Friday, January 13, 2012
Big Ten Friday mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
Hope everyone has a great weekend.
Nate from Moline, Ill., writes: Hey Adam,I read your article about Illinois hiring Gonzales and the positives and negatives associated with it. I agree that it's great that's he's been around a TON of winning, has produced a great amount of NFL talent, and is an excellent recruiter. However, I don't agree with some of the negatives. LSU's offense has been pretty efficient. They just haven't ranked higher because they have struggled with QB play.
Adam Rittenberg: Nate, that's a good point. I was only noting that hiring LSU's pass game coordinator a few days after the BCS title game debacle might sway fan perception a bit. Billy Gonzales is a very good recruiter and developed plenty of NFL wide receivers at Florida. It'll be interesting to see how he fares as the primary playcaller at Illinois. LSU has struggled at the quarterback position, while Illinois has had mixed results with Nathan Scheelhaase. It'll be important for Gonzales to help Scheelhaase recapture the form he showed early this season and in the 2010 Texas Bowl. It's interesting that Illinois' last two offensive coordinators -- Gonzales and Paul Petrino -- both have worked with wide receivers more than quarterbacks.
Michael from St. Louis writes: In the final third of the season, it felt like Nebraska was held back most by its lack of a down-field passing threat, particularly on third-and-long. Would Taylor Martinez overhauling his throwing mechanics help matters in 2012, or would it do more harm than good?
Adam Rittenberg: Michael, you mean you don't like the T-Magic shot put? His mechanics are what they are, and I don't know how much tweaking you can expect. He did throw the ball well at times, like in the games against Ohio State and Northwestern. But I also think Nebraska's wide receiving corps will be much better in 2012 as players like Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner get another year of experience under their belts. Most offenses aren't built to succeed in third-and-long, and Nebraska's is no exception, but I do see the Huskers getting more production in the passing game and particularly more YAC (yards after catch) from Bell and the others.
Josh from East Lansing, Mich., writes: What do you expect out of Michigan States receivers for next year? Gaining Arnett was a big addition, but outside of him nobody is proven. Do you think Aaron Burbridge and Juwan Caesar can be a big enough impact as freshmen to make MSU a top team for next year?
Adam Rittenberg: Josh, young players certainly will have opportunities to see the field in 2012 for Michigan State. DeAnthony Arnett should be in the mix if he gets his NCAA waiver. Bennie Fowler didn't play much this season but showed some promise in 2010 and likely will be a part of the plan. After that point, you're looking at young guys like Burbridge and Ceasar. I also think Michigan State will return to more of a run-based offense in 2012 with a more experienced offensive line and Le'Veon Bell back in the fold.
Eric from Chicago writes: Adam,There's one issue related to the Penn State situation that never gets addressed. Being that Paterno, Curly, McQuerry, et al interviewed in front of a grand jury why was every thing such a shock to Penn State when this news became public? Penn State knew about this months before it became public so how did they not have a plan in place for handleing it from a public relations standpoint?
Adam Rittenberg: Eric, I'd disagree that this issue hasn't been discussed. It's very much in the minds of Penn State fans and alumni who want answers from the school's administration. The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reported Jerry Sandusky being the subject of a grand jury investigation back in March. People at Penn State clearly knew about the report, but it certainly seemed like the school was unprepared for the storm in November. Penn State has been playing catchup from a public relations standpoint from the beginning.
Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, what are the odds that Cardale Jones could make a push against Braxton Miller? I love Braxton, but Cardale looks like a Vince Young re-incardalded(haha). Braxton might be a better runner, but Cardale sure looks like a solid runner with a rocket for an arm. Am I crazy? Also what about the running backs? What is the order looking like?
Adam Rittenberg: Paul, I'd say you're a bit nuts on the Miller-Jones thing, but who knows? Maybe I'll be the crazy one a year from now. I do think Miller will thrive in Urban Meyer's offense, which will give him much more freedom to create and make plays, which is what he does best. Although Ohio State should keep other quarterbacks in the mix, the coaches seem very excited about Miller and for good reason. The running back rotation will be very interesting, to say the least. Jordan Hall has experience and versatility as a guy who can catch passes out of the backfield. Smaller backs typically thrive in the spread, and both Hall and Jaamal Berry seem to fit the profile. Berry has to get his off-field issues straightened out, but he's clearly a talented player. I'm interested to see what happens to a guy like Carlos Hyde, who looked good at times during the 2011 campaign but might not be the best fit for this system.
Dam from Miami writes: Read your column about football players running track in the spring. Was curious if any B1G football players play any other sports like basketball? I know in the late 90's early 2000's there were many football athletes who doubled to play basketball as well like Julius Peppers, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzales, etc...
Adam Rittenberg: Dam, it's becoming less and less common as football is a year-round activity and specialization is encouraged more these days. You see football players run track in other leagues more than you do in the Big Ten. As a guy who grew up cheering for Cal's Tony Gonzalez at both Memorial Stadium and Harmon Gym, I wish we'd see it more. The Big Ten has had some football players also play basketball, like Michigan State wide receiver/forward Matt Trannon. Purdue tight end Patrick Bade played two years of basketball for the Boilers before joining the gridiron squad, but he no longer does both.
Keith from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam love the blog. A lot has been made about how UM's schedule is hard in 2012 similar to how hard MSU's was in 2011. My question is whose schedule is harder? They are similar in the challenging road games but MSU had Wisconsin and UM at home after a bye week while UM travels to Dallas to take on Alabama and has MSU at home. Another key factor is how OSU improves under Urban Meyer compared to Luke Fickell.
Adam Rittenberg: Keith, it's a little tough to assess this without knowing how good certain teams will be in 2012. But it appears as though Michigan will play a tougher schedule than Michigan State did this past season. The Alabama opener increases the degree of difficulty by a lot. Like MSU, Michigan will visit both Notre Dame and Nebraska -- the two places where the Spartans stumbled during the regular season. I also think Michigan will face a much better Ohio State team than the one the Spartans faced this season. But again, it's hard to tell at this point. We should get a very good gauge of the Michigan program after the 2012 season.
Jesse from Superior, Wis., writes: Will Russell Wilson's performance at Wisconsin this season encourage other athletic quarterbacks to consider Wisconsin a place to excel? I think Wilson's numbers prove that a quarterback with skills can have plenty of success, especially under Bielama. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Jesse, Wisconsin's appeal for quarterbacks certainly has increased because of Wilson. The Badgers have a highly touted QB recruit (Bart Houston) arriving next year, and Bielema said he heard from several quarterbacks looking to transfer (Dayne Crist among them). The key for Wisconsin going forward is replacing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Wilson thrived under Chryst, and Chryst's system can prepare quarterbacks for the next level. Wisconsin will keep a similar identity on offense with its next coordinator, but the new coach and the new assistants on the offensive side will be integral in luring signal callers who boast Wilson's skill set and potential.
Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Adam,Just read your chat transcript. I'm a little surprised that you'd be against a 16 team playoff, and even have problems with an 8 team. While I'm not a playoff fan myself, if there is one I think you have to give automatic bids to the conference champs. Even if you limit this to the BCS conferences, that means 6 of the slots are taken, which doesn't give much room for deserving at-large teams. And if you don't give bids to the other FBS conference champs, that seems unfair. If you don't give automatic bids, you really hurt deep balanced conferences where it's really hard to run the table and help top heavy conferences (remember when FSU played for a national championship every year because there was no way they'd ever fail to go 8-0 in the ACC?). What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: Lance, a 16-team playoff would be a logistical nightmare with different schools having final exams at different times and so forth. I'd be in favor of an eight-team playoff if it was organized the right way. I might be in the minority, but I still believe the bowl experience is a nice reward for the players. I'm also not crazy about having the Big East champ or the ACC champ in a playoff every year, especially over more deserving teams that didn't win their league. I would have liked to have seen Arkansas in a playoff this year. Same for Stanford. I didn't need to see Clemson or West Virginia. I'd rather tweak the BCS formula or have a committee select the eight most deserving teams based on a specific criteria. The champions from leagues like the SEC, Big 12 and most likely Big Ten and Pac-12 would be in the playoff most seasons, but I don't think there should be automatic bids.