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Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Big Ten mailbag


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

With all the St. Patrick's Day fun, there was no room to squeeze in a mailbag Tuesday. So here it is, a day later than usual. 

Craig from Northville, Mich., writes: Adam, I'd like to play off your non-conference scheduling post and ask your opinion of something: The Big Ten has the three of the largest stadiums in FBS in Michigan, Beaver, and Ohio Stadium. I know that Coach Rodriguez has noted the difficulty in finding teams that will do "one and done" guarantee games, even in FCS (see Michigan playing Delaware State this year.) Will the size of Big Ten stadiums become an ironic hindrance the quality of the Big Ten's non-conference schedule, or will we start seeing more Big Ten teams look at things like neutral site games (like the Alabama/Clemson opener in Atlanta last season) as a means to get the guaranteed money without having to go on the road?

Adam Rittenberg: Stadium size certainly plays a major role in scheduling, and the bigger the stadium, the less willing schools are to give up home games. So the fact the Big Ten has so many large venues definitely contributes to the lack of sexy nonconference games. I remember talking with commissioner Jim Delany about this last year and he mentioned how hard it was to schedule games with SEC teams because both the Big Ten and SEC have big stadiums and both don't want to give up the home dates. 

The economic problems only make schools more concerned about giving up home games. Michigan State switched a neutral site contest against Western Michigan from Detroit's Ford Field to Spartan Stadium this fall. 


Dan from Denver writes: Adam--Regarding PSU's conference affiliation, forget the Big East, as well as the Big Ten for that matter. As a lifelong Penn State fan and alum, I firmly believe that our football program has taken a step down by joining the Big Ten. Here's my argument: as an independent, we used to rule the Northeast, annually beating out Syracuse, Pitt, BC, Maryland, etc, on the field, on the recruiting trail, and in terms of exposure. Now, by playing the vast majority of our games either in the Midwest or against teams from the Midwest, we have decreased our exposure to the Northeast, our primary recruiting region, where as an independent we had significantly less competition for the best recruits than we do now as a member of the Big Ten. Also, we have lost our greatest rivalries (Pitt, ND, Syracuse). Other PSU athletic teams may have benefited some by joining the Big Ten (though this is debatable--Men's B-ball has not improved much as far as I can tell), but I feel that the most prestigious, most important team has suffered. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up some interesting points, Dan. Recruiting certainly has been an issue at times for Penn State since it joined the Big Ten, although the efforts of Larry Johnson and others seem to have stabilized the recruiting base. I'm not sure I buy your argument that Penn State has lost exposure to the northeast. The Big Ten remains one of the more exposed conferences in the country, and Penn State still carries cache as a national program. Also, quite honestly, Penn State should beat out Syracuse and Pitt for recruits most of the time, regardless of its conference affiliation. 

I know it's hard to break habits in recruiting, but it's not like there aren't enough talented players in the Big Ten region for Penn State to sign. Penn State needs to do a better job of building new relationships in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and other Big Ten areas. Johnson still recruits the Maryland/Washington D.C. area extremely well.


Mark from Parts Unknown writes: Hi Adam: Thanks for the blog. I live in Chicago and am a season ticket holder at Northwestern. Two questions: Any idea why NU football gets no coverage in Chicago newspapers? I believe Coach Fitzgerald is building a solid program where NU could occasionally contend for the Big 10 title - am I dreaming?

Adam Rittenberg: Chicago has been and always will be a pro town, and Northwestern is competing with five pro teams and several other colleges (Illinois, Notre Dame) for media coverage. I think the newspaper coverage picked up quite a bit last fall as the Wildcats had a strong season. As for your second point, you're not dreaming, but the key phrase is "occasionally contend." Northwestern always will be fighting uphill battles in recruiting, talent and facilities, but Pat Fitzgerald has things headed in the right direction. The key for the Wildcats is avoiding losing seasons, making bowls year in and year out, actually winning bowl games and contending for the Big Ten title every 3-5 years. 


Peter from Washington D.C. writes: Mr. Rittenberg: I usually like your stuff, but come on, man. The Rodriguez buy out story is now well over a year old. There are plenty of other things that Big 10 fans want to hear about. I am assuming you have been to Michigan spring practice and seen how their QB play is doing. Is Tate Forcier going to be good? How is new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is getting along? You could write stories for a couple weeks about Michigan on those topics and lots of people would read it.

Adam Rittenberg: That's a fair point, Peter. I haven't been out to Michigan yet, but the quarterback competition is in its early stages. Forcier certainly fits the profile of what Rich Rodriguez wants at quarterback, but so does Denard Robinson, who arrives this summer. Check the blog Thursday for more on Robinson. Rodriguez also announced Saturday that Greg Robinson will coach outside linebackers and defensive ends in addition to being the coordinator. I'm interested to see how Robinson works with Brandon Graham, who could be the league's top pass rusher this fall. 


Jon from Clinton, Iowa, writes: Considering how Iowa coaches are able to get as much as they do out of thier "mediocre" players. Wouldn't you think that Ohio State or Michigan would be envious with thier high profile athletes performing below ability?

Adam Rittenberg: Nice try, Jon. Iowa certainly has done more with less during most of Kirk Ferentz's tenure, but Ohio State owns a 4-1 mark against the Hawkeyes this decade and Michigan is 4-2. I don't think those programs are envious of Iowa right now. What's more important for the Hawkeyes is to maximize their talent in the 2005 recruiting class, which ranked up there with Michigan and Ohio State. So far, that class hasn't materialized, and this season marks the final chance for those players to step up.