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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Big Ten mailblog

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


More good questions over the weekend. Keep 'em coming.

Jeremy from Tecumseh, Mich., writes: Adam, Certianly Jim Tressel is going to be in a difficult situation in the next coming weeks with Jim Cordle coming back from injury and his sophomore tackles playing good. Does he run the risk of messing up whatever chemistry the line is developing by inserting cordle back in the starting lineup or should he let his young tackles start and work cordle in the game at different situations?

Adam Rittenberg: That's a great question, Jeremy, and one I'm sure the Ohio State coaches are debating right now. Tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts are the future of the Ohio State offensive line, but Jim Cordle's experience shouldn't go to waste. The advantage with Cordle is he can play pretty much any position on the line, so you could move him around a bit. No one is mistaking Ohio State's offense for Texas' right now, so the coaches shouldn't be afraid to make a move. I would keep Adams and Shugarts as the starting tackles and work in Cordle when necessary at either tackle or right guard. If Andrew Miller misses more time with the flu, Ohio State will need a third tackle.


Zach from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, are you under contract with ESPN as far as your power rankings go? I have to assume you are because after a year and a half of blogging, not once have you disagreed with the AP poll when ranking Big Ten teams. I just find it funny that your Big Ten rankings are perfectly correlated to the AP poll. Do you really believe that week after week or are you obligated to not break "form"? Be truthful.

Adam Rittenberg: Uh, Zach, you obviously missed the power rankings from Week 2, when I ranked Michigan ahead of Ohio State. So I'm not obligated to anything, and I don't vote in the AP Poll. I've actually ripped the AP voters more than any of my fellow bloggers this season. Given your address, I'm guessing you're upset that Iowa isn't ranked ahead of Ohio State in this week's rankings. When I look at Ohio State and Iowa, I see two very good defenses, two very good special teams groups and two questionable offenses. The difference is Ohio State's defense has been stingier when it comes to points allowed, and Iowa's offense has made more major mistakes than the Buckeyes. The majority of impartial observers would agree that at this point, Ohio State gets an edge against Iowa. But things certainly can change before Nov. 14.


Chris from Hastings, Minn., writes: Adam, should Minnesota consider a switch at QB and start the freshman Marqueis Gray or do you think the coaching staff is doing the right thing by bringing Gray in sporadically.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think MarQueis Gray is fully ready to run the offense, and I'm not certain that the pro-style system Minnesota switched to for the season best suits Gray's talents. He seems like more of a spread offense QB. That said, Minnesota should continue to find ways to work Gray into games. He can really be a weapon for a unit that has endured some ups and downs this season. The Gophers' top priority right now is the run game, which definitely looks like the right approach. But quarterback Adam Weber has been a bit shaky this season, so using Gray as a change-up isn't a bad idea at all.


Jeremy from Atlanta writes: Hey Adam. Coach Fitz has been doing a lot of shuffling with Northwestern's offensive line, including substituting players in and out during the games, still searching for the right combo. There seems to be a lot of talk about offensive line "chemistry," especially in the NFL where the best lines can remain intact and dominate for years. It seems that pure talent (or individual experience) is less important than how a unit is able to function as a whole (or experience as a unit). Do you think the constant rotation of players is helping or hurting the NU offensive line? Is NU going to find that right collection of personnel, or should they just focus on giving the "starters" (whoever they are) more reps and more time to gel? On a related note, how much does the loss of Coach Bret Ingalls to New Orleans Saints hurt this squad? Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Adam Rittenberg: At some point, you need to pick five guys and stick with them, but I understand the frustration from Pat Fitzgerald and his assistants. Northwestern has recruited the offensive line better than any other position group, and it's an area that boasts both depth and experience. The line seems fine on pass protection, but their inability to beat people up on the run is troubling. Ingalls' departure certainly hurts, given his experience as a line coach, but Adam Cushing should be fine eventually. The play-calling also has been a bit questionable to me. When you have a quarterback who completes 70 percent of his passes, you can rely on him to pick up short gains through the air. But Northwestern never attacks down the field any more, despite success with long passes at times last season, particularly in the Alamo Bowl. Everyone wants to run the ball, but at this point in the season, you need to play to your strengths.


David from Chicago writes: Adam, in the new bowl lineup the Gator Bowl and Insight Bowl alternate the 4th/5th picks. Can you explain how that works? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: It's pretty simple, David. One year, the Gator Bowl will get the fourth pick of available Big Ten teams. The next year, the Insight gets the pick. Each bowl will get the fourth pick twice in a four-year cycle. It's pretty common for bowls in other conferences, but this is fairly new for the Big Ten lineup.


Michael from Mountain View, Calif., writes: It doesn't matter if the new bowl lineup may make things easier for the conference. Despite the bad record in recent years, shouldn't Jim Delaney and member schools want to take on the best?In your opinion, is the Big Ten taking on the best with this new bowl lineup or is it trying to make things easier on schools by taking on weaker teams? In the new bowl lineup, is the conference playing better teams, the same caliber teams or worse teams?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, the Big Ten still will play the best with three matchups against the SEC and, in some years, the Big 12. But the disparity between the teams won't be as great with the new lineup. The Big Ten team always seemed to be the weaker opponent in the Alamo Bowl, and the Big Ten No. 5 team played the ACC's No. 3 or 4 team in the Champs Sports Bowl. Both those games are gone now, and the Texas Bowl will feature No. 6 Big Ten vs. No. 6 Big 12. Same with the new bowl in Dallas, which could be officially announced at a later date. The Big Ten-SEC matchups all will feature teams that finished around the same spot in their leagues. So it's not like the Big Ten is playing weaker competition. It is evening the playing field a bit more in a bowl system that has inherent disadvantages for a cold-weather league.