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Big Ten mailbag

9/2/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

College football coaches always say the biggest improvement comes between Week 1 and Week 2, and I hope they're right. The volume of e-mails this week weren't bad at all, but you guys could pick it up a bit for Friday and next week. I'm not looking for why-do-you-hate-my-team stuff, but any questions regarding personnel, coaches, games, my picks, etc., shoot this way.

And be sure to put your hometown. Though I love including notes from Parts Unknown -- home of the Ultimate Warrior and other wrestling greats -- it's nice to know where you're from.

Let's begin:

Zach from Sumpter, S.C., writes: Adam, I've been watching your posts and also watching for Purdue headlines about the Jaycen Taylor injury and any possibility of a medical redshirt this year, and I have not been able to find a thing. Would a medical redshirt be an option or even a possibility for Taylor? By the way, keep up the great blogging and Big Ten/Purdue coverage (any coverage of my Alma Mater is non-existent down here in SEC country).

Adam Rittenberg writes: Zach, I'm sorry you missed it, but there was some blog coverage on the Taylor injury. Here's a post about the impact of the injury on starter Kory Sheets. Taylor will apply for a medical hardship waiver and should have no trouble receiving one. Purdue coach Joe Tiller already has said Taylor will be back for 2009. Although the Boilermakers would love to have had Sheets and Taylor splitting carries this fall, the injury gives each running back the chance to own the spotlight a bit. It's certainly a big loss for Purdue this season, but if Sheets can hang onto the ball, he gives Purdue an explosive threat in the backfield.


Kenny from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, I thought it was funny that PSU scored twice as many points as you predicted them to score on saturday. PSU's defense looked pretty sloppy against Coastal. Do you think it was just because they didn't want to show all there stuff, or do they have some serious problems on Defense?

Adam Rittenberg writes: I definitely underestimated the Nittany Lions' offense, especially against such a weak opponent. When it comes to number of big-play threats, Penn State might have the most in the Big Ten. I'm sure Coastal Carolina had something to do with the defensive performance, but Penn State only allowed 52 rushing yards in the game. The linebackers are a bit of a concern, but the secondary and particularly the line look very solid. They'll get a good test Saturday from Lyle Moevao and Oregon State.


Kelly from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Adam: I feel you should be much more critical regarding the Bg Ten. I e-mailed my Big Ten friends before the games started yesterday. I told them as always the Big Ten plays so many cupcakes, and will go 8-0 vs the cupcakes with the likes of Coastal Carolina and all the other so called football teams. I said the 3 named teams Missouri, Utah, and CAL the Big Ten would lose to tose three teams. Pretty pathetic scheduling by the Big Ten year in and year out. Take a look at the Pac-10 nonconference schedule vs the Big Ten. Enough said.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Kelly, I've given this topic a lot of thought the last few days, and to a great extent, you're right. The Big Ten's nonconference schedule is very underwhelming compared with some leagues, particularly the Pac-10. It's hard to strike a good balance between cupcakes and competitive teams -- almost every BCS school has both on the slate -- and the fact that schedules are done so far in advance doesn't help. The upcoming slate of Big Ten games certainly strengthens the argument for tougher scheduling. Besides Penn State-Oregon State, what intrigues you? Minnesota-Bowling Green? Several Big Tens have got to beef it up a bit and stop playing for 6-8 wins and low-tier bowls. But I look at a schedule like Washington's and think to myself, that's just dumb. The slate gives the Huskies no chance to climb out of a major hole.


Jason from Fairview Heights, Ill., writes: Dear Adam - I'm sure it was just an error of omission that Juice Williams was somehow not listed in your helmet stickers and/or offensive player of the week awards. In case you missed it, Juice threw for 451 yards and 5 TDs, both career highs, against the vaunted Missouri defense. Yes, he threw two INTs, although the second really should have been ruled a fumble (watch the replay...the ball was ripped out of Daniel Dufrene's hands). But when it looked like Missouri was going to blow the Illini out, Juice rallied them back and gave them a chance. Illinois may have lost to Mizzou, but it was clearly not Juice Williams fault. He did everything he could to win that game. He is deserving of a mention.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Jason, I absolutely should have included Williams in the helmet stickers, so I apologize for the omission. But I'm going to be pretty firm with a policy of not awarding player of the week distinctions to guys from losing teams. If Williams puts up those passing numbers without the picks, he probably gets the nod. But even Illinois coach Ron Zook said today that Williams "still didn't play the way we needed him to play." There's some room for improvement, but Williams is making major strides as a passer. I expect his name to pop up in both categories -- helmet stickers and player of the week -- several times this fall.


Tom from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Hey Adam. All this commotion over Chris Beanie Wells got me thinking about his Heisman chances. If he can't rebound from this injury, who will be the Heisman favorite in the Big Ten? Do you give the nod to another RB with Wisconsin's PJ Hill Jr?

Adam Rittenberg writes: His Heisman chances could vanish if he misses the USC game. With everyone ripping on the Big Ten, that game is a chance for Wells and the Buckeyes to showcase themselves on a national stage. So there definitely could be some fallout from the injury. P.J. Hill might get some attention, especially if he keeps on rushing for 200 yards a game, but I would also look at Michigan State's Javon Ringer. He's a dynamic running back who should get more carries and score a lot more touchdowns this season. The senior also is working on kickoff returns. I'm not sure how wise it is to keep Ringer as a kickoff returner, given the dangers of that play, but before long he'll break off a touchdown or two.


Michael from Parts Unknown writes: Adam, What was Michigans yards-after-catch stats versus Utah? Or rather could we watch and moniter that stat this year? Because it is a huge stat in this QB and the overall spread offense attack.

Adam Rittenberg writes: That would be a good statistic to track, especially for the Wolverines. From my recollection of the game, running back Sam McGuffie had a 23-yard gain in the first quarter where most of the yards came after the catch. Michael Shaw's 8-yard touchdown involved a bit of RAC. But the two long passes -- a 35-yarder from Nick Sheridan to Greg Mathews and a 33-yard touchdown from Steven Threet to Junior Hemmingway -- were all through the air. Michigan needs more playmaking on short passes to be successful with so much inexperience at quarterback.


Peter from Chicago writes: Adam, Just a reminder: today, September 2, is the 13th anniversary of Northwestern 17 - Notre Dame 15, and the start of NU's status as 3rd best team in the Big Ten (measured by Big Ten Championships won since that date). Oh, also -- Notre Dame is still so scared of Northwestern that they refuse, to this day, to schedule us again.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Thanks for the reminder, Peter, and like you, I wouldn't hold my breath for a Notre Dame-Northwestern rematch. So many people forget the Big Ten championships statistic (1995-present) with Northwestern. That's why it's so important the Wildcats have strong season (8-9 wins) this fall and begin to change their perception around the league and around the country. Saturday's game at Duke is huge, not so much for what Northwestern gains with a win but for the embarrassment it avoids with a loss.