- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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To the mail ...
Wisc QB from Wisconsin writes: Why is it that even though Wisconsin is returning more starters and has played more games than ASU, everybody is acting like ASU is a proven commodity while Wisconsin is still an unknown. Why is nobody mentioning that this is the first real test for both of these teams? And I'm pretty surprised that I haven't seen a single pick in favor of the Badgers.
Adam Rittenberg: These are fair points, QB, and it's a little odd to see a ranked team getting so little love against an unranked foe. You're right that neither team has been tested, so we really don't know that much right now. The concern is that Arizona State's strength (a dynamic passing game) is matching up with Wisconsin's potential weakness (secondary/pass defense). A quarterback like Taylor Kelly could pick apart a Badgers back four featuring three new starters if he doesn't face pressure. That's why I'm so interested to see what Dave Aranda and Gary Andersen dial up for this one. You also can't overlook the fact that Big Ten teams really struggle in Pac-12 venues (just six wins in the past 26 appearances) and have never beaten Arizona State in Tempe. Sure, this year is different and the teams are different, but on paper, this looks like a tough matchup for Andersen's Badgers.
Todd from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., writes: I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the unfortunate death of the UCLA football player and the impact it might have on the Nebraska-UCLA game. If managed correctly, I think it could provide the edge to UCLA. If not managed well, it could cause UCLA to be blown out. What are your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Todd, we mentioned the tragedy on a few videos, but not enough in the blog. That's a fair point, and it could be a significant factor Saturday. It's a terrible thing for a team to deal with, especially in the middle of a season. Teams can use a tragedy as a rallying point but they also can get overwhelmed by it, especially when things start to go badly on the field. It's why I'm so interested in how UCLA starts the game Saturday. The Bruins are playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time, which is already an adjustment, and continue to deal with Nick Pasquale's tragic passing. I think there's an opportunity for Nebraska to strike quickly and shock UCLA a bit. Then again, Bruins coach Jim Mora is an excellent motivator, and he should have his team as ready as he possibly can for kickoff.
Joel from Minneapolis writes: Adam, you've made it clear how annoyed you (and Brian) are about Minnesota playing the likes of FCS and bottom-dweller FBS teams, and I am in the same boat. I would love to see more noteworthy opponents than Western Illinois on the Gophers' schedule as well. My question is what is your take on Kill's rationale for scheduling these types of teams (building confidence)? I would like to think that maybe Kill is on to something, that once Minnesota can turn that corner of putting away these types of teams the way perhaps Wisconsin has done up until now, maybe it would be a worthwhile investment.
Adam Rittenberg: It's important to string together some bowl appearances, Joel, and Kill's scheduling approach gives Minnesota a better chance to do so. Kill comes from the Bill Snyder school of scheduling, and Snyder helped build Kansas State's profile by living in cupcake city outside of league play. So there's some precedent. The problem is Minnesota fans saw a similar scheduling approach under Glen Mason, which led to a bunch of mid-tier bowl appearances but not enough success in the Big Ten. Kill needs to have his team ready for the Big Ten, and I don't know if these schedules will do the job. Minnesota's recent schedule addition of TCU for 2014 and 2015 is a good one, and I hope we see more of those games (and, somewhat sadly, fewer games on Aggie Vision).
Marc from New York writes: With Notre Dame gone, who do you think Michigan will play in their night games now, specifically in the next two seasons? I'm not quite sure if the future OOC schedules warrant a Under the Lights III/IV, unless Dave Brandon is willing to play at night later in the season against B1G teams.
Adam Rittenberg: Marc, I hear you, but why does every Michigan night game have to be a huge deal? It speaks to a larger issue I have with the Big Ten and its reluctance to shake up the scheduling approach. Night games are cool almost regardless of the opponent. Michigan should play a Big Ten game at night. I wish it would be Michigan State, but Brandon has his reservations about playing a rival under the lights. It happens all the time in the SEC and Big 12 -- just sayin'. I think Oregon State or BYU could work well in 2015, and I'd expect some exciting additions to the nonleague schedule with Notre Dame moving up. But my larger point is Michigan shouldn't have strict standards for night games. Play Penn State at night, or Wisconsin, or Northwestern, or Nebraska. Night games should be a bigger part of the Big Ten's identity. They are everywhere else.
Buckeye from Columbus writes: Adam, would it be better, in regard to the league's national perception, that Notre Dame blows out Purdue this weekend? I know losing nonconference games aren't good, but wouldn't the league be better off that Michigan beat a good ND than Michigan beat a mediocre ND who barely won/lost to a, so far, terrible Purdue? I know this isn't fair to Purdue fans, but public opinion rarely is.
Adam Rittenberg: I don't know if a Purdue blowout helps the Big Ten, but a Notre Dame win, maybe by 10-14 points, probably does, as Michigan would benefit from the Irish having a strong overall season. The Big Ten wants the profiles of its top teams -- Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska -- too look as good as possible come early December. Notre Dame is Michigan's only impact nonleague game, so when we're judging the Wolverines, we want to attach value to their win against the Irish. So yes, beating Purdue is important, but if Notre Dame wins against better teams such as Oklahoma, Arizona State, BYU and, most important, Stanford, that will mean more for Michigan and the Big Ten.
KMan from BMore writes: After the emergence of freshman phenom Christian Hackenberg, do you feel there is a possibility that Tyler Ferguson might transfer? I know the free-transfer period has ended, but (barring injury) I am having a hard time believing he will see meaningful snaps over the last three years of his eligibility. Best-case scenario (from an outside observer) would be Hackenberg starts through his junior year (2015), heads to the NFL, and Michael O'Connor steps in with three years of eligibility remaining, which would take PSU to the end of the sanctions with two top-flight pro-style quarterbacks at the helm. Do you concur?
Adam Rittenberg: KMan, I'm not in Ferguson's head, and he probably wants to see how things play out in the next few weeks, as Hackenberg could struggle when Big Ten play rolls around. But there's a decent chance the scenario you presents ends up being true. If that's the case, you couldn't blame Ferguson for wanting to play elsewhere and get a real chance. He took a leap of faith in picking Penn State without ever setting foot on campus. Maybe that loyalty keeps him in State College, but he's a California kid who left the team this summer to be with his ailing mother and has some strong ties to his local area. Penn State certainly needs Ferguson to stay this season as the quarterback depth is so poor, but it seems pretty clear that Hackenberg is the future for the Lions offense.
Bill from Genoa, Ohio, writes: Adam, I continue to see MSU fans' concerns about their offense and not scoring points. I want to remind them that their school hired Jim Bollman as their offensive coordinator this past offseason. Being an Ohio State fan, and having watched and complained about his and Jim Tressel's play calling for years, I want to tell MSU fans what you are seeing is what you are going to get. Even with a dynamic QB who can make plays 1,000 different ways, Bollman's approach is more conservative than most members of the GOP. He is not innovative and will run the ball to death, even when the run isn't working. I have sympathy for the MSU fans out there, because I think they are better than how their offense has been playing, and I really thought they'd play in the B1G championship this year. So MSU fans, as long as Bollman is in charge of your offense, no matter how good that offense is or could be, get used to averaging points in the mid to high-twenties and don't expect any creative plays to happen, because there is no imagination in the offense right now.
Adam Rittenberg: Bill, I understand your criticism for Bollman, and I admit his hiring didn't inspire much confidence among those who know his background with Tressel at Ohio State. But he's not the primary offensive play-caller. Co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner is, and Warner has been on the Spartans' staff for a while. And while Michigan State's play-calling leans conservative, the problems with the offense go deeper. Quarterbacks haven't improved, receivers continue to drop passes and the offensive line can't take the next step to become an elite Big Ten unit. I'll admit that the decision to flip Warner's and Brad Salem's responsibilities -- Warner now coaches running backs and Salem coaches quarterbacks -- left me scratching my head as almost every offensive coordinator also coaches the QBs. Bollman might be part of the problem in East Lansing, but he's not the biggest issue the Spartans have right now.
Eric from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I am wondering why the blog is now being written by a lot of other writers besides Bennett and you?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Eric. We've expanded our blog staff to include Chantel Jennings, Mitch Sherman, Austin Ward and Josh Moyer. While they'll write a decent amount about specific teams for the Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State team pages, they'll also contribute in the Big Ten space. The idea is to provide a better overall product with more viewpoints and in-depth coverage. The additions also free Brian and I up to work on longer blog features and other projects, both in the Big Ten space and elsewhere. We didn't have this luxury in the previous model because of all the posting demands. The changes should improve the blog and the overall college football coverage we provide. We're excited about it.
20hMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman