- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Happy Tuesday. Let's do this.
Nic from Vermillion, S.D., writes: Say the Huskers lose in the Big title game; is their destination likely the Outback bowl, since the Capital one want us two years in a row or will that also depend on where South Carolina ends up? Finally, if they go to the Rose bowl, and there are no extra Pac 12 teams eligible, what are the odds of the Fiesta bowl snatching up Notre Dame instead, leading to a Neb vs OU matchup?
Adam Rittenberg: Nic, I think there's a good chance Nebraska would go to Outback rather than Cap One because it would be a repeat and Michigan hasn't gone to Orlando since Lloyd Carr's final game (Jan. 1, 2008). Both fan bases travel well and both teams have name recognition, so it's a win-win for both bowls. I think Cap One will have some flexibility with the SEC pick, as Florida, LSU and South Carolina are all in the mix. Regarding your Rose Bowl scenario, if no Pac-12 teams are eligible and Notre Dame is, I'd be very surprised if the Rose doesn't select the Irish to face the Big Ten champion. A potentially undefeated Notre Dame team -- or, heck, even a one-loss Notre Dame team -- would be extremely appealing to the Rose officials. While some Nebraska fans certainly would prefer longtime rival Oklahoma, you can't fault the Rose for picking the Irish if it can.
Rich from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, I think the notion of officials conspiring with the Conference office is absurd. However, the quality of the officiating in the Big Ten is markedly poorer this season and has been getting gradually worse for several seasons. The Big Ten should hire a third party outside of the conference office to evaluate the officials. And those evaluations should be shared with the public each week. This brings transparency to the discussion. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: Rich, I don't know if I'd agree the officiating has been getting worse over time. I think officials always missed calls, but the improvement of technology with so many camera angles, slow-motion replay, etc., allows us to see so much more of the game than we used to. This season hasn't been a good one for Big Ten officials. Far too many errors, and the replay issue at Nebraska is inexcusable in my view. Bill Carollo, while working for the Big Ten, does evaluate every game and every official and every play sent in by the coaches. I think Bill is really good at his job and nationally respected in the officiating world. I would like to see the Big Ten be more transparent about officiating and acknowledge some of these mistakes publicly. That's not the league's style, but the world has changed and fans have much more access to potential bad calls than they used to. The public deserves some answers.
Chris from Traverse City, Mich., writes: What happened to the Big Ten Champion playing in the Orange Bowl that was announced a few weeks back, but not finalized? I suspect with many Michigan fans in Florida, and big Ten fans, that Miami could still be the preferred destination over Arizona.
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I think the commissioners all had to compromise to an extent, and the Big Ten and SEC having access to two contract bowls each (Big Ten with Rose, SEC with Sugar/Champions) wasn't equitable to the other leagues. Also, it wasn't necessarily the Big Ten champion that would go to the Orange Bowl in years where the Rose served as a semifinal, but it would have been the next highest-rated Big Ten team in some years. Ultimately, there wasn't enough support for this among the group, and that's why you see a wider bowl destination pool for Big Ten champions that a) aren't in the top four and b) can't go to the Rose Bowl because it's being used as a national semifinal.
Shaun from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I agree about the officiating in the conference this year, and the Penn State fumble was clearly a blown call. But two things; there was plenty of time for Nebraska to come back and score had that been ruled a touchdown, it was hardly a game clincher. Secondly, Nebraska supposedly benefited from a bad PI call against MSU the week before; perhaps. But lets not forget that the call only moved NU closer to a TD; they were well within field goal range to send the game to OT, and had been the victim of several questionable calls earlier in that game, not the least of which was an NU player being shoved into the MSU QB out of bounds, a call that led directly to a Michigan State TD. Obviously all kinds of things could have changed following these calls, and if you believe in quantum realities, they did in a parallel universe. But frankly, if your team loses a game because of one blown call, your team needs to play better. Period
Adam Rittenberg: Shaun, I completely agree with your last point, and it's why the complaining from fans, while somewhat understandable, gets really old. Unless the call is made on the final play of the game and changes a score or a likely scoring chance, you can't definitively say it cost a team that game. Penn State never really stopped Nebraska's offense in the second half Saturday. Would the Lions have won had Matt Lehman's reach been correctly ruled a touchdown? Maybe, maybe not. It's not an absolute. It's unfortunate and a mistake that shouldn't be tolerated by Bill Carollo. But it's not the sole reason for Penn State's loss, either. If you want to cite a call that determined a game, look to the penalty on Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis for running into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman in last year's Big Ten title game, which nullified a Keshawn Martin punt return that could have set up the game-winning score. Instead, Wisconsin runs out the clock and wins a league title. That's a big call (and a correct one, I may add).
Fox from Los Angeles writes: nothing cheers me up - not the fact that Northwestern could easily end up with 9 wins this year for the first time since '08, not the revelation that has been Venric Mark at running back, not even the overall improvement of a defense that lost a lot of veterans. Why? It's because it doesn't matter - at the end of the day, NU is just going to blow it in the second half. Every time, the same way. You can set your watch by them. Is it unreasonable for me to want to see some heads roll? I know Fitz is committed to his coaching staff and I applaud that, but this is getting ridiculous. If the players come and go but the results are the same (it's like watching games on repeat) then it's got to be the coaching right? Is it time to send the defensive coordinator packing or must we remain patient just a little longer?
Adam Rittenberg: Fox, understand your frustration, and you make some valid points about Northwestern's late-game issues. It does seem at times that Pat Fitzgerald plays not to lose and hopes the other team makes enough mistakes, rather than going for the kill and finishing them off. Northwestern rarely seems comfortable playing with a big lead. On the flip side, the Wildcats never, ever give up and are terrific at responding, even from tough losses like Saturday's. From a macro perspective, the program is in really good shape, and you should remember that even if you're disappointed right now. This team wasn't supposed to do much -- I had them at 6-6 -- and it's a few plays away from potentially heading to the Big Ten title game. Unlike most Big Ten teams, Northwestern has some decent nonconference wins (Vanderbilt, Syracuse). It's an extremely young team, and Fitzgerald is finally showing more willingness to play talented young players rather than seniors who have paid their dues but lack talent. That's a significant step for him. The recruiting is improving and the recent facilities announcement is huge. There have been some coaching errors this year on both sides of the ball. The offensive game plans against Penn State and especially Nebraska were very poor. But the overall plan at Michigan was good. There were two really bad plays at the end (punt, Hail Mary) that cost the Wildcats. That has to improve and it's important for Fitzgerald to evaluate late-game situations, while acknowledging that his team still has won a lot of close games over the years. I advocated some staff changes after last year, but I don't think they're necessary now.
Brad in Minneapolis writes: Please walk us away from the ledge, Adam. Although many fans (like me) believed that Iowa would be mediocre given their returning players and new coordinators/coaches, they clearly have gone backwards! Offensively they may taken two steps backwards even thought they returned a QB many would say was one of the better passers in the B10. Is it talent? Is it the cruddy horizontal passing game? Is it the attrition from 2008-present? Is the program stale? I am tired of hearing about "execution" from the head coach. How do "lesser" teams do more with less? if you do not have the talent to run your scheme, shouldn't you modify the scheme?
Adam Rittenberg: Back away, Brad, back away. I hate to sound like a coach, but it's honestly a combination of things. A program that rarely changes coaches has a fairly extreme staff makeover in the offseason, and has clearly struggled to a adapt. James Vandenberg's struggles are baffling because he seemed on the cusp of big things after his junior season. He doesn't have a great receiving corps around him. The scheme doesn't seem to be clicking offensively, and the number of pass routes run short of the first-down marker is really inexcusable. That's Football 101, and Iowa keeps making the same mistake. The bigger issue here, as I've mentioned before, is that Iowa failed to build on the momentum from the Orange Bowl championship team in 2009. The 2010 season was really damaging because Iowa had so many NFL players on the roster and only managed to go 7-5 (8-5 after a bowl win). That's the year a program like Iowa has to capitalize on momentum and continue it, not go the other way. The team was mediocre in 2011 and bad this year, but that 2010 team is the one I keep thinking about. If Iowa wins the Big Ten that year, as some had predicted, things would be a lot different these days.
Angela from Houston writes: This was the worst article I believe I have ever read. I am not sure if you are unfamiliar with the Big Ten and just looked up our schedules for the next week and went off of that or if you truly don't know sports. The first line was ridiculous and made no sense: Nebraska has moved into the top 14 of the BCS standings, making it eligible for at-large BCS consideration. But the Big Ten's best -- and really only -- chance for an at-large berth is Michigan. You then move on to discuss who each team should root for, saying Nebraska should root for Iowa, well yes, I suppose if that was the only game that was left, Iowa will not beat Michigan, Ohio St, however most likely will. You continue to discuss scenarios, why even include Ohio St, they need to root for, themselves?This was awful, I would have just wrote in the comments, but do not have an account and didn't want to sign up for one. Believe you should know this, please do your homework a little bit better and proof read before submitting.
Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, guys, this was too hilarious not to post. Angela, what part about "Big Ten rooting interests: Week 12" do you not understand? Yes, the whole story is about which teams Big Ten should root for IN WEEK 12. So yes, Nebraska should root for Iowa to beat Michigan, because if Michigan loses, it can lock up a spot in Indianapolis with a victory against Minnesota. If both teams win, or even if Nebraska loses, I'll point out in next week's Rooting Interests piece that Nebraska should root for Ohio State to beat Michigan. As I explained, Nebraska is eligible for BCS at-large consideration but likely won't get there because it will a) win the Big Ten title and an automatic berth b) lose another game and be unable to get back into the top 14 by selection Sunday. You're telling me to proofread? Seriously?
Steve from Atlanta writes: Hi Adam,I'm starting to look forward to next year already so looking at cross over games for Legend Teams. It appears Michigan State has the easiest path to Indy. I was reminded they have Indiana has their permanent cross over game. They don't play Wisconsin, Ohio State or Penn State.I will never agree with having a permanent cross over game. It is patently unfair. I thought the idea in athletics was to have an even playing field. Michigan State has a clear advantage every year playing Indiana when Michigan has to play Ohio State and Nebraska has to play Penn State.
Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I agree with you about Michigan State. The Spartans face the three weakest teams in the Leaders Division and play Michigan at home. They do have to travel to both Nebraska and Northwestern, two teams that return a lot of firepower from this season, but the overall slate sets up extremely well. The crossover games aren't perfect, but they're designed to maintain some rivalries (Ohio State-Michigan, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Illinois-Northwestern) with teams in opposite divisions. Michigan State definitely benefits from getting Indiana every year rather than, say, Ohio State. But unless the divisions were reorganized to maintain more annual rivalries, you're going to see crossover games, which are, as you say, inequitable.