Less than a week till the season! Let's get to those questions ...
Ryan from Omaha writes: Nebraska's defense looks like a pretty solid group without any stars. Who do you think could be rising stars on the Huskers' defense? Could Mohammed Seisay end up being as big as a star as Lavonte David? After all, he is wearing the jersey number four.
Adam Rittenberg: I'm interested to see Seisay, Ryan, but there are others in the secondary who could take a step. Daimion Stafford has excellent potential at safety, and it looks like Ciante Evans is having a good camp. Who steps up at linebacker alongside Will Compton? Should be an interesting group to watch. I like the depth up front and have heard very good things about Eric Martin as he steps into a more featured role.
Jay from Arlington writes: You guys are massively underestimating Penn State. There schedule is entirely manageble and have a significant advantage in speed and athleticism over every team they play. Penn State should field the nation's top linebacking corps for the second straight year (5th time since 2005) along with the Big Ten's top D-line. At worst, they are upgrading both end positions. While the secondary loses 3 1/2 starters, they are upgrading every spot. Barring injury, the defense could be tops in the country. Offensively, we'll see, but what we will see from day one is an upgrade as the new staff is not afraid of tweaking its scheme to the players strengths and there is not a defense on their schedule that can run with them. Expect Penn State to reach at least ten wins and possible the best record in the league and to take home the real league crown.
Adam Rittenberg: Jay, love your optimism, and I agree that Penn State's defense can carry the Lions a long way this fall. The front seven will be very, very good, and potentially better than last year's front seven. I disagree on the secondary, though. Not much depth at all, and it's tough to replace all four starters, no matter who you are. Also, I'm still figuring out how Penn State will score points. The schedule certainly favors Penn State, but the non-league portion contains no gimmes (Ohio, Virginia, Navy and Temple). I just don't know if Penn State can expect to win every game 14-10 or 20-13. It's hard to keep winning with that formula, although Penn State was successful in the first part of 2011. To reach 10 wins, the Lions offense will have to exceed all expectations, and Penn State will have to be very tough on its home field, where it gets both Ohio State and Wisconsin. The road schedule isn't overwhelming.
Rick from Union City, Calif., writes: I grew up in B1G country and now live on the west coast. What really bothers me is the bad reputation the conference gets for its bowl record each year. B1G teams play their SEC counterparts on hostile turf in SEC country (games in Tampa and Orlando) and when B1G teams make the Sugar or Orange Bowls they too are played in the backyards of the SEC. And don't even get me started with the Rose Bowl...bring USC or UCLA to Ann Arbor or Columbus in the frigid cold in Jan. and see how they do with 100,000 plus fans cheering against them.
Adam Rittenberg: Rick, I hear ya, but the bowl locations aren't about to change. No one wants to come to the Midwest in late December or early January, so Big Ten teams, for the most part, will continue to play virtual road games in the bowls. While I could see a bigger-time bowl coming to a place like Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy, it would take time to put that even together. The thing is, the Big Ten has had success in these games in the past. The league's Capital One and Outback bowl records are bad. The Rose Bowl is another story and the Big Ten has to start doing better in Pasadena, but it's not as if the Big Ten hasn't won road bowl games before.
David from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Hi Adam,A couple questions about Michigan players. First about Denard Robinson: It seems he has the highest returning passer rating in the Big Ten. Why is this, like, never mentioned? It seems both highly relevant to Michigan's and the Big Ten's preseason outlook and contrary to the lazy company line about "He's a running back, hur-hur-hur." Second, about Taylor Lewan and your and Brian's player rankings: Both Lewan and Gholston are deservedly touted (putatively!) as future first round draft picks. I see that Gholston will rank decidedly higher than Lewan in your player rankings. And yet when Lewan and Gholston matched up last year in MSU's big win, Gholston **never once** defeated Lewan. I am curious, then, of the characteristics you use to separate these players' ranks.
Adam Rittenberg: Good note on Robinson being the Big Ten's top returning passer according to QB rating. He's just barely above Iowa's James Vandenberg even though Denard threw eight more interceptions and five fewer touchdown passes. I agree with you that it's lazy to say Robinson isn't a real quarterback, and it's also lazy to say he fades down the stretch. While he has had many of his biggest performances in September, look at what he did against Nebraska and Ohio State to finish out the regular season. He finished Big Ten play playing his best football. Now he didn't play well in the bowl game and got bailed out by Junior Hemingway, I don't think it's fair to say Denard doesn't show up in Big Ten games. As to the Lewan/Gholston question, we put a lot of emphasis on the way Gholston finished the season against Georgia in the Outback Bowl. He was absolutely dominant against a solid SEC team. Penn State's Devon Still used a big Outback Bowl performance to springboard himself to Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011, and Gholston very well could do the same. It'll be a lot of fun to see Lewan and Gholston match up Oct. 20 in Ann Arbor, and Lewan certainly has the potential to rise up this list. But Gholston left us with a strong impression, and his talent level is obvious. That's why we have him higher.
Brandon from Las Vegas writes: Adam,From you and Bennet's over/under write-up:"Ohio State Over-under: 9 wins Adam's pick: Push. The Buckeyes will cruise through a soft non-league slate, but reality arrives in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. Although a 10-win season certainly is within reach, I think Ohio State has a few stumbles in Big Ten play in its first go-around under Urban Meyer." I really think people are overestimating MSU and undersetimating OSU. That was a close defensive game last year. I don't see how OSU with an even better defense that will actually get some sideline rest, combined with an actual offense, doesn't beat a good defensive team but with new QB and Skill. My prediction, the OSU offense struggle to move the ball against one of the nations elite defences but Ohio State's is pretty good too. The sacks mount up, a key pick-6, and huge special teams play seals the deal for an upset in East Lansing. I'm thinking 11 wins, with the lone loss coming from a sleeper. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Brandon, while I agree Ohio State will be better on both sides of the ball this season, I still think Michigan State's defense poses some challenges for a Buckeyes offense going through some major transition. I also think the common belief that Michigan State will take major steps backward with Andrew Maxwell at quarterback is a bit off. The Spartans will be a different type of offense this year, more run-focused around junior Le'Veon Bell. The other thing is the game takes place in East Lansing, and Ohio State will be playing its first road game with the new offense. Communication could be a challenge for Braxton Miller & Co. Could your situation pan out Sept. 29? Absolutely. But I'm sticking with my Michigan State pick.
BRT from Swaziland writes: You're probably pretty bummed that you don't have any more over/unders to do, so here's one more: the icky/comical marriage of Canada's greatest musical icons, Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger--10 months. I'm loving the best case/worst case previews. They're very funny, and you should do a little more humor writing throughout the season. It would do most of your readership good to take things a little less seriously now and then.
Adam Rittenberg: I consulted my wife on this as she takes the over, just barely. She thinks they'll last 14 months, the same number of Carats on Avril's engagement ring. Glad you enjoyed the best case/worst case series, and you're absolutely right about more humor writing. We'll do more of it because it's fun, and the readership definitely could lighten up at times.