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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Big Ten mailblog

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

You know how to reach me. And don't forget to follow me on Twitter (more than 30,000 strong).

Let's get started.

Jon from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Hi Adam-Bay Area Wolverine fan here. What's your feeling as to what we should the UM offense to look like next fall? We hear about toughness and running the football, but Michigan returns what has to be one of the deepest (talented) receiving corps in at least the Big Ten.My thought: Al Borges should take a look at 2006 Ohio State film. Physically, Denard Robinson resembles Troy Smith. He has great armstrength, as Troy Smith did. AND, he's a faster and more powerful runner than Troy. That Buckeye team also featured an immensely talented receiving corps (wasn't Robiskie like the 5th wideout on that squad?). Why not look to your Rival to gain some inspiration for a playbook that must gear itself towards the reigning BTPOY. I love the idea of michigan spreading the field with 3-4 WRS, and then utilizing Stephen Hopkins/Mike Cox/Shaw up the gut... ala Pittman & Wells in '06.Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, great to hear from my hometown of Bezerkely. You bring up some very interesting points. Michigan's receivers had some huge performances in 2010, but they also dropped too many passes at critical times. I wouldn't quite put them on the level with Ohio State's corps from 2006, but they can get there. The other big question is how running backs recruited for Rich Rodriguez's spread scheme will adjust to a more "downhill" offense under Borges. If Michigan can find a running back who can do what Pittman did for Ohio State in 2006 (1,233 rush yards, 14 touchdowns), it can take the rushing load off of Robinson and allow him to make plays in other areas. Although Robinson's running skills are superior to most, he still has a way to go to match Troy Smith's passing in '06.


Luke from Philly writes: Adam - last year, I remember recoiling in horror as I watched PSU's Blue/White spring game, because the QB play was ominously bad. Eventually that was the position that most affected the 2010 season's fortunes. What position should I watch most closely in this year's game, for a good idea of this coming season's direction?

Adam Rittenberg: The quarterbacks again, as well as both lines. You'll see better play under center as Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin both have game experience, and Paul Jones, who performed pretty well in last year's spring game, has a year of college practices under his belt. While the quarterbacks will get most of the attention, don't forget to watch the lines. I think if Penn State can get more consistent play out of its lines, it can challenge Ohio State for the Leaders Division title. The offensive line has been too inconsistent the past two seasons, and the defensive line seemed to lose its edge last fall. I'll definitely be watching those two groups.


Steve from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Adam,As a Michigan State Spartan eagerly awaiting football season, I've got a big question about MSU's upcoming team, both for 2011 and beyond. What we saw from our team this year was great, and getting that Big Ten title was much needed. But I think it's not just about getting one Championship every so often; it's about having a solid program that can challenge for the Conference Title every single year and perform well in the postseason. Michigan State Football had a good year, but the past 20 or so seasons have been generally mediocre. So my questions is, do you think this year was a turning point? And will MSU start working up to being the traditional powerhouse that teams like Ohio State are every year? Or will we slip back into mediocrity again? Also, any thoughts on the upcoming Spartan/Wolverine rivalry? I doubt Michigan will be down forever, though that would be nice.

Adam Rittenberg: Agree with all of your points, Steve. Michigan State needs to establish itself as a more consistent Big Ten title contender. Time will tell whether 2010 was a turning point, but you have to like the program's direction under coach Mark Dantonio. I think the models for Michigan State are Wisconsin and Iowa. All three programs run pro-style offenses and all three have shown flashes of being shutdown defenses. The difference I see between Michigan State and Wisconsin/Iowa is the quality of the line play, especially on the offensive side. Michigan State needs to be churning out elite lines year in and year out. The skill-position talent is definitely there in East Lansing. Once we see more elite lines from the Spartans, they'll be in the title mix as much as Wisconsin and Iowa.


Steiny from Dow City, Iowa, writes: Adam, im just wondering why all the nebraska fans are whining about there schedule coming into the big ten. I beleive the Hawkeyes in 09 had a much worse schedule facing all the top big ten teams away from Kinnick so whats the problem? I thought nebraska wanted tough games, This isnt the big 12 anymore dorothy welcome to the Big Ten.

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa's 2009 slate was no picnic, Steiny, as the Hawkeyes had to visit Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State and won three of the four. I think the Nebraska issue comes more from being new to the Big Ten and getting a very challenging slate right off the bat. Nebraska's three crossover games come against what many think are the top three teams in the Leaders division (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State). Two of those games -- Wisconsin and Penn State -- come on the road. It's certainly a tough introduction to the Big Ten, and we'll see how Nebraska fares in Year 1.


Will from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Adam, I enjoy reading the blog and thanks for helping to get me through these rough couple of months without football. What about William Tell Overture for the Illinois student section as one of the traditions? I may be biased, but that is one of the most unique and rowdiest cheers I've seen/been a part of.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a good one, Will, and I included it in my full rundown of Illinois' game-day traditions as part of the Marching Illini pregame show.


Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: I had to smile at your mention of Wisconsin's annual spring quarterback competition. It's an accurate description of the last 5 seasons, yet immediately prior to that the Badgers had one of the most stable quarterback situations in all of college football, with 5 starters in 15 seasons (Bevell for 4, Samuel 3, Bollinger 4, Sorgi 1 - but with a lot of experience, and finally Stocco for 3). Funny how quickly things can change, huh?

Adam Rittenberg: For sure, Lance, and thanks for outlining what happened before the post-John Stocco era. These things can go in cycles, but if all goes well in the spring and summer, Wisconsin will identify a quarterback who can start multiple seasons. Sophomore Jon Budmayr will have every opportunity to win the job before Curt Phillips gets fully healthy, but both have a chance to start for more than one year.