Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
To the mail ...
Ted M. from Minneapolis writes: Hi Adam,As a displaced Nebraska fan, Saturday night was hard to swallow - especially after the Huskers turned in a solid performance the week prior and started with a very strong first quarter. My hat is tipped to Ohio State for their win Saturday night but I took exception to their final drive culminating in another touchdown. The Huskers were flat out defeated at that point and wouldn't taking a knee accomplished a classier finish instead of driving for an additional score? Bo exchange to Urban after the game pretty well summed up my feelings. Where does Nebraska go from here? Is a 9 win season even a reality?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I stood behind that end zone for the final touchdown, and several of us were surprised Ohio State a) kept its starters in until the end and b) tried to score that last touchdown. Let's just say Jim Tressel would have done it differently. I doubt Pelini and his players will forget what happened. Then again, they could have stopped Ohio State, too, and sent a little message at the end. As to your Nebraska question, it's baffling to see this team continue to wilt in spotlight games away from Lincoln. Nebraska came out with a good plan, and everything seemed to go kaput after Braxton Miller broke off that 72-yard run early in the second quarter. The Huskers still seem too fragile. When something goes badly, it tends to snowball on them. And while the defense obviously struggled, Taylor Martinez still makes the same agonizing mistakes in big situations. I'm a bit like Bo was after the game -- baffled. I'm still waiting to see what's special about Nebraska's defense since Ndamukong Suh left. I just don't see it. That said, the Huskers still could reach nine wins and win a very weak league, but they'll need to play much better on the road against Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa.
SteelLions from New York writes: Adam, we're 6 games in and stand at 4-2, and very easily could be 5-1. And as good as Ohio is proving to be, I don't think even that would be a very close game at this point in the Lions development. Hypothetically, with an additional year of development under BOB and with the same schedule and level of competition a year from now, OSU would be the only real challenge on the schedule, and an undefeated season would be a very real possibility. Here's my question, is it possible to win an AP or other voting-based national championship if BOB were to put together an undefeated season during a year we are banned from the postseason?
Mike from Allentown, Pa., writes: Hi Adam,I can't even believe (or billieve I guess) that these words are coming out of my mouth, but what are the odds right now of Matt McGloin being drafted next spring? I think he could go in the 7th round, right now, maybe moving up to the 6th round. What do you think? Also, does it help that we've had every NFL team see us practice?
Adam Rittenberg: Guys, I know you're excited right now, and you should be. Penn State is exceeding my expectations as well, and Bill O'Brien has done a fabulous job in a tough spot. But let's pump the brakes here a bit. An undefeated season next year? Sorry, that's not happening. Look at the senior class Penn State is losing. While younger players are stepping up and some of the incoming recruits should be very good, the seniors have led this team. Roster depth won't be at a nationally elite level, which is what it takes to go undefeated, even in a league as weak as the Big Ten is right now. While McGloin has impressed me and taken his game to another level under O'Brien in an NFL-style offense, I'd be very surprised if he's selected in the NFL draft. He has become a very solid college quarterback, making a major jump from 2011. But there are still some flaws in his game, and his skill set doesn't project to the next level. Stranger things have happened, but I wouldn't hold my breath on the final Saturday of April.
Austin from Minneapolis writes: Hey Adam,I just have a quick question regarding start times for the B1G schedules. It appears the Minnesota v. Wisconsin rivalry is always a 12pm EST (or 11am if you're in Minnesota or Wisconsin). Has this always been the case? I can't seem to remember a time where it was a night game, let alone a 3:30 time slot. Granted, the rivalry has become rather lopsided, but is there a reason this rivalry is always played early in the day?
Adam Rittenberg: Austin, those are strictly TV decisions, to which I'm not privy. But it always depends on the other games taking place on a given day. Minnesota and Wisconsin are going up against another rivalry game (Michigan State-Michigan) as well two potentially pivotal division matchups (Nebraska-Northwestern and Purdue-Ohio State). It would have been great to see the Gophers and Badgers lock horns in prime time, but BTN selected Penn State-Iowa instead for Oct. 20. To answer your question, in 2008 Minnesota-Wisconsin kicked off at 2:30 p.m. CT (3:30 p.m. ET) and finished under the lights. The game also kicked off at 2:30 p.m. in 2007.
Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: I heard a stat from this past weekend that Bill O'Brien is 13-for-20 on 4th down attempts this year. Do you know what the record is for most 4th down attempts in a season for college-level football? Whatever it is, I'm guessing it will be broken by this PSU team.
Adam Rittenberg: Brutus, I checked with ESPN's Stats & Info crew about this. The NCAA doesn't keep official records for single-season fourth-down attempts or fourth-down conversions. Going back to the 2004 season, Air Force had the most conversions (27 in 2009), while New Mexico had the most attempts (44 in 2006). Penn State leads the FBS in both categories, and while the Lions are just short of the pace to break both totals this season, they only started going into fourth-down-or-bust mode a few weeks ago after kicker Sam Ficken's struggles. If O'Brien keeps up his approach the rest of the season, Penn State certainly could break the totals.
Zach from Athens, Ohio, writes: Adam,Why do you think Northwestern this past weekend went away from what they did so well against Indiana, with the read option with Colter and Mark? It seemed that they were more pass happy against Penn State with Sieman, and when they did the Colter Mark combo they were pretty successful at it, and scored.
Adam Rittenberg: Zach, my sense is Northwestern thought Penn State would handle Kain Colter and Venric Mark a lot better than Indiana did, which turned out to be true, to an extent. But Colter did have some success with the zone read play, particularly in the red zone. It was very surprising to see Northwestern go away from Colter and Mark after Penn State cut the lead to three points in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats have done a good job of killing clock and rushing the ball in the fourth quarter all season, but the coaches didn't put the ball in the hands of their top two weapons. We've seen the quarterback rotation work at times this season, but it crashed and burned at Beaver Stadium, as Colter didn't get nearly enough touches against Penn State. While Siemian will be a nice player eventually, he's not at the point where he can carry the offense against a very good defense in a tough road setting.
Jerry from Lansing, Mich., writes: Iowa seems to have improved every week, sans CMU debacle, while MSU seems to be back sliding. IYO: does Iowa have a shot at Spartan Stadium and how then do they pull off the mild upset?
Adam Rittenberg: The Hawkeyes definitely have a chance, Jerry, and they'll be motivated after getting spanked by the Spartans last year at Kinnick Stadium. Michigan State is the more talented team in my view, but the Spartans haven't put it all together against a decent team all year long. The two teams share a common opponent, Central Michigan, which would lead many to think Michigan State will crush Iowa again (you know, the transitive property and all). But if Iowa can build off of the Minnesota performance, particularly on defense, it can pull off the upset in East Lansing. I don't expect Mark Weisman to run wild against a very good Spartans defense that can turn it on when it wants. Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg must play well for four quarters and provide some balance in the offense. More important, Iowa's defense needs to contain Le'Veon Bell and force Michigan State to win the game through the air. Although the Spartans pass game looked better last week, they're still a very limited offense when Bell is held in check. I think Iowa needs an exceptional defensive performance to win, but the defense has to be feeling better about itself now than after the CMU loss.
Richard from Chicago writes: Adam - Your rankings don't make sense. Nebraska gives up 63 points to Ohio State and places 4th? Michigan State gives up 17 points to Ohio State in a game they should have won the week before and is ranked 7th. Both State's losses are to undefeated Top 10 teams. Granted State has looked awful in a couple of games, but they won. And they're the only B10 team to play three ranked teams this season. While dissing the Spartans against Indiana, you dont mention that Northwestern didn't exactly blow out Indiana in Evanston the week before. Seems you're over-compensating for picking State as the B10 Champion when the offense wasn't ready.
Adam Rittenberg: Richard, I'll start by admitting there's very little separating Nos. 4-7 in this week's power rankings. But Michigan State has truly looked good just once (Central Michigan) in the first six weeks. If you want to count a 1-point loss to Ohio State when Michigan State was plus-3 in turnover margin and couldn't run the ball a good performance, be my guest. I'm not. Neither Michigan State nor Nebraska has been overly impressive, and each program has just one decent win (Boise State for MSU, Wisconsin for Nebraska). But you have to earn your way up the power rankings, and playing the way Michigan State did against Indiana doesn't get you anywhere in our book. Northwestern beat Indiana by 15 points and led that game 27-0. It's a little different than falling behind 17-0 and committing six first-half personal fouls. Again, there's not much separating the Huskers and the Spartans, but we need to see a complete effort from Michigan State, beginning this week against Iowa, before moving the Spartans up in the rankings.