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Friday, December 19, 2008
Big Ten Friday mailbag

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several of you have some Big Ten All-Freshman team selections. Good stuff.

Matt from Chicago writes: Adam...I agree with your theory that the Big Ten might have been 'better off' only having one entry into the BCS. However, couldn't you make that case any number of the past few years that the Big Ten has seen their teams "slotted up" one or two bowls because of the BCS? It's of tremendous financial benefit for a conference to get two teams into the BCS, something the Big Ten has done now for the past 3 or 4 years. Why does no one discuss that fact when deriding the Big Ten bowl record?

Adam Rittenberg: That's a good point, Matt. This will be the first time since 2004 that the Big Ten will send its best team (Penn State) to the Rose Bowl. Illinois certainly didn't perform like a BCS-worthy team last year. The Big Ten actually has had two BCS entries for four consecutive years. Despite a poor national reputation right now, the Big Ten's value in the marketplace remains high. The money is coming in. Now the wins need to start piling up.


Jeff from Frederick, Md., writes: Hey Adam: Phil Steele just released his pics for the bowls season. He did pick PSU, OSU, and Iowa. He isnt't rating these picks very high on his confidence rankings, but he is the first person I've seen pick OSU and PSU!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the head's up, Jeff (I can't find a link right now but will post one when it becomes available). That's a pretty good sign for Big Ten fans, as Phil Steele is one of the top analysts in college football. I've seen no one pick Ohio State in the Fiesta, and I'm surprised there aren't a few more people picking Penn State, despite USC's recent dominance of Big Ten teams.


John from Indianapolis writes: Adam, Why does it seem like such a struggle for Purdue to get a quality speed receiver and a top flight quarterback? As much as they have thrown the ball over the years one would think this would be an ideal place to go. I certainly realize that top tier guys may want Florida, Oklahoma, and a few other places but seriously....

Adam Rittenberg: Not sure I agree with you, John. Though Purdue hasn't produced an All-Big Ten wideout since 2006 (Dorien Bryant), the team has had its share of capable quarterbacks and pass catchers. Drew Brees and Kyle Orton come to mind at quarterback, and you could add Curtis Painter in there until this season. As for wide receivers, Bryant had an excellent career and Purdue also had John Standeford, Taylor Stubblefield and Vinny Sutherland. In terms of getting a true "speed receiver," I would anticipate Danny Hope bringing several guys who fit this mold. He told me he doesn't want to continue with bigger receivers if he can get smaller, faster guys in the offense.


Lou from Bethesda, Md., writes: Adam, saw your blog on the home/away jerseys for the Big Ten bowl teams. Any idea if PSU is wearing a Rose Bowl patch? As a second-generation PSU alumnus, I'm used to seeing the Lions patch-less come bowl season. Hope it's that way this year. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Lou, I checked with Penn State this morning and the players will be wearing a Rose Bowl patch on their visiting white uniforms. Sorry to disappoint you.


Matt from Parts Unknown writes: RE: Big Ten All-Freshman team - How about DeLeon Eskridge from Minnesota. The team leading rusher with 652 yards and 7 TD's. Additionally he had 28 catches and 181 yards receiving. Clay, I understand with his big rushing numbers (1 catch the entire year by the way). The other two RB's, Green and Hampton...c'mon. Eskridge was also the starter!

Adam Rittenberg: I definitely considered Eskridge, but John Clay, Jewel Hampton and Stephfon Green were more impressive in reserve roles than Eskridge was as Minnesota's starter. Eskridge did a decent job, but his yards-per-carry average (3.8) doesn't stack up with the other players. It wasn't all Eskridge's fault, as Minnesota got by with a very shaky offensive line for most of the season. If new offensive line coach Tim Davis makes some improvements with that group, Eskridge could have a very solid sophomore season.


Willie from Evanston, Ill., writes: I think you've got a pretty nice all big-ten freshman list, but I would have liked to see Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert on that list. He hasn't been spectacular, but he's had a very solid year for a true freshman. As long as you've only got two other WR on there, I think he deserves some consideration.

Adam Rittenberg: I was extremely impressed with Ebert, but his numbers don't match up with those of Martavious Odoms, B.J. Cunningham or even Indiana's Damarlo Belcher, another guy I considered for the team. But Ebert will play a much bigger role next year as Northwestern graduates three starting wide receivers. He's got good speed and great hands, and could be Mike Kafka's top target unless Andrew Brewer finally blossoms as a wideout.


Marc from Waynesburg, Pa., writes: As a Pitt fan I just want to comment on the pathetic OOC scheduling by PSU. With the television draw that rivalry games get, wouldn't it be worth it for PSU bring back the Pitt vs. PSU rivalry? As a huge college football fan, I think that this is the second best rivalry in the Northeast and Midwest behind the Michigan vs. OSU rivalry.

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State's nonconference schedule certainly could be spiced up a bit, and it's great to see Alabama on the slate for 2010 and 2011. Joe Paterno has been hesitant to revive the Pitt series, mainly because Penn State needs at least seven home games a year and Pitt would want a home-and-home series. Pitt likely would have to agree to a two-for-one (two road games, one home game) for anything to happen. Looking at Penn State's tentative future schedules, I see nonconference road games against Alabama (2010), Temple (2011) and Virginia (2012). So unfortunately, I don't see anything happening with Pitt until 2013 at the earliest.


Matt from Madison, Wis., writes: I thought Brad Nortman of Wisconsin would have been in the running for punter as well. He was a little shaky at first, but finished strong, as expected for a true freshman. That said, I don't know that I saw an Indiana game, so I can't comment on that kid's play.

Adam Rittenberg: That's a good call, Matt, and I was impressed with Nortman from the minute I saw him during preseason practice in Madison. Chris Hagerup from Indiana had a slightly better punting average (42.4 ypp vs. 41.6). Hagerup had 13 boots
of 50 yards or longer and placed 14 punts inside the 20-yard line. Nortman held his own with 18 punts inside the 20 and nine of 50 yards or longer. He did have two punts blocked, while Hagerup had none. It could go either way, but I gave Hagerup the nod.


JZ from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Adam, I was happy to see that you felt that IU needed to make some changes. I am sad to report Bill Lynch does not agree. Quoting a recent article "Lynch says developing player leadership is the No. 1 offseason priority. He says he doesn't plan on changing his staff or his approach or the offensive and defensive philosophy. 'If you make massive changes, you just start all over, and this program can't start all over,' he says." Seriously!? Adam, am I doomed as an IU football fan? Should I just stick to basketball? I am sick of this, please make it better, sigh.....

Adam Rittenberg: I'm pretty surprised that Lynch won't consider making staff changes on the defensive side. As detailed in a recent post, Indiana's defense has struggled throughout the decade. Looking at some of the key changes made around the Big Ten after last season (Northwestern hiring Mike Hankwitz, Minnesota hiring Ted Roof), I think Indiana would benefit from a new philosophy on the defensive side.


Alvin from Cheshire, Conn., writes: As a die hard Penn State fan and alumnus, I must comment that it is unbelievably annoying that you keep making reference to Penn State naming a coach in waiting. 4 times today it was mentioned. It seems fairly obvious that the parties involved already know what they are doing about the future, so why continue to mention it. For the record, I think that in this particular situation naming a coach in waiting is a poor idea until there is some finality as to how long JoePa is going to remain at Penn State. Just as all of the calls for his retirement are in poor taste, the repeated mention of a coach in waiting I feel is too. Otherwise good job on the blog! Cheers!

Adam Rittenberg: Is it so obvious Alvin? I don't think it's obvious at all. Will Tom Bradley definitely get the job? What about Larry Johnson? Or will the administration try to court an outside candidate, maybe Bill Cowher? I heard a current NFL coach being mentioned as a potential successor from talking with a Penn State booster earlier this year. I have tremendous respect for Joe Paterno, but the disregard for acknowledging that some day, someone else will coach Penn State, is absurd to me. You need to have a plan, especially when the coach is 82 years old (as of Sunday). Joe wants to coach forever, but he won't. I don't think mentioning a coach in waiting is annoying. I think it's smart. It's what smart programs do.