Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
Your questions, my answers.
Andrew from Chicago writes: Adam, After this weekend, I took 5 minutes and browsed through the Big 10 statistics. One thing that stood out to me is that the pro-style passers are among the worst in the conference; Iowa's Vandenberg and MSU's Maxwell rank 14th and 13th respectively in passing efficiency in a league of 12 teams (Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana have 2 quarterbacks in the top 15), Wisconsin's O'Brien is sitting at 11th while Matt McGloin is carrying the pocket-passer banner at #9. Has the Big 10 been officially taken over by the dual threat trend? Of the 4 gentlemen above, which as the best chance to break into the top 5 in terms of passing efficiency by the end of the year?
Adam Rittenberg: Good observation, Andrew, but keep in mind that Maxwell and O'Brien are first-year starters at their schools, and Vandenberg, O'Brien and McGloin all are playing in new systems (to McGloin's benefit, I should say). Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins had a lot of success as pro-style passers in 2011. Same with Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien in 2009-2010. And the list goes on. The Big Ten's best quarterbacks right now are dual-threat players, and there's a huge misperception nationally that the Big Ten is a power-offense league. Big Ten teams have been running the spread for years, and the changes at both Michigan and Ohio State in recent years have added to the trend in the league. The dual-threat quarterback certainly is on the rise in the Big Ten and nationally. Of the five players mentioned, I think McGloin or Vandenberg has the best chance to finish among the top five. McGloin already looks like a much better quarterback in a more pass-happy offense, while Vandenberg should show some strides as the season goes along. As Kirk Ferentz said last week, he's a proven player.
Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Adam, can you make any sense of Roushar's decision to give our offense four rush attempts in the second half of the Notre Dame game? It's not as if we were getting completely stuffed, averaging over four yards per carry. Was he trying to preserve Bell and an ailing offensive line? Trying to give Maxwell as much big game experience as possible before conference play? As a fan, it was frustrating to sit in the stands and see your star running back line up wide so often.
Adam Rittenberg: Mochila, I was thinking the same thing while watching Saturday's game. It wasn't as if Michigan State trailed by three touchdowns, and Le'Veon Bell remains the Spartans' best offensive weapon. Clearly the offensive line had a rough time stopping Notre Dame's front seven, but it seemed like MSU had some success running with Bell on the edges earlier in the game and went away from that. I can understand Dan Roushar's desire to establish something, anything, in the pass game. And Bell didn't have any big runs to loosen up the defense (longest run: 15 yards). But more balance would have served the Spartans well. They really struggled to generate anything on first down all game, but it would have been nice to see more first-down rushing attempts.
Brian from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam, After looking at the Big Ten power rankings for this week, the thing that jumped out at me is that the B1G Championship game may be hosting the 6th (or 7th, or 8th) best team in the conference. In what has already been an extremely dissapointing year for the conference, imagine Purdue or a bad Wisconsin team somehow winning that game and getting spanked in the Rose Bowl by what will most certainly be a top-ten team. Could the Big Ten be the worst BCS conference this year?
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that certainly would be the nightmare scenario for the Big Ten. Still, I wouldn't count out Purdue, Illinois -- or even Wisconsin, for that matter -- from having a pretty good final record by the time the Big Ten championship game rolls around. I'll stick with my prediction that the Big Ten champion comes out of the Legends division, which has more overall strength with MSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern. But the championship is a one-game deal, and in this year's Big Ten, almost anyone can beat anyone else. The Big Ten isn't the "worst conference." The Big East clearly is worse, and I think the ACC will be worse by season's end. The Big Ten has all but flunked its nonconference slate, though, and unless it redeems itself in the bowl season, 2012 will be another black eye for the conference.
Darren from Minneapolis writes: OK, call me crazy, I know. But...if the Gophers get to 4-0 do they deserve to be ranked? It is great that we can even have this discussion after the last few years.
Adam Rittenberg: All Gopher fans would agree with your last point, Darren. I don't think Minnesota deserves a Top 25 ranking at 4-0, although I'd expect the Gophers to at least get some votes. The Gophers' nonconference schedule isn't very taxing, and while a win against Syracuse would be nice, the Orange are 1-2. Western Michigan is a decent win, but I don't give Minnesota much for beating UNLV and New Hampshire. Now if the Gophers go on the road to beat Iowa for the third consecutive year -- and improve to 5-0 -- now you're talking about a team that deserves Top 25 consideration. Iowa will be by far Minnesota's toughest test, especially with the game at Kinnick Stadium, where the Gophers haven't won since 1999.
Zach from Cincinnati writes: Hey Adam - asked about this last week but I didn't make last week's cut. After yet another weak defensive performance for Ohio State, at what point does Urban Meyer start looking at Luke Fickell as a roadblock to the defensive players' development? There have been so, so many missed tackles from all around on the defense and the lack of pressure, although improved this week, is maddening. When asked last week, I was merely suggesting a nudge from Meyer to Fickell that he should look elsewhere. I'm now leaning for Fickell to receive the boot.
Adam Rittenberg: Zach, I think you're overreacting a bit on Fickell, who deserves more than three games to be evaluated as Ohio State's defensive coordinator. Remember that he was part of an Ohio State defensive staff that molded one of the nation's top defenses year after year. That said, the missed tackles are alarming, and Ohio State's defense seems a little too interested in highlight plays -- big hits, interceptions, sacks -- than consistently bringing the ball-carrier to the ground. Past Buckeyes defenses weren't overly flashy but had polished fundamentals and always got off of the field. Ohio State is young at certain positions, and the overall linebacker play isn't what we typically see in Columbus. The Buckeyes will get better along the defensive line and boast some strong pieces in the secondary, but they're a little weak in the middle right now. Fickell and his staff have some work to do as Big Ten play gets closer.
Jamie from San Francisco writes: Hey Adam,What's your take on the announcement regarding a facilities upgrade at Northwestern? They'll get a brand new, state of the art practice facility on the lake-front, but nothing mentioned about the stadium? Was enough to boost recruiting do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: It's still a huge step for Northwestern, a university that for too long loved cashing massive Big Ten revenue checks without giving its football program the chance to keep up facilities-wise. Most coaches would tell you they'd much rather have a top-notch headquarters facility so the team can do its most important work Sunday-Friday. This is a huge recruiting tool for Pat Fitzgerald as no other Big Ten team will have its facility in a setting like Northwestern will (on the shore of Lake Michigan). Recruits can come there knowing they can work out and practice on campus. The renderings look exceptional. I agree Northwestern also needs to make upgrades to Ryan Field, but this is a one-step-at-a-time place. The trustees aren't going to let athletics go nuts with spending all at one time.
Allen from Omaha writes: What is the deal with not showing the scores for your fantasy teams each week?
Adam Rittenberg: You have to wait until Thursday, Allen. We do our fantasy team recaps and post our roster adjustments for the next week. Alas, Bennett got the best of me again in Week 3. Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller are carrying his fantasy team, in addition to their own squads. Sigh. At least my pickup of Penn State WR Allen Robinson worked out well (3 TDs). I'll get him soon enough.