Big Ten mailblog
September, 29, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Step into my office ...
Alex from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, Great writing so far this season. I have been reading a lot about the game last night and the national picture. Claims saying Iowa still has to "pass tests" and "prove themselves" in order to be considered anything. 4-0 and 3 games of domination does not do it? USC loses to a pathetic team but is still in the national title contention list? Michigan is considered the most underrated team even after a measly victory over Indiana? Iowa is used to no respect, but this is getting ridiculous.
Adam Rittenberg: Here's my advice to you and the rest of Hawkeye Nation: be patient and follow the lead of your head coach. Kirk Ferentz doesn't care about September rankings, and he's absolutely right. There's a long way to go, but in some ways, Iowa finds itself in the best position of any Big Ten team to make a national title run. And it's because of the Hawkeyes' tough schedule. People could knock Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin for not playing anybody. They can knock Ohio State for losing to USC at home. But if Iowa runs the table, the Hawkeyes will own road wins against Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, coupled with a home win against Michigan. Plus, Iowa has two BCS nonconference victories (ISU, Arizona). If that doesn't get Iowa in the national title game, there's something seriously wrong. So be patient. The computers will reward Iowa, and the Hawks will continue to climb if they continue to win.
Andy from Sylva, N.C., writes: Adam who is the most dangerous team in the conference right now? I think it is Wisconsin. They were so disappointing last year no one wants to jump on the bandwagon but that is probably all for the best. They were very close last year, they just didn't have a QB and their defense gave up whenever things got bad. Now with Tolzien and guys like Schofield and Maragos leading the D, the Badgers have a quiet confidence. And how can you not be a fan of Chris Borland? UW was the only BCS conference school that even offered him a scholarship!
Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin certainly has impressed me so far, and if opponents take the Badgers lightly in the coming weeks, they'll probably get burned. I would, however, like to see a road victory or two before giving Wisconsin my full stamp of approval. The Badgers have really struggled away from Camp Randall the past two seasons, and Saturday's trip to Minnesota provides a good test. I really like what I've seen from Scott Tolzien on offense and O'Brien Schofield on defense. OB is playing like a senior captain should. As for Borland, he's unreal. Love to hear stories like his. He'll be a star for Wisconsin in the future.
Perry from Cincinnati writes: Michigan State fans should be furious that Mark Dantonio was hired rather than Brian Kelly. Brian Kelly is a superior coach and a better "PR" person for a program that needed someone to generate excitement. If Dantonio were still the UC coach, Cincinnati would not have played in the Orange Bowl last year and would not be ranked in the top 10 this year.
Adam Rittenberg: Let me start off by saying that no head coach in college football has impressed me more this season than Brian Kelly. His teams are fearless and his offensive scheme makes decent players into superstars. I absolutely loved the way Cincinnati went into Corvallis and didn't flinch where others (i.e. USC) always do. That said, Michigan State still made the right call with Mark Dantonio. As I wrote this summer, instability has doomed Michigan State's program during the past 15 years, and Dantonio will be in East Lansing for the long haul. He might not be as progressive as Kelly and won't get Michigan State to a BCS game for at least another year or two, but he provides a steadying force for that program. Kelly has loftier goals than Cincinnati, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't make a jump after the season.
Craig from Fort Wayne, Ind., writes: Do you feel as though there has been a 'culture of losing' created at Purdue in recent years? I'm not talking about record wise (although that has been plummeting as well), but in terms of winning a big game. It doesn't seem to matter what personnel is on the field, they can never seem to make that one play or that one big stop to win a high profile game. Whether it was Orton and the infamous Wisconsin game fumble or the defense this past weekend against Notre Dame, it just seems as though they can never come through in the clutch. The last big time play I can remember in a major game was when Bree's through the game winning TD against Ohio St during the run for the Rose Bowl. I was at the game this past weekend and it really seemed as though every fan in that stadium knew Notre Dame was going to score on that last drive and it's kind of sad in many regards. How does Purdue go about changing this mentality? Is it as simple as winning creates more winning?
Adam Rittenberg: You make some very astute observations here, Craig. I've felt that the Purdue program hasn't been the same since the Kyle Orton fumble against Wisconsin in 2004, but the lack of big wins stretches back further than that. You're right, Purdue just doesn't have that "it" quality to win the big games, especially in the Big Ten but also against teams like Oregon the past two seasons. Having witnessed USC win big games against Notre Dame in 2005 and Ohio State this year, you can see the belief throughout the program that they won't be denied on the big stage, especially in clutch situations. With Purdue, the same confidence seems to be missing, especially at the quarterback spot. Curtis Painter put up ridiculous numbers at Purdue, but he couldn't seem to get over the hump in big games. Maybe Danny Hope changes things over time, but your assessment is accurate.
Todd from Wilmington, Ohio, writes: Adam, I just wanted to make a comment regarding your post about Iowa's Defensive Line. They are obviously playing great and they deserve the praise. Beating Penn State at Happy Valley is never easy, but to do it the way they did was impressive. You stated in your "What we learned this week" segment that perhaps no D-Line in the country is performing as well as Iowa's and you also linked Ivan Maisel's comments with approximately the same sentiment. However, I have to bring up Ohio State's D-Line. The defensive front for Ohio State is at least 2 deep, with no apparent weakness. They have shut out two high powered offenses in back to back weeks. I know that you give the Bucks' D props, but is it possible that the Big Ten title could come down to which defensive line performs better, Ohio State's or Iowa's, when they meet in November? Thanks for your thoughts, I enjoy the blog.
Adam Rittenberg: That's a good call, Todd. Both Ohio State's and Iowa's defensive lines are playing at an extremely high level. Still, I can't remember a game where all four down linemen stood out individually as much as Clayborn, Binns, Klug and even Ballard did against Penn State. Ohio State always plays solid team defense, but the individual performances aren't always as noticeable as other teams. I'm always a little surprised when I review Ohio State's defensive statistics not to see one or two players with some ridiculous numbers. That's not a knock on the Buckeyes. In fact, it speaks to how well the unit plays together, where everyone makes contributions. As to your last point, we have a long way to go until Nov. 14, but the league title could be at stake if both Ohio State and Iowa take care of business on the road. It would be a defense-lover's dream.