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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Big Ten mailbag

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's Tuesday. That means mailbag time. As a reminder, please include your name and hometown on your e-mails. I had to leave out several good ones this week because they had no names attached.

Let's begin.

Cory from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, Chris Fowler wrote a column a few weeks back about a desire for more 'Clemson-Alabama' type early season games. I, too, would like to see more of these - and I think I found at least one possibility. Instead of OSU opening up w/ Youngstown State or another in-state team, the Colorado Buffaloes have an opening, as do the Bucks on Saturday August 31, 2013...I know it's a distance off, but what do you think of the possibility? Can we start a write-in campaign from your readers?

Adam Rittenberg: That would be an interesting matchup, and Ohio State certainly could benefit from scheduling another BCS team in addition to its annual premier matchup. It's almost like Ohio State gets more criticism for the three cupcakes it plays every year than for going out on a limb and playing teams like Texas and USC. Maybe Ohio State should schedule two solid BCS teams instead of one elite one. The Buckeyes host Cal in 2012, and they might have to return that game in 2013, so it's unlikely they would add Colorado to the slate. Minnesota already plays Colorado in Boulder in 2013, and I'm not sure the Buffaloes would want to face two Big Ten teams in the same year.


Nick from Mayville, Mich., writes: Michigan going into the next two games against ranked teams #8 Wisconsin and #22 Illinois, what do you think our chances are to upset against these two teams?

Adam Rittenberg: The bye week should really help the Wolverines, who I think will give Wisconsin a good game this weekend (could be wishful thinking since I'll be at the Big House). As Rich Rodriguez said today, inexperienced teams can make significant improvements in short periods of time, and that's what Michigan is hoping for on Saturday. As bad as the Notre Dame loss was, Michigan found its quarterback (Steven Threet) and its running back (Sam McGuffie). That said, Wisconsin is simply too powerful up front, and Michigan's D-line will need an especially strong showing against P.J. Hill & Co. If Michigan loses big, confidence could be a factor when Illinois comes to town. But if the Wolverines hang in there with the Badgers, they could knock off the Illini, who will be coming off a tough game at Penn State.


Brad in Bloomington, Ind., writes: So after that disgusting loss to Ball State is it safe to say the Hoosiers are the worst team in the Big Ten this year? I would have to imagine there is no chance they will make a bowl this year.

Adam Rittenberg: I wouldn't count out the Hoosiers just yet, but they really struggled against a Ball State team that could have lost its composure after the injury to Dante Love. This is the problem when a team begins the season with two opponents -- Western Kentucky and Murray State -- that provide no challenge whatsoever. Indiana had faced little to no adversity in the first two games and crumbled when Ball State provided some on Saturday night. I still like Kellen Lewis and blog-favorite Matt Mayberry, but Indiana has to do a better job of stopping the run. The Hoosiers still aren't good enough to overcome mistakes, and Lewis made several against Ball State.


Greg from Cleveland writes: Hey Adam, love the blog. You do a great job covering all the teams and I check it all the time for updates.... I am however a little disappointed in your players of the day when you chose [Terrelle] Pryor. Did you see the game? I watched the game and saw countless poor throws, bad reads, and bad plays. 2 of the touchdowns were poorly thrown and were only completed because OSU was playing Troy. I know it was a big deal that he made his first start, but he's not the first freshmen in NCAA history to start at QB for a big time program. Just because the numbers were relatively big, doesn't mean the actual game play was big. Let's not crown him the saviour or OSU or college football just yet.

Adam Rittenberg: I understand your point, and Pryor certainly isn't a finished product. But you have to credit him for grasping this system faster than any of us thought he would and being able to lead a veteran-laden offense. He has avoided major mistakes to this point, which has really impressed coach Jim Tressel, and his athleticism is obvious. Maybe I'll scale back the Pryor hype a bit going forward, but for a first career start, under all these expectations, he gets more than a passing grade.


Kenny from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, is it true that Penn State has only showed a little bit of its playbook so far? They are averaging 53 points a game right now, so that would be amazing if that was true.

Adam Rittenberg: I wouldn't be surprised, Kenny. Penn State has had no need to overextend itself in nonconference play and should be saving some wrinkles for the Illinois game. Quarterback Daryll Clark's mobility has given the Lions something they lacked and really needed the last few years. Clark opens up the options in the playbook, and I'm sure there will be some new material against the Illini, who have a veteran defensive line and a talented young linebacker in Martez Wilson, who likely will be tracking Clark's every move.


Ryan from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: What is with Iowa fans freaking out about our first loss? If most of those same people would take a step back and look at their own pre-season expectation, that was probably a game that they had penciled in as a loss. Iowa had plenty of chances and should have won that game, but is there really that much cause for concern?

Adam Rittenberg: Most of the criticism seems to be reserved for Kirk Ferentz and his offensive coaching staff for their handling of the quarterback situation. Ferentz probably has given Jake Christensen a few too many chances to show he can be the clear-cut starter, and now he's switched back to Ricky Stanzi at quarterback. You're right about fan reaction being over the top, but don't expect it to change any time soon. Iowa still has a good team with a solid running back (Shonn Greene) and a sturdy defense. A solid bowl game is still a reasonable expectation. A win Saturday against Northwestern should quiet down the haters. But another loss, combined with all the off-field problems, could make things get ugly in a hurry.


Brad from So
merset, N.J., writes:
Hey Adam, I was at the Penn State vs Temple game on Saturday and boy were the Nittany Lions sloppy. It's just funny that they played sloppy and won by a large margin. Even though they won by 42, I'm a little concerned. Daryll Clark has been great, but he had some head scratching throws and coverage in kick return didn't look so good. Also, I haven't been too impressed with their secondary. I think this is a crucial week of practice for them because Saturday, in my opinion, will define their season. In what areas do you think they need improvement?

Adam Rittenberg: A lot of people have pointed to the secondary as a potential weakness for this team. Saturday night will show a lot, as Illinois quarterback Juice Williams can attack a defense down the field and has the weapons (Chris Duvalt, Rejus Benn) to do so. Penn State ranks lower in pass defense than any other major statistical category, but the Lions are 27th nationally (170 ypg), which is still pretty good. I'm interested to see how Clark performs under duress. Illinois' veteran defensive line should be able to get in the backfield a little more than Temple or Syracuse, so Clark will have to use his speed and avoid the major mistake. But I wouldn't be overly concerned about Penn State. The Lions look awfully impressive.


Chris from Parts Unknown writes: I went and looked at all your Week 4 picks and it seems you picked all the teams that played a Big Ten team to lose but not just lose, to put up a lot of points on all their defenses. Do you think Big Ten teams can't play defense or what?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I definitely underestimated several Big Ten defenses entering the season. Minnesota ranked last nationally in total defense in 2007 and brought in a ton of new players, so I figured it would take some time for things to mesh. But the Gophers have looked tremendous so far along with Northwestern, which hadn't been good on defense since head coach Pat Fitzgerald played middle linebacker in 1996. Michigan State also has performed better than expected, especially in the secondary. Expect my score predictions to be a bit lower for Week 5.