Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
You have questions, I have answers.
J.C. from Seattle writes: Adam, in your opinion, did Bret Bielema hit the panic button a little too early, firing a coach after just two games into the season? What happens if Wisconsin doesn't improve? Are more people going to lose their jobs?
Adam Rittenberg: Despite the obvious struggles with a unit that is the hallmark of Wisconsin's program, Bielema's decision is surprising and really unprecedented in the Big Ten. Listening to Bielema on Monday, he sounded like he had some reservations about Mike Markuson and clearly thinks of the world of the young Bart Miller. I just have a hard time believing a proven line coach like Markuson suddenly forgot how to do his job. Were there major philosophical differences, and if so, why didn't those come out during the hiring process? The whole situation underscores how big a loss Bob Bostad was to Wisconsin. The Badgers certainly would love to have Bostad back right now. I can't imagine the line continuing to backslide -- too much talent there. But Bielema has made it clear he's holding these new coaches accountable, and he's not afraid to make quick changes. Ultimately, he's the head coach, and he claims ultimate accountability for the hire, the fire and what happens next.
Philosopher Joe from Spartan Nation writes: You have discussed scenarios where Ohio State's sanctions result in the Leader's Division having to send a sub-par team to the B1G Championship game, but what about the Rose Bowl itself? Does the B1G have any flexibility there? In the albeit unlikely, but very exciting, event that MSU runs the table from here on out and earns a trip to the BCS Championship game after winning the B1G, can the B1G send someone other than the B1G chapionship game loser to Pasadena? In other words, if Sparty heads to try and make a bid to hoist the Crystal Fooball, can a 2/3 loss Michigan or Nebraska team be sent to reprresnt the B1G at the Rose Bowl instead of a 4/5 loss Purdue or Wisconsin?
Adam Rittenberg: If the Rose Bowl loses one of its champions (Big Ten or Pac-12), it can select a replacement team as long as that team meets the at-large criteria (at least nine regular-season victories, in top 14 of final BCS standings). So it's the Rose Bowl's choice, not the Big Ten's. If the Rose Bowl replaced Michigan State with another Big Ten team -- which it almost certainly would do -- it could pick any eligible Big Ten team. In fact, it's unlikely a 4-loss Purdue or Wisconsin team would even be eligible for BCS at-large selection. In that case, the 2-loss Michigan or Nebraska team would be the obvious choice. No one wants to see a 4-loss team in Pasadena unless it has to be there (by virtue of winning the Big Ten championship and the automatic bid).
Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Adam you were pretty tough on the B1G you write "Big Ten didn't wait until New Year's Day to endure its national flogging." I would say all the B1G's losses came from teams that realistically do not expect to be national championship contenders. I think these teams are focused on a Division Championship. Is it possible that some of these teams played a pre-season game rather than "there's no tomorrow" game? Do pundits such as yourself put more into these early season non-conference games than the teams? These are kids. Do you need to be so negative on their performance? Let's build their confidence not Flog on the Blog.
Adam Rittenberg: Mark, while I agree none of the losses were by national title contenders, I strongly disagree with your suggestion that these teams don't put much stock into September games. They train year-round for 12 guaranteed opportunities, and while we don't regard Wisconsin and Nebraska as national title contenders, players on those teams don't think that way. They want to win every time out, and they certainly don't want to be embarrassed, as Wisconsin's offense was in nearly being shut out by Oregon State. Also, they want to represent their school and their conference against other major-conference teams. Think the Iowa State game doesn't matter to Iowa? Think the Notre Dame game doesn't really matter to Purdue? Sorry, not buying it. And the blog isn't there to "build their confidence." It's there to cover the league, and the league stunk this past weekend.
Kevin from Chicago writes: It's a boring cliche to complain about a writer's bias against a fan's team but I'm going to do it anyway. The lack of meaningful coverage of IU's football team from you and Bennett is appalling, unless you plan to rename the blog "The team's with historic success in the Big Ten blog." Then in the same week where you elevate Minnesota multiple spots in your power rankings, you leave IU as 12th noting that IU hasn't played anyone of note thus far. And just who did Minnesota play to earn your faith? UNLV? That same UNLV team that lost at home this week to Northern Arizona? Color me unconvinced about the strength of the Gopher's schedule. If schedule strength is the relevant criteria for unproven teams coming off of bad seasons, then apply that criteria consistently, and not just to IU. I realize it's a subjective exercise but if you're going to do it, try and do it with consistent criteria and without assumptions based on historic performance. Bottom line for me is that as an IU fan, I can't look to ESPN for meaningful coverage, which is quite unlike the fans of most other Big Ten teams. That's dissapointing.
Adam Rittenberg: Regarding coverage, it's as simple as this: if Indiana keeps winning, it will receive more coverage. While historically successful programs with larger football fan followings do get more coverage on the blog -- we've never concealed this -- we also cover stories that appeal both regionally and nationally. If IU wins, the coverage will come. As to your second question, I understand the frustration completely. Bennett and I spent a lot of time Sunday debating where to put the Hoosiers in the power rankings. The schedule argument regarding IU is similar to the one with Minnesota. Neither team has really played anyone. Ultimately, we asked ourselves whether Minnesota would beat the four teams behind it (Illinois, Iowa, Penn State and Indiana). We think the Gophers can. We don't believe Indiana would beat anyone else in the Big Ten right now. That opinion can change and change in a hurry. Week 3 power rankings mean absolutely nothing. I guarantee you if Indiana beats Ball State -- a Cardinals team that has won its past two meetings with IU -- and other squads (Iowa, PSU) continue to struggle, the Hoosiers will move up in the rankings.
David from Chicago writes: Hi Adam. As a Northwestern fan, how much better should I feel about the team's prospects after the win against Vandy? Before Saturday, I saw it as a tipping point game that down the road could be the sixth win for bowl eligibility. But I was so impressed by the defense, kicking game, lack of offensive mistakes, and determination they showed in the rain that I'm tempted to revise my expectations upwards. Is eight or nine wins out of the question?
Adam Rittenberg: It's not, David, especially looking at the upcoming schedule, but Northwestern must build off of the Vandy win rather than take a step back, which it is prone to do. The defense showed it can be disruptive and aggressive and buy time for a normally potent offense to get rolling. If Northwestern's defensive line can neutralize opposing rushers like it did Zac Stacy and apply pressure like it did to Jordan Rodgers, I think you can raise the ceiling on this season. Northwestern is a young team that has its best players in their first, second and third years in the program. It's important the Wildcats avoid a letdown like they had in Week 3 last year against Army and beat a so-so Boston College squad this weekend. Afterward, Northwestern plays South Dakota and Indiana at home, followed by trips to Penn State and Minnesota. So the schedule is pretty manageable and eight or more wins isn't out of the question. But this team is very much a work in progress that must continue to make strides on both sides of the ball.
Andy from Oakland, Calif., writes: Hi Adam,I'm going to miss watching what is likely be PSU's first win in 14 years because I'll be in a class taught by Mark Rittenberg in Berkeley. Is he a relation of yours? Anyway I'm curious about your thoughts on McGloin's performance so far this season. For me it seems that QB play is one of Penn State's strengths, which is completely foreign for a PSU fan. What do you think? Is he becoming a good quarterback or has everything surrounding him gone so far downhill that he looks good in comparison?
Adam Rittenberg: That's my pops! You're definitely in for a treat Saturday. He's a character, and I guarantee you've never had a class like his. Maybe he'll let you slip away to check the Penn State score, but I sadly admit he's not a sports fan at all and doesn't know how I turned out the way I did. ... McGloin is doing some good things this season and seems to be grasping some of the key concepts in Bill O'Brien's offense. He certainly turned in a gutsy performance against Virginia in returning from injury. The Penn State run game certainly isn't what it has been in the past with Silas Redd and Evan Royster, and the Lions must continue to develop there. But O'Brien's offense has a passing lean to it and puts a lot of responsibility on the quarterback. McGloin seems to be getting it well. I'd like to see his completion percentage (55.4) go up, but he's only thrown one interception -- on a tipped pass -- in 83 attempts. He'll never be a superstar and must continue to improve, but he's not a liability, either.
Brandon from Davenport, Iowa, writes: How much do you think it would take for Ferentz to replace James Vandenberg at quarterback this season? I understand some of the blame needs to go on receivers for drops but his performance through the first two games have been anything but impressive. I've been following Jake Rudock since Iowa announced he was signing there what are the chances we see him under center this year?!
Adam Rittenberg: Brandon, I don't think Vandenberg needs to look over his shoulder yet. Both Kirk Ferentz and coordinator Greg Davis are big fans of his, and while he needs to be held accountable as a senior quarterback, I don't expect Iowa to make a change for a while. Vandenberg doesn't have many weapons around him, and didn't get much help in the Iowa State game. I know Hawkeye fans are excited about Rudock -- everyone loves the backup quarterback -- but the problems on offense seem to go beyond Vandenberg. Let's see if they can get things turned around against Northern Iowa this week.