Big Ten mailblog

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
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Michael from Los Feliz, Calif., writes: Is it possible you guys are overvaluing Wisconsin this year? Yes, they have a big senior class returning, but last year's team wasn't very good, and most of the best players are gone from Wisconsin's 'real' Rose Bowl squads. More importantly, they have a whole new coaching staff, and due to assistant turnover, the Badgers have had what amounts to three new coaching staffs in three years. They are also switching to a three-four alignment, which is an adjustment schematically and requires different personnel. Usually teams with this much staff turnover/dramatic schematic shits struggle. Could I be right here?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, you outline the reasons why many think Wisconsin won't contend for a Big Ten championship this season, especially with Ohio State once again eligible for a league title. It's certainly possible that all the transition will offset Wisconsin's experience, especially in the senior class. We can agree that the struggles in 2012, especially in the first half of the season, could be attributed in large part to the coaching/system changes that took place after the 2011 season. Gary Andersen and his staff bring more changes, including the 3-4 alignment on defense that you point out. I think the defense is more equipped to play a 3-4 than you might think, but we won't know for sure until the season begins.

Andersen's challenge is to make the changes he sees fit without overloading the players and corrupting what has been a pretty successful model. What I like about Andersen is he understands what makes Wisconsin successful and doesn't want to throw it all aside just to do things his way. He also understands the areas where Wisconsin needs help in recruiting, mainly the perimeter positions of wide receiver and cornerback. I think he'll have Wisconsin competing for division/league championships soon, but this season could bring some growing pains. We'll find out a lot about the Badgers early on as they make tough September trips to both Arizona State and Ohio State.


Kenneth from NY writes: Adam, Do you see this year as a potential make-or-break for Brady Hoke? I'm not talking about in terms of his job security, but in terms of his overall perception as a top coach. Obviously he has recruited extremely well and given Meyer a run for his money for the top guys. But is there a sense amongst the ESPN clan that unless he actually beats Meyer this year, he's going to have a hard time ever doing it, especially with all the love and hype they're getting down in Columbus right now? I think Hoke can absolutely beat Meyer, if for no other reason than the game is at home, where Hoke has yet to lose. Also, rivalry game = throw records out nearest window. But having gone through the horrific seven-year drought of losing to that school, it worries me that if Hoke can't beat Meyer this year, we could very well be in for another long drought. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Kenneth, this is a very interesting topic and a good one to bring up. Hoke certainly needs to beat Meyer soon to show that Michigan is on the same level with Ohio State, but I'm not sure this year's game is a make-or-break situation for him. Michigan still is in the process of getting its roster right after the Rich Rodriguez years, and the Wolverines are poised to sign a top-3 recruiting class in February (RecruitingNation currently has Michigan at No. 1). When I look at Michigan, I see a good, young team that doesn't quite have the numbers to win at an elite level. I think Michigan will be there in 2014 and 2015. It's not to say Michigan can't beat Ohio State this season, and I agree that the Wolverines will need to beat a genuinely good Ohio State team -- the historically mediocre 2011 squad doesn't qualify -- to legitimize themselves and, in a sense, their coach. In the big picture, Hoke has moved Michigan much closer to Ohio State's level and should continue to do so through recruiting. He needs to beat Meyer soon, but I don't think a loss this year would mean he'll never do it.


Unhappy Husker from Minneapolis writes: "Although Husker fans might prefer a later kickoff time, this should be an advantage for Bo Pelini's squad as UCLA will be playing at 9 a.m. California time." While that may be true, this was Nebraska's only opportunity to showcase a quality opponent in Lincoln until 2015 at the earliest and it's at 11 which is terribly disappointing. Lincoln isn't a direct flight for anyone outside the midwest. How is Nebraska supposed to get recruits to come to Lincoln and get excited when Nebraska's home schedule has burried them for the next couple years? A 10-team Big XII playing night games against Oklahoma & Texas every year looks more and more appealing every day.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't know, Husker, but I think $25.7 million is pretty appealing, plus what will be the sport's best television contract beginning in a few years. Listen, I get your frustration and the logistical challenges Nebraska faces, but I don't think the quality of the home schedule will impact recruits' decisions that much. Nebraska still has fabulous facilities to sell and a tremendous game-day experience, regardless of the kickoff time and the opponent. The Huskers had showcase night games the past two years against Ohio State and Wisconsin, and more will come in future seasons. Plus, if Nebraska handles its business like many think it will, the Huskers will enter November with a spotless record and home games against Northwestern and Michigan State that could be 2:30 p.m. CT kickoffs. Winning will get recruits' attention more than playing UCLA at night.


Jon from Tumalo, Ore., writes: SEC, six major violations since 2009 and not one team is dinged out of a bowl game. I am NOT vindictive but looking at the penalty delivered to Miss St., if I am a OSU fan I am not happy.

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, I guess they cheat better down South, too. Both Mississippi State and Ohio State complied with the NCAA during their respective violations cases, but there were a few differences. The big one: Mississippi State had an assistant coach in hot water, but Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen wasn't implicated in the NCAA's findings. Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, meanwhile, was the focal point in the Ohio State case for not coming forward with known violations. Ohio State also had a second wave of problems involving former booster Bobby DiGeronimo that pushed back the infractions committee hearing and, ultimately, the ruling that gave Ohio State a one-year bowl ban. Again, if Ohio State had only self-imposed the bowl ban after the second wave of infractions surfaced, it would have been eligible for a national title in 2012.

All that said, it's surprising that SEC teams continue to escape the NCAA's hammer. As they love to say in SEC country, if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.


Matt from Grinnell, Iowa, writes: What do u think the chances are that the Iowa Hawkeyes will play against the Missouri Tigers during the regular season. I think myself would think it would make for a really good game like it was a few years ago when they met in the Insight Bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I think it could be a great series, whether it's a home-and-home or a neutral-site game in Chicago or St. Louis, where Iowa has had some recruiting success in the past. The dilemma for Iowa, as you probably know, is what to do with the Iowa State series. As the Big Ten moves to nine league games in 2016, Iowa has some decisions to make. Should the Hawkeyes keep playing Iowa State every single year? If so, it'll be tough to add another major-conference opponent to the schedule. Iowa says it needs at least seven home games per year to meet the budget. And as coach Kirk Ferentz recently told me, "I'm sure there will be teams that choose to play 11 or 12 BCS teams. I'm not sure we're in that group. I'm not sure that's in our best interest." Missouri would be that 11th "BCS" team if Iowa keeps Iowa State on the schedule. I'd be in favor of Iowa taking a two-year break with Iowa State now and then to get other major-conference teams on the schedule. Or, Iowa could have one year with both Iowa State (at home) and a neutral-site game against a team like Missouri. But there's no indication at this point of any future Iowa-Mizzou games.


Adam Rittenberg III from Bloomington, Ind., writes: I see Danny Etling as a guy who can really develop into a quality QB if Purdue starts him all four years. However, I don't see Hazell doing that. Who do you think would be the best fit as Purdue's starting QB to begin the year? I tried to ask Danny Hope the same question, but he's still a little bitter about the whole thing.

Adam Rittenberg: Is this my grandson writing from the future? Alrighty then. Purdue features one of the more interesting quarterback competitions entering the summer because of Etling and his emergence this spring as an early enrollee. Rob Henry is a great guy and a great leader who has worked his butt off to start at quarterback as a senior after enduring so much adversity earlier in his career. He'll easily win over the locker room. But Etling is Purdue's future, and there's a good argument to be made that the future is now for Purdue and Hazell should accelerate Etling's development as much as possible right away. Sure, there will be some mistakes, but Etling and Purdue could be better off in the long run. If Henry is clearly the better option in camp, Hazell's decision is easy. But what if they're equal? Hazell might be hesitant to start a true freshman, but he has to consider the long-term benefits for the program. I think it's really important for Henry to create some separation early in camp and look like the veteran out there.


Matt from Omaha writes: Why do we think that a nine game conference schedule would benefit the BIG? Since the general percention is that the BIG is weak, wouldn't it be better to keep the conference schedule at eight and then schedule nonconference games from others schools who are in other conferences that are BCS automatic qualifiers?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I'm glad you mentioned scheduling other major-conference schools, because the argument to stay at eight league games just to create an easier path to the college football playoff is a weak one. You're right that the Big Ten has to prove itself against other major conferences to improve its national profile, and more aggressive scheduling is the way to do it. The good news is Big Ten fans not only will get more conference games, but more attractive non-conference games in the future. It's a win-win. The Big Ten is getting bigger, and if the league stayed at eight league games, we'd see these long breaks between matchups, which wouldn't serve the players or the fans. Conference intimacy is important, and playing each other more, not less, is the best solution. Here's hoping the SEC eventually gets on board with the nine-game league schedule along with stronger non-league slates.

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