Big Ten mailblog

Let's do this.

Glenn from Seattle writes: Adam, I think you're still missing Travis from Omaha's point when he says "the ONLY reason divisional competition matters is for the tiebreaker itself." Nebraska's loss total this year is what mattered, not the fact that they were divisional games. The losses to Michigan and Northwestern might as well have been to Ohio State and Purdue. Divisional games are just games — they only mean something more when the tiebreaker comes into play. For divisional games to truly matter you would have to ignore cross-division games when determining division champions unless you needed a tiebreaker. THEN count the cross division games to break the tie. The Big Ten and Nebraska's former Big XII don't really have division champions — they have conference top seeds where one is required to be from each division. It's a subtle but important distinction. Or to put it another way: conference championships typically don't count non-conference games except in the event of a tie, so why should division championships count non-division games?

Adam Rittenberg: Glenn, you bring up some good points here. I guess my view is that the tiebreaker often will matter, and therefore the division games often will mean more. Look at the Big Ten standings between 1998-2010: there was a tie for first place seven times. In 2010, the tie was broken by the final BCS standings because Michigan State and Ohio State didn't play. We were left with co-champions, which no one liked, especially me, and a questionable system of breaking ties. The beauty of divisions is that teams are guaranteed to play the other five squads, which in many cases will break any ties through head-to-head results rather than a questionable rankings system like the BCS standings. Also, a division loss equals a win for another team you're directly competing against to get to Indianapolis. A cross-division loss hurts you, but it only indirectly helps your division competitors rather than directly helping them.

Judy Tibesar from St. Paul, Minn., writes: My son's name is TIM TIBESAR not Tisebar.

Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, Mrs. Tibesar!!! We'll get it right in the future. Hoping to talk with Tim for a Q&A soon.

Evan from Arusha, Tanzania, writes: Hey Adam, how much of a difference, recruiting wise, do you think it made not having O'Brien joining PSU after the Super Bowl? It has been pretty obvious that Michigan and OSU have really utilized their time with these juniors, which PSU and O'Brien's staff may not have been able to use.

Adam Rittenberg: Evan, Bill O'Brien made a point to try and be in State College for recruiting events while he was still with the Patriots. He also attended the junior day event this past weekend. Would it have helped to have him fully focused on Penn State the day he was hired? Sure. Would it have made a dramatic difference? Probably not. It's vital for O'Brien to establish himself with recruits and high school coaches during the coming months. While the 2013 class is important, I'm thinking the next two classes (2014, 2015) are when O'Brien and Penn State need to make a big splash. Retaining top recruiter Larry Johnson was an excellent move, but Penn State might have some recruiting speed bumps during the initial transition.

Ryan from Omaha writes: I don't really understand why so many people don't believe in Taylor Martinez. If you look at his stats he completed 162 of his 288 passing attempts for 2,089 yards for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 56.2% of his passes. In 1995 Tommie Frazier completed 92 of his 163 passing attempts for 1,362 yards for 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. He complets 56.4% of his passes. In two seasons at Nebraska Martinez has thrown 3,720 yards and Frazier threw 3,521 yards in four seasons at Nebraska. Will you please tell me why most people say he can't throw or lead Nebraska's offense.

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, it's nice to see there's one Taylor Martinez fan in the great state of Nebraska. One difference is that Frazier operated in a true option offense, while the Huskers rely on Martinez to throw the ball more in the current system. Martinez attempted 125 more passes in 2011 than Frazier did in 1995. Also, Frazier had a quarterback rating of 156.14, which ranked second in the Big Eight in 1995, while Martinez's rating of 126.52 ranked ninth in the Big Ten. Frazier had four more touchdown passes and four fewer interceptions than Martinez. That's a big difference. Like many teams, Nebraska lives and dies by turnover margin, which hasn't been great in recent years.

It doesn't really hold water to compare Martinez in 2011 with Frazier in 1995, but I also think Martinez did some good things in the offense last season that tend to get overlooked. His critics point to his decision-making, which needs to improve, and his throwing motion, which looks worse than it actually is. But Martinez gets a raw deal at times, and he's still got some time to make strides. He had some really nice performances and showed some resilience against Ohio State a week after struggling mightily at Wisconsin.

Eli from New York writes: 10.6 Million. Nothing on the first page of your site. I bet you Sandusky's trial will be on the front page for a week.

Adam Rittenberg: Eli, I acknowledged Penn State's tremendous work at THON this year in today's lunch links. It's a wonderful event that gave Penn Staters a chance to celebrate, take pride in their school and generate a lot of money for a great cause. But you're not going to see stories about student fundraisers in the news rail of a national sports Web site. Penn State is one of many schools to hold similar events, and they're all terrific, but they're not going to appear on the front of the site. The Sandusky scandal is a major national news story. It generated national attention and still does. We know Penn State fans want it to go away, but it's not going away. We can debate the coverage of the scandal, but the attention on the case, and its connection to sports, is why you'll see it appear on the news rail.

Ben from New Berlin, Wis., writes: Adam, just asking for some clarification on your rankings on the Top 25 players. Are you ranking them based on their values (similar to MVP voting) or based on how good they are at their positions. I see guys like Konz and Zeitler go 17 and 20 but are both All-Americans and I know there weren't 20 All-Americans in the Big10. Are your ranking more based off of valuable positions? Should we expect the Top 10 to be QBs and RBs? Just curious, what sort of ranking would Joe Thomas and Jake Long get on your list?

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, good question. We're ranking them based on their value to the team and their impact on their team's season in 2011. There are certain positions we value over others, and while I can assure you the top 10 won't only be QBs and RBs, it won't be all offensive linemen, either. Without speaking for Brian, I tend to value offensive tackles above centers and centers above guards. You would have to be a pretty special guard to crack my top 15, but I'd definitely include a tackle in my top three. I had Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi at No. 6 in the 2010 rankings. Both Thomas and Long undoubtedly would be in my top 5 if I was blogging back in 2006 and 2007.

Stephen from Pennsylvania writes: Do you have Northwestern having a good year next year? I believe they are the underdog in the Big Ten, but I want to hear someone else's opinion. At best, I think they could get nine wins, what do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, I think Northwestern faces some big hurdles in 2012. The biggest issue is a defense that hasn't been right for the better part of the past two seasons. Northwestern simply doesn't have enough playmakers on the defensive side and has one unit (secondary) that consistently ranks near the bottom of the league. The key to the season will be the younger defenders who saw significant action in 2011. Will they step up and make more plays, or will Northwestern continue to have breakdowns? The Wildcats also play three nonconference games against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, and while it's not murderer's row -- Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College -- it'll be tough to go undefeated. While there are some question marks on offense, Northwestern has a track record of finding productive players. Nine wins definitely seems like a stretch. If Northwestern wins seven or eight, it would be a big success.

Jeb from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Can we get something straight. I get so sick of hearing that if Wisconsin would have made 2 plays last year they could have went undefeated. This is true for the Ohio State game, but it is not for the MSU game. We were tied when the Hail Mary happened and would have went to overtime if it had fallen incomplete, at which point it was probably 50/50 who would have won. So please stop propagating the myth that Wisconsin was 2 plays away from going undefeated last year, they had a lot more work to do if they were going to win the MSU regular season game.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeb, that's a fair point. Wisconsin would have had to make several plays in overtime to outlast the Spartans. It seemed like the Badgers had the momentum, though, after erasing their fourth-quarter deficit to tie up the game. Wisconsin also ranked second nationally in red zone offense, which is basically what overtime in college football boils down to. The Badgers scored 64 touchdowns on 75 trips inside the red zone and failed to score only four times. They led the nation in points scored in the red zone (468) and ranked second in trips to the red zone. Michigan State ranked 45th nationally in red zone offense with 34 touchdowns in 56 trips. On the flip side, Michigan State was much better in red zone defense (22nd nationally) than Wisconsin (77th). It would have been interesting to see how overtime would have turned out. But thanks to Michigan State's heroics, it doesn't matter.