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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Your questions, my answers.

Matt from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: How can you say in one line that "Ohio State can't tackle," and in another line state that they are the best team in the Big Ten?

Adam Rittenberg: Because both are true statements. While we know Ohio State can actually tackle, the Buckeyes certainly aren't tackling nearly as well as they normally do, and it's leading to numerous breakdowns. I thought the problem got rectified against Michigan State, but issues have cropped up the past two weeks. Still, at 7-0, Ohio State has to be considered the Big Ten's best team. Michigan is getting closer, and the gap between the two isn't as large as it was two weeks ago, but the Wolverines have to beat some better teams and hope Ohio State falls off a bit to have us reconsider the top spot in the power rankings.




Jazona from Columbus writes: Adam, Does Jim Delaney deserve any heat for heading up a conference that is so BAD, especially since the B1G has enough money to attract top coaching talent and upgrade facilities to attract top recruits? Or does he deserve tons of credit for bringing in the bucks while the conference limps along? Lastly, can he do anything to motivate schools to get better and stop wasting their money?

Adam Rittenberg: Maybe I'm in the minority, but I firmly agree with your second statement. Jim Delany has built up the Big Ten brand tremendously during his tenure. He spearheaded the Big Ten Network. He's the biggest reason why the Big Ten is bringing in more money than any other league. Just wait until Delany does his next -- and last -- TV deal. It will make all these other contracts seem like chump change. The facilities have been and are being upgraded throughout the league. As for coaches' salaries, the Big Ten is pretty competitive with paying head coaches, not as much with top assistants. Part of that has to do with Big Ten programs funding more sports than their counterparts in other leagues. But Delany isn't to blame for the Big Ten's on-field struggles. The teams have let him down, not the other way around. He likely won't be appreciated until he retires, which is partly his own fault, but Delany has put the league in position to succeed in football. It's not his place to tell schools how to spend their money, but the facilities endeavors have taken place everywhere in the last 10 years.




Bob from Charleston, S.C., writes: Adam, Love your work.I'm a Buckeye fan, but have ties to the Hoosiers. Do you have any injury update info for Linebacker Mark Murphy, safety. I saw the wrap on the shoulder and know he has had some past shoulder issues? Also, do you know the connection between Mark Murphy SR. (father) and Coffman's dad? They played together with the Packers in the 80's?

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, thanks for writing in. I wasn't aware of the Murphy-Coffman-Packers connection -- very cool. The Packers' current team president also is named Mark Murphy (no relation), who used to be the athletic director at Northwestern. As to your question about Indiana safety Mark Murphy, he has a shoulder sublex injury, according to coach Kevin Wilson. He didn't practice Monday, but Indiana hopes to get him back to practice soon and possibly ready for the Navy game. The Hoosiers certainly could use Murphy against the triple option attack. Greg Heban is practicing at safety a bit this week.




Nick from Columbus writes: Why should schools start "beef up" their schedule for the coming playoff? Michigan has played two teams in the top 5 and have been rewarded by being left out of the first BCS rankings. If Michigan had a non-conference schedule like Ohio State's and was 6-0 they'd certainly be a top 5 team now. So what's the incentive for a team to schedule a game that could single-handedly take them out of the national championship discussion?

Adam Rittenberg: Nick, I totally see where you're coming from here. If you don't beef up your schedule, though, you have to run the table to have any chance to make the playoff. In a season like this, when the Big Ten is so bad and its champion had better be undefeated to have any shot at the top four, a weaker schedule makes sense because it's easier to go 13-0. But in most years, when the Big Ten is stronger, you have to factor in the possibility of a loss. I can guarantee you a 1-loss Big Ten champion won't make the playoff unless it has challenged itself out of conference and ideally secured a signature win or two. The committee will devalue 1-loss teams, even from major conferences, if they haven't played anybody. So it comes down to this: play a soft schedule, run the table and hope the league's strength propels you into a playoff, or schedule harder and try to get there as a 1-loss team ahead of squads that didn't play anybody. That's what athletic directors and coaches have to look at when crafting schedules in the playoff era.




John from Minneapolis writes: I'm curious to know your thoughts on Minnesota cancelling its series with North Carolina. You and BB praise Coach Kill as a program builder, but even you have to admit UNC is not as daunting an opponent as say USC or Cal. Wouldn't a middle-of-the pack or even cellar-dweller BCS team be a better gauge on how far this program has come (I categorize the Tar Heels in the former)? Let's not forget that Northern Illinois didn't start getting noticed until Coach Kill's third year with the Huskies. So what's to say the Gophers wouldn't be ready in the third (or fourth) year of Jerry Kill era?

Adam Rittenberg: John, I don't get it at all. It's the first move Kill has made that I strongly oppose. You can strike the balance of scheduling some winnable non-league games and still getting the team prepared for the Big Ten season. You can still play one major-conference team per year, and sometimes two. Like you said, North Carolina isn't USC. The Tar Heels can help the Gophers get ready for the Big Ten. I totally understand wanting to play more home games and wanting to open the season at home more often. You can still do that and play at least one challenging non-league game per year. Some Minnesota fans think it's fine -- that it's all about getting bowl-eligible and building confidence, blah, blah. Minnesota should aim a little higher than that, in my view. The "building a program" line is true to an extent, but we've already seen progress in Year 2 with Kill. He shouldn't still be "building the program" in 2016, when the non-league schedule includes Miami (Ohio), New Mexico State, Indiana State and Colorado State. Will the Gophers go 4-0 that year? Probably. Could they get smacked in their first few Big Ten games because the competition will be so much better? I wouldn't be surprised.




Martin from Powell, Ohio, writes: I don't see why anybody thinks Michigan has the best defense in the Big Ten. I can name three conference teams who are better on that side of the ball, MSU, PSU, and probably Wisconsin. Michigan has played one team with a powerful offense-Alabama-and got smoked. Wait and see how they do against Nebraska and Ohio State (and they don't have to go up against Indiana's spread) before you all call that unit the best in the conference. My hunch is, Michigan's defense will get exposed by Nebraska and Ohio State and they'll lose those games. Then, Monte Ball will probably rip them to shreds in Indianapolis.Michigan's defense is at least a year away. 2013 will be like 2006 with Ohio State and Michigan heads above the rest in the conference.

Adam Rittenberg: Martin, I agree that it's more of a prediction from us, and we haven't done too well in those this year (i.e. Michigan State). But I see good things from Michigan's defense, and it's not just about the offenses the Wolverines are facing. Michigan is swarming to the ball, forcing turnovers and getting contributions from multiple players. Young guys like Jake Ryan are growing up fast. Michigan State's defense is still very good, but how many game-changing plays have the Spartans made this year? Not nearly enough. Penn State's defense has been very good -- possibly the best in the league. Wisconsin's defense has been solid aside from the Nebraska game. You're right about Nebraska and Ohio State being the ultimate test for a defense like Michigan's, and the Wolverines face both teams on the road. We'll soon find out if the defense has turned a corner or not. I think it has. I might be wrong.




Joe from South Bend, Ind., writes: It was mentioned that Barnes from Penn State should watch out for colleges recruiting him next year. In all in seriousness, what would he have to gain by leaving? If you look at the history of Penn State lineman being drafted under Larry Johnson's coaching, it would be difficult to justify leaving. How many schools have that kind of history of draft picks on the DL? Having never played in a bowl game, is the draw of a bowl game that much more important than getting some great proven coaching, while still getting a strong education?

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, good point about Deion Barnes. The downside of staying is he'll never get to win a Big Ten championship or play in a bowl game. But in terms of NFL development, why would he leave? Johnson certainly can get him to the next level. I felt the same way about Silas Redd, to be honest. If he cared about getting to the NFL, why leave Penn State? He'd be the featured back in an offense plucked straight from the NFL. Although O'Brien's offense has a passing lean, he has shown in recent weeks that he's not afraid to run the ball. So it comes down to whether a kid wants to play in bowl games or not. If he wants to develop and be in the same system and get to the NFL, playing for Johnson at Penn State isn't a bad idea at all.




Justin from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam,Interesting nugget for you about my fellow Badger. Ball currently has 816 yards through 7 games this year. Through seven games last year, Ball had 768 yards. While the rest of the stats (mainly touchdowns) aren't quite as close, its not like he's doing nothing this year.

Adam Rittenberg: Good nugget, Justin. Those saying Ball has been a massive disappointment aren't paying attention. Although he had more rushing touchdowns last year (17 vs. 11), and needed fewer carries to put up his numbers in 2011, he really turned it on in the second half of the season. That could very well be the case this year, too, as the Badgers' offensive line seems to be coming together. He can still have a very good senior season and contend for Big Ten awards and possibly national awards. He raised expectations because of his 2011 season, one that will be appreciated more in the future than it is now. While it hasn't been the easiest road for Ball this season, he's not struggling, either.