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Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Mail time.

No mailblog Friday as I'll be off, but get those emails in for next week as we approach Big Ten media days.

Keygan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Hey Adam. I feel like the only one who thinks this whole "pay-for-play" idea is utterly ridiculous, so it'd be nice to hear your thoughts on it. I'm a music education major AND in the marching band at Nebraska. I support the school. I spend roughly 15 hours a week in rehearsal for the upcoming games. I only get 1 credit hour. I'm just as much a student as the athletes so why shouldn't I be entitled to a stipend if they are? I understand why it's being discussed and I LOVE sports as much as the next guy, but come on, let's not cut the rest of us students short.

Adam Rittenberg: Keygan, while I respect what you do and know Huskers fans appreciate your work with the band, you don't bring in the same kind of money as football players do. Not even close. No students do. Does that entitle football players to more resources? A full-blown pay-for-play system for athletes seems very tough to regulate, but going to a cost of attendance model for scholarships makes sense. It would apply to all athletes on full scholarships. While not every FBS program could afford this, the division between the haves and the have-nots is already there in areas like facilities. I don't think certain schools going to a cost-of-attendance model changes things too much. If Big Ten schools can improve the lives of their student-athletes, especially those from low-income backgrounds, I'm for it.

What I'd ultimately like to see is more flexibility for student-athletes to get jobs and paid internships. I filled my three college summers with two paid internships -- one at ESPN.com, which helped me land my current gig -- and a job back home. I also was able to earn money during the school year. I wish student-athletes had more time to get this type of work and didn't have to be so tethered to the athletic building year-round. These types of jobs and internship opportunities also prepare student-athletes for life after sports.


Eric from Waco, Texas, writes: Adam, in your post "Recapping Big Ten position rankings" you Nebraska and Penn State both got the same average score yet Nebraska is "in that top mix" while Penn State was grouped with the wild cards. Penn State also had one more player in your "Top10/Top5" list totals. I'll always be a die hard Penn State fan but I'm not going to forecast a national championship this season. I find it interesting to see that Penn State's "numbers" match up to may analysts preseason favorite, Nebraska, yet they're not getting as much hype. If the numbers are the same, what factors in your opinion would put Nebraska over a Penn State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the note, Eric. You bring up a point I wanted to make about the position rankings. It's a little dangerous to look at the averages and say these two teams are definitely equal, or Team X is definitely superior or inferior to Team Y. When it comes to Nebraska and Penn State, the rankings suggest Nebraska's defense will be better than Penn State's offense or defense. Nebraska's defense very well could be the best single unit in the Big Ten this year. The Blackshirts are the biggest reason why Nebraska is considered a potential Big Ten favorite. Penn State, meanwhile, has no truly bad units, but questionable areas on both sides of the ball. I'm talking mainly about the lines. If Penn State's D-line addresses some questions, the overall defense could be very, very good. Same goes with the offensive line and the offense as a whole. But there are fewer certainties with PSU. When you put these teams next to one another entering the season, I'd give an edge to the squad (Nebraska) with a truly complete unit (the defense).


Sam from Jump Town, Wis., writes: Adam, I've noticed that many of the preseason watch lists have included james white instead of montee ball. I feel like the general consensus around campus is that Montee Ball is the man for the starting job this fall. Ball fits the Wisconsin mold moreso than White and will arguably get the majority of the touchdowns as he is going to be the goal-line back. Is there a reason White is getting more love than Ball other than the fact that he was such a freshman phenom?

Adam Rittenberg: Sam, this is a really interesting question. Montee Ball honestly looked more like Wisconsin's featured back down the stretch of the 2010 than James White did. White, meanwhile, is getting more hype because he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year and played more meaningful snaps than Ball. I agree that Ball fits the Wisconsin mold as a bigger back, and he really came on strong down the stretch as injuries cropped up for John Clay. Still, I wouldn't dismiss White as a potential featured back. Sure, he doesn't fit the traditional Wisconsin mold, but that's not a bad thing. Former running backs coach John Settle told me several times how White provides a new element to the Badgers' rushing attack. The interesting thing is both backs worked on their bodies during the offseason, as Ball slimmed down and White strengthened his lower body. They both want to be complete backs and Wisconsin should benefit from having both in the fold.


Tyler from Fort Dodge, Iowa, writes: First off love the blog. This is the only place that suffices during the off season. I have the utmost faith in James Vandenberg and believe he will have 2 great years wearing a Hawkeye uniform. But with Jack Rudock on his way to town is there any way he will compete for the starting job in 2012? Could the whole Christensen/Stanzi scenerio come into play if Vandenberg isn't up to snuff?

Adam Rittenberg: Tyler, it would take a pretty disappointing performance from Vandenberg and a lack of development from John Wienke and A.J. Derby for Jake Rudock to be in the mix for a starting job in 2012. Iowa coaches and players are extremely confident in Vandenberg, who showed a lot in 2009 after being placed in an extremely difficult situation. Their assessment would have to be pretty far off for a Stanzi/Christensen redux to occur. That said, Rudock very well could be Iowa's quarterback of the future. And by future, I'm thinking 2013 and beyond.


Mike C. from St. Paul, Minn., writes: Love the blog, BUT someone has to go to bat for the gophers. As a self-loathing gopher fan with an eternal inferiority complex... I sat by as the gopher position rankings revealed themselves. I can sit idle no more! A collective 10.3?! Lower than Indiana?! (No offense Indiana). This ranking is less logical than Ben Bernanke Congressional testimony. This atrocity is highlighted by an 11th place WR/TE finish. You would think that Biletnikoff and Mackey award candidates (Mcknight, Lair) would allow us lowly gophers to crack the top 10! I would go into detailed arguments on how fallacious some of your other position rankings, but the truth is, there is a line of reasoning used in calculating these rankings that I, and all us gopher (and hoosier) fans must swallow: you tailor you ratings to where you think the teams will finish and NOT the other way around. An honest assessment of talent, and removing the circular reasoning (assuming what you're proving to be true) that comes with best teams (not that they don't deserve it) would leave the position rankings little different. Now, that does not mean I disagree with your team rankings, but come on Adam, a few good position rankings are all we gopher fans have these days. Are you going to take that from us?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, love your passion, your humor and some of your points. But here's what concerns me about fans' assessments of our position rankings. Everyone thinks their team should be higher, which is fine. But very few folks look at the whole picture and explain to me why other teams should be below their team. Yes, some position rankings are based on track record, but I really try to look at all the personnel groupings from every team and evaluate them independently.

OK, let's look at receivers/tight ends. This is an unusual year where the Big Ten boasts terrific depth at these positions. Normally, a Minnesota crew boasting Da'Jon McKnight and Eric Lair would rank higher. But there's very little depth other than those two, and while in hindsight I should have ranked Lair higher individually, I see quite a few teams with more proven options than the Gophers, Indiana being one of them.

From a defensive standpoint, Minnesota has a ton of question marks. Most Gophers fans would admit this. The D-line was terrible in 2010. Could it be better this season? Sure, but we've got to see it on the field. Other than Troy Stoudermire and Kim Royston, who comes off a very serious injury, the secondary is a big mystery. The linebackers, meanwhile, could be very good. It wouldn't surprise me if they rise up the rankings.

Again, my point isn't to rip on Minnesota or its players, several of whom I really like. But tell me why other teams should be below your team, not always why your team should be higher.


Rick from Douglassville, Pa., writes: adam, ANY progress (information) on the PSU QB situation!??!?!?!?!? someone has to have some idea?

Adam Rittenberg: Rick, while I understand your need for information, preseason camp hasn't even started yet, so let's be patient. The starting job will go to Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin, and my feeling following the spring is that Bolden has a slight edge. Bolden is on campus and says he's committed to Penn State after pondering a transfer. While I'd like to believe him, things can change depending on the competition in practice. I would expect a decision on a starter fairly early in camp, certainly earlier than than the decision last summer.


John from Evanston, Ill., writes: Reading the "Six Big Ten Backs on the Doak Walker List" from Monday got me thinking about Northwestern running backs. Starting with Darnell Autry, we had some great RBs in Damien Anderson, Jason Wright, Noah Herron, and Tryell Sutton. Where is the next great RB for NU? Will NU be able to grab another good running back despite the pass heavier offense we've seemed to develop in the last few years? Or will Pat Fitzgerald have to find an unknown recruit who surprises the nation?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, John. Randy Walker did wonders with running backs at Northwestern, and the position has declined under Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald still must prove he can develop top running backs. The offensive shift under coordinator Mick McCall likely has contributed to the drop-off -- McCall has effectively developed quarterbacks, but the running backs have been so-so -- but there's still room in this offense for a running back to shine. Mike Trumpy might never become an elite back, but he runs hard and provides some consistency. Trumpy and Adonis Smith could solidify the run game this fall, but they'll need help from a veteran O-line. There's a lot of optimism surrounding running back recruit Malin Jones, the first commit of the 2012 class.


Nick from Ohio writes: Why don't you guys work weekends? Since you have an assistant now (Brian), I expect more posts. Thanks. Oh, and great job!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Nick. First off, Brian isn't my assistant; he's a co-blogger and should be viewed as such. He's doing a great job so far. The blog will operate seven days a week between September and early December, and for the bowl season (late December/early January). But during the offseason, we'll be giving you increased coverage Monday-Friday, when we get most of our blog traffic. It makes more sense for both of us to work during the workweek. Weekends will be quiet. You're already seeing more posts during Monday-Friday, and that will continue. Plus, we'll update big breaking news on weekends as it arises.