- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Enjoy the games tonight and tomorrow. I know I will.
Joe from Saline, Mich., writes: Before we can label the Wolverines as "back" don't they have to start beating the upper end B1G teams? Over the past 4 years they have gone 2-13 against MSU, OSU, PSU, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, you're right that Michigan needs to record some key wins against the Big Ten's best. That said, a win against the defending national champion at a neutral site would show Michigan once again belongs among the nation's elite. No Big Ten program has done what Alabama has under Nick Saban in recent years, so you could argue a win Saturday night would be bigger than any win Michigan could record against a Big Ten power this season. It wouldn't mean much if the Wolverines fell apart in conference play, but that seems unlikely. Bottom line: Michigan needs to end the losing streaks against Michigan State and Iowa, and record a win against a quality Ohio State team (last year's squad wasn't). But beating Alabama would be huge for Brady Hoke and his program.
Zach from Ames, Iowa, writes: Adam, Nebraska is optimistic about the defense returning to prominence this fall. I have agreed to a certain degree because the depth is better, except when I read that Ciante Evans is a budding star out of Lincoln, I begin to get a little skeptical. Evans was a huge weakness in the secondary last year, especially in games against Fresno St, Washington, Ohio St and Northwestern. So much so that they converted Corey Cooper and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from safety and wide receiver at one point. Is Nebraska that desperate for star power that were banking on Evans to blossom into the next Prince Amukamara or Alfonso Dennard? Say it ain't so.
Adam Rittenberg: Zach, while I understand your concern about Evans, who entered last season with some hype and didn't back it up, I wouldn't write him off, either. He seems to have taken accountability during the offseason and improved his play during spring practice and into fall camp. Players can make strides after a tough season, and Evans, by most accounts, has a better understanding of the defense and the nickel position. I don't think Nebraska needs Evans to be Amukamara or Dennard. While it'd be nice if a superstar cornerback or two emerged, the secondary's overall depth should be strong enough this season. I don't see the excitement about Evans as a cause for panic.
FFXLion from Washington D.C., writes: Glad that the season is finally upon us. You and Brian did pre-season predictions for the B1G. For fun, my 13 year old son did predictions, which I shared in the comments on the blog. He was high on the Legends Division and couldn't really separate UM, MSU and Nebraska (in his mind, at least), so he predicted a 3-way tie among these teams at 7-1 in conference. While you could debate whether this is plausible, it did generate a lot of discussions about 3-way tiebreakers, and it would seem that this particular hypothetical tie would be broken by BCS standings. My question to you: If these teams end up tied this way, who do you think is MOST likely to get to the CCG, and why? And, who do you think would be least likely?
Adam Rittenberg: FFX, the final BCS standings no longer play nearly as big a factor in the Big Ten's tiebreaker system. We went over this on the blog last year, but it's always good to rehash.
If three teams finished tied atop a division, you first look at their records against each other
If one team defeated the two others, it would go to Indy as the division winner
The next tiebreaker is records within the division. So if two teams had a division loss and the other had a loss outside the division, the one with the loss outside the division would go
The next tiebreaker is records against the next best team in the division (fourth place)
You have to go way down the tiebreaker list before the final BCS standings come into play. Bottom line: it's a lot easier to break ties now within divisions because all the teams play each another.
Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, ESPN's recent focus on the Heisman helped me remember a major question I had last year. As a Buckeye fan, how did Montee(ay) Ball NOT win the Heisman last year? I understand that Wisconsin did not win the NC, and maybe they didn't have as tough a schedule as others, but come on! It's not like he was playing in the MAC? This is the Big Ten! Who did RG3 play? Did they win the NC? Seriously think about this, what did Ball have to do in order to win it? He had the 2nd greatest RB season EVER! There can't be more of an obvious prejudice against the Big Ten or a more overlooked player EVER. What's "their" argument? Please, tell me.
Adam Rittenberg: Paul, some good points. As Brian Bennett has pointed out several times, Ball's 2011 season likely will gain more appreciation in time than it did when it actually happened. His numbers are insane, and he recorded them in a power conference. Several factors worked against him, some of which illustrate problems with the Heisman race. Wisconsin promoting quarterback Russell Wilson for the Heisman -- and justifiably so -- before Ball didn't help Ball's cause. You also had another running back in Trent Richardson who played for a team (Alabama) and in a league (SEC) more highly regarded Wisconsin and the Big Ten. Griffin was a more familiar name nationally than Ball, and while you can argue the Big 12 was meh, most folks would say the same about the Big Ten in 2011. I think Griffin deserved the Heisman and voted for him, but Ball should have gained more serious consideration for the award and finished higher in the final voting. It also would have helped if Wisconsin had stayed in the national title picture longer. And yes, scheduling plays a role. Ball would have benefited from a big performance against another elite team from a top conference in September.
Mark from Wilmette, Ill., writes: How many mailbags do I have to read before there's a question about my beloved Northwestern Wildcats? Here's one for you: what are the chances NU exceeds expectations this season? With a defense that can't be any worse than last year, and an offense led by the dynamic Kain Colter, I think we could win 8 games this season. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Ask and you shall receive, Mark. The two big question marks for Northwestern are the secondary and the offensive line. One has been historically bad; the other looks a little shaky entering the season. If both units are above average, Northwestern has a chance to win eight or more games, especially if it capitalizes on what should be a favorable opening schedule. The Wildcats can't get shredded by every quarterback they face. Part of that is having a better pass rush than in 2011, when Northwestern rarely generated any pressure. But another part is having more athletes and playmakers in the secondary. Colter is a stud and could turn out be the best fit Northwestern has had at the helm of its spread offense. But the Wildcats also need to run the ball and get more contributions from the running back position, which has been a weakness under Pat Fitzgerald. The line needs to perform like it did in last year's Nebraska game more often. If it does, Northwestern can surprise some folks in the Legends Division.
Michael from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: In your latest article you said that Michigan has had a historical bad defense... I couldn't disagree more. I think the backbone of Michigans national prominence in the last 20 years (barring the last 5 or so) has been their defense. Can you please explain your position with some concrete stats. Without a further explanation, I have no choice but to disagree with you which is frustrating because I have enjoyed and trusted your writing for a long time.Sincerely-A proud Michigan fan
Adam Rittenberg: Michael, I think you misread that statement. I wrote that Michigan had a historically bad defense from 2008-10 under Rich Rodriguez. Do you really need me to rehash those painful stats? Here's one: Michigan finished 110th in total defense in 2010, allowing more than 450 yards per game. That's historically bad for U-M. Of course, the program's history is steeped in great defenses. But that particular period saw a major decline. Fortunately, Hoke and his staff have things on the right track again.
Nathan from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, for weeks I've been reading comments and questions from other readers about their disappointment in MSU being ranked so highly among you and Brian and other outlets picking them to win the division and possible Rose Bowl Berth because of the fact that they lost so much on offense. While I agree that starting three brand new receivers with little to no game experience is a little unorthodox and rarely happens, EVERY team in the country starts a new QB every 2-3 years with them also having little to no game experience. Why is the fact that Andrew Maxwell is a new starter causing such a huge fuss among people? Even if it's clear that he is further along than Cousins was at this point and could possibly be better by being in the program for four years now?
Adam Rittenberg: Nathan, you make a good point about the nature of college football and the quarterback transitions we see every 2-3 years at virtually every program. I think folks who don't know Maxwell's background assume he's going to fall apart on Friday night, which, in fairness, he might. But he's not a true freshman who has never stepped on a field with Big Ten defenders. He practices against a very good defense in East Lansing, and he has prepared for this moment for more than two years. I don't think you can say he's further along than Cousins was at this point until you see him play an entire game, but the Boise State matchup will provide a great gauge of his progress.
Dan from Omaha writes: Not sure I agree with your choice on who has the most to lose. Really, I'm not sure Penn State has much to lose...given their situation, I feel most would be sympathetic for at least this season, given the player turnover, the events that have taken place over the last several months, a new head coach, and Ohio being a generally solid team. I almost feel like Michigan could have the most to lose, and not just for themselves but for the conference as a whole. Getting blown out by Alabama could not only be demoralizing for the Wolverines, it could further a generally negative perception of the conference in terms of strength. Playing close or winning the game would provide a huge jolt to their own players' confidence, as well as give the conference a much needed shot in the arm in terms of perceived strength. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Dan, some good points. You might have missed it in the lead-in, but Brian and I both feel Michigan State has the most to lose in Week 1. The Spartans get a new-look Boise State team in their house, and send an elite defense against a first-time starting quarterback. They have to get that win. We framed the question as, "besides Michigan State, who has the most to lose?" Michigan is an interesting option, and I agree that a blowout loss would do some damage for the Wolverines and certainly for the Big Ten. But the Wolverines are still building their program in Year 2 of the Brady Hoke era. No one expects them to beat Alabama, and a loss, even of the blowout variety, wouldn't be the end of the world. They still have opportunities to make strides against Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, etc. I don't think there would be the doom-and-gloom in Ann Arbor after a blowout loss like there would be in State College after a game Penn State is supposed to win and needs to win after such a tough offseason.
John from Johnson City, Tenn., writes: Your Purdue best/worst case scenarios were spot on except for two things: 1) Your missing 3 ACL tears and 2) Purdue athletes only seem to get arrested at poorly named Where Else?
Adam Rittenberg: I still have a soft spot for Harry's, but the track record at Where Else? suggests that's where bad things happen for the Boilers. You're right about including the ACLs (although I hope that trend ends at Purdue). Maybe there's an APPACLHG (Angry Purdue Player ACL Hating God) lurking around West Lafayette. He must be stopped.