Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
4:00
PM ET
Some questions and answers before the weekend begins. Enjoy the games on Saturday, and as always, send your questions to me here.

Also, don't forget that Twitter is the best way to follow us on game days.

Jay from Minneapolis writes: We often pride ourselves in the fact our conference consistently gets two teams into the BCS bowls, but I would argue that is a guiding factor in our terrible bowl record over the past decade. When we slot two teams in it creates a domino effect on all other bowl matchups, which results in a lower-quality team from our league playing a higher quality team from another league across the board. I know the money is great, but getting in better bowls is bad for the league at this point because it results in us playing incrementally better opponents from partnering leagues. Is there any merit to this or am I taking crazy pills?

[+] EnlargeFrederick
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsBCS bowl results haven't been especially favorable for the Big Ten.
Adam Rittenberg: As your football shrink, I can't publicly comment on whether you're taking crazy pills -- HIPAA violation -- but there's definitely merit to your argument. Two factors have contributed to the Big Ten's bowl struggles in the past decade or so. 1. Playing by far the nation's toughest bowl lineup 2. The frequency of having two BCS bowl teams per year. It definitely makes things tougher on the league, and I've noticed it most with the matchups against the Big 12. Ultimately, it comes down to how confident you are in the Big Ten's better teams. If there's not much separating teams 2-6, you'd rather have a chance for two BCS wins. No one really cares about a Heart of Dallas Bowl loss if you go 2-0 in BCS games. But generally, yes, it's a lot harder to have winning bowl records.

David from Glen Ellyn, Ill., writes: Many people have been slamming OSU because of the weak schedule and not blowing out teams saying things like squeaked by or had a scare. No one has mentioned that the OSU Big ten schedule has been a little stacked against them. Each of the first five games -- Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State and Purdue --all have a bye week before playing the Buckeyes? Do people realize how important that can be? Not only does OSU have a big target on its back but the schedule gives the first five teams two weeks to prepare. I am amazed that they have held up so far.

Adam Rittenberg: The thing is, David, it's not that important. Bye weeks help some teams, but they're not the greatest indicator of success. The bye week thing is more of a myth among fans than anything else. This is a double-bye season around college football, so a lot teams are coming off of a lot of byes. It does seem that this year, Big Ten teams coming off byes are performing relatively well (other than against Ohio State, of course), but the bye week didn't help Penn State against Indiana, or Illinois against Wisconsin, or Purdue against Nebraska. It's an interesting note that Ohio State has faced so many teams coming off a bye, but it's not that unusual. Northwestern had a similar situation in 2012, when it faced four teams coming off byes. And that was during a single-bye season. People will always find ways to knock Ohio State, but as long as the Buckeyes keep winning it won't matter.

Grant from San Francisco writes: Hi Adam. What do the Spartans have to do to get ranked?! In my opinion, MSU has had a much more impressive season thus far and shown greater improvement over the course of the season than Michigan. Our only loss occurred in South Bend, which is an easy place for any team to lose, and the only reason we lost was a circus catch in the back of the end zone. Will a win at Illinois be enough to get us into the top 25?

Adam Rittenberg: Grant, I can't make a good case for either team to be ranked, although it's slim pickings after No. 20 or so. Michigan has a better win (Notre Dame) than Michigan State, which had its only loss to that same Fighting Irish team. But the Spartans have looked better week to week than Michigan, especially on the defensive side. Michigan State didn't exactly play well early on, but the Spartans weren't in real danger of losing to bad teams like Michigan was against Akron and Connecticut. Michigan State enters the Illinois game one spot outside of the Coaches' Poll and four spots outside of the AP Poll. A good performance in Champaign could get the Spartans in at No. 24 or No. 25. But like Michigan, we'll learn much more about this Michigan State team in November when the schedule gets tougher.

Scott from Greenville, S.C., writes: Adam, all these complaints from players and coaches about the targeting rule are getting tiresome. Of all the hits so far this year that have been flagged (the ones I have seen anyway), not ONE time did the defender attempt to make a form tackle -- you know, that thing where you keep your head up and wrap your arms to try to bring the ball carrier to the ground. I realize it's a fast game and head-head contact may still happen occasionally, but I guarantee the likelihood of getting flagged would go down drastically if players and coaches focused on technique rather than how the games are being officiated. And by the way, don't you think the ball is much more likely to be dislodged by a form tackle rather than by a highlight-reel collision?

Adam Rittenberg: Excellent points, Scott. I couldn't agree more. The debate can and will continue about whether certain hits should result in ejections, but the greater mission is being largely ignored. The officials want defenders to keep their heads up while tackling and wrap up rather than launch themselves at ball-carriers. A lot of Ohio State fans were quick to say Bradley Roby didn't launch himself into Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz last Saturday. I think when a 5-11 cornerback makes some helmet-to-helmet contact with a 6-7 tight end, there's some launching taking place. Wrapping up Fiedorowicz would have resulted in no foul and, as you note, a better chance of a forced fumble. No one is saying these players are headhunters, but the whole point of this is to lower the target zone and encourage defenders to keep their heads up and wrap up.

Moss from A2 writes: Hi Adam, are you moonlighting as the assistant SID at Wisconsin? Your last piece was the tipping point for me. Badgers are a good team but they are still 5-2, have beaten ONE team with a winning record and have one of the very weakest schedules in the BIG. OK, they played OSU well ... doesn't everyone? Including the highly overrated Northwestern? Please come clean; are you simply pushing them so the BIG can get another team in a BCS bowl?

Adam Rittenberg: First of all, Moss, an SID's salary wouldn't support my lavish lifestyle, so no. You bring up some fair points about Wisconsin's schedule, but the Badgers have been consistently impressive in victory, which is more than I can say for teams ranked in the BCS standings, including both Michigan and Nebraska. We both know if Wisconsin had the chance to win the game at Arizona State and made a relatively short field goal -- no guarantee with the Badgers' kicking woes, but still -- Gary Andersen's crew would be ranked in the top 20. The truth is several Big Ten teams have played no one, and we really won't know how good they are until the end of November. But the Badgers have played relatively well in every game. In my mind, they're the Big Ten's second-best team, and they're not getting their due in the polls. I don't care if the Big Ten gets a second BCS bowl team, but the Coaches' Poll voting is wildly inconsistent, and Wisconsin is being overlooked.

Steve from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam, I just remembered something from this past weekend that really bothered me but I haven't seen mentioned anywhere. When the Buckeyes went for it on fourth-and-10 and Miller ran for a first down, there were two offsetting penalties which apparently resulted in a replay of the down. That doesn't seem to make sense to me - shouldn't offsetting penalties be treated as if no flags were thrown, resulting in a first down, not a replay of down? If this rule was somehow applied correctly, it still seems incredibly wrong to me. The run itself was a first down. The defensive holding would have resulted in a first down and I think even the offensive block in the back would have resulted in a first down since it occurred after he had the first down. Am I missing something or is everyone else?

Adam Rittenberg: No, if two live-ball fouls occur on both teams, the down is replayed, so the officials got that one right. It can be frustrating if the defensive foul occurred first and the offensive penalty was unnecessary, but it still results in the down being replayed. The main exception is if a personal foul occurs, as officials don't want that type of penalty offset by an illegal formation or an offsides. But in the situation you outline here, the down should be replayed.

[+] EnlargeJake Rudock
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJake Rudock and the Hawkeyes are improved but a division title looks to be out of reach.
Patrick from Field of Dreams, Iowa: Would you still consider Iowa a contender for the Legends Division? They just faced their toughest opponent all year (Ohio State) and showed great ability to move the ball. If our secondary improves, could you see an 8-4 season for the Hawkeyes?

Adam Rittenberg: Patrick, while an 8-4 season isn't out of the question for Iowa, I don't think it would put the Hawkeyes in the mix for the division. Iowa already is 2.5 games behind Michigan State because it has two more Big Ten losses and would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even if the Hawkeyes ran the table to finish 9-3, they would need Michigan State to lose three times. Looking at the Spartans' remaining schedule, three more losses are possible, but four are highly unlikely. So unless Iowa wins out against Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska, I don't see the Hawkeyes going to Indy. The Hawkeyes still can have a solid season, and an improved one from 2012.

Ryan from Omaha writes: I am a big supporter of Bo Pelini and I believe winning nine-plus games in his first five season as the head coach at Nebraska is great. Remember, he took over a 5-7 team that didn't make a bowl game twice in a four-year span. But many Husker fans expect even more out of Bo. With the constant blowout losses in the biggest games and the audiotape release, I feel like Coach Pelini is still on the hot seat. Nebraska fans know that we have played the three easiest teams on our schedule consecutively and that helped put pressure off Pelini. If our young defense has a meltdown and Nebraska were to go 2-4 or 3-3 down the stretch could that be the end of the Bo Pelini era? One more blowout loss in the regular season would drive Husker fans insane.

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, it might take a 2-4 mark for Pelini to face any real pressure, and even that might not be enough for athletic director Shawn Eichorst to make a change. Schools typically show more patience than their fans, and it often takes at least two really disappointing seasons in a row for a change to be made. Pelini's team won the division last season, and his run of nine-plus wins, in an age when few college programs, even traditional powers, are doing that, should mean something. I think you hit on a key point with the blowout losses in big games. Those are the types of performances that, over time, will get coaches fired if they continue to happen. If Nebraska plays competitive games with the likes of, say, Michigan and Michigan State but falls in the final minute that's different than not showing up when the spotlight is brightest.

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