Let's get to it ...
Radi from Bangkok writes: Hey Adam, If the B1G wants to to expand to 18 teams, create 3 divisions and play 5 divisional games, with 2 cross-over games with each of the other 2 divisions, then invite Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech to join the B1G East Division, then offer Notre Dame to join this same division, that the Irish would be foolish to not join on these conditions?
Adam Rittenberg: Radi, I see what you mean about the Notre Dame appeal because ND still could showcase its product in "ACC country" through Georgia Tech, UNC and Virginia. Notre Dame is trying to maintain its brand in regions other than the Midwest, and perhaps a widened Big Ten would pique the interest more in South Bend than a true Midwest league. Ultimately, Notre Dame wants to remain as independent as possible and continue to play games in other regions like the West Coast (USC, Stanford) and even in Big 12 territory. Your proposed schedule would give Notre Dame only three nonleague games to maneuver. Would that be a deal-breaker? Who knows. It really comes down to whether Notre Dame will be forced to join a league. If so, ND could have a decision between a potentially weakened ACC and a broadened Big Ten. That's interesting.
Stephen from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: I'm just curious why Gerald Hodges didn't make the list. I realize that Mauti had a larger impact overall as a leader, but I think that Hodges also contributed overall to keeping the 2012 PSU team together and was an irreplaceable cog in that machine.
Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, I agree that Hodges had a big role in Penn State going 8-4 this past season. Along with Purdue DT Kawann Short and Nebraska WR Kenny Bell, Hodges was one of our final cuts from the rankings. You certainly can make a case that he should be there, but we already had six linebackers, the largest contingent of any position. Mauti certainly overshadowed Hodges, and Hodges wasn't a huge factor during nonleague play. Again, he had a great year and certainly could have been in the rankings, but we felt the other linebackers were more deserving.
John from La Crosse, Wis., writes: do you think that this Wisconsin team can have a better year than last year's even with a new coaching staff? I know that many times a new staff comes in the team is in turmoil, but this team just came off a third straight B1G Championship, and though it is losing key guys like Ball, Wagner, Taylor, and Shelton Johnson, but they do keep a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. If they get solid play from QB, another receiver steps up, and the secondary can fill its holes, do you think that they can make another run at B1G title and compete with Ohio State as well?
Adam Rittenberg: There are a lot of issues to address, John, combined with the potential growing pains of a new staff, as you point out. But you can't discount a culture of success, and that's what Wisconsin has established in recent seasons. Those players know how to win and what it takes to be champions. I think the defense will be solid, and perhaps even a bit improved under the new coaching staff. The secondary is a big concern, and Wisconsin also needs to develop a game-changing pass-rusher again. But Chris Borlandis a superstar and a great leader at linebacker. The quarterback race also is fascinating because the candidates are so different. It's too soon to tell how things will shake out and after last year, I would be a bit wary of some hiccups early in the season. The schedule also is challenging, and Ohio State is a more complete team right now. But you can never count out Wisconsin.
FredCox from Minnesota writes: No D.L. Wilhite? Oh, well...I'm gonna wager there will be 2-3 Gophers on this list next year, do you agree?
Adam Rittenberg: It's certainly possible, Fred. Gophers defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman certainly is on our radar entering the 2013 season. If he plays to his potential, he'll have a great chance to make the postseason top 25. Aside from Hageman, though, Minnesota doesn't have too many obvious potential stars. If quarterback Philip Nelson builds off of his bowl performance, he'll be a player to watch. The Gophers need more difference-makers at the offensive skill spots, and they lose two big pieces in the secondary with Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. The biggest reason to think Minnesota will have more representation is Jerry Kill's track record in Year 3 of his previous coaching stops. His teams typically make big strides.
Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Putting aside Short's snub (I still disagree with your evaluation which penalizes players on weak teams), what does Allen Robinson's inclusion at #11 say about the league this past year? Last year you guys left out Jeremy Ebert whose stats were slightly better than Robinson's this year. Obviously WR was a far weaker position across the league, but was the league in general lacking in big time players thus benefiting a good, but inconsistent Robinson?
Adam Rittenberg: Robinson at No. 11 underscores the lack of elite wide receivers in the Big Ten. The fact we only considered two other wideouts for the top 25 -- Nebraska's Bell and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis -- confirms it as well. I disagree, though, with your claim that Robinson was inconsistent. He had five or more receptions in 10 of 12 games and eclipsed 50 receiving yards in nine contests. Those numbers might not jump out in most leagues, but in the pass-challenged, receiver-strapped Big Ten, they're pretty consistent. The receiver depth was much better in 2011, which contributed to Ebert being left out despite some solid numbers. But leaving him out entirely might have been an oversight on our part.
IrrationalIowaGuy from Iowa writes: Marc Morehouse of the Gazette in the above article lists the Iowa recruits from the state of Florida since the 1999 class. There have been exactly 2 good recruiting classes, both over 10 years ago, which have panned out from Florida. The rest have transferred, dropped out, got AIRBHG'd, or rode the bench. You don't have to recruit every state, Rit, you can only have so many guys on your roster. Missouri, East Coast, Ohio/Michigan, and Illinois account for around 12-15 recruits, Iowa accounts for 4-6 recruits. Add Texas and that's a full class.
Adam Rittenberg: I agree you don't have to recruit every state, but there are certain states where you should invest, especially with limited in-state talent, and Florida is one of them. Again, there are two arguments here I don't understand. The first is the either-or argument. Big Ten teams don't have to invest their recruiting resources in Texas or Florida. They can recruit both states. Most programs around the country do just that. I understand that many of Iowa's new assistants have ties to Texas, which is great. But I also think Kirk Ferentz had an opportunity -- with so many recent staff vacancies -- to hire someone who could recruit Florida as well.
The other argument is the one you present, that just because Iowa's recruiting efforts in Florida haven't panned out means it's time to switch gears to other states/areas. Isn't that more of an Iowa problem than a Florida problem? There are countless examples of Florida recruits who have panned out, and not just the nationally elite guys but players who have come to the Big Ten and excelled in recent years. Look at James White at Wisconsin or Corey Liuget at Illinois or Trevor Siemian at Northwestern or Josh Johnson at Purdue -- and maybe Jake Rudock at Iowa. It's about finding the right players and the right fit for your team, and in my opinion, Iowa can and should find recruits from Florida to help. Every Big Ten team should invest time in that state.