Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
5:00
PM ET
Wishing you a great first weekend of March ...

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, What are your thoughts on the Jim Bollman hire by Michigan State? Seems to fit the mold of a Mark Dantonio coordinator?

Adam Rittenberg: He definitely fits Dantonio and what Michigan State likes to do on offense. He's a pro-style guy who believes in run-first football, stout offensive line plan and limiting mistakes. Bollman drove Ohio State fans nuts at times with conservative play calls, especially at the end of his tenure. He recruited well as the Buckeyes' offensive line coach, but some of his lines didn't always perform to their potential. To be fair, Ohio State had some productive offenses under Bollman, and former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel had a lot of control over the offensive game plan. Should Bollman's hiring make Michigan State fans do back flips? No. But did anyone expect Dantonio to hire the next Gus Malzahn? Of course not. I'm not crazy about the move, but I'm not surprised, either. One area Bollman could really help is the offensive line, which has typically been a notch below the Big Ten's elite. If Michigan State can push defenders off of the ball, it can efficiently run the ball, use play-action, control possession and limit mistakes. Teams that do those things well typically win a lot of games.



Kyle from Kingston, Ontario, writes: Adam, I will never understand this B1G vs. SEC thing. Maybe I am showing my age! As an Iowa fan, I will never cheer for an Ohio State or a Michigan Victory. In fact, I hope they lose every game, I don't care if they are playing an SEC team. Conferences don't win championships, teams wins championships! At the end of the day I want one team to win, and that is Iowa! Maybe I am the crazy one! When It comes down to it, lets say Ohio St. wins the BCS championship, does Iowa get any more glamor and praise? Help me out Adam! I just don't get it anymore....I mean rooting for your rivals? Not this Hawkeye! How about you?

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, I understand your point of view, and you're certainly not the only fan who feels this way. It does, though, illustrate a difference between the Big Ten and the SEC. There's more league pride among SEC fans even though they also have bitter rivalries in their league. The attitude is, "If my team can't win a title, I'd rather see another SEC team raise the crystal football than those snob Yankees!" Were Auburn fans rooting for Alabama against Notre Dame? Some of them were, because of their SEC pride.

I do think Iowa would get a bit more credit for being in a strong league that wins national titles even if it doesn't win any of those titles. Say Iowa goes 9-3 and loses to two Big Ten teams that make the four-team playoff, one of which wins the national title. I think Iowa is viewed in a better light nationally because it plays in such a strong league. The conference vs. conference thing is a fairly recent phenomenon, but it has become bigger and bigger. It's a big reason why we do the conference blogs at ESPN.com. There's also a genuine Big Ten-SEC rivalry. I can sense it when I'm around Big Ten officials. These are the two richest leagues -- both financially and in tradition. They have fundamental cultural differences. But they're also both chasing championships (right now, only one of them is winning them). My sense is Big Ten fans would rally around a league title contender now more than they would have a few years ago, but the league pride likely will never match the SEC's.



Derek from La Crosse, Wis., writes: In the past three NFL drafts, the B1G has had 11 WRs drafted, the SEC has had 12, the ACC has had 10, the Pac-12 has had 8, and the Big 12 has had 10. This year may not be the greatest year for the B1G, but at least over the past three years we are doing fine. It seems like this might just be another case of people thinking the B1G is a lot worse than it actually is.

Adam Rittenberg: Derek, it's good to point out those numbers, but let's look at them a little deeper. Last April, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins became the first Big Ten wide receiver drafted in the first round since Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. in 2007. The Big 12 has had five wideouts drafted in the first round between 2008-12, and the SEC and ACC both have had three. Let's also look at the NFL's receiving leaders from this past season. The highest-rated former Big Ten player -- the Miami Dolphins' Brian Hartline, who played at Ohio State -- checks in at No. 16. The ACC, SEC and Big 12 all have multiple players in the top 15. When it comes to receptions, the highest-rated former Big Ten player -- Denver's Eric Decker, who played at Minnesota -- is tied for 13th. Decker did finish second in receiving touchdowns (13). We also should note that Mario Manningham (Michigan product) was injured, but the Big Ten isn't mass-producing stars at receiver. It's a position that needs to be upgraded through recruiting. And I think it will be.



Blaine from Westfield, N.J., writes: Everyone keeps saying the lack of talent in the BIG is driven by population shifts to the south, but if that is true how do you explain the talented and highly ranked basketball programs?

Adam Rittenberg: Blaine, there are several key differences in the two sports. Roster size is probably the biggest, as basketball teams don't need nearly as many top recruits to reach an elite level as football teams do. Two or three great players can get a basketball team in the mix for a national title. Football, in most cases, requires much more depth. The number of major cities in or near the Big Ten footprint also helps. Chicago, for example, produces nationally elite basketball players every year, many of whom end up at Big Ten programs. The city isn't nearly as fruitful for nationally elite football recruits (proportionally). The same goes for Indianapolis and other Midwestern cities. You also have states or regions where basketball is as big or bigger than football. The state of Indiana certainly comes to mind. Although basketball in the South isn't a complete afterthought, we all know football is king in states like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. The Big Ten also has more good to great programs in basketball than in football. There are more Big Ten basketball programs that have competed at an elite level in the past 25 years than Big Ten football programs.



Corey from State College, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, avid reader of the blog when I am procrastinating studying for midterms (like right now). Anyways, I don't think I am too crazy in thinking that the hardest recruiting is behind Bill O'Brien. Obviously the number of scholarships hurts in how many prospect they can miss on, but in terms of actually recruiting them to Happy Valley, I think it will be getting easier. These kids will have the opportunity to play in bowl games. While you could argue our teams may struggle with only 65 scholarship players, you can tell the recruits that our Nittany Lions' performance on the field will be up to them. Like I said, maybe I am too excited about Hackenberg and Breneman, but with one year left in the #1 student section in the country, how could you blame me?

Adam Rittenberg: You make some good points, Corey. Being able to offer the bowl experience -- in addition to the chance to win Big Ten championships -- certainly aids O'Brien and his staff on the recruiting trail. O'Brien also can use the success of the 2012 season as a major selling point. The concern is how Penn State's recruiting would be affected by a down season or two. What if the effects of the sanctions show up more in 2013 than in 2012? What if Penn State lacks the leadership it had from a special senior class in 2012? A losing season or two always impacts recruiting, whether or not there are NCAA sanctions involved. So the key for O'Brien is to keep getting good to great results on the field. Penn State doesn't need to win nine or 10 games every year to maintain recruiting through the sanctions phase, but like any team, it can't really afford 3-9 seasons, either. My point is the sanctions themselves might directly be less of a factor going forward in recruiting because these recruits will be able to participate in bowl games, but the effects of the sanctions on the current team could hurt recruiting if the wins don't keep coming.



Les from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., writes: First round forecast "not good?" If Lewan hadn't decided to stay in school, he was projected as a high 1st round pick, according to the journalists. I guess the pundits got lucky because now they can complain about the conference. I realize it's the offseason, and interest has to be created, but why not wait until the actual draft to see what happens when the actual teams decide who they want, before bemoaning the league's fate? Also...Tom Brady, 6th round, Drew Brees, second round, Brett Favre, second round, Joe Montana, low third round...It's silly to somehow keep score based on this stuff, especially considering it hasn't happened yet.

Adam Rittenberg: Les, as I pointed out in the story, if Lewan had declared for the draft he'd likely be the first Big Ten player selected, perhaps in the Top 10 overall. The larger point is that players like Johnathan Hankins and Kawann Short, who had been on Mel Kiper's Big Board for much of the season, have seen their stock drop in recent weeks. The fact no Big Ten players are listed among Kiper's top 25 is significant when you compare the results to other conferences. And the fact the Big Ten hasn't had a player go in the Top 10 since 2008 -- after having six straight seasons of Top 10 picks -- also is significant. Of course there are examples of Big Ten players -- and those from other leagues -- who were drafted later and became stars in the NFL. The Big Ten also has produced good pros recently like J.J. Watt. But the number of high draft picks is undoubtedly on the decline. Perhaps that will change next year with Lewan and others entering the draft.



Mac from Cincinnati writes: Adam, I know he didnt make a splash in the NFL but you forgot to add Vernon Gholston in the early first round picks in your article. I believe he went 5 or 6 overall.

Adam Rittenberg: Mac, I only listed the Big Ten's top overall selection for each draft. Gholston went No. 6 overall to the New York Jets in the 2008 draft, but Michigan's Jake Long was the Big Ten's top overall pick that year at No. 1 (to Miami). That's why Gholston isn't listed, but the fact the Big Ten had two players selected in the top six shows how times have changed.

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