Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Big Ten morning mailbag

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm heading out to fly to Indianapolis at an extremely early hour Wednesday, so the morning briefing will have to become an afternoon briefing or something. But don't fret, my friends, as I have several mailbag items to address.

First, my upcoming plans. I'll be spending today with the Indiana Hoosiers, talking to players around lunchtime before attending practice in the afternoon. The quarterbacks top my to-see list, as Ben Chappell and Kellen Lewis continue to compete for the starting job. I'm also interested in scouting the new cornerbacks, the running backs (especially freshman Darius Willis) and linebacker Matt Mayberry, a favorite among many readers of the blog.

The next mailbag will come to you Friday morning from Columbus as I get ready to check in with the Ohio State Buckeyes. So send in your questions soon.

Ben in Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, What do you think Iowa needs to do to right the ship? The past few debacles called "seasons" in Iowa City have been well documented with off the field issues and injuries, however this year Iowa returns a ton of experience and the injury bug has stayed away through most of the pre-season except two key players (Tony Moeaki and Trey Stross). Saturday's scrimmage was less then stellar from the offensive side, but let's face it... these open practices are almost always dominated by the defensive units simply from a familiarity stand point. Do we see some great things out of the offense this year, or is the sky really falling like many Iowa fans think?

Adam Rittenberg writes: It starts on offense and like you mentioned, the scrimmage didn't go well at all on that side of the ball. My biggest concern isn't necessarily Jake Christensen or the passing game, which should be fine as long as Andy Brodell stays healthy. Iowa needs to get back to the type of offensive line play that defined the glory years under Kirk Ferentz. I never thought I'd see a Ferentz line rank last in the Big Ten in sacks, but it happened in 2007 -- and it wasn't close. If they don't get significantly better play from the line -- and they should -- the issues at running back and quarterback will become magnified. Shonn Greene looks like the man to step in at running back, but he's had a lengthy layoff and could struggle early. The more I look at Iowa's defense, the more I like it. But the offensive line is the key.


Kevin from Lima, Ohio writes: With the season coming up and Ohio State being the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten, I feel that Michigan State is our biggest threat. Give me your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Not to take anything away from the Spartans, who could do some damage in the league, but I wouldn't list them as Ohio State's biggest obstacle to an unprecedented third consecutive outright Big Ten title. The Buckeyes travel to Wisconsin, where they haven't been since 2003 (a 17-10 loss). They also go to Illinois, a team that has given them trouble the last two years. And an improved Penn State team comes to Columbus. The Ohio State-Michigan State game on Oct. 18 in East Lansing could be big if both teams start strong, but until the Spartans prove themselves in close games, they won't be considered a league title contender.


Kenny from State College, Pa., writes: I read the MSN top 25 poll, and it said Wisconsin's offensive line was one of there strength's. I think the only reason they said that was because they are returning most of there O-line starters. Honestly, last year they had arguably the worst offensive line I have ever seen. Do you think there O-line is actually a strength? Or is that just bad analasyis?

Adam Rittenberg writes: If you're a Penn State fan, you saw Wisconsin at its worst last year at Beaver Stadium. Penn State dominated the line of scrimmage, racking up five sacks and holding the Badgers to 87 rushing yards. But that performance wasn't the norm for Wisconsin, which ranked second in the league in rushing (200.8 ypg). I still believe the line is a major strength, especially at the guard spots with Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp. The group certainly will be tested with a new starting quarterback to protect, but my guess is they'll perform a bit better against a solid Penn State defensive front when the teams meet at Camp Randall Stadium.


Joe in Minneapolis writes: Would you be surprised to see the Gophers go .500 or better and get a bowl game this year?

Adam Rittenberg: The schedule gives the Gophers a chance, as all four nonconference games are winnable (three are at home). My main concerns are the offensive line, which was actually pretty solid last season but must replace three starters, and of course the secondary. These junior-college guys should help and Marcus Sherels has really impressed the coaches at cornerback, but it will take a big jump just to be respectable again. Having seen Mike Dunbar's offense first-hand at Northwestern, I can say Adam Weber is a perfect fit at quarterback. He could definitely get Minnesota to 6-7 wins and a bowl berth.


Doug from Delray Beach, Fla., writes: Is [Justin] Feagin still in the mix?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Feagin has a sore shoulder and is still adjusting to the college game, which is typical for a true freshman. He's no longer in the mix to start the season opener against Utah. It'll be either Steve Threet or Nick Sheridan taking the snaps against the Utes. But it doesn't mean that Feagin won't be a factor later in the season, especially if both Threet and Sheridan struggle. It's impossible to deny the fact that Feagin's skills best fit the offense Rich Rodriguez has run in the past, but he's just not ready yet.