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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Let's check that May mail.

Matt from Sidney, Neb., writes: Adam,Total speculation here, but your article with playoff possibilities had the "Top 6" set-up been in place got me thinking of Delany's possible ulterior motive for his proposal (he wouldn't propose it if it didn't offer the B1G an advantage). Wouldn't this scenario put Notre Dame at a disadvantage for being independent? With that set up, a top 4 ND team would be left out if a conference champ was in the top 6 (if the other 3 in the top were champs). So...Top 4 = ND + 3 conference champs;#5 or 6 is a conference champ;ND is left out.So the whole point: a disadvantaged ND has more incentive to join a conference, with the assumed destination being the B1G. Lots of speculation, but that Delany fella is wiley. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I think the details still would need to be worked out on access for independents like Notre Dame, and it's really interesting to think about how much power, if any, Notre Dame has at this stage in terms of playoff access. That said, I think the Notre Dame-to-Big-Ten ship has sailed, as far as Delany is concerned. Has he totally written it off? No. He can't do that. But the growing sentiment is if Notre Dame joins a league, it will be the ACC, not the Big Ten. And Notre Dame's preference is to remain independent in football. From talking to folks in the Big Ten, it's clear to me that the Big Ten won't actively pursue Notre Dame again. If the Irish want to be part of the B1G, they need to do the courting this time.


Mike from Boston writes: Now that you've seen the new upgrades to PSU's strength program, how do you think it compares to the best programs in the Big Ten like Iowa?

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State is undoubtedly moving closer to the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. It's clear the strength program needed to be modernized, and Craig Fitzgerald has been an excellent addition in State College. The new approach already has yielded positive results, particularly with the offensive linemen. It's hard to say this strength program is better than that one, but I think it's safe to say Penn State is more on par with the programs throughout the Big Ten than it was before.


Todd from Peoria, Ill., writes: Adam,I like your analysis of Jim Delany's proposed playoff format. I would suggest one change and am interested in your thoughts. If a team that didn't win their conference, or even their division falls in the top two, they should still get in ahead of a conference champion ranked 5 or 6. That would ensure you would always have the top two in the playoff while rewarding conference champions over others to fill the remaining two spots, as long as they are in the top six.What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, I like your idea. As I pointed out in Monday's post, there would be a lot less outcry about a No. 5 conference champ replacing a No. 4 than a No. 6 league champ leapfrogging a No. 2 non-champion (league or division) like Alabama in 2011 or Nebraska in 2001. I can't see a system being approved that would potentially leave a team like last year's Alabama squad out of the playoffs. The discussions remain fluid and the selection procedures likely will be the trickiest part going forward now that a four-team model seems fairly set.


Carlton from Chicago writes: Agree with your sentiments that Michigan will not have as dominant of a D-line this year, but don't you think Michigan has enough excellent coaching to put them in the right spots this year? It seems that Hoke and Old Man Mattison were excellent in doing this last year. Can that cover for the majority of the weaknesses the line has shown?

Adam Rittenberg: It's very possible, Carlton. Michigan has no shortage of expertise in defensive line coaching, and Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison and Jerry Montgomery know what it takes to develop players. It wouldn't surprise me to see a star develop from the D-line this fall. I'm very interesting to see how a bulked-up Craig Roh performs at the strongside defensive end spot. And there's always the Will Campbell watch.


Boston Bucky from Jamaica Plain, Mass., writes: I'm a life-long Badger fan with a family that has season tix to the UW slate. I pick one game to go back for every year. It has been pretty easy to pick which game in the last few years (Nebraska's Big 10 debut last year was a no-brainer).Should I attend the MSU game on Halloween weekend or the OSU game just before Thanksgiving?MSU has become the most relevant rival over the past two years, but this off-season recruiting beef has certainly spiced up things with OSU.I'm leaning one way right now, but would love your opinion.

Adam Rittenberg: Both good choices, Bucky, but I'd pick the Ohio State game and have no regrets. While it'd be great to be in Mad-city for Halloween weekend, the Ohio State game carries more excitement in my view. It's a division home game against a Buckeyes team that will be improved under Urban Meyer. You have the Meyer-Bret Bielema subplot after the recruiting spat. You have the two teams that have won the past seven league titles. While Michigan State should be a fun one too, I think the Ohio State game will mean more for the Badgers in their quest to repeat as division champs.


John from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam,I think I'm lost on the whole "That team" comment. Am I lost or do those of us that live in the South just perhaps miss the finer points of the English language. Granted, I didn't see the actual question before his statement, but it looks to me like someone asked him about "non-conference winner" or division, or something like that and he then used "that team" referencing the non-conf winner. To read "Alabama" out of a reference to "non-conf winner" seems like Washington politics more than anything else.

Adam Rittenberg: John, I definitely see your point, and while I could make some snide remarks about southerners, I'll resist. I think by using the phrase "that team," months after a team fitting the description captured the national championship -- a team from the Big Ten's rival conference, no less -- Delany made it easy for folks to form the link to Alabama. Had he used the phrase "those teams," and mentioned several of them, like Stanford from 2011, the backlash wouldn't have been so severe. But it was a poor choice of phrase, given the timing, and Delany paid the price.


Brandon from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, the link Brian posted about abandoning the National Championship in favor of the Rose Bowl piqued my interest. Personally, I think it's a terrible idea, and will only further the perception that the Big Ten is falling behind in college football. Incoming players want to play for championships, and the Rose Bowl just doesn't have the pull that it used to. More and more players will decide not to play in the B1G or the P12 because of this. My question is, what percentage of B1G fans agree with abandoning the National Championship? Perhaps you could set up one of those nifty polls.

Adam Rittenberg: Brandon, this is a great question/topic to discuss, given the shifting environment in college sports. There's a portion of Big Ten fans I talk to who remain traditionalists. They love the Rose Bowl, want the Big Ten championship in Pasadena every year and don't really care about the SEC and its national championship streak. But the younger generation of Big Ten fans seems more championship-focused and less obsessed with the Rose Bowl and the history. They're ticked off by the SEC's bluster and want to see Big Ten teams start raising the crystal football again. Many of the Big Ten players also fit into this category. Will it mean more Big Ten teams enter that mix for national titles? We'll see. But that's the key, for the Big Ten's depth at the top to get closer to what the SEC has right now.


Matt from Dallas writes: What is with all this faith in Mich St? I cannot see them beating Michigan or Nebraska this year. In fact Mich St has never beat Nebraska and this year I would argue Nebraska will be better than they were last year and Mich St will not be as good as last year when Nebraska handled them. Where is the logic????

Adam Rittenberg: It's all about the Spartans defense, Matt. Right now, the Michigan State D looks like the single best unit in the Big Ten entering the season. Michigan State has All-Big Ten candidates in all three levels of the defense and should be extremely stingy this fall. The Michigan game will be tough for the Spartans, but Michigan State has won four straight in the series. While Nebraska handled the Spartans easily last year, remember where that game fell for MSU: at the end of a stretch featuring Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. It's not a shock that Michigan State had a letdown in Lincoln. And Nebraska failed miserably in its two marquee Big Ten road games last year (Michigan, Wisconsin). While both the Wolverines and the Huskers could win the division, Michigan State is my favorite entering the season.