Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Friday mailbag is back, thanks to a little later departure time today as I head back to Mad-town for Penn State-Wisconsin.
It's time to check the pulse of Big Ten Nation.
Nick from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, writes: Adam, I know I'm getting way ahead of this, but this question came up today. If Penn State loses to Ohio State, and the Buckeyes lose to Illinois, assuming all three teams win their remaining games, who gets the Rose Bowl berth? Thanks for the answer in advance.
Adam Rittenberg: It's never too early to think ahead, Nick. Looking at the Big Ten tiebreaker rules, all three teams played one FCS school (Youngstown State, Coastal Carolina and Eastern Illinois), so we'd have to go down overall winning percentage. Because both Illinois and Ohio State would have one more loss (Missouri and USC), Penn State would go to the Rose Bowl.
Dan from Houston writes: How do you like the Big Ten's chances to get 2 teams into the BCS bowls? Of the four extra spots, I assume two will go to the SEC/Big 12, and one will go to the non-BCS (#9 Utah, for now). Current contenders for the final spot (unofficial BCS rankings): #12 BYU, #13 Ohio State, #14 Boise State, #18 Northwestern. What happens if Penn State beats Ohio State? Vice versa?
Adam Rittenberg: I don't love the Big Ten's chances to get two BCS entrants for the fourth consecutive year, but a lot could still change. Obviously, the best-case scenario for the Big Ten involves getting a team, most likely Penn State, into the BCS national championship game. That would free up the Rose Bowl to take another Big Ten squad, and most likely infuriate a lot of pepole outside the Big Ten footprint. Because Northwestern and Penn State don't play one another, it's possible that both teams could go undefeated, though it's highly unlikely. If Penn State runs the table, I'm fairly certain the Lions will be in Miami. A lot would then depend on games like Ohio State-Illinois, Michigan State-Ohio State, Northwestern-Ohio State, Illinois-Northwestern. You get the point.
Marques from Pennsylvania writes: Adam, love the blog but my question for you is about two rising star linebackers in Josh Hull from Penn State and Matt Mayberry from Indiana. They both where the number 43, which 43 would you want on your team? I know Hull has been taking a lot of criticism but I havent been one of them thats for sure! He might not have the NFL potential as Mayberry but I really like Hull.
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Marques. I'll probably have a better answer for you after watching Hull play live on Saturday night, but I love the way he responded to the criticism last week with 11 solo tackles against Purdue. In terms of a game-changing player, I would have to take Mayberry -- much to the delight of his adoring masses who read the blog -- because of his superior speed and athleticism. As you note, both players are developing nicely, but only one of them (Hull) is on a winning team.
Terry from Parts Unknown writes: All the talk on ESPN is about the SEC and Big 12. PSU beats WIsconsin this week and is right in the hunt, but gets no mention or respect..They have one of the best defenses and maybe the best offense in football....what gives.
Adam Rittenberg: I've received several e-mails like Terry's, so Robin, Kenny and the other disgruntled Lions fans should listen up. Penn State will get respect when it locks up a solid road win. The next three weeks provide two tremendous opportunities to do so, Saturday night at Wisconsin and Oct. 25 at Ohio State, where Penn State has never won as a Big Ten member. I think Penn State is for real, but the Lions' best wins have come against a 2-3 Oregon State team and a 3-2 Illinois team that went four and a half games before playing to its potential. The Lions need to do more.
Rod from Waterloo, Iowa, writes: You are an outside opinion - I assume you watched Iowa's last 3 losses, alot of us here in Iowa are confused and tired of what we see game in and game out but we love Kirk Ferentz but not his coordinators - are we wrong in our views that we need a change but can not get Kirk to do it? Or are we just grumpy fans who expect more than we should.
Adam Rittenberg: I've watched several of Iowa's games, including the Michigan State loss, which I reviewed with two Big Ten players this week. We were all baffled as to how the Hawkeyes are 3-3. They play hard up front, boast arguably the Big Ten's best defensive line and a stud running back in Shonn Greene. The problem is youth, red-zone mistakes and, to a certain extent, coaching. Iowa waited too long to name Ricky Stanzi as its starting quarterback, and the sophomore is enduring some growing pains right now. The red-zone play-calling needs to get better, but it ultimately comes down to execution, and Iowa simply isn't consistent enough right now. Something needs to change Saturday against Indiana.
John from Killeen, Texas, writes: Your post about Auburn firing Tony Franklin got me thinking. The Big Ten tends to hold on to coaches and create dynasties more than any other conference. Right now, the conference has three at the dynasty level where they control their program, are the face of football in that state and can weather the rough spots (Paterno, Tressel, Ferentz) while everyone else is within their first four years (Zook, Dantonio, Fitzgerald, Bielema, Brewster, Lynch, Rodriguez, Hope starting next season). Out of the current crop, who do you think is going to be the next to move up to that dynasty level?
Adam Rittenberg: The Big Ten definitely has more coaching continuity than many leagues, which in most cases is a very good thing. A lot of the guys you mention could have long careers at their respective schools. Mark Dantonio is definitely building something special at Michigan State, and 33-year-old Pat Fitzgerald already has Northwestern on the right track after two tumultuous seasons. Bret Bielema is an excellent coach, but I'm interested to see how he handles his first real bout with adversity this season. Rodriguez is a proven winner, and both Zook and Brewster are great recruiters, so we'll see what happens. The jury's still out on both Lynch and Hope.
Brad from Somerset, N.J., writes: When Penn State beat Illinois, I thought that they would get more national attention. They have gotten a little more, but not as much as I expected. Do you think that people still think that this is still the 2007 Nittany Lions? Also, the past two weeks Arthur Maybin and Navarro Bowman have been studs. How do you think those guys and the rest of the PSU defense will perform against Wisconsin's rushing attack and tight end Travis Beckum?
Adam Rittenberg: It's actually Aaron Maybin, and opposing offensive linemen should know the name. He's the Big Ten's best young pass rusher right now. Saturday night is a great chance for Penn State's defense to validate itself as one of the nation's best. Wisconsin has been struggling on offense but could get healthier if tight end Garrett Graham returns. If Hull and Bowman can contain running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay and force Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge to beat them, they should be in good shape.
Mike from Leadville writes: I recently read an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer which has some striking similarities to your Big Ten Mustache Gang story. You may want to look into it. It's called "Ohio State Football: Losing the Mustache Battle" http://www.cleveland.com/buckeyeblog/index.ssf/2008/10/ohio_state_football_losing_the.html
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, you've got to read a little more closely, bud. The Plain Dealer blog post was the inspiration for mine, and I referenced it several times in my post. It turns out Ohio State beat writer Doug Lesmerises is having some more fun with mustaches on today's blog. That's a bad look for Jim Tressel and Rich Rodriguez, but Alex Boone can pull it off.