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Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Big Ten mailblog

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

What you got for me today?

Stan from Waukegan, Ill., writes: AdamCan we clarify what is necessary for a team to gain 'move the needle' status? With the new 13 game schedule, I would argue it would take 30-40 years of 10 win seasons ... or is it not even possible for additional schools to enter that stratosphere in football?A comparison (although on the much smaller bball scale) would be Duke hoops. They weren't major at all until Coach K came along and now have a national following that far exceeds their alumni base.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Stan. I would say a team needs multiple national championships and sustained success for at least the last 30 years, allowing for maybe one lull like both Penn State and Nebraska had earlier this decade. It's comical how people rip on Michigan for two bad seasons, ignoring the decades of elite success that came before in Ann Arbor. Without naming names, there are a few fan bases in the Big Ten who seem to have blocked out some really lousy periods in their teams' histories. Can a team without a huge alumni base that doesn't move the needle now eventually reach that level? Sure, but the team needs to win on the national stage, and ultimately that means championships. Duke basketball matters because Coach K wins national titles. A lot of programs make the Final Four, but Duke has the titles to its credit. Big Ten teams like Wisconsin and Iowa are close to "move the needle" status, but ultimately, they need to win national titles.


Chris from Chicago writes: Instead of breaking the Big Ten into 2 divisions, I think the league should play a schedule similar to the current format and place the best 2 teams into a championship game. I think the current "2 Rivals" format is better than divisions that are geographically awkward or competitively imbalanced. Sure there would be tiebreaking issues, but that would happen within divisions too (see Big XII South). What do you think? Is this possible or being considered?

Adam Rittenberg: I'm sure all possible options will be discussed, Chris, but from talking with several Big Ten athletic directors this week, the divisions model seems very likely. If they create the right divisions, they'll achieve the competitive balance that is sometimes lacking with the current schedule model. Teams will be guaranteed to face several opponents that should be (not guaranteed to be) good in most seasons. Right now, depending on the draw, Big Ten teams can skip two of the league's top teams on the slate. The ideal model would be to maintain the rivalries but ensure that in most seasons, no team would have a really easy path to the conference championship game.


Drew from New York writes: Adam - what can you do to reassure Wisconsin fans with your divisional alignment? I keep poring over your set up and can't get over the fact that Wisconsin gets the shortest end of the stick here. No annual match-up with Nebraska, loose the rivalry with Iowa, and while Northwestern has been more competitive of late, getting a protected rivalry with a team that can't even fill 50% of its stadium for home games is not much to get excited about. Sure we keep the Minnesota rivalry (how could you not), but that will ALWAYS be second fiddle to OSU/MU in that division. Any way you slice this I see as being bad for Wisconsin from a perspective of gaining national attention and recruiting. Am I over reacting? Can you talk me down from the edge?

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, I fully understand your frustration. Wisconsin is the one team that makes me a little uneasy with my proposal. Could I move the Badgers to the other division? Perhaps, but then you probably have to move Minnesota as well and essentially have a Western division plus Penn State. As you know, I really don't want geography to determine these things. There are some positives for Wisconsin in my model, namely the chance to play Ohio State and Michigan every year. If Wisconsin wants to be an elite program year in and year out, it needs to beat the best. And right now, Ohio State is the standard in the Big Ten. I think there's enormous potential for a Wisconsin-Ohio State rivalry, especially with those two stadiums (very intimidating). Wisconsin also has had some memorable games against Michigan over the years. I know that regionally, those matchups aren't as appealing to Badgers fans, but try to think bigger. You beat Ohio State and Michigan (in most years), you move the needle nationally.



Chris from Iowa writes: Adam,Enjoy the blog and everything you do, but you are kind of slacking on the revolving door series. You are forgetting about Iowa. And will you be covering Nebraska next year too or not until they officially join in June 2011?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't forget, Chris, but I forgive. I'll get to the Hawkeyes soon enough, most likely Wednesday or Thursday. With all the expansion stuff, the Revolving Door series sort of got pushed to the side. Nebraska remains a member of the Big 12 for another season, so David Ubben will be your main man on the Huskers. I'll of course be keeping a close eye on what happens in Lincoln and will post plenty of Husker-related updates as well. After the season, I'll take on a more active role covering Nebraska.



Tom from Detroit writes: Hey Adam,Is it just me, or does the Big Ten have a contender for new Linebacker-U? With Greg Jones already showing how good he is and Eric Gordon being a great 2nd LB, they've got the experience. Add to that redshirt freshman Chris Norman and highly touted recruits William Gholston (admittedly a hybrid) and Max Bullough, and I think you've got a pretty potent group.But to contend for the title of "Linebacker-U" a school needs to pile on recruit after recruit. That's where I start to wonder if Lawrence Thomas will be the start of a new trend. Bringing him in will essentially give MSU 4 four-star recruits at the LB position (Norman, Bullough, Gholston, Thomas) for the indefinite future.What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, I think we'd both agree that it takes more than a good three-year stretch of linebackers to earn a designation like Linebacker U. But Michigan State certainly has it going when it comes to recruiting linebackers. Greg Jones will go down as one of the school's all-time greats, and I'm very excited to see Bullough and Gholston on the field this fall. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has a very good group to work with, and he'll need them to step up after the Spartans defense backslid a bit in 2009. Penn State always will be known as Linebacker U., but Michigan State is certainly building its own legacy at the position.


Calvin from Anderson, Ind., writes: First off Adam, I'm addicted to your blog. I check it everytime im on espn. I agree with alot of issues with you, but we would have problems on others. Anyway, my question to you is how much of an upgrade do you consider Robert Marve to be over Joey Elliot and do you see Purdue making any noise in Big Ten in the last yr before Nebraska comes?

Adam Rittenberg: Without seeing Marve play a game for a while, it's hard to say. But Joey Elliott was a darn good quarterback for Purdue in 2009. I'm sure the Boilermakers would take the same type of production from Marve, with fewer interceptions, of course. Talent-wise, Marve obviously has an edge over Elliott, but Marve also hasn't been in a game environment since 2008. He'll have options, including All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith, and Purdue always slings it around, so there's plenty of opportunity to make plays. My big question for Marve is how he handles failure. Will his newfound maturity guide him through, or will he struggle like he did at Miami? Regarding Purdue, I think it ultimately comes down to filling holes in the secondary and along the offensive line. The weapons are there on offense.