Big Ten mailblog

Let's do this.

Michael from St. Louis writes: I'm a Husker fan, so I have been reading a lot of comparisons between the Big Ten and Big 12 for the past several months -- particularly how much better defenses are in our new conference. Usually these assertions are backed up by ypg statistics, but what's being neglected is the fact that Big 12 teams average more plays in per game (mostly because of their preference for the pass, I believe). If you compare the two conferences by yards-per-play, the Big 12 is actually better: 5.38 vs. 5.54.Now, I can admit that the quality of defenses can't be reduced to stats alone, and yards-per-play is misleading in its own way (doesn't account for quality of opponent; maybe in truth, Big 12 offenses are inferior?). That said, these stats are enough to call the up-to-now axiom of Big Ten defensive superiority into question. Convince me, Adam! Show me the light! What makes Big Ten defenses better, if not the statistics? Furthermore, how will it affect my Huskers? Since they've being struggling in the Big 12, are they doomed to struggle even more in the Big Ten? Is it possible, even if the defenses are stouter, that the Husker O might flourish?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, you bring up some good points here, and while this debate is fun, it's not as simplified as many folks make it out to be. You can't really isolate it to one statistic, so I go by what I see. Make no mistake: the Big 12 has some outstanding defenses, particularly Oklahoma, Nebraska the past two seasons and Texas in many years. But you also see Big 12 defenses not only look weak against dynamic offenses in conference games, but also in bowl games, which provide a measurement of different leagues. We saw examples of this in last year's bowl season (Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas Tech).

While the Big Ten has had its share of bad defenses, you see more units in the middle of the pack or near the top. You also look to the NFL draft and see five Big Ten defensive linemen selected in the first round. I don't think the defensive gap between the two leagues is that wide, but on the whole, I'd take the Big Ten over the Big 12. It will be interesting to see how Nebraska's offense fares. Speed certainly is an element the Huskers could exploit in their new league.

Steve from Meridian, Miss., writes: Adam, Edwin Baker looks solid on paper and build. But when looking at his 1201 yds last year, over 37% came out of conference (WMU, FAU, ND and No. CO). Throw in the anemic performances against the Illini, Iowa and Bama (23, 21 and 14yds ouch!), is his potential for 2011 a bigger question mark than reliable fact? Just seems that last year's close games and two horrible losses MSU had a hard time getting it going on the ground.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, while those performances shouldn't totally fall on Baker, as Michigan State got beat up at the line of scrimmage in all three games, the junior certainly needs to prove himself against elite defenses. I still wouldn't discount what he showed in the other games, particularly his blend of breakaway speed and power. But you're right in that there are some unanswered questions. We'll find out a lot more about Baker when he goes against defenses like Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, not to mention what should be an improved Notre Dame D in Week 3.

Tom from PA writes: Adam,Here is my chance to help your horrible bowl & season projections. The whole B1G is wide open this year and very hard to predict. 1) Wisconsin in getting too much love. First yr QB in the system, top DE gone, top RB gone, top OL gone... and no track record for consistent top tier b1G success2) OSU - Still is the leader as I think in a wide open division it comes more to the mental side which at OSU you have to expect to win every yr.3) Nebraska - over-rated, tell me one team that was legitimately top ten who they beat in the past 3 yrs? That is why they are over-hyped, over-rated, and something else to add to my three descriptions.4) PSU - you need to watch the tape... If the OL is good, the team will be very hard to stop. Forget about the Defensive line worries for just one blog post... LJ's got it taken care of...I could add to all of the above, but in the interest of actually having this answered for once, I am hoping brevity counts.Love the blog but think you are wrong on many predictions!!!

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, I wouldn't dispute you on that first point! Listen, don't take these predictions too seriously. They're meant to be fun and to ruffle some feathers, but until we see a few games, it's very hard to judge the ceiling for a particular team. You might be right on all your predictions, although Wisconsin has put itself in a position to survive some big personnel losses and reload. Nebraska, meanwhile, returns more elite defenders than any other Big Ten team. But let's get to Penn State. The offensive line might be the key to the season, but I think it's dangerous to assume the D-line will be fine just because of Larry Johnson. He has an impressive track record, but last year's line was mediocre. Plus, who will rush the passer? What if Devon Still or Jordan Hill gets hurt? I have some serious concerns about depth there. If Penn State upgrades its line play, it will be in a position to contend for the Leaders division.

John from San Antonio writes: Adam,Illinois has had a good camp and answered a lot of questions from the off-season. But the Illini have gone down a few notches in most media predictions for the Big 10. What gives? More importantly, what does Illinois have to do in those first five games to get positive buzz going? It looks like winning isn't going to be enough to prove they have a pulse!

Adam Rittenberg: John, I think it comes down to two factors. 1) Illinois loses quite a few players to the NFL draft, including first-round pick Corey Liuget. 2) A lot of media folks don't trust Ron Zook and his ability to string together good seasons. While you might not like the second reason, Zook's Illini teams have teased us before, namely in 2008. I'm among those who see the Illini building off of what they did last year, but I understand why these perceptions are here. Illinois certainly can help itself by capitalizing on the schedule and starting strong, but the one game that would provide a huge boost is Ohio State on Oct. 15.

Matt from Minneapolis writes: Hi Adam!Quick question regarding fan bases. You've cited, at times, that bowl selections could come down to fan bases, etc. Where do all the teams stack up? Based on student body and having lived in cities all over the country; here's my stab at it.1.OSU2.Michigan (though, usually not anyone who actually went there...)3. Michigan State4. Wisconsin5. Penn State6. Nebraska7. Purdue8. Indiana9. Iowa10. Illinois11. Minnesota12. Northwestern

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, this is an interesting discussion, but it's truly subjective and depends on factors such as which bowl is picking, the order of the selection, what year we're in, who played in the game last, etc. I think there's definitely a top tier in most desirable Big Ten bowl teams: Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. I'd put Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the next group. Then Illinois. Northwestern actually travels well for bowls, at least in comparison to its home attendance. Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota are at the bottom.

Matthew from Atlanta writes: Adam,I was wondering if you could tell me the chances of Braxton Miller(OSU) starting at quarterback by the time they play at Miami(aka the first big game of the season)? After the scrimage, it seems as if Braxton has an edge on Joe. I would love to hear your prediction.

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, a lot depends on how Joe Bauserman performs in the first two games against Akron and Toledo. While both Bauserman and Miller will see the field, I'd expect Bauserman to get more work, especially if he's playing well. But if he makes mistakes and doesn't show the type of difference-making skills Ohio State will need at some point, Miller should get a real opportunity to show what he can do. Will Miller be the top quarterback when Ohio State visits Miami? My sense is it still will be Bauserman, especially because the game is on the road.

Fellow English Major from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Hey Adam,Just wanted to send a quick note saying that I agree with your assertion about Penn State's scholarship winner. I believe your words were: "...he puts Bennett and I to shame. Impressive guy." Not to pile on too much, but your sentence should read: he puts Bennett and ME to shame.

Jerry from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam:It's your own grammar that should put you to shame! "In other words, he puts Bennett and I to shame." Sometimes you don't write too good...

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, guys. Can't imagine the SEC bloggers receive notes like these ... Don't worry, Jerry, I know I don't write too good.