)Indiana vs. VirginiaIowa vs. ArizonaMichigan vs. Notre DameMichigan State vs. Notre DameMinnesota vs. CalNorthwestern vs. SyracuseOhio State vs. USCPenn State vs. SyracusePurdue vs. Oregon/Notre Dame(take your pick)Wisconsin vs. Fresno St/Hawaii(take your pick)Obviously, the biggest issue is that Notre Dame and Syracuse make up about half of the list, nonetheless, they can be considered the biggest game for several teams. I would be interested as to what your thoughts and/or predictions for these games would be. Thanks, Adam, keep up the good work.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the kind words, Todd. I see the Big Ten going around .500 in the marquee matchups you mention. There are several games Big Ten teams should win, namely Northwestern/Penn State over Syracuse, Wisconsin over Hawaii and Iowa over Arizona. There are a few toss-ups, including Ohio State-USC, Michigan State-Notre Dame and Illinois-Missouri (I have the Illini as a slight favorite there), and a few longshots (Purdue-Oregon and Minnesota-Cal). It goes without saying that the Ohio State-USC matchup will shape national perception about the Big Ten more than any other game, but the league could really use a few more nice wins (Cal, Missouri, Notre Dame twice or thrice).

Ryan from Not Iowa writes: Adam, great job on the blog. My question is about Iowa...I just don't see what the big deal is. Iowa fans and so many others, including yourself, sir, seem to think that Iowa is a definite contender for the Big Ten title this year. The best parts of their team from last year, the D-line and running game (aka Greene), will have an impossible time performing as well as they did during their 8-4 season last year. I don't think they're a bad team, but when I compare them to teams like Penn State and Ohio State, I see a huge huge gap. Please explain to me, aside from the secondary having a couple decent players and Stanzi completing passes, why Iowa fans expect to have at least as many wins as last year.

Adam Rittenberg: You're right about the areas where Iowa loses key pieces, but the Hawkeyes' track record on defense needs to be considered here. Iowa has ranked among the top 25 nationally in scoring defense in six out of the last seven seasons, including a fifth-place finish in 2008. Though the Hawkeyes take a hit at defensive tackle, they should be better at every other spot on defense, particularly defensive end and safety. Iowa's defense won't allow a lot of points, and it should keep the team in every game, including the four tough Big Ten road contests. There are also high hopes for quarterback Ricky Stanzi, but the Hawkeyes defense has generated all the preseason buzz. As for matching last year's wins total, I don't see Iowa losing at home, and the Hawks should win at least two road games, giving them nine victories at a minumum.

Chris from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, what do you make of OL Dann O'Neill leaving Michigan to transfer to Western Michigan. First Boren, then McGuffie, and now this? Isn't this just more of a testament that Rich Rod is not getting it done in Ann Arbor? Talk me off the ledge...

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, it's funny how O'Neill's first game in a Broncos uniform (he can't play until 2010) will take him back to Michigan Stadium. But you should back away from the ledge for sure. Transfers happen when there's coaching change. Obviously, Michigan has endured quite a few departures under Rich Rodriguez, but the number should diminish as Rich gets more of his recruits in the program and, more important, starts to win more games. Don't underestimate the magnitude of this coaching change. This wasn't Bo Schembechler to Gary Moeller or Moeller to Lloyd Carr. Rodriguez's arrival signaled a fundamental shift in how Michigan operates. It's not necessarily a bad thing at all, but there was bound to be more personnel change than normal because of the overall change to the program.

Badger Fan from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey I was just wondering if their was a reason you never finished the 3 fresh faces post with Purdue and Wisconsin? Or perhaps you just haven't gotten to them yet.

Adam Rittenberg: Nope, they were posted a few weeks back. I didn't go in alphabetical order with the Fresh Faces series. Here's Purdue and Wisconsin. Enjoy.

Josh from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Hey Adam, please stop taking vacations - you're KILLING us! Otherwise, thanks for all the hard work!I saw some articles about Penn State's Lift for Life 2009, and have some comments.1. Jack Crawford looks like a freak of nature when lifting.2. Brandon Ware seems to have lost half of his body-weight in the offseason.3. Sean Lee won for most leg-presses.Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Vacation time is winding down, Josh, so not to worry. I was traveling to California on Friday during the Lift for Life event, but everything I read indicated it was a huge success. I got an e-mail Monday from former Penn State player and Uplifting Athletes executive director Scott Shirley, who wrote that the event generated "the most money ever raised, the largest crowd and was the most competitive." Penn State certainly can feel good about its linebacker corps after Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull teamed with tight end Mickey Shuler to win the event. Crawford's team came in second, also a good sign, while freshman quarterback Kevin Newsome was part of the third-place squad. Penn State's incoming freshmen also participated in the event for the first time.