- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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We'll recap the Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin spring games on Monday. Wishing you a happy and safe weekend. After this week, we need it.
To the emails ...
Andrew from Fremont, Ind., writes: Adam you went to Purdue this spring and after seeing my beloved Boilers my question is: Is 2013 the year the Shillelagh returns to its rightful place in West Lafayette? I realize Notre Dame is coming off a flop in the BCS National Championship, but Purdue put the fear of God in to the Irish last year before falling 17-20. One thing Coach Hope was noted for was playing up the supposedly much better teams, and I really think one criteria for a first successful season for Hazzell could be a win over Notre Dame.
Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, you're right that Purdue and Notre Dame played a very competitive game last year, and the Boilers benefit from getting the Irish at Ross-Ade this fall. But Notre Dame likely will be a heavy favorite, and if Purdue has any hope of the upset, it needs a flawless performance along the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame appears to have a significant edge up front, especially with its defensive line, led by Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Purdue's offensive line must be able to match that. The Irish also could be improved offensively this season as quarterback Everett Golson and others boast more experience. From watching Purdue practice, I saw a lot of speed on the field, but size-wise, the Boilers are lacking a bit.
Spencer from Columbus, Ohio, writes: That's great about Sparty's D, but what about their O? All of us here in Columbus can't believe they hired Jim Bollman as the OC!!!! We are moving forward at the speed of light with Urban and Tom Herman and Sparty took a step back to the stone age!
Adam Rittenberg: There's a multitude of questions surrounding Michigan State's offense, and the coordinator changes are among them. While Bollman's hiring was greeted mostly with skepticism, it's important to note that Dave Warner will call the offensive plays. It's fair to ask whether Michigan State has modernized its offense enough, and we'll learn more this fall, but few complained about the Spartans' offensive structure in 2011, when the team won the Legends division and the Outback Bowl. I wouldn't expect that structure to change much under Warner, who worked under Dan Roushar and has been on the staff for years. But Michigan State's coaches also are stressing the quarterback run more, and the need for quarterbacks to improvise when plays break down rather than always waiting for plays to develop. Offensive creativity is a must in today's college football, and Michigan State needs to move more in that direction.
Adam from Chicago writes: Hey adam,I have a question about the three person qb race at iu. I know many believe Tre Roberson is the frontrunner and the best option because of his dual threat ability to run and pass, but I feel that his passing ability is far behind sudfeld's and coffman's. With indiana's up tempo offense and their success last year offensively, I feel that coffman or sudfeld are the better options. your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Adam, you make a good point about the nature of Indiana's offense, and I'll add to it by pointing out the Hoosiers' strength at wide receiver. IU might have the league's top receiving corps this fall with Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes and others. You want to maximize that threat in the offense. Roberson told me this spring that he's still a bit rusty with all the time off and is still looking to find the rhythm as a passer. Remember, Roberson passed the ball well in the season opener last season (26-for-36, 280 yards, TD) after an inconsistent freshman season. The coaches think Roberson can effectively run the offense as a dual-threat quarterback, but if Sudfeld or Coffman separates himself as a passer, I doubt they'll hesitate to use them instead. Sudfeld really seemed to take step forward this spring, and both he and Coffman passed the ball well in the spring game. Kevin Wilson places a premium on completion percentage in his offense.
"Right now, if you had completed 63 percent of your balls last year, you would have been 60th in the country," Wilson told me last summer. "I remember [the target] was 58 percent when I was at [North] Carolina in the '80s, and that would have been in the bottom half of college football. It used to be, you thought two out of three [passes completed] was great. Now it's three out of four. That's where the spread has evolved, too."
Bottom line: Indiana's quarterback needs to be accurate, especially with such a strong receiving corps at his disposal. If Roberson can't meet those standards, he won't be the guy.
Ryan from Madison, Wis., writes: Any word on the status of the non-conference series scheduled between Wisconsin and Maryland in 2020 and 2021? Is there a pretty good chance that the games will just be converted into conference games?
Adam Rittenberg: Yes, the games definitely will become league games, and the dates might be changed based on Big Ten schedules, division alignment, etc. A more pressing example of this is the Penn State-Rutgers series in 2014 and 2015. I've been told these games will be league contests -- almost certainly division games, too -- and even though they're scheduled for mid-September, it's unlikely those dates will be changed.
Jason from Northville, Mich., writes: Do you see any Big Ten players high on the watchlists for national awards?
Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I do. Starting with the Heisman Trophy, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will enter the season as one of the leading candidates. Other Big Ten players like Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez could work their way into the mix. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is one of the top candidates for the Outland Trophy. Other potential award candidates include Penn State receiver Allen Robinson (Biletnikoff), Northwestern running back Venric Mark (Doak Walker), Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien (Lou Groza), Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby and Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard for the Jim Thorpe Award, and Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier for the Butkus Award.
Mike from Papillion, Neb., writes: Why isn't Rex Burkhead getting any love on the draft boards? Even though his knee injury hindered his senior season, I still think he is a solid pick for any team looking for a great player with a variety of skills. He reminds me a lot of Wes Welker, and I think he can be just as successful. He has the work ethic to get a lot better and play for many years if the knee injury doesn't come back.
Adam Rittenberg: The knee problems definitely hurt Rex's stock a bit, but so does the position he plays. NFL teams have become increasingly leery of drafting running backs, even those with no injury history, in the early rounds. Burkhead showed in 2011 that he can handle the load as a featured back, but he doesn't appear to project to the NFL in the same way. His versatility is what truly stands out, and while I don't know whether the Wes Welker comparison jives, Burkhead can help a team in a variety of ways. He'll find a home in the NFL, and I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he has a successful pro career. But it's not a shock that he isn't projected as a high draft pick.