- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Peter from Myrtle Beach, S.C., writes: Adam, Could you be more insulting to Minnesota? First, you comment as if their schedule has been creampuff (think Wisconsin) for years. It was TWO years ago they had the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big Ten and one of the toughest in the nation. They've played USC, Cal and Syracuse (wasn't Syracuse 8-4 last year and won their bowl game?). Yes, they softened the past two years but don't act as if they are just joining the rest of the Big Ten with scheduling tougher opponents.
Adam Rittenberg: Peter, you're right that for a brief period during Tim Brewster's tenure, Minnesota went out and played people. In fact, the Gophers' bold scheduling approach was one of the few good things Brewster implemented at Minnesota. But other than that brief stretch, Minnesota, like Wisconsin, has lived in Cupcake City. Glen Mason scheduled his way to 7-8 wins a year, and Jerry Kill was well on his way to doing the same before the Big Ten imposed a league-wide scheduling initiative to beef things up with the College Football Playoff in mind. I'm sorry, but buying out of the North Carolina series and revealing that pathetic slate of non-league games last fall was terrible. You should be insulted as a Gopher fan. Sure, Wisconsin has been traditionally soft with its scheduling and has received criticism here and in other places. Wisconsin also makes Rose Bowls. I'm encouraged by the TCU series and you should be, too. Now we need to see more moves like it from Minnesota.
Danny O. from Chicago writes: Frankly, I am astonished that Iowa has no prime time or night games. As if a guaranteed sell out crowd of some of the most rabid fans in the B1G and every hawkeye fan in the world tuning in wasn't enough, the black and gold striped stadium and/or american flag display, the recently added pyro-technics and fighter jet fly-overs that is put on for those games should put us over the top for ATLEAST one prime time game a year. I guess the cameras would rather pick up massive gaps in the stands at Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue. Can you please provide some kind of justification for this decision?
Adam Rittenberg: Danny, I look forward to chatting with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta about this at next week's meetings in Chicago. You're right that Iowa has great fans who show up in force for night games. Kinnick Stadium provides a tremendous atmosphere for college football. It's one of my favorites. Iowa also had a bad, boring football team in 2012 and might be similar on the field this season. TV certainly wants fans in the stands, but it also wants exciting football on the field. Northwestern has been a major hit with TV the last decade or so because of its dynamic offense and the number of crazy, back-and-forth games it plays. The other component here is the schedule itself. Like many, I thought the Northern Illinois-Iowa opener would be a good choice for a Big Ten Network prime-time game, but BTN went with Wyoming-Nebraska instead.
Iowa's Big Ten home schedule isn't bad, but BTN seemed to want to front-load its prime-time schedule this year, so games like Northwestern-Iowa and Wisconsin-Iowa didn't make the cut. How willing was Iowa to schedule a home night game? How much did Barta fight for one? I hope to find out next week. I know athletic directors like Northwestern's Jim Phillips and Indiana's Fred Glass make no secret about their desire to schedule night games. Purdue only got a night game because of its opponent (Notre Dame), and one of Illinois' night games is a neutral-site affair against a good Pac-12 team (Washington). Bottom line: there are a lot of factors involved in the prime-time decisions, and it didn't work out this year for Iowa.
Tim from Rochester, Mich., writes: Adam,From this "Spartan-for-life" perspective on the division alignment, or maybe what college football has become today -- it's not the competition in the East that concerns me -- I agree with Hollis and Dantonio -- bring it on. What bothers me is all the emphasis on TV revenue and selling the BRAND the one item that gets lost is what happens on the field. The blunt reality is that unless my Spartans win every game for multiple seasons they will NEVER get the consideration in the media (sorry Adam -- but from you guys too) and the Big Ten office as a mediocre to good Michigan or Ohio State will -- simply because the Big Ten can sell those brands. How may times have we beat the school from Ann Arbor, yet were left out of major bowls? Performing on the field doesn't match the power of the brand -- it's the lack of consideration of the on-fleld performance that bothers me -- not the competition itself.
Adam Rittenberg: Tim, some excellent thoughts here on branding, a subject that not enough college football fans value as much as they should. Michigan will continue to get attention because of its historic success, its massive stadium, its national appeal, its recruiting efforts, etc. Michigan State will keep facing an uphill climb there. But I still think you're underselling the value of top performances on the field. Sure, MSU has some recent wins against Michigan, but how many of those led to Big Ten championships? I'm not discrediting what Michigan State did, but beating Michigan (including some average to bad Wolverines squads) doesn't get you regional or national attention unless you win the conference title, which Michigan State hasn't claimed outright since 1987. Look at Wisconsin's brand. Sure, the Badgers don't get as much attention as Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State, but they get a good amount, and anyone who truly pays attention to college football respects the program. Why is that? Six Big Ten titles (won or shared) since 1993. The way Michigan State doesn't get "left out" of major bowls is by winning the Big Ten championship, and the opportunity is there in the East division. In fact, MSU will have more branding opportunities in the East because it will play the Big Three every year. I hear your frustration here about the lack of respect for what Michigan State has done on the field. My point is that Michigan State still hasn't done enough.
BiLiever from East Division writes: Yesterday there was a mailbag question talking about the loss of the "collegiate" feel of these neutral games, that feel that makes college football great. The obvious (and 100% correct) answer to this is revenue revenue revenue. My proposition is to forgo the neutral-site 50-50 split in favor of a home-and-home 60-40 split with home team getting 60%. This removes the significant financial hit for the away team, but keeps the game collegiate and averages 50-50 over the two year contract. It also keeps the local economies of the schools in mind; schools and towns lose all the local food sales, hotel revenues, and school bookstores sales when the games are played off-campus. If its really all about the revenue, can the ADs make the numbers work and keep these marquee games on campus?
Adam Rittenberg: That's an interesting proposal, BiLiever, but ADs would have to be completely on board with a plan that gives some of their home revenue to the opponent. How would it work with different stadium sizes? Different ticket prices? The other thing ADs like about the neutral-site games is that they typically are just one-offs rather than home-and-homes. By playing just once, Big Ten ADs have more flexibility with their schedules and can still satisfy budgets in years where they have more conference road games. Teams also can play more teams over a shorter span. I agree, you definitely lose something with these games being moved off campus, but the players love playing on NFL stages, and recruits love them, too. You're going to see more and more in the coming seasons.
TraschMan from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam: I hear a lot of people harping on how weak Ohio State's upcoming schedule is for 2013 but have you taken a look at Alabama's? It is just as bad, if not worse, than OSU's. I understand the SEC gets along a lot on reputation and deservedly so but Bama gets a bye week before their two toughest games and they play one FCS school and one that is brand new to the FBS. They miss out on the 3 best teams in the East and their toughest non conference game is, once again, at a neutral field. Why haven't I heard anyone talking about this schedule when they're bashing Ohio State's?
Adam Rittenberg: Great points, TraschMan, and my only answer is the SEC factor. SEC teams can schedule cream puffs, FCS teams, horrible FBS squads and the like and avoid heavy criticism. Big Ten teams can't. Alabama still has to play LSU and Texas A&M in the division, and maybe that's all that matters. Who will Ohio State play in the Big Ten that measures up to LSU/A&M? Maybe Michigan? Probably no one. My hope is the College Football Playoff selection committee won't give 1-loss SEC teams that play no one out of conference the benefit of the doubt. You should challenge yourself, and, to be fair, Alabama has been much more aggressive than most SEC teams with its non-league schedule in recent years. Alabama has been much more willing to play Big Ten teams -- Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State (future), Wisconsin (future) -- than most of its SEC brethren.
Booker D. from Columbia, Md., writes: What can you tell the Big Ten fans about Maryland this upcoming season? How are they expected to do in their last year in the ACC? Should the Big Ten expect a Maryland team on the decline or one on the rebound from a rough 2012 season?
Adam Rittenberg: Booker, I reached out to colleague Andrea Adelson from the ACC blog to get you a more informed answer. Although we'll be watching Maryland throughout the season and posting weekly updates on the Terps and Rutgers, Andrea is the expert.
Here's what she wrote:
There certainly is reason for optimism on offense, where Stefon Diggs returns after a terrific freshman season. Diggs, one of the top all-purpose players in the country, is already receiving some early preseason buzz. He won't be alone in the receiving group this year, either, as transfer Deon Long joins the group and is poised to make an immediate impact. Coach Randy Edsall expects his offensive line and running game to be better. And the Terps expect no such quarterback drama this season, with C.J. Brown ready to return to the starting lineup after his knee injury. He remains a question. But an even bigger question is on defense, where this team has to replace its most high-profile and high-productive players. There are questions on every level of the defense, which held its own in the first half of last season before the nightmare situation at quarterback torpedoed the whole team. Still, we believe this is Maryland's best shot under Edsall to make it back to a bowl game. Diggs is undoubtedly going to be a player to watch this year and then in Year 1 in the Big Ten.
Great stuff from AA. Hope that helps.
Gabe from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Can Shane Morris and Derrick Green become the Henne/Hart combo and be 4-year starter and studs and bring Michigan to greatness this year?
Adam Rittenberg: Nothing against Morris, but if he's playing instead of Devin Gardner, Michigan probably won't be close to greatness this season. The plan is for Gardner to start this season and next (if he doesn't enter the NFL draft) before turning to Morris or another quarterback for 2015. Derrick Green, meanwhile, could be Michigan's starting running back this season. He'll compete with Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is coming off of a serious leg injury, and others in preseason camp, but he has an excellent chance to play as a freshman. Remember, it's a lot easier for true freshman running backs to succeed than true freshman quarterbacks.
Larry from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I read blogs until something tells me to stop. I didn't make it through your first sentence when you wrote "If you're not following Bennett and I..." (Sic)I should be "If you're not following Bennett and me..." Clean up your act, please.
Adam Rittenberg: Ah, Big Ten fans, God love 'em. I'm sure our friends from the SEC blog get emails like this. But yes, Larry, you are correct. That's a bad grammatical error, and it's been fixed. We produce a ton of content every day and mistakes slip through, but we'll try to do better.