Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 21, 2009
8/21/09
2:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's been a while since we did one of these. Let's get started. 

Brett from Scranton, Pa., writes: Adam,It is well documented how big of a game the September 12th matchup is between OSU-USC for the Big Ten. My first question is, which is the second most important match-up for our conference and why? Purdue-Oregon (you never know after last year's squeaker), Minnesota-Cal (the new stadium will be a great atmosphere), Iowa-Arizona (Has little Stoops made strides?). And which big OOC game has the potential to do the most harm? If any more can be done to our reputation that is. Thanks, and Fight On State.

Adam Rittenberg: Excellent questions, Brett. As for the second most important non-league matchup, I'm going with Minnesota-Cal. Obviously, if Purdue pulled off the upset in Eugene, it would be huge for the Big Ten, but it looks like a long shot at this point. Iowa really should handle Arizona if the Hawkeyes are as good as they're supposed to be. Minnesota gets a top 15 team in its new stadium with a chance to make a national statement. A Gophers victory coupled with one from Ohio State would be huge for the Big Ten and prove that when these games with the Pac-10 are played on Big Ten soil, things turn out differently. An Illinois win against Missouri also would help the league. 

As far as the game that can do the most damage, any of the three games against Syracuse could hurt. Syracuse has been an awful program the last few years, and the Big Ten should be able to handle the Orange. But two of those games are in the Carrier Dome and Syracuse has the Greg Paulus factor now, so you don't want to take anything for granted. Losses by Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern would hurt. Other potential stingers include Wisconsin-Fresno State, Iowa-Iowa State and Michigan-Western Michigan. I don't think the Notre Dame games hurt or help the Big Ten. 


Josh from Minneapolis writes: Adam, everybody at the U of M is pumped for the TCF Bank Stadium and our football team. However, we have a difficult opening stretch of games (Cal, Syracuse, Air Force). Do you see the Gophers getting through this stretch unscathed?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't see Minnesota starting 3-0, but 2-1 is certainly possible. The Gophers need to take care of business in the Carrier Dome and not get caught up in all the hoopla over Doug Marrone's first game and Paulus playing quarterback for the Orange. Minnesota then must manage its own emotions again for the opener of the new stadium against Air Force, a team that always tests your discipline. Cal will be a major test no matter what, but Minnesota should be pleased with a 2-1 start. 


Ben from London writes: Adam, love the blog, but when are you going to visit Michigan?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, Big Ben from London. I'll be heading to Ann Arbor on Saturday and attending media day Sunday with Rich and the crew. Any recommendations for Saturday night?


Nick from Chicago writes: It would be interesting/much appreciated if you could re-rank your BTen position rankings one, if not two times during the season. Obviously August evaluations lack quantitative support, although the pre-season speculation is entertaining.Would a re-rank at the end of September just before conference play and an early November update be feasible?Great blogging!

Adam Rittenberg: Good call, Nick. What I'll try to do is one series of midseason position rankings. No need to do it twice. There's so much actual news going on during the season that one set of well-researched rankings will be tough enough to churn out. But expect to see them posted somewhere around Oct. 15. 


Joe from Baltimore writes: Hey Adam, simple question with probably a complex answer... what would be considered a "successful" season for the Big 10 as a conference? Many thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Simple question, simple answer. Beat USC in Columbus and win the Rose Bowl (and another BCS game, if possible). Fairly or unfairly, the Big Ten has been judged almost solely by its bowl record, and specifically its record in BCS games. The league has to end its losing streak in the Rose Bowl and the BCS. Even a .500 bowl record with a Rose Bowl victory would be considered a success in my eyes. And beating USC, whether it's in Columbus or Pasadena, would be huge because no team or league has hurt the Big Ten more than the Trojans.


Dave from Madison, Wis., writes: Why are so many people bashing Bret Bielema? yea he made a few bone head calls last year but he is taking Wisconsin to a bowl game every year and thats some thing that rarely happend before Barry Alvarez came. and according to rivals.com Bret Bielema's recruiting classes are just about where Barry Alvarez's where. not to mention Bielema is the one who recruited John Clay. people dont seem to realize this stuff. or they are just getting greedy.

Adam Rittenberg: Expectations are certainly higher at Wisconsin, and Bielema knows it. Part of the problem is the decreasing victories totals (12-9-7) at a time when other Big Ten coaches (Mark Dantonio, Pat Fitzgerald) are seeing increases in each year. It also doesn't help when you have breakdowns in games, whether it was a disorganized defense on Terrelle Pryor's game-winning touchdown run or Bielema drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that arguably sparked Michigan State's rally. I'll reiterate that I don't believe Bielema is on the hot seat at all right now. He can't go 4-8, especially with this schedule, but he has avoided the disastrous season to this point and doesn't deserve as much heat as he's taking. You bring up a good point about the recruiting as well. That area seems to be picking up with the 2009 class. 

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