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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Mail time.

Isaac from Parts Unknown writes: I read your rankings and I understand that you are ranking them according to their current merits. However there is not a ton of difference in teams ranked 3-9. I know you're trying to rank the teams based on their accomplishments to this point. But how about some rankings based on what we'll see from teams later this season. Who do you see stepping up? stepping back? I'd expect Nebraska, Ohio State, and Penn State to possibly step up. While I could really see Michigan State, and Illinois fall back. Michigan State seems to be playing at it's potential while OSU is loaded with young talent that will improve game by game and Nebraska's D has nearly 3 weeks until their next competitive game, also should mention Nebraska will only face 1 more real running threat at qb.

Adam Rittenberg: Isaac, Brian and I will look at the second half more in depth on Wednesday, but this is a good topic. Michigan State's schedule doesn't get any easier, but the Spartans are a confident bunch that can get a big boost by knocking off archrival Michigan on Saturday. Illinois, meanwhile, will face some tougher foes as well, but its schedule remains pretty cushy compared with the rest of the league. Nebraska has a great opportunity to come off of the bye week recharged. The defense, however, has to make significant strides after looking bad against an Ohio State offense that hadn't challenged anyone all season. Penn State's defense will keep it in every game, while Ohio State can make some strides if Braxton Miller stays on the field. Teams like Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern also have chances to improve.


Gio from Omaha writes: Having been the Big Ten guy at ESPN, you've been to all other venues in the Big Ten. Now that you were in town to watch the Huskers against the Buckeyes, how would you compare Memorial Stadium to other venues as far as how loud it can get and how intimating it can be to play there? I'll guess the first half was mostly quiet, but I'd like to know how it compares when it was at it's loudest?

Adam Rittenberg: Gio, I had a wonderful experience at Memorial Stadium. It will quickly become one of my favorite Big Ten venues. Much like Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, Memorial Stadium is a big stadium that doesn't feel like one. The fans are right on top the field and very engaged with the action. It gets very loud when the Huskers are rolling, and Big Ten teams will have a tough time winning there. All the amenities are first-class. I'm really looking forward to my next trip to Lincoln.


Peter from Columbus, Ohio, writes: What do the Ohio State coaches know about Ken Guiton and Taylor Graham that the fans don't? I understand they combine for two career passing attempts, but Bauserman gives away more souvenir game balls than a baseball team. 12/40 in four games is unacceptable at any level, and the fans know it (I was in the student section for the Michigan State game and heard chants of "Kenny G" every time Bauserman took the field; along with chants of "Urban Meyer" almost all game). Will we ever see Guiton or Graham get a shot?

Adam Rittenberg: We'll see, Peter. While Bauserman was put into a tough situation Saturday night, he has to perform better under pressure. It certainly seems reasonable to give Guiton a chance, but the coaches feel Bauserman gives Ohio State a better chance and don't want the senior to lose his confidence. Braxton Miller showed Saturday night that he's Ohio State's top option, but the coaches need to take a hard look at what to do if Miller isn't in the game.


Michael from St. Louis writes: Don't know if you've been following, but Pelini's rough treatment of the media (Dirk Chatelain, in particular) has turned into a big story in Nebraska. (Side note: "Bo Buzzkill" has really caught on.) I believe you were there for that press conference, so I'm interested to hear your opinion of what happened. A few specific questions... If a reporter writes a harsh article, is it right for the head coach to publicly punish the writer, as Pelini did? And do you agree with Lee Barfknecht's claim that Pelini's behavior will negatively affect the polls, bowls, and post-season awards? Personally, it seems like an overstatement to me. I think Nebraska's traveling fan-base trumps its terse coach. And if this does hurt us in the polls/awards voting, isn't that ultimately the media's fault for letting personal bias get in the way of team and player evaluations? To me, Pelini is thin-skinned, which is annoying, as a fan, but I'm not really sure he owes the media a polite interview any more than Dirk Chatelain owes him a polite article (to be clear: he doesn't). Show me the light, Rittenberg!

Adam Rittenberg: I'll try, Michael! I was actually standing close to Dirk when the exchange with Pelini took place. Here's my take: a give-and-take between coaches and media members is fine. Media have the right to criticize coaches and coaches have the right to question reporters. There are different ways to engage in these exchanges, even in public, but it's part of the deal. What surprised me was the timing and the setting of this particular exchange. Nebraska had recorded the biggest comeback in team history to record one of the biggest wins of the Pelini era -- in the Big Ten home opener, no less. All eyes are on Pelini after the game -- not just in Nebraska but around the Big Ten and around the country. It's a great chance for a coach to rave about his players and his program. Instead, the image people received was Mt. Pelini erupting. Some saw it as Pelini defending his player (Taylor Martinez), and he was, but the timing seemed very odd to me.

In the big picture, programs get national attention by winning on the field. Coaches can help their program's image by being positive in the media spotlight -- Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, for example, has taken full advantage of this in recent weeks -- but ultimately, it comes down to what happens between the lines. I don't think Nebraska will be punished in the polls or awards by what some national media think of Pelini. A lot of successful college coaches have had frosty relationships with reporters -- see Saban, Nick -- and it doesn't hurt them. Other coaches who start to struggle don't get much help from media who they've battled (see Weis, Charlie). Bo can't be someone he's not. Would it help him to avoid these types of exchanges, especially if he starts losing? Probably. But in the end, it comes down to on-field performance. That's how coaches are ultimately judged by fans, media and their bosses.


Rudy H. from Cambridge, Mass., writes: Adam, I wrote to you before the season started praising Devon Still as one of, if not THE, best defensive tackles in the Big Ten. You were kind enough to reply and stated your case, which put several others ahead of Still including Jared Crick of Nebraska. The season is far from over and I don't want to say "I told you so", but with the way that Still has been blowing up opponents backfields, I am interested in who you would rate as the top DT's in the Big Ten now that we are 6 weeks deep. Keep up the good work!

Adam Rittenberg: Rudy, great call by you and other Penn State fans. Still has been fabulous in the first half for the Nittany Lions, and he and Jordan Hill have anchored one of the nation's top defensive units. While Still was on my radar, I wanted to see if he could build off of the Outback Bowl performance. Well, he has and then some. While watching Nebraska on Saturday night, a fellow scribe mentioned how Crick's season is a lot like Adrian Clayborn's in 2010. Both players entered the fall with lofty expectations, both were ranked No. 1 in the preseason player rankings and both haven't been as dominant as many hoped. There's still a lot of time left, though.


Tony from Nebraska writes: Which state is going to have a better year for their sports? Wisconsin with the Badgers, Packers, and Brewers, or Michigan with Tigers, Lions, Wolverines and Spartans. Whats your take?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question, Tony. While the Lions have impressed me, the Packers are a juggernaut, and so are the Badgers. I've got to give the edge to America's Dairyland, although things could change in the coming weeks as Wisconsin visits Michigan State and Green Bay visits Detroit in late November. While Bennett (Cardinals fan) strongly disagrees, I'd LOVE to see Brewers-Tigers in the World Series. Would be a fun matchup.


Ken from Lorain, Ohio, writes: "Big Ten closing gap on SEC, Big 12"THIS HAS GOT TO BE THE STUPIDEST COMMENT SO FAR THIS SEASON!The Big Ten is a joke this year!Adam - are you actually watching the games??

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, Ken, clearly you didn't bother to actually read the post, which was about the Big Ten gaining on the SEC and Big 12 in the ESPN Stats & Info Power Rankings. Yes, I realize the Big Ten has struggled, and I pointed it out in the midseason review. And yes, I actually watch the games, but thanks for asking.


Erin from Austin, Texas, writes: I don't quite understand why people aren't talking more about the facemask that wasn't called against Dan Persa in the fourth quarter. His helmet was at least 20 feet away from him! That seems like blatant oversight by the officials on an extremely crucial play. It was a fourth down, and because his helmet was off, the play was called dead. If the penalty was called, Northwestern gets 15 yards (to put them within the 20) and a first down. But because of horrible officiating on that play, Michigan got the ball on downs, which led to a touchdown. At the time, NU was down by 11 with seven minutes left to go. A win was not totally out of the realm of possibility (although unlikely with Northwestern's inconsistent play). I was at the game and was completely disgusted by the non-call. Not only did it murder any momentum Northwestern might have been building, it also was a danger to Dan Persa's safety. If the helmet was 20 feet away, how hard did that defender pull on the facemask? I'd love to hear some media feeback from you and Brian about this.

Adam Rittenberg: Erin, while it certainly looked like a penalty to many folks, including Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who went ballistic and drew a penalty of his own, replays showed it wasn't totally obvious. It wasn't as if the Michigan defender (Jordan Kovacs) tugged the facemask so hard that it came off of Persa's head. You have to blow the play dead there to protect the player's safety, so that part of it is unfortunate for Northwestern. Most of the time the call is made simply because the helmet flies off, but those with the closest vantage point didn't see an obvious penalty there.