Enjoy the spring game festivities this weekend in Ann Arbor, Lincoln, Iowa City, Evanston, West Lafayette, Champaign and Bloomington. We'll be recapping all the games Monday.
David from Lancaster, Pa., writes: Hey Adam,Love it when you guys go visiting campus and we get more in-depth coverage of each team. I heard you were on a local radio show in Nebraska and said you came away from your Penn State visit thinking Bolden is a slight favorite for the QB job. Care to provide further details on why you feel this way? I think many PSU fans are surprised to hear this.
Adam Rittenberg: David, I only saw one practice, but after reading about and hearing all the Paul Jones hype this spring, I somewhat expected to see Jones separating himself from Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin. That hasn't happened. Bill O'Brien isn't giving you a line when he says, "Right now, there's no separation." From what I saw, Jones, like the others, still has a way to go in picking up the new offense. Bolden had the best day when I was there, and delivered some terrific passes into tight coverage. But he also had some brain-cramps, like we've seen in games. I get that Penn State fans want to see something different, and Jones fits into that category. He hasn't played in a game and boasts some nice natural skills. And he could emerge as the guy in 2012. But I think folks should pump the brakes a bit on him, and be at least open to the idea that Bolden wins the job. Because it could happen. I'd be somewhat surprised if Bolden isn't in the final two after spring.
Mike from Witchita writes: This blog seems to love pointing out that Nebraska hasn't won a conference title since 1999 but when comparing NU to Big Ten teams, but just something to think about: if you look back at Nebraska and use Big Ten rules to determine conference champions, Nebraska would have raised conference title banners in 2001, 2006 & 2010. Having a single conference champion makes titles scarcer even for powerhouses like the Big Ten's 2nd winningest program. The last decade was obviously Nebraska's worst since the 1950s but just think how many Big Ten programs would kill to have 3 conference championships
Adam Rittenberg: There's no joy in pointing it out, Mike, but when players are openly discussing the national championship, it's important to mention Nebraska would be skipping a step or two. I think Nebraska has a lot of respect within the Big Ten, despite some struggles during the Bill Callahan years. I agree that leagues with championship games are harder to win, and I'm delighted we don't have to deal with co-champions any more. To be fair, though, if we used the old Big Ten rules between 1995-2011, you'd have eight Big Ten squads with two or more "titles": Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State.
Sam from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Thank you for answering my question about KF and your time in IC, Adam. I see your point. But I'm still not convinced KF places a high enough priority on the BIG picture to suit my hopes for Iowa. Sure, KF would like to see the team win it all. But I don't get the sense "lets go to the Rose Bowl!" is a rallying cry in KF's locker room. The "Beat the Rock" mentality is great for individual excellence and when it comes together, Iowa can have magical seasons. But I believe it really limits the program as a whole.
Adam Rittenberg: Ferentz is a realist, which can be tough for fans to hear. Fans are, with few exceptions, always going to think their team has a higher ceiling than it actually does. Ferentz always has been very honest about the limits Iowa has, but I also don't think he tells his players not to dream big. They have to work at it, perhaps more so than teams that recruit better and have nicer facilities and have a more storied tradition, but Iowa has shown in seasons like 2002 and 2009 that it can compete at an elite level. It also doesn't necessarily help a coach to set the bar ridiculously high and then fall short of it. That's how a lot of coaches get fired. And Ferentz has been masterful in securing his position in Iowa City.
AJ from Madison, Wis., writes: Do you see the arrival of Urban Meyer and Bill O'Brien, as well as the recent surge of Michigan State's pass-oriented offense, changing the way the B1G plays defense in the next few years? On the whole, we've always played an extremely run-oriented game, and I gotta believe that the number of running backs, linebackers, and O and D-linemen the conference sends to the draft dwarfs the amount of QB's, wide receivers, and DB's that go. But Meyer's putting in the spread, and we all know what Bill O'Brien did with the Patriots. Throw in a strong passing game from MSU, and I think this will be a very different league in 5-7 years.
Adam Rittenberg: AJ, that's an interesting question. The Big Ten's recent draft output has been extremely defense-heavy. But we could very well see more offensive skill players selected in the coming years. Penn State hasn't had a quarterback drafted since 1997 -- that should change under O'Brien. Michigan State will have a quarterback (Kirk Cousins) drafted fairly high in April, and two Spartans receivers (B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin) also should be selected. I don't think defensive back is as glaring as quarterback or wide receiver, but it will be a position to watch. I'm really interested to see what impact Meyer will have on Ohio State's draft hopefuls. You can also add in Michigan, which will play more of a pro-style offense beginning in 2013.
Back to your original question about the style of defense in the Big Ten. I don't know how dramatically it will change, although the types of players recruited to play defense in the league could change. We won't see as many boxy linebackers, and teams are certainly looking for speed wherever they can find it. Some people say the Big Ten isn't athletic enough along the defensive line, but the league has produced more than its share of pro linemen in recent years.
Charlie from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, I have seen you write several times lately that you believe Nick Saban is the best college coach in the country. I do not disagree with you, but I was wondering if you could elaborate on your reasoning.
Adam Rittenberg: He's very complete and thorough in his approach. Alabama recruits at an extremely high level, as do several other programs in the SEC and in other conferences. But the Tide also develops players extremely well, and that's what resonates with me. There are some great recruiters who are a little short in the talent development. In the Big Ten, there are a lot of great talent developers who fall a little short in the recruiting arena. Saban excels in both. He takes players with obvious talent and has them play the right way, particularly on defense. And his teams are always prepared for big games. You have to earn everything you get against Saban's teams, particularly against the defense.
Jason from Spartan Country writes: Adam, thinking torward this upcoming season, I am excited about Michigan State's first game against Boise State. Both teams lost veteran quarterbacks in Kirk Cousins, and Kellen Moore. Should we expect this to be a defensive battle. Given that this will be the first starts for both teams' quarterbacks, who do you believe has the edge in this game?
Adam Rittenberg: Jason, it could be a low-scoring affair in East Lansing as Andrew Maxwell and whoever starts for Boise State (Nick Patti? Joe Southwick?) step into the spotlight at quarterback. Michigan State has the edge playing at home, and the Spartans have the type of athletic, aggressive defense that could rattle a quarterback making his first career start on the road. A big key for Michigan State, not just in this game but the whole season, will be establishing a more reliable running attack with Le'Veon Bell. The Spartans are more seasoned along the offensive line, and Bell has played a lot of football. They'll need to lean on the run game a lot more to take pressure off of Maxwell. The other key is handling Boise's speed. This will be a tough test for MSU against a team that has built its rep on winning games like these, but I like the Spartans' chances.
John from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam, just wanted to write and say I like your approach "Yeah, Chris, I got your email. It's our trip and our decisions."You didn't pick the games I would have, but who cares, it was your pick. With election season coming it's refreshing to see people that stick to the point (e.g. it was YOUR choice) and not just pander to everyone.Don't run for office, though. You need to learn to be a lot more slimy
Adam Rittenberg: Good advice, John. Don't think you'll see me on the ticket any time soon. Big Ten blog readers are passionate, and they love telling me where I should go, what I should write, which teams I should pick, etc. And sometimes they're right. But in this case, these are my picks and my road trip. We'll soon open up this topic to the floor and see where you, the Big Ten fan, would want to go this fall if you had unlimited resources. Should be fun.
Mike from Chicago writes: This will sound like an odd question if the answer is no (or perhaps stalkerish if its yes), but were you at Southport Lanes in Chicago last weekend? I saw someone that looked just like you, but couldn't be sure because the mugshot at the bottom of your stories is so tiny. Regardless, I'm a big fan of the Big 10 Blog (go Huskers). Here's hoping you're right about Martinez figuring things out for next season!
Adam Rittenberg: Indeed that was me, Mike. My apologies that you had to see my poor bowling form, but it was a great time at a great place. Very old school. Manual pin setters, no electronic scoreboards, tips stuffed into the bowling ball when you're done playing. Taylor Martinez's progress should be a major story line throughout the season. If he steps up his game, Nebraska very well could take that next step in 2012.