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Friday, August 29, 2008
Big Ten Mini-Mailbag: Off to Ann Arbor

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm about to hit the road for Ann Arbor, where former walk-on Nick Sheridan is using heady play to possibly grab the starting quarterback spot at Michigan. But I promised a mailbag on Friday and here's a condensed version. Enjoy.

Matthew from Canton, Mich., writes: How can you pick against Michigan State in their game against Cal? State is more consistent, and has a well proven running back, quarterback, and O-Line. the Defense isn't too shabby either. I think Michigan State will surprise you. Oh, and nice pick on the Michigan-Utah game. I thought I was alone when I told my friends that Utah would beat Michigan.

Adam Rittenberg writes: I love Mark Dantonio and the job he's done in East Lansing, but your comment about Michigan State being more consistent nearly made me fall out of my chair. Consistent at what? Disappointing its fans every October? Dantonio will put an end to that soon enough, but there's a lot of troubling history with that team, especially when there are expectations. Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer look solid, but only if they get help from the offensive line (not much depth). I won't be surprised at all if Michigan State wins, but Cal is awfully tough in Berkeley and made absolutely the right decision by starting Kevin Riley at quarterback.


Drew from Minneapolis writes: One can easily make the case that Iowa has one of the easiest schedules in the nation, let alone the Big Ten (No OSU or Michigan). But do you think they will actually be able to take advantage of the cakewalk schedule? There are definite holes at running back and the secondary, and it always seems like half of their starters get injured once the conference schedule begins. Is this the year that will put [Kirk] Ferentz back among the elite coaches of the Big Ten?

Adam Rittenberg writes: The schedule definitely will help Iowa overcome some major issues on offense, not just at running back and the offensive line, but at quarterback as well. The road game against Pitt won't be easy, but Iowa should be 3-1 when it opens Big Ten play against Northwestern. Like you point out, injuries could be a concern, especially after the sick bay filled up so fast last season. But without Ohio State on the slate and both Wisconsin and Penn State at home, the Hawkeyes and Ferentz could do some damage and restore their reputation.


Erik from Saint Joseph, Mo., writes: I would just like to say your biased pick of Illinois over Missouri made me a little mad at first. Then I realized you were just having delusional thoughts. Then I laughed and wasn't mad anymore. However, I still feel like the pick is idiotic. p.s. If you're going to respond, have the gall to do it before the game is over.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Glad I made you laugh, Erik, and I'll be happy to respond before kickoff, just like I'll be happy to get ripped if Missouri pounds Illinois. I don't see it happening, though. Illinois' defense will be better than last season, and Jeremy Maclin won't be able to torch Vontae Davis like he does other cornerbacks. Chase Daniel still will put up numbers, but watch out for Juice Williams. He's not just a runner any more. Could go either way, but I'm sticking with the Illini.


Queena in Calgary writes: Hello Adam, Would you give a short explanation on the main differences between Michigan's new spread offense versus what we had run under Coach [Lloyd] Carr? Do you think Michigan will see sucess this season under the new system?

Adam Rittenberg writes: How much time do you have, Queena? There are numerous differences. Michigan will operate a lot in the no-huddle and the overall pace will be much quicker this fall. The days of Chad Henne dropping back and looking for Mario Manningham or handing off to Mike Hart in the I-formation are over. Think a lot more shotgun, a decent amount of option and the zone read, which forces defenses to defend the back side of plays. Michigan did a decent amount of zone blocking before, but there will be more movement with what Rich Rodriguez does.


D.J. from Minneapolis writes: Really, only one mention of the Gophers in your 25 Things To Watch For. How about the next step in Adam Weber's development...a player who should be getting a lot more attention than he does. Or how about the real coming out party for Eric Decker who is going to have a monster year this year. I know last season was a joke, but there are some very good pieces in place on this team. Sorry Adam, I had to vent and show some support for my squad. I enjoy the blog, keep up the good work...just give some more love to the Gophs!

Adam Rittenberg writes: Sorry D.J., ran out of room for a team coming off a 1-11 season. Seriously, though, I'm very excited about Adam Weber. He's got a great personality and the right skill set to lead that offense. I covered offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar at Northwestern, and he wants a guy who can run -- not as much as Weber did last year -- and throw short passes. Think Brett Basanez in 2005. Weber is an excellent fit, and Decker should have a big year. So I'm excited for those things as well, even if they didn't make the list.