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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Big Ten mailbag

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some Rushmore leftovers and the like.

Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, what are your thoughts of the new tiebreaker rules? I personally don't like anything that puts more power into the voter's hands, so I am completely against them adding the BCS standings. I also liked teams being eliminated for playing an FCS team. It credits teams like Michigan State who didn't just take the easy way out and only play 11 real games in a season

Adam Rittenberg: It certainly could be a dangerous move by the Big Ten, Aaron, especially considering what happened to the Big 12 last season. But with only one division, a history of getting multiple teams to BCS games and the built-in annual rivalries like Michigan-Ohio State and Penn State-Ohio State, I don't see the BCS standings tiebreaker coming into play too much (I hope). In most seasons, two Big Ten teams with a shot for the national title game will face one another.

I definitely agree with getting rid of the old "last team to the Rose Bowl doesn't get to go" rule, and I think the BCS standings would only be used in rare cases. Now, if the Big Ten adds a team and goes to two divisions -- again, very unlikely -- any time soon, then the tiebreaker rules need to be reexamined. As far as the FCS rule, there are too many Big Ten teams that want home games at all costs, so they're going to continue to schedule FCS opponents with no return game. It's just a fact of the business when you have huge stadiums like the ones in the Big Ten. No one wants to go on the road, and the league isn't going to stand in the way.


Paul from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, Let me be the first to say, I loathe the Wolverines...but even I have to give it up for one man you totally dissed on the Michigan Rushmore...no Gerald Ford? All he did was help win 2 national titles, earn team MVP honors, and HAVE HIS JERSEY RETIRED!! Also, I may have forgot to mention that he was the leader of the free world. You don't even have him on the short-list. For goodness sakes, isn't the real Rushmore made up of former presidents?

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, you've got to read the fine print. President Ford was considered for Michigan's Rushmore, but the team had four stronger candidates. I don't know how you can have Michigan's Rushmore without Bo Schembechler, Fielding Yost and Tom Harmon. And Charles Woodson was arguably the best defensive player in college football in the last 25 years. Look at some of the other guys who didn't make Michigan's list -- Bennie Oosterbaan, AC (Anthony Carter), Fritz Crisler. You can make a case for Ford no doubt, but I can make a stronger one for the guys I included.


Zach from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, I know there are some questions at Illinois for this upcoming season but it seems like noone is even giving them a chance this year. With Juice, Benn, Jenkins, Dufrene, Ford, Hoomanawanui all returning on offense and the addition of Terry Hawthorne, I see this as being not only the most potent offense in the Big Ten, but one of the better offenses in the country, even with Locksley gone. Mike Schultz did an excellent job down at TCU. I think even if the Illini defense is not that great, they will have the ability to win a lot of games simply by putting up a lot of points on the board. They kind of remind me of a big 12 south team this year. I just wanted to get your opinion on their chances.

Adam Rittenberg: If Illinois fills some holes and gets better on the offensive line, there's no reason why it can't be among the nation's top offenses in 2009. A new coordinator could bring some growing pains, but Juice Williams was terrific the first half of last season and returns almost all of his weapons. I would still like for a featured back to emerge -- either Jason Ford or Daniel Dufrene -- and stabilize the run game outside of Juice. But there's no reason to think Illinois can't average 32-plus points and 430-plus yards of offense per game in 2009.

My biggest concerns with the Illini are defense and team chemistry. This clearly was a bit of a fractured team in 2008 to underachieve as badly as it did. And I would be extremely hesitant to buy into the philosophy that Illinois should simply outscore its opponents. The talent is there on defense, but the coaches need to get more out of that group this fall.


Bill G. from Philadelphia writes: Adam, big fan of the blog, keep up the good work. What do you think is more appealing to your average 5-star high school recruit, the chance to put up inflated statistics in a spread option or 5 WR offense, or the chance to play in a pro style offense? Big 10 teams are starting to slowly switch over to the spread, but I still look at teams like Ohio State and USC as being more appealing for players looking to play on Sundays. Michigan used to be in that category, but who knows what kind of pro players R-Rod will develop? It becomes more and more clear after hearing the reports on system players from the NFL combine why Charlie Batch advised [Terrelle] Pryor to go to Ohio State, even if [Jim] Tressel doesn't "air it out".

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Bill. It's a good question, and one I'm sure recruits get all the time from coaches on both sides of the issue. Spread offense quarterbacks seem to have a tougher time transitioning to the NFL than some of the guys who played in pro-style systems in college. Then again, the spread, in many ways, is a quarterback's dream, and guys get excited about airing it out and putting up big numbers. Though Ohio State has retained elements of the pro-style offense, the Buckeyes are definitely trending toward the spread with Terrelle Pryor. You saw it last season, particularly in the Fiesta Bowl, and Pryor might always be a better runner than thrower. Fewer and fewer offenses can be labeled only spread or only pro-style.

Teams that run both systems have good selling points, but the biggest factors for recruits will always be playing time, exposure and playing for championships. Teams like Ohio State and USC can trumpet those goals, but so can Florida and Texas.


Brad from Somerset, N.J., writes: Hey, Adam. Great job on the blog. As an aspiring sports journalist, I really enjoy it. Now that the Big Ten scheduled a Thursday night game, can we see more in the future? I wouldn't mind seeing Penn state and Ohio State duke it out on a Thursday night in Columbus or State College.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Brad. You'll only see the Big Ten play weekday games in the opening weekend or after the conference season, except in extremely rare occasions. You'll never see Penn State and Ohio State play on a Thursday night. Both schools have enormous fan bases that treasure the weekend football experience -- traveling and tailgating and not worrying about missing work the next day. And despite the Big Ten's recent struggles on the national stage, the league remains an extremely powerful brand from a marketing perspective.

The Big Ten doesn't need to have one of its premier games on a Thursday night. The league can get the same exposure on a Saturday. I'd like to see the Big Ten schedule more nonconference games, especially those against other BCS conferences, on Thursday nights. These games could feature teams that might not get the same national exposure as Ohio State, Penn State or Michig
an but might be in the mix for a league title or a BCS bowl berth.

The bottom line is the Big Ten doesn't really need midweek games to sell its product. And most Big Ten fans love the Saturday experience, so I don't see many more midweek games being scheduled.