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Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Big Ten mailblog

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Your questions, my answers.

Marc from East Lansing, Mich., writes: The Spartans landed a big national recruit in William Gholston and the recruiting at MSU seems like it will only get better as the team has refocused its attention on the state and the forgotten talent in Detroit. Dantonio said he wasn't going anywhere. Sparty has gone bowling the last two seasons and seems like a team on the rise. With the improving recruiting classes, a coach that knows what he is doing, and great support from alumni, donors and students how long, if ever, will it be till the Spartans are consistent contenders for the conference title. Not like Northwestern in 95/96, Illinois in 2001 but real contenders every year like an Ohio St.

Adam Rittenberg: I like your optimism, Marc. Michigan State certainly is headed in the right direction, and Dantonio's commitment to the program bodes very well for the future. The Spartans definitely need to notch a few more signature wins before they're considered a perennial Big Ten title contender, but as Wisconsin and Iowa have shown in the last two decades, it's possible to compete with Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. I'm curious to see how Michigan State handles changes in the coaching staff. Dantonio has been very fortunate to keep his staff together, but departures are inevitable, especially if the Spartans keep winning. If MSU can survive the losses of a few key coaches and maintain its recruiting momentum, it will be among the Big Ten's elite for years to come. 


Neal from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, I have been going through the preseason magazines and am a bit puzzled. no one has Iowa ranked higher than fourth and many of them justify this by saying that, although the team boasts plenty of solid players and isn't really weak at any one position, the schedule is to brutal for them. I will concede ISU will always be tougher than it should be and at Madison will be especially tough, but MSU really doesn't seem to scary this year and playing OSU the week before the Michigan game can't hurt. PSU is tricky but Iowa has played them very well in recent history and they aren't completely impervious. I am not saying the Hawkeyes will go undefeated but would you agee that the schedule is the only thing people are nervous about with this team?

Adam Rittenberg: A big reason why I don't put too much stock in preseason mags is because so much is based on returning starters vs. starters lost and the team schedules. Those are the things we know. It's what we don't know about a given team that changes the outlook for the season. For example, few thought Shonn Greene would be among the Big Ten's best running backs last year, much less the best back in the country. If you look at Iowa heading into 2009, the road schedule looks brutal. Can't sugarcoat it. A trip to Wisconsin appears to be the easiest game, and that's saying something. But as you point out, Iowa has played Penn State well in recent years, and a win in Happy Valley would give the Hawks a ton of confidence. Iowa won't be favored heading into that game, but the Hawkeyes can win. I don't think the schedule is the only concern with Iowa. The Hawks must replace Greene's production and perhaps more importantly, find two defensive tackles to replace Mitch King and Matt Kroul. 


Tom from Charlotte writes: Do you think Bret Bielema regrets his decision to fire Mike Hankwitz?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't, Tom, and here's why. Bielema had a tough call to make with Hankwitz and Dave Doeren. If he didn't promote Doeren, he probably would have lost him to another team, maybe even to Northwestern (who was interested). Doeren is a lot younger than Hankwitz and has a lot of potential as a coordinator and perhaps a future head coach. I think Bielema sees a lot of himself in Doeren, as the two have similar backgrounds. It wasn't easy to fire Hankwitz, a proven coach on the defensive side. And without a doubt Hankwitz made a huge impression at Northwestern last fall. But Bielema made a tough call and he could still benefit if Wisconsin's defense makes strides under Doeren this fall.


Aditya from Bangalore, India, writes: who will retire first? Paterno, Bowden, or Farve?

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Aditya. Don't get me started on Brett Favre, and JoePa could coach at least another two years, if his health holds up. I'll go with Bobby Bowden, though I might retire before any of these men decide to hang it up.