- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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A few questions and answers before we get to the weekend. Remember, follow us on Twitter throughout game day for frequent updates.
Glen from Elizabeth City, N.C., writes: I am a University of Minnesota alum thrilled about the team's success, but I doubt the Gophers will be able to come close to winning back Paul Bunyan's ax on Saturday. Wisconsin seems underrated by the polls. Would you agree that the pollsters are still unfairly penalizing the Badgers for that fluke loss at Arizona State?
Adam Rittenberg: I think so, Glen, but the bigger thing is voters aren't paying attention to Wisconsin and really studying what the Badgers are doing. A big part of that is the Big Ten's relative weakness and the fact Wisconsin hasn't had any real marquee games since Ohio State. But 3-2 teams tend to get written off, even if one of the losses was cloaked in controversy, until the schedule gives folks a reason to pay attention. Here's hoping this week's game in Minneapolis increases the exposure for both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Christa from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, I'm sure you will get plenty of OSU questions after they dropped in the AP poll this weekend. After reading the headlines "OSU struggles," "'Bama rolls," etc., how much do you think the media is playing into its own hype against the Buckeyes? I know Texas Tech is considered a better team than Illinois, but OSU still won 60-35 on the road, compared to Baylor's very similar score against Texas Tech. And a 20-7 score against an unranked SEC team means Bama rolled? I've never really bought into the supposed anti-OSU bias, but this is getting ridiculous. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Christa, it's a very fair point to raise, especially looking at the similar scores for Ohio State and Baylor. Some people look at Illinois as a vastly inferior opponent than Texas Tech, even though the game was in Champaign and Texas Tech is a mess right now. You also can't dismiss how much the Big Ten hurts Ohio State. But there's a generally negative tone to all things Buckeyes. I noticed it even while at Auburn this past weekend. Whether it's the large and vociferous fan base, the poor showings in BCS title games (which is a ridiculous reason so many years later), the anti-Urban Meyer crowd or the media, as you point out, Buckeye backlash is a real thing. At some point I'd like to explore it further and see why it's there, but it's there.
Cornhusker from Minnesota writes: As a Cornhusker fan, I just have to shake my head thinking about the game. Mostly unforced turnovers by the freshmen were very frustrating to watch. I know the vocal group will call for Bo's firing but I'm convinced now more than ever this is not the time to make a change. I really think the defense is getting better and should be back to Blackshirt standards next year. I also think that a 10-3 season is very possible. Do you agree that we should keep Bo? Too many people have too short a memory of the last time we did that.Also, should Ameer Abdullah declare for the draft?
Adam Rittenberg: Some very rational thoughts here, Cornhusker. Much appreciated. I think the last two games will help solidify the decision about Pelini, but right now I'm leaning toward keeping him. We've seen what key injuries have done to Northwestern, but Nebraska has continued to stay afloat despite playing most of the season without Taylor Martinez. The reason to part ways with Pelini is the same things keep happening (turnovers, mistakes, big-game flops), but the team is young, especially on defense, and could improve in the West division next year. I also think the Nebraska job is a lot tougher now than it used to be, and Pelini still wins at a decent clip. As for Abdullah, I know he loves Nebraska, but when a running back is playing this well and can make the jump, I always say go to the NFL because the career lifespan tends to be so short.
Enrique from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: With respect to the Coach of the Year poll, I have to tip my hat to Jerry Kill (to this point). As a Michigan State fan, I'm thrilled with what Mark Dantonio has accomplished so far this year, Urban Meyer's streak is incredibly impressive, and Gary Andersen has done a great job in transitioning to the new role. But if you were to ask nearly any fan of the Big Ten if they expected Minnesota to be 8-2 at this point with all the trials they've been through, I guarantee you'd get a "no." Don't forget, Dantonio won the Big Ten award in 2010; the same year he was forced to take a short leave of absence due to health concerns. I think that award was as much for fill-in Don Treadwell as it was for Dantonio. And Meyer may already be suffering from the same high expectations that Jim Tressel dealt with, which ultimately resulted in no awards for him. If Minnesota finishes 9-3 (with a win over either Wisconsin or MSU), do you see Kill edging out what will likely be a 12-0 Meyer?
Adam Rittenberg: The Minnesota story is a great one, not just for the Big Ten but nationally. You can't say enough about what that coaching staff did during Jerry Kill's absence. While you bring up a good point about 2010, the award doesn't go to a staff, just a head coach, and I would be hesitant to give the award to Kill. I'd rather see Minnesota's staff win the Orange Bowl Courage Award. Urban Meyer should be the Big Ten Coach of the Year. He has yet to lose a game in two seasons and shouldn't be punished for coaching Ohio State, like Tressel was. Minnesota is a great staff story, but Meyer should win this award or its title should be changed to most improved coach or something like that.
Chris from Williamston, Mich., writes: Read your Nov. 19th article about IU's defense in which you rightly criticize the Hoosiers for their abysmal defensive play. Here's what I don't get, and maybe you can help me (and I'm guessing a few thousand PSU fans) understand how this same group managed to bottle up the Nittany Lions this year. What happened in that game that has not happened in subsequent games?
Adam Rittenberg: It's definitely puzzling, Chris, but Indiana's defense has managed to play well for stretches this season. I saw some good things during a Week 3 win against Bowling Green, and the Hoosiers played well for a while against Minnesota, even though the final numbers were typically ugly. In the Penn State game, it seemed like a combination of the Lions hurting themselves and Indiana stepping up to make plays in the backfield, including the safety created by Nick Mangieri. Penn State hasn't been the same team away from Happy Valley this season, and that certainly played out in Bloomington.
Jeremy from Chadron, Neb., writes: Adam, Bo Pelini caught a brief break with the Mustache Miracle (Northwestern) and comeback win over Michigan after the loss to Minnesota. Those wins seemed to quiet critics briefly. Now following the Michigan State loss it seems that the social media masses are getting louder than ever, but this time towards AD Shawn Eichorst. ... Is it critical for him to deliver a statement regarding the status of coach Pelini, or does his continued silence towards the issue show which direction he plans to head?
Adam Rittenberg: Eichorst is in a tough spot as he didn't hire Pelini, and it's not an obvious decision to retain him or get rid of him. I think the last two games will be telling. Nebraska certainly could win both to finish 9-3, which has been Pelini's average record. The young defense seems to be improving, but some of the same mistakes (turnovers) that have dogged the Huskers for years aren't going away. I've heard a lot of good things about Eichorst from folks at Wisconsin, but he clearly isn't comfortable with the public part of his role, which is tough at a program like Nebraska where fans want visibility. But I can't fault him for withholding a vote of confidence or any other statement if the decision is still up in the air.
Jonathan from Florence, Ala., writes: Did you and the SEC guy ever do a follow up on your visits to Auburn and Wisconsin? Or is that coming up and how can I find it? thanks and hope you had a great time at Auburn.
Adam Rittenberg: The flip week project likely will be published during championship week, so be on the lookout for it. I know Edward had a blast in Madison, and I really enjoyed my experience on The Plains, even before that incredible game. We have a lot of content to put together, and I think you'll really enjoy the end result. Stay tuned.
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5dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy