- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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You can't handle the truth.
Perry the Platypus from Indianapolis writes: Curious as to why you and Brian seem to think MSU is clearly the best Big Ten team. I do agree they have the best defense, but from what I have heard thus far this spring, their offense is quite a bit behind their defense. UM has the best offense in the league, and one of the best defenses. In my opinion, UM is a more complete team than MSU, at least at this point in time. Obviously a lot of things can change before September. Why so much love for MSU, and not so much for UM?
Adam Rittenberg: Perry, I don't think there's way more love for one team over the other. The truth is not much separates Michigan State and Michigan entering the season. Both squads could be preseason top 10. Both should challenge for the Big Ten title. And the biggest game in the league very well could be Michigan State at Michigan on Oct. 20. The Spartans have some issues on offense, particularly at wide receiver, although it could be offset by a stronger rushing attack and a stronger commitment to the run. Michigan has the more potent offense. But if I had to pick one of the teams' four major units, I'd take Michigan State's defense. It's a dominant group filled with difference-makers. Michigan also could be strong on defense, but there are more question marks with the Wolverines, particularly in the front seven.
The other thing some Michigan fans have to think about is whether the Wolverines could be a better team with a worse record in 2011. The schedule is brutal, even more so than Michigan State's in 2011. While Michigan State doesn't have an easy path, either, few major-conference teams will be tested more than Michigan this fall.
Joe from St. Paul, Minn., writes: Minnesota QB Questions. Do you feel that Gray can get to the next level this year? If not, do you feel that Brewster not red shirting him was a huge issue with his development? Should the Gophers bring in Phillip Nelson sooner rather than later? Overall impression of Gopher QB situation and future. Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: MarQueis Gray should be much more comfortable in the offense this season. The question I have is whether he'll be surrounded by enough weapons to consistently attack defenses. Minnesota needs to build depth at wide receiver, running back and along the offensive line to really make that unit take the next step. While Gray's development as a quarterback was slowed by him playing so much wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore, the bigger factor is he had to learn new offenses every year. That's not the case entering the 2012 season, and while Gray has to improve his accuracy and pocket presence, he should have a much better feel of the system. Nelson is an intriguing prospect, but this is still Gray's team in 2012.
Lavar A from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Adam, Apparently Bill O'Brien has a laid out a fairly aggressive learning curve for his QB's a la the play book of the N E Pats. That said, it sounds like the PSU QB's aren't picking it up that quickly. Not really surprising. With that in mind and the fact that no team really wants to tip its hand, I suspect the passing (and play-calling in general) in the Blue-White game will be very vanilla. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Lavar A from Maryland? Hmmm ... Well, Lavar, your suspicions are correct. Here's what O'Brien recently told me about the Blue-White Game. "They said if it's a nice day, we'll get 85,000 in here," O'Brien said. "I hope those 85,000 people aren't expecting a whole lot, because I'm certainly not going to show a whole lot in that game. But we're going to be organized, we'll play hard, we'll play fast. But I wouldn't say it's going to be a dazzling show." He added that the game will be "very much of a business day" for the coaches and players. So while fans inevitably will make sweeping judgments about the quarterbacks, it's probably smart to look at the event for what it really is. From what I saw in State College, it's a work in progress for all three quarterbacks. But they did show some bright spots, and all three have strengths. It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out.
Joel from Bismarck, S.D., writes: You've mentioned any number of times Iowa's recruiting disadvantage by virtue of the location. I don't disagree, but looking at the team's roster what really jumps out to me is the number of Hawkeyes coming from Iowa City or nearby towns like Solon or Kalona. Maybe I'm reading the roster too selectively, as there are a number of other native Iowa players, but it jumps out at me just the same. I acknowledge that much of the state is rural, but with all respect to Iowa State and UNI, Iowa is "the" state school with fans all over the state. When I see the over-representation of local players I wonder if the staff is unnecessarily limiting itself by tapping them and possibly missing gems elsewhere in the state. Your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Joel, this is an interesting observation, but I don't think it shows a flawed approach to local recruiting. Iowa is going to miss on some in-state players, or not pursue some players hard enough, just like every team in the country. There are some players on Iowa State's roster who Kirk Ferentz would like to have. But Iowa can't compete for Big Ten championships solely with in-state talent. It needs to do well in the Chicago area. It needs to recruit St. Louis and neighboring states. And it probably needs a few studs from outside the region, which was the case for stars like Brad Banks (Florida) and Shonn Greene (New Jersey).
Ryan from Omaha, Neb., writes: Hey Adam, Nebraska not playing a spring game leaves somewhat of a mystery for Husker fans. The coaches have been saying Taylor Martinez has improved his throwing mechanics and we were going to get to see if he truly did. We won't find out until September now. We also won't know if Damion Stafford is having as good as an offseason as the coaches say he is and who else on the defense is stepping up. I am more interested in seeing how good our recievers have improved and how much better Andrew Green is. I also want to know more about Braylon Heard's move to cornerback. What is your take on Nebraska not playing game this year?
Adam Rittenberg: It's unfortunate for the fans, Ryan, but as I often say, these events are more for fans than they are for everyone else. The amount of absolute statements I hear from fans after watching a spring game -- where their team is intentionally trying to be as bland as possible -- is pretty comical. Yes, there have been times where players have big spring games and then turn out to be stars in the fall, but it's usually not the case. It's tough for folks to hear about Martinez's mechanics, or Stafford's and Green's strong spring, or the receivers' greater comfort, and not see it with their own eyes. It's why I'd encourage teams to put video clips of spring practices on their Web sites (many already do this), so fans can at least see a bit of what's happening. I don't fault Nebraska for canceling the game, as the risk doesn't outweigh the reward for the team. And while patience is tough for fans, it's the reality until September.
Craig from Bordentown, N.J., writes: "you'd have eight Big Ten squads with two or more "titles":"Adam, putting quotes on titles as you did here is unacceptably insulting. I don't care whether you don't like split titles, that's your opinion, but the rules are the rules. The titles were legitimately won. Teams don't control the rules within the season, the rules are what the rules are, and teams do their best to succeed within the parameters they're presented. It wasn't even within the B1G's control - The NCAA mandates we couldn't have a championship game until we had 12 teams. You ought to know this. To insult the championships that have been won simply because we had 11 teams, are you serious? You're a professional, try acting like it. Look Adam, you like what you like, but don't you dare insult teams for doing everything asked of them.
Adam Rittenberg: Craig, these are fair criticisms, although the "don't you dare" line made me laugh a little. Don't you dare have an opinion on a college football blog! Roar!!! Anyway, those championships are legitimate. They're in the record books and are mentioned on this blog when discussing a team's past. The question that prompted the response related to Nebraska in the Big 12 and how many titles it would have won in the Big Ten. My point is that by having a structure without a championship game, you have a lot of teams that can call themselves champions. That's fine. As you say, those were the rules at the time. I'm just thrilled that the Big Ten has a true championship game and one champion crowed every year, the way it should be in sports.
David from Hershey, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, I'm hoping to get your take on the Michigan offensive line. Around this Big Ten blog, it seems to be getting bashed. And I don't understand that. The depth is terrible, and that deserves to be pointed out. Also deserving pointing is the fact that the five starters may make the best starting OL in the conference (it could only be M or UW). Lewan is a probable All-American and four players on the line started last year. More yet, last year's offensive line was awesome. And, by the time the Class of 2012 arrives, last's year's OL will have had far worse depth yet. I'd like your opinion as to why the low opinions then? Please and thank you.
Adam Rittenberg: David, you bring up some good points. Michigan's starting line could be pretty darn good. Where it will rank in the Big Ten is tough to tell. Wisconsin will be good. Michigan State and Nebraska will be better up front. Penn State's offensive line also has been a "pleasant surprise" this spring, according to coach Bill O'Brien. Not sure about Lewan as a "probable All-American," but he should be in the All-Big Ten mix. I think any bashing or concerns expressed stem from Michigan losing All-American center David Molk. He shouldered a lot of responsibility in Al Borges' offense, and his presence and toughness will be missed. It will be an interesting group to monitor, but it has the potential to deliver another strong season.
20hBrian Bennett and Josh Moyer
2dBrian Bennett and Austin Ward