Big Ten Friday mailblog

Step into my office.

Ross from Oakwood, Ill., writes: Everything I've seen this season has Devon Still as the Defensive POY. But when solely compared as a player to Whitney Mercilus he doesn't even come close. Still: 4 sacks, 16.5 TFL, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Pass Breakup, 0 QB Hurries; Mercilus 13.5 sacks, 18.5 TFL, 8 FF, 1 Pass Breakup, 6 QB Hurries (all of these stats came from the NCAA website). The only difference in the teams are the number of wins (which can pretty much be blamed on the Illinois offense) because both Illinois and Penn State are ranked in the top ten in Total Defense. This is what confuses me about why everyone says Still is the clear Player of the Year, the numbers are in Mercilus's favor and the team defenses are comparable.

Adam Rittenberg: Ross, I agree Mercilus has more impressive overall statistics than Still, but he also plays a position (defensive end) that typically puts up bigger number than Still's position (defensive tackle). When you actually watch the games, you see Still affect play as much if not more than Mercilus. I don't think the Defensive Player of the Year decision is clear-cut, and I think Still and Mercilus are clearly the top two choices. It's a tough call for sure, and Mercilus shouldn't be penalized for Illinois' struggles -- past winners Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Graham weren't punished for their teams' struggles. I honestly don't think you could go wrong with either choice, and both men should be first-team All-Big Ten.

Adam from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Adam. Have it on good authority that Michigan State will be adding a new recruiting room, new press room, three new scoreboards (including one bigger then Michigan's by just a little bit), and possibly expanding the seating by a few thousand. What do you think about this, assuming it happens, and the arms race that is college football. Can teams like Purdue and Northwestern compete anymore?

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, it's great to see Michigan State continuing to invest in its football program. AD Mark Hollis and the administration have shown great commitment to Mark Dantonio as he tries to build his program. I'd definitely welcome a real press room at Spartan Stadium, as those annexes tend to fill up fast. Purdue conducted a stadium renovation a few years ago, and Northwestern is in the process of renovating its football practice facilities and possibly Ryan Field, too. Most Big Ten programs know what it takes to keep pace, facilities-wise.

Phil from Sarasota, Fla., writes: Adam, I really have to disagree with your choice of B1G 10 game of the week with Penn St/Wisconsin. This week should be all about UM/OSU. This is the greatest rivalry in all of sport, and I think you guys have fallen short in showing respect for THE game this year. I may be biased because I'm a UM fan, and you're from Illinois right? This game makes the B1G what it is, and lets blow this up!!! Besides, if Michigan wins...we have a decent chance at a BCS bowl for even more national coverage!

Adam Rittenberg: Phil, we've given The Game its fair share of coverage with several posts earlier in the week, but Ohio State-Michigan has no bearing on the Big Ten title race, while Penn State-Wisconsin determines who goes to Indianapolis. We respect The Game and the rivalry and all it stands for, but the Big Ten is different now. It's no longer the big two and everyone else, and the arrival of division play and the championship game changes things. Michigan would have an excellent chance for a BCS at-large berth if it wins Saturday, and we'll certainly continue to explore that possibility. But my sense is that outside of the Michigan and Ohio State fan bases, more Big Ten backers care about Penn State-Wisconsin.

Jamie from Chicago writes: Dan Persa leads the nation in completion percentage for the second straight year, yet it seems to be getting a lot less attention than when he did it last year. What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: Persa's injury situation has taken away the spotlight a bit, especially early in the season when the Heisman campaign didn't go anywhere. But it's still notable that Persa continues to pass the ball so accurately and efficiently despite not being 100 percent physically. He has turned in a really nice season, although he has made some uncharacteristic throws (i.e. the pick-six at Iowa). Kain Colter also has emerged as a big-time player for Northwestern. Persa still will go down as one of the best offensive players in team history, and it'll be interesting to see how he looks in a bowl game, which will take place after the full recovery period his injury required.

Jim from Atlanta writes: Adam:Now that the season is coming to an end and there is only a one game difference in the weekly game picks, do you mind sharing what the winner gets? A good bottle of scotch, a steak dinner, top photo billing on the blog. all three?Thanks to both of you for doing a great job on the blog.

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, the good news for me is that the picks aren't finished after this weekend. We still have the Big Ten championship game and, more important, the bowl games to pick. So the race isn't done until early January. Some good ideas about potential prizes for the winner, although Bennett can forget about getting his photo above mine on the blog.

Andrew from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: I have to disagree with you about your analysis of The Game in your predictions. We certainly do not have more talent than Ohio, and the game is not about talent this year. Our defense is still filled with role players and former walk-ons, who are playing great, but still would not be considered "talented". The difference is that we are maximizing our talent and they definitely are not. Did I change your mind?

Adam Rittenberg: Nope, you didn't. Is Mike Martin not talented? C'mon, Andrew. Sure, Jordan Kovacs is a former walk-on and some other Michigan defenders weren't the highest-rated recruits, but there are some talented players on that unit. Craig Roh was an ESPNU 150 selection coming out of high school. My point with the post is that to chalk up Ohio State-Michigan solely to passion and drive and other coachspeak terms and not talent is shortsighted. Ohio State has been the more talented team in recent years, and talent has played a role -- not the only role, but a role -- in the Buckeyes' win streak. Other factors include coaching, development and game preparation, but talent can't be dismissed.

Eric from Atlanta writes: Adam, assuming Nebraska beats Iowa and finishes 9-3. If MSU gets beat in the B1G championship by Wisconsin and finishes 10-3 do you think the Cap One Bowl would select a Nebraska over MSU? They have the head to head victory and would be a new and well traveling fan base to bring to Orlando. I can't imagine MSU or its fans would be too excited about returning to the Cap One to potentially face Arkansas again.

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, I spoke with some bowl officials this week, and there's a strong desire from the Florida bowls to invite Nebraska, which has played only one bowl game in the state (2009 Gator) since facing Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl. Michigan State might slip to Outback or Gator if it loses the Big Ten title game because, as you say, the Spartans have made many bowl trips to Orlando in recent years. A Nebraska loss might change the plan, but even at 8-4, the Huskers would be appealing to the Florida bowls.

Jeffrey from Dunn Loring, Va., writes: Adam,As a Purdue alumnus, I would dearly love to see the Boilermakers beat the Hoosiers on Saturday and make it to a bowl. But I don't think it's right that teams get preference over schools with better records just because a bowl feels the weaker team would bring more fans. An example held out the possibility of a 6-6 Purdue getting in ahead of an 8-4 Iowa (which *beat* the Boilers). That's just wrong. Bowls should be ranked from one to whatever, and matched with the teams in the order they finish.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeffrey, while I don't think you have to worry about a 6-6 Purdue team jumping Iowa, the bowls are businesses, and they're looking to fill seats and make money. It's a bigger issue, in my opinion, when a 10- or nine-win team gets leapfrogged in favor of a seven-win team near the top of the Big Ten bowl pecking order. The Big Ten title game loser, for example, could fall several spots on the bowl selection order because of factors like how well the fan base travels, whether there's a coaching change before the bowl or, in Penn State's case, whether there's some negative publicity around the program. It comes up as well near the bottom of the selection order, but I wouldn't worry too much about 6-6 teams beating out 7-5 or 8-4 teams for spots this year.