Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
Your questions, my answers.
Robert from Atlanta writes: Adam, first I love the blog and continue the good work. Please explain to me why you feel Michigan State will be a strong team again. With so many key losses at QB, RB, TB, several WR's, and on defense, I see a group that will struggle quite a bit. If any team lost as much as they did they would be doomed. MSU doesnt reload like other schools. What am I missing here? I see the entire B1G taking steps back except for OSU and Michigan's losses are minimal. I see MSU ranked #7 in preseason polls. This has to be an oversight or I could be wrong on the key losses. Educate me please.
Adam Rittenberg: Robert, this is a fair question. The part I disagree with is: "MSU doesn't reload like other schools." While this has been true in the past, Michigan State is at a point where I believe it can reload, especially at some key positions. The Spartans have recruited extremely well at spots like wide receiver and defensive back, and the 2012 class might be the best lot yet. The level of athleticism has improved substantially under Mark Dantonio, which allowed Michigan State to beat a team like Georgia in the Outback Bowl. The Spartans have enough athleticism and depth on defense to replace a few key departures (Jerel Worthy, Trenton Robinson). It actually wouldn't surprise me if MSU is better on defense in 2012. While I agree the offense has some holes to fill, I like Michigan State's young wide receivers (especially if transfer DeAnthony Arnett becomes eligible immediately). The offensive line could be a lot better after dealing with inexperience in 2011. Losing Kirk Cousins is huge, but Andrew Maxwell has been groomed for this role. Michigan State will have to be a defense-driven team in 2012, and while the Spartans could win 10-11 or 7-8, I like their D.
Lavar A. from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Adam, I'm missing the logic. You say the B1G playoff proposal primarily benefits the B1G. But I don't see it. THe B1G wouldn't even have had a team in the 4-team playoff in 2011....or 2010....or 2009....or 2008. If this very playoff system had been in effect, we just would have had many more opportunities not to watch the SEC play home games in the south. How do you see this being a benefit to the B1G in the near (or far) future? Oh and by the way, I do find the idea very intriguing nonetheless.
Adam Rittenberg: Lavar, while you're right about the drought between 2008-2011, the proposal at least gives Big Ten teams a chance to host games with national championship implications. The current setup essentially forces the Big Ten to win road games in the major bowls. A proposal that would include the current BCS bowls doesn't change anything. Yes, you need to qualify in the top 4 to be in the discussion, and the Big Ten clearly needs to compete better at the national level. But the proposal gives the Big Ten a chance to exploit an advantage that it currently cannot.
Jason from Dallas writes: Adam,I actually agreed with Evan from Arusha, Tanzania's comment about lack of Purdue coverage in both you and Brian's blogs. But then when I sent comments you would both answer, which leads me to believe that you do cover Purdue, but there's just not a lot to cover. Just letting you know that I do appreciate the little bit of Purdue you do cover and hope they give reason to deserve more coverage in the future. It is insulting to think we're behind Northwestern, but they are the ones who consistently get to bowl games, not us. As for an actual question: I'm one of the many that are really down on Danny Hope. He got a great recruiting class this year, so I'm willing to give him a pass for one more year. But recruiting doesn't mean much if you can't coach them up, so we shall see. Tiller had 9 guys drafted in one year back in 2004 to lead all schools. Hope is projected to have nobody drafted this year, not a good sign. Do you believe 5-7 gets him fired? What about 6-6? Obviously 7-5, 8-4 (which is what they should be) means they are heading in the right direction.
Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I agree that it's a big year for Hope and his staff because, as you note, the talent is there to make progress. I liked this year's recruiting class a lot. There's also a great opportunity to make a run in the Leaders division because Ohio State has a bowl ban, Wisconsin is dealing with personnel turnover and both Penn State and Illinois had coaching changes. Purdue's chances come down to making fewer major mistakes and playing cleaner games overall. A lot of that is coaching, in my view. You need to make plays, which Purdue does, but you also need to play with great discipline and consistency, which Purdue hasn't shown for most of Hope's tenure. I think you and Evan and other Purdue fans should expect at least seven wins, and Hope needs to deliver.
Sam from Livermore, Calif., writes: Your comment: "If Meyer violated NCAA rules in his recruiting, someone needs to come forward and talk about it. Vague accusations don't help. But whether or not it's true, there has to be a bigger issue here than flipping recruits." My comment: "You seem to think there is more to this than what Alvarez stated. What proof do you have? Or just more of your usual feeble OSU bashing?
Adam Rittenberg: Sam, it's not "feeble OSU bashing." I've spoken to folks around the league and at Wisconsin who said Bielema's issue wasn't just recruit-flipping. Why? Because Wisconsin has engaged in it in the past and so have many other Big Ten schools. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told me Friday that there's no "gentleman's agreement" in the Big Ten about recruiting committed players. Bielema last year expressed concern about recruiting practices in other leagues. He wouldn't have called out Meyer just because Meyer was pursuing Wisconsin commits. Again, no one has proven Meyer did anything illegal. But to think the accusations are simply about recruit-flipping is incorrect. Would it be nice if Bielema specified what he meant? Sure. But it hasn't happened.
Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: Adam, I'm seeing a lot of mixed feelings of Hawk fans with the recent departure of Ken O'Keefe. During the season a lot of Hawk fans voiced strong opinions that the Hawkeyes needed to revamp the offense and defense and get rid of Parker and O'Keefe. Now those fans are getting what they wanted and they are not liking it too much. What are your thoughts? Also, any speculation on who will be O'Keefe's successor?
Adam Rittenberg: Nate, while plenty of Iowa fans are celebrating O'Keefe's departure, they also need to accept that his successor likely won't take the offense in a dramatically new direction. Kirk Ferentz runs this program, and he's only going to hire a certain type of offensive coordinator, someone with whom he's very comfortable. As Bennett mentioned last week, Gus Malzahn isn't coming to Iowa City. The Hawkeyes will maintain a pro-style offense based around the power run and the play-action pass. I'd like to see Erik Campbell get the job. He's one of the Big Ten's top position coaches and has paid his dues at two Big Ten schools (Iowa and Michigan). If Iowa looks within, Campbell appears to be the No. 1 candidate. If Iowa looks outside, the pool will be expanded.
Shane from Augusta, Maine, writes: Hey Adam. Do you see any similarities between Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer joining the Big Ten? Both seemed to have ruffled their fellow coaches feathers and in a short amount of time with Rich Rod stealing a recruit, Roy Roundtree, from Purdue when he first arrived on scene in Ann Arbor and Meyer stealing Seveon Pittman from the Spartans, as well as getting under Bret Bielema's skin. They also both seem to haul in great recruiting classes, maybe with the advantage to Meyer with a great job this year. Also it seems like both have "rockstar" type egos after coming off well at other programs. So, my question is, if Meyer has similar downfalls installing his system at Ohio State and it doesn't translate into wins for the first 2 or 3 years, do you see a similar situation being played out with Meyer that mirrors what occurred in Michigan with Rich Rodriguez?
Adam Rittenberg: Shane, you're not the first one to make the connection between Rodriguez and Meyer. Others are also pointing out that both are masters of the spread offense, a system that has had success in the Big Ten but still isn't regarded as necessarily "fitting" the conference. While their offensive approaches are similar and both are well-known names, the situations also seem different. Rodriguez was a true outsider at Michigan and inherited a program that wasn't in bad shape but hadn't performed to expectations in 2007. While he made mistakes in Ann Arbor, he also faced some significant internal obstacles. Meyer is an Ohio guy. He worked at Ohio State as a graduate assistant and has been immediately embraced by fans. He's also seen as a bit of a savior, at least right now, after Ohio State went through its worst season in more than a decade and endured an NCAA violations scandal. That said, Meyer will face lofty expectations in Columbus, and he'll need to deliver. But the situations aren't as similar as they appear.
Bruce from Leavenworth, Kan., (the city, not the prison) writes: On Friday's mailbag you said "but the Huskers will need to have more success in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania going forward. " Why? In 1995 NU had exactly one player (a back up) from those two states combined and I think that team had some success that year. They did have several players that did OK from NJ though.
Adam Rittenberg: Several things have changed since 1995, Bruce. Nebraska is no longer a nationally-dominant program, as it was back then. As Bo Pelini said in a recent interview, "I understand what the challenges of this job are. We're not going to be the most talented team all the time. We're not going to overwhelm people with talent every game." The Huskers also are in a different conference. Could Nebraska win the Big Ten with a bunch of players not from the Big Ten region? Sure, it's possible. But there is elite-level talent in the Big Ten footprint, and Nebraska, which plays its games in the area and has coaches with Midwest ties (Bo Pelini, Tim Beck, etc.) should be competing for some of those elite prospects. I'm all for programs trying to recruit nationally, but it makes too much sense not to focus a bit more on the areas where you're playing games.