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

Friday, November 18, 2011
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Hope everyone has a great weekend. Some good games on tap.

Joe from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Has any team beaten Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the same season?

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Joe. I consulted ESPN Stats & Info for the answer and here's what they found: since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, no team has beaten Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the same season. Nebraska can become the first by winning Saturday in Ann Arbor. It's important to note that teams often don't face all four of these teams in the same season. In 2002, Iowa beat Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan but didn't face Ohio State, which went 8-0 in Big Ten play and went on to win the national title. In 1995, Northwestern beat Michigan and Penn State but didn't face Ohio State or Michigan State. But this would still be a terrific accomplishment for Nebraska and coach Bo Pelini in Year One as a Big Ten member.

Ryan from Geneva, Ohio, writes: Adam, this is probably going to sound like blaspheme coming from a Buckeye fan but should Ohio State consider voluntarily giving themselves a bowl ban this year since we are likely headed to a mid to low-tier bowl rather than wait for the NCAA to potentially hand them a future bowl ban and potentially miss a BCS or Capital One bowl appearance next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, I've thought about this question quite a bit since the Purdue loss. Ohio State has maintained all along that it doesn't believe its violations warrant a postseason ban. At the same time, the school has received a second Notice of Allegations and will have another hearing with the infractions committee, either in late November or early December. Imposing a bowl ban acknowledges the seriousness of the violations, but it also could be a risk if the infractions committee doesn't plan to impose one. The other risk, obviously, is that a bowl ban is imposed for the 2012 season, which could impact a coaching search, recruiting, etc... While it's not fair to the current players, Ohio State likely would rather have a bowl banner sooner than later.

Darin from Reedsburg, Wis., writes: Adam, given all that's happened at Penn State over the last two-plus weeks, do you think they will try to leave the B1G for the Big East or ACC to try and make a "fresh" start?

Adam Rittenberg: I doubt it, Darin, although nothing is off the table right now. While some Penn State fans are upset the Big Ten removed Joe Paterno's name from the championship trophy and view it as another shot by the league toward their school, I don't sense a strong desire to move conferences. Penn State remains a very good fit in the Big Ten, not only athletically but academically as a top research institution. Penn State still makes a boatload of money from being in the Big Ten, largely because of the success of the Big Ten Network. Moving to the Big East would be an enormous step back, and, to a lesser extent, the ACC would be a step back, too, despite the proximity of certain teams. At a time like this, when so much is up in the air, does Penn State really need to be devoting time to changing conferences?

Charlie from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, after your story about Big Ten coaching salaries, I was looking back at the information you gave specifically related to Brady Hoke when he first signed his contract last March. You talk about potential bonuses he could earn for accomplishments such as Big Ten championships or appearances in the Big Ten title game. I was surprised not to hear a mention of a bonus for winning national championships. It seems to me like a lot of the top coaches in the SEC had extremely generous bonuses in their contract for winning a national title. Do you know if Hoke has such a bonus in his contract? If he doesn't, what does this say about the expectations Michigan has for its coach? Do they not think they are the type of program that will be competing for a national title within the six years of his contract?

Adam Rittenberg: Charlie, in re-examining Hoke's contract, you're right. He receives bonuses, which increase every year, for making a bowl game, reaching the second or third Big Ten bowl (Capital One and Outback this year), reaching the Big Ten championship game and winning the Big Ten championship game. The national title game (appearance or victory) bonus isn't present. For Hoke, it's all about the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. He's an old-school Big Ten guy in that way. But it does bring up an interesting question about Michigan and national championships. Michigan obviously wants to win them and should ultimately measure its program at that standard. You would think there would be an incentive for Hoke to get the Wolverines to the highest level.

The Like Ninja from Parts Unknown writes: If BB called you asking for bail money, what crime would he have gotten arrested for? And would you bail him out?

Adam Rittenberg: Stalking Zooey Deschanel. I'd only bail him out if he promises to drop Montee Ball from his fantasy team so I can start winning a few of these.

Matt from Burbank, Calif., writes: Hey Adam,There's no sugar coating it - Northwestern has been very disappointing this year. That said, they pulled off a great victory in Nebraska utilizing a good offense and suddenly resilient defense. If they can beat Minnesota this Saturday (never a given with the 'Cats), do you give them any chance against MSU and if so how do they get it done? Thanks! Go Cats!

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, if Northwestern wins Saturday, it will take a four-game win streak into the Michigan State game. The Wildcats will be bowl eligible, and while they'll need a seventh win to secure a spot, some of the pressure will be off. They certainly will have a shot against Michigan State, which fell behind 17-0 last year at Ryan Field before rallying for a nice win. The interesting thing is whether Michigan State will come in already having clinched the Legends division or needing a win to do so. Could affect how the game is played, which players are used and for how long. Northwestern QB Dan Persa gave Michigan State trouble last year, although this is a better Spartans defense. Michigan State's skill guys, namely B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, will be tough for Northwestern to stop.

Kurt from Bridgehampton, N.Y., writes: Hi Adam, I am curious to hear your thoughts on Michigan State and their perception, not only on a national basis, but also from other schools in the Big Ten. Last year when they shared the B1G title, people from other schools in the conference were saying they benefited from the easiest schedule. This year it seems as though because of a couple of flat offensive performances on the road they're getting a lot of hate nationally. I think you're dying to tell me that they need to win the B1G title game and win the Rose Bowl to gain their respect nationally ... But for a team that has won 34 games over the last four years, and should push that number to at least 36, shouldn't they already have some respect on a national level?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State is certainly viewed as a program on the rise, Kurt, and a lot of folks both regionally and nationally respect what Mark Dantonio has done in East Lansing. Putting together back-to-back great seasons goes a long way toward eliminating the "Same old Spartans" perception. But games like Nebraska and, more important, the Capital One Bowl still feed the view that Michigan State will ultimately let everyone down. You simply can't perform like the Spartans did in the bowl game and expect to get a ton of national respect. Fair or unfair, that's the perception until the team wins an outright Big Ten championship and prevails in a bowl game, one of the few things Dantonio hasn't accomplished in East Lansing. The win total is great and, as Kirk Cousins said after the Iowa win, there have been so many "firsts" since Dantonio arrived. But ultimately, you are judged by league titles and bowl wins.

Ulysses from Detroit writes: I'm curious as to the likelihood of Penn State simply not being invited to a bowl this year. Should they fail to either reach or win the B1G Championship, they would be among teams qualified for, but not guaranteed a bowl slot. Isn't it possible that Penn State's situation could result in a de facto postseason ban of sorts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ulysses, I don't see it happening. If Penn State wants to go to a bowl, it will receive an invitation. While officials from several Big Ten-affiliated bowls declined to comment about the Nittany Lions, TicketCity Bowl CEO Tom Starr told the Associated Press his game would gladly welcome Penn State. Starr said, "I think it would be a further injustice if the right to play in a bowl game was taken from the players. I don't see how it helps the situation." So Penn State won't fall any further than TicketCity and likely would be selected before that point. Lower-tier bowls rarely get a chance to invite a program like Penn State, regardless of what's going on with the program. So if the school wants to go bowling, it will find a place to do so.

Aaron from Clarksville, Tenn., writes: In terms of bowl eligible teams, this season reminds me a lot of 2007. The fan base is the same as it was back then, yet Iowa was not picked for an at-large bid. What makes you so confident every team will get picked up, especially if we only have one BCS team? In addition, if there was a team who wasn't going to be picked by any bowl, who do you think would be the most likely of the potential 6-6 teams?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Aaron. Five Big Ten teams have a chance to finish at 6-6: Iowa, Illinois, Ohio State, Northwestern and Purdue. Both Northwestern and Purdue would be finishing on a fairly strong note, particularly Northwestern, which started 2-5. Illinois would reach 6-6 on a total nosedive after starting 6-6. Can't imagine the bowls would be too thrilled about that. Iowa, meanwhile, would reach 6-6 on a three-game losing streak and having dropped four of its past five. Not exactly a selling point to the bowl selection committee. Ohio State also would be on a three-game slide, but the Buckeyes would be in the mix for bowls that rarely get to select the Scarlet and Gray. Illinois might need to worry if it ends up 6-6, and Iowa to a lesser extent, but both of those teams have larger fan bases than both Northwestern and Purdue.