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Friday, September 5, 2008
Big Ten Friday Mailbag

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A much better response the last two days, so job well done, everyone. Let's take a look at what's on your mind.

Tom from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Hey Adam. Looking ahead, what are your thoughts on the Wisconsin at Fresno State game? Is it just me, or is ESPN hyping up the Fresno State football program more than a June Red Sox/Yankees series? Granted the Bulldogs put up a solid win last week in New Jersey, but Rutgers wasn't even ranked. Everyone talks about when Fresno State ALMOST beat USC in 2005. The reality is they haven't beat a ranked team since Virginia...which was in 2004. Which "Hill" are you more impressed with; Pat or PJ?

Adam Rittenberg: Fresno State gets a decent amount of hype for a non-BCS team, but most of it is deserved. Pat Hill's approach to scheduling is unique in an era where bland weekends like this one are becoming more and more common. I'll agree that Fresno State has fallen off in recent years, and the Bulldogs are behind Boise State and Utah on the non-BCS hierarchy, but the 2008 team looks solid, especially on defense. They'll give Wisconsin an excellent test next week. The Badgers' Hill and the other backs should be able to wear down the Bulldogs over time, but I have a sense the game will come down to Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge and whether or not he can make a clutch play. Both Hills are very impressive for different reasons, and they add spice to an appetizing matchup next week.


Andy from Greensboro, N.C. writes: First off, great blog. I love how you update it many times a day. Second off, I am hearing a lot of criticism coming towards Jim Tressel for having Beanie Wells in the game when he got hurt. Do the same 'critics' know that at the same point in the game, other Heisman candidates such as Bradford, Tebow, Moreno, Stafford, and even Sanchez were playing as well. All of these players had big wins like OSU, yet Tressel is the only coached to get ripped for leaving the star in. I know this is a touchy subject when it comes to at what point to take a player out of a game, but the play in question would have given Wells something like 3 more yards, 1 more carry, and 1 more TD. That doesn?t sound like padding the stats to me. Would you have taken him out or let him rush for that last TD in question?

Adam Rittenberg: This is one of those situations that only matters when a coach gets burned, or, as Pat Forde puts it, loses at cupcake roulette. As you point out, every coach plays their superstars into the second half of these games, and usually it doesn't matter. I don't fault Tressel as much as some for keeping Wells in the game. It was the first drive of the second half, a little early to pull everyone off the field. These players train all year for 12 shots at this thing, and though potential injuries to superstars have to be taken into consideration, I say let 'em play -- at least until the fourth quarter.


Kooshan from Philadelphia writes: Hi Adam: I was wondering if you had any news on Penn State DT Devon Still's injury. I've read reports that he is done for the year, but I've also read on some message boards that he could return later this season. Could you please set the record straight on this? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: My understanding is that Still will miss six to eight more weeks with a broken ankle. That takes us to around Nov. 1, so Penn State has a decision to make. Still redshirted last year after tearing his ACL, so there's no guarantee he'll regain this season through a medical hardship waiver. Penn State could certainly use another body at defensive tackle, especially after the suspension of starter Abe Koroma. If Koroma sits out for an extended period, a position that looked pretty deep this spring suddenly seems shaky. Penn State needs Ollie Ogbu and Jared Odrick to be effective and durable, and Josh Gaines could get some more work at tackle as well. Getting Still back would be a big boost.


Gregory from Fredricksburg, Va., writes: Adam, I was just wondering, (maybe I am the only one...), but if Mark Sanchez(USC) is going to get expossed this year will it be against Ohio State's Defense. I understand and saw that USC brought quite an air attack against Virginia, but Ohio State's defense was ranked No.1 last year overall..... including No.1 in pass defense. I feel USC is a very solid team controlled by a great coach, but last time I checked...Ohio State has returned more starters than USC, especially on defense. With that, I pretty sure Mark Sanchez has not faced a defense of this magnitude in all of his games, and I think the Buckeyes should be recieving alot more credit leading up to this game than they are. Let Mark air it out all day, Malcom Jenkins(All-American) and Company will be picking them off. Go Ohio State.

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State will be the toughest unit Sanchez has faced by far, and he could have a tough time passing against Jenkins and that secondary. But expect USC to take a different approach from the Virginia game and try to run the ball against an Ohio State defensive line that still needs to prove itself. Obviously James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman are great run-stoppers, but USC will throw a ton of different backs against the Buckeyes, who won't have see anything resembling that type of speed in their first two games. Ohio State will need solid performances from its defensive tackles, who have taken a bit of heat lately. I've been impressed with Sanchez's toughness and efficiency. Ohio State needs to force him into turnovers, the one area where the defense has yet to excel.


Dave from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam, I am a huge Michigan fan and yesturday when I found that out that Justin Feagin was being Redshirted it was a huge shock to me. I think that it is a very unwise decision for Wolverines to Redshirt the only mobile quarterback that the have on the roster who is athletic enough to run the spread effectively. In my opinion it is a waste to Redshirt him because if an athletic quarterback is the key to running the spread and he is the only one that we have then why are we not using him this year. I know that he was not ready to play last week vs. Utah so I understand why he did not play, but I think if we give him a few more weeks he will be ready to play and be just as effective or more effective than Nick and Steve are. I mean maybe I am wrong here and don't know what I am talking about because I would hope that Rich Rod knows what he is doing, so let me know what you think.

Adam Rittenberg: I doubt Rich Rodriguez wanted to redshirt Feagin, so the freshman really must be far away from being game-ready. The guy clearly can move, but athleticism isn't eve
rything in the spread. A quarterback must at least make defensive coordinators think about the pass, and that's probably where Feagin fell short. I'm a little surprised Rodriguez didn't wait a few more weeks, as you mention, but he clearly feels Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet are well ahead of Feagin. The key this year for Michigan is not having major mistakes from the quarterback position. I would trust Rodriguez's evaluation here. The other options might not be too attractive, but Michigan will have to make do.


Brian from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, do you think that Ohio State absolutely needs to win against USC to get any sort of recognition as to not being as overrated as everyone thinks they are? Also, do you think Boeckman [shoot, the whole team] has grown up enough to avoid the absolutely stupid mistakes [all those personal fouls!] they made against LSU in New Orleans last year? Any way to get an early prediction [or at least your take] on OSU v USC?

Adam Rittenberg: The short answer to your first question is yes, absolutely, definitely, no doubt, for sure. Until the rest of the Big Ten shows it can consistently beat solid teams from other conferences, Ohio State's accomplishments within the league won't be recognized nationally. The Buckeyes need to beat USC to gain respect, but even if they don't, they should have another chance to do so in January. It also would help if Wisconsin (Fresno State), Purdue (Oregon), Penn State (Oregon State) and others won big games. I would guess Todd Boeckman and a senior-laden team would avoid getting carried away on the field, but football is a sport of emotion (that's what makes it great). You've got to wait until Thursday for my official Ohio State-USC pick, though right now I'm leaning towards the Trojans.


Chris from San Jose, Calif., writes: Adam, You couldn't be more wrong about the scheduling in the Big 10. If the rest of the world could support 90,000 seat stadiums (and the revenues they deliver), the Big 10 would schedule home and homes. Witness Ohio State scheduling home and homes with Virginia Tech (after their stadium expansion), Oklahoma, Cal (after their stadium expansion), and Tennessee. If the rest of D1 wants a shot at the Big 10, they need to catch up, the Big 10 doesn't need to slow down for anyone. the only thing that could change this -- if the Big 10 network and TV football contracts can generate sufficient revenue to offset the lower revenue from ticket sales.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you're right to an extent. But as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told me, one of the reasons the Big Ten doesn't schedule many games with the SEC is because teams from both sides have huge stadiums. As Delany put it, "Big stadiums typically don't play big stadiums just because of the value of the gate." So I don't think it's all a matter of catching up to the Big Ten. None of these teams -- Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 -- want to give up home games in their big stadiums, so their standards for opponents diminish. Ohio State has the right idea by playing a marquee game every year. I'd like to see the Buckeyes schedule one more decent opponent -- Troy would count in most seasons, but the Trojans are down this year -- but they aren't the biggest problem in the league. The Big Ten needs more aggressive scheduling from teams like Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa, which hopefully will come soon.