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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

January is feeling a lot like October in Chicago. Football weather. Love it.

Ben from Greenville, Mich., writes: I'm just wondering why some people are questioning Urban Meyer's last 3 recruiting classes at Florida and assuming that Ohio State is going to go down hill based on that. According to ESPN.com, Meyer had had top 5 recruiting classes in each of his final 3 seasons (including the #1 class in 2010). Should Ohio State fans be concerned with Florida's 6-6 2011 season as a possible look into our future? Is Florida's poor season based more on the quality of Urban Meyer's recruits or more on Will Muschamp's attempt to run his pro-style offense with Meyer's spread offense personnel (similar to what RichRod tried to do at Michigan with similar results). As a Buckeye fan, I'm not concerned with Coach Meyer's recruiting, but should I be?

Adam Rittenberg: It seemed like Meyer went for great athletes rather than great football players during his later years at Florida, and the player development aspect certainly seemed to be lacking. Will Muschamp inherited some top-level athletes, but not enough top-level football players who knew how to play the game the right way. Meyer's first class at Ohio State is receiving strong reviews, and for good reason. But the true gauge in my view will be how many linemen see the field early, and how those players progress during their careers. It's clear that the strength of Ohio State's class is in the trenches. Most analysts say Meyer has several linemen (Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington) who can contribute right away. Whether that happens or not will go a long way in determining the quality of the class.


Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: I like the orange helmets with the blue (white border) lettering. Illinois is supposed to wear orange helmets. These look classy without breaking tradition. I hate it when I turn on TV and I can't tell who's playing because they're wearing some weird color scheme.

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I hear you on the orange helmet thing. Illinois has traditionally donned orange headgear, and I certainly see why fans don't want to change tradition. I just don't like the curved "ILLINI" type. Looks a little too retro, and it's not as sleek as the Block I or even the current underlined "ILLINOIS." I wonder if Illinois would consider an orange helmet with a Block I in blue or white. Then again, there's a reason why I don't design jerseys or helmets.


Frank from Minot, N.D., writes: Adam, I hear a lot of people asking questions about Nebraska backs Abdullah and Green as if they are #2 And #3 behind Burkhead. What about Heard? I thought he looked just as good as Green What's your take?

Adam Rittenberg: Frank, I think it's going to be a really fun competition during spring practice. Nebraska knows Rex is the No. 1 guy, but the Huskers have several talented young players competing for the backup role and the No. 3 role. We saw more of Ameer Abdullah last season, primarily because of his role on kickoff returns. It's tough to evaluate Aaron Green and Braylon Heard without seeing them more in games -- they had very similar numbers in 2011 -- but they're certainly in the mix for the backup job.


Mark from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Loved the interview with Maxwell. What do you think about his personality? Were you impressed with him? Does he seem like he will be a good leader?

Adam Rittenberg: Very impressed with Andrew Maxwell, Mark. You can easily mistake him for Kirk Cousins over the phone. They speak similarly and have the same type of presence, which bodes well for Michigan State. Maxwell of course needs to prove himself in games, but he knows it and he's very excited about the challenge. I think playing behind Cousins for the past three seasons has prepared Maxwell extremely well to take the next step.


Jay from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Hey Adam -- what are your thoughts on moving the site of the B1G Championship Game from Indianapolis to Chicago? I know Indianapolis is the major hub for amateur sports, but wouldn't Soldier Field make for a more historic, captivating venue? The game would be played outside -- the way B1G football should be played -- in a state that cares more about B1G football. And with Soldier Field's capacity, we wouldn't be worrying about sell-outs (no matter who plays).

Adam Rittenberg: Jay, I hear you on some of these points, but the Big Ten title game will remain in Indianapolis through the 2015 game. Although the attendance in Indy will be a topic to monitor going forward, the inaugural event went off successfully. Indy knows how to put on big events, and while I agree Big Ten football seems to fit better outdoors, Lucas Oil Stadium is a lot easier logistically than Soldier Field. Chicago and Soldier Field need to put together a stronger presentation when the current cycle ends and give the Big Ten confidence the operations would be strong. But I agree that from an interest standpoint, the Big Ten championship would create more buzz in Chicago, which is the center of Big Ten fandom.


Rich from Wayne, N.J., writes: With all the sentiment building back up towards the late Joe Paterno -- how he was terminated without due process -- and now the media and public's realization (rightfully so) of his overall career/body of work, will Delaney and B10 consider putting his name back on the Stagg Championship Trophy within the next year or two? Would like your opinion, your colleague Mr. Bennett's and hopefully Mr. Delaney's as well.... thanks

Adam Rittenberg: Rich, while many media members had some nice tributes for Paterno last week, I don't think there's been a total "realization" or vindication of what happened in the sex-abuse case. As for the Big Ten, I don't anticipate Paterno's name being put back on the trophy in the immediate future, although things could change over time. Typically decisions like the removal aren't made to be reversed in a short time span, especially as the Big Ten and the NCAA are currently investigating Penn State and whether there was a lack of institutional control.


Mark from Hamilton, Ohio, writes: Adam, do you think Michigan, having Denard back, as well as the maturation of a very young team, will keep my Wolverines in the conversation for another shot at at a conference title, and another B.C.S bid next year ? I realize the schedule is daunting but it seems Hoke has brought the Michigan back to MICHIGAN ! Your thoughts ?

Adam Rittenberg: Hoke certainly has Michigan headed in the right direction again. The keys to 2012 are replacing several standout defensive linemen (Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen), continuing to build defensively on what we saw in 2011, and getting greater consistency from the quarterback position. Michigan can't expect to win 10 or more games if Denard Robinson throws 15 interceptions again. The defense repeatedly bailed out the offense in 2011, but to expect that to continue is unrealistic. So for me, it really is about Denard getting better and more comfortable in the offense, and limiting major mistakes. Michigan should be able to run the ball well with Fitz Toussaint, but it won't be able to survive as many mistakes as it did this season with such a daunting schedule.


Steve from Washington D.C. writes: Adam, Coach Fitz's announcement shortly after the bowls that he is not making any changes to Northwestern's coaching staff has many fans, myself included, feeling confused (the polite version) or pretty ticked off (the accurate version). We all love our coach, but I'm worried that he's either watching a different defense than the rest of us or he just lacks the testicular fortitude to make difficult choices about coaches who aren't performing. Defensive Backs coach Jerry Brown isn't cutting it, and Defensive Coordinator Mick Hankwitz has gotta be on the hotseat after successive years of declining performance by the Northwestern D. What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think it's Fitzgerald lacking the guts to make changes. He clearly believes in his staff and in his players -- perhaps to a fault. He seemed to challenge the staff before the bowl game, and he has acknowledged the disappointment of the 2011 season, but he has ultimately decided to go forward. Keep in mind this is a guy who has fired only one coach (former defensive coordinator Greg Colby) in six seasons on the job. Fitz believes in continuity, and he's not alone in this league. But the defensive staff absolutely should be under fire after what has happened the past two seasons. With a few exceptions, defensive back has been a weakness for Northwestern historically, but the poor pass-rushing in recent years is also a concern. The Wildcats have gotten it going on offense at positions like quarterback and wide receiver, but they still don't truly reflect their head coach, a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker.