Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Friday, October 19, 2012
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Wishing you a good weekend. I'll be on the ped mall tonight.

Chris from Boston writes: A lot of people have defended Michigan in that their losses have been to Alabama and Notre Dame, two top five teams. I definitely see this, as most talented teams would fall to that duo. How come Wisconsin hasn't gotten at least a little bit of that. Their loss to Oregon St. was pegged an upset, but Oregon St. is in the top 10 now! And, as poorly as the Badgers played, it was still well within reach with a big play here or there. Their second loss to Nebraska (yes, I know, not top 25 currently but very talented) was AT LINCOLN which everyone knows is brutal to play at. And, again, it was winnable. I'm not defending the shaky start by any means, but as we are beginning see now, this team has top 25 talent and is starting to show it now that the team has adjusted to the offseason changes. And hey, it's not like Ohio St. blew out Indiana the so called "bottom feeders" of the Big 10. Am I being realistic here?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I definitely think the Oregon State loss looks a lot better now than it did at the time. The Beavers are having a heck of a season. The Nebraska loss doesn't look quite as good but could look better if the Huskers have a strong second half. I think the issue with Wisconsin is not necessarily that the Badgers lost games, but how they looked in those games (no offense, poor offensive line play, etc.). It just seemed so unlike Wisconsin. Also, the Badgers weren't overly impressive in wins against Northern Iowa and especially Utah State, a game they were extremely fortunate to win. Michigan looked even worse against Alabama, and while the Wolverines played better at Notre Dame, they lost because of turnovers. I agree that Wisconsin looks like a more comfortable football team than it did a month ago, and the Badgers' offensive production certainly is on the rise. While this certainly isn't the same Badgers team we saw in 2010 and 2011, it could be a pretty decent squad by the time the Big Ten championship game rolls around.

FFXLion from DC writes: In the recent past (until last year), Iowa has shown an uncanny ability to beat Penn State, no matter what (I'd say, 'upset' Penn State). Similarly, Northwestern (Iowa's opponent next week) has shown an uncanny ability to beat Iowa. Last year, this "curse" was lifted on both teams. So, my question is, do you think that this curse is completely lifted, or that it will always be the case that Iowa beats either Northwestern, or Penn State, but never both?

Adam Rittenberg: FFX, I buy into matchups more than curses. Although Kinnick Stadium has been a really tough place for Penn State to play in recent years, how many times did the Lions have the better team in that game? They certainly did in 2008, when they came to Kinnick with national title hopes, but I'd say Iowa had the better team in 2010, 2003 and 2001. Penn State seems to match up pretty well with Iowa this season, especially with a healthier roster. While you can say Northwestern has beaten several seemingly superior Iowa teams, the gap between the squads hasn't been that wide in years like 2005, 2008 and 2010. It definitely gives Iowa confidence that it won last year against Northwestern, just like it gives Penn State a little bit of confidence against Iowa, but it still comes down to matchups. My concern for Iowa is that the offense needs to start getting better in a hurry. Both Penn State and Northwestern have better offenses than the Hawkeyes right now.

Eric from Wheaton, Minn., writes: Adam, a life-long Gopher fan here. Thanks for your guys' work on the blog. I know you and Bennett are not fans of removing North Carolina from Gophers schedule. But, I feel it is a necessary step until we have depth and are much more competitive in the B1G Ten. Like Coach Kill, says, it is all about B1G Ten Conference wins. With that said, are you more upset with the payout to get out of series ($800,000)? Or lowering the level of competition in the non-conference schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Definitely more upset with lowering the competition level than the buyout, Eric. North Carolina isn't Alabama, USC or even Clemson, and I don't see the downside to facing one major-conference foe every September to prepare your team for eight major-conference foes from the Big Ten. In some ways, I had more of an issue with the non-league schedules in 2015 and 2016 than dropping North Carolina the next two years. The "building a program" line can fly in Year 1, Year 2 and maybe Year 3, but it won't and shouldn't by 2016. You shouldn't be aiming for 6-win seasons by Year 6, and that's the message these types of schedules send. Also, Minnesota should want to schedule some attractive games for its fans at TCF Bank Stadium. Yes, I know fans want to see a winner first and foremost, but how many people are excited about South Dakota State in 2015? Or New Mexico State and Indiana State in 2016? My real concern is Minnesota won't be adequately prepared for the Big Ten, and it'll show in those first few league games.

Josh from Gillette, Wyo., writes: Adam, The B1G has been the subject of much scrutiny this season. I understand that it has been a "down" year. But I'm very optimistic for the future. Urban Meyer and Ohio State, will almost always be a top team in the country for the foreseeable future. Michigan seems to be climbing back to power. And Nebraska will retain a powerful offense (and hopefully regain their defensive edge). Perhaps what is most exciting is the potential ta`lent of the league from top to bottom. Am I being overly optimistic in saying that the B1G could make an appearance in the final BCS championship before the playoff era?

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, while I think things will get better soon, you're being a bit too sunny about the Big Ten. Where are the quarterbacks? Where are the elite receivers? Where are the elite safeties? You have two programs -- Ohio State and Michigan -- recruiting at a nationally elite level. The SEC has about seven. If the Big Ten gets in the BCS title game in 2013, Ohio State is undoubtedly the best bet to get there. The Buckeyes will have a full season under Meyer -- and another full offseason -- and should have some of their defensive issues ironed out. Michigan's roster probably won't be national title-worthy until 2014, but the Wolverines are getting closer. Nebraska isn't in the discussion at this point. Too many bad games in the spotlight for Bo Pelini's crew. One team I wouldn't dismiss is Wisconsin, which has competed at the national level recently and, according to coach Bret Bielema, could have its best team in a while in 2013.

Keith from Kunming, China, writes: Adam, you wrote recently that MSU probably can't keep DC Narduzzi much longer. But what are the chances that this year's defensive underperformance (in comparison to sky-high expectations) actually means he won't be seen as such a hot candidate for this year's vacancies? Should this year give us hope that he stays a bit longer?

Adam Rittenberg: Keith, thanks for reading us so far away. While I understand it, I think this is wishful thinking by Spartans fans. Michigan State's defense, while not quite as dominant as some of us expected, still has been pretty darn good. Narduzzi's unit isn't the reason why the Spartans sit at 4-3. Michigan State ranks in the top 15 nationally in four of the most important defensive categories: points allowed (15.7 ppg, 14th nationally), yards allowed (270.1 ypg, 7th), rushing defense (91.3 ypg, 8th) and pass-efficiency defense (102.9 rating, 12th). Yes, the Spartans could record more takeaways or sacks, but they've been pretty good throughout the first half. If a team wants a strong defensive mind with a fiery and entertaining personality, Narduzzi should receive some calls during the offseason. He could be back in 2013, but I don't see him sticking around much longer.

Sreedhar from Greeley, Colo., writes: In the discussion involving Big 10's chances of sending 2 teams to BCS games, I think we are overlooking Northwestern. I am a hard core Hawkeye and my wishful thinking would be a scenario where the wildcats beat everyone except Iowa and Iowa runs the table to get to the Big 10 championship games and beats Wisconsin and then goes on to the Rose Bowl. Then the wildcats would be with 2 losses and have a shot at a BCS game. Unlikely but still a good chance of being ranked high. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: No way, Sreedhar, for several reasons The Big Ten's weakness as a league will prevent any 2-loss team from getting an at-large BCS berth this year. Right now, there are zero Big Ten teams in the BCS standings. To earn an at-large berth, a team must be in the top 14 of the final standings. It's going to be very difficult for any Big Ten squad to climb that high and still lose a game at some point the rest of the way. While Northwestern travels well to bowl games, it's not nearly as appealing as some of the Big Ten teams that recently have received at-large berths (Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa). Bottom line: unless the rest of the nation implodes, I don't see a scenario where the Big Ten earns an at-large berth this season.

Kev from the Nation's Capital writes: It's been interesting watching the contrast between Penn State, Ohio State and Illinois with their new coaches this season. In my opinion, it seems like Penn State players (and PSU fans/students/alumni) have completely bought into O'Brien and want to be there, playing hard. PSU may not be the most talented but they play their hearts out each and every time they are on the field (and yes, I am bias). I think the Ohio State players are similar in that they've also bought into Coach Meyer's plan and are playing on par with the talent they have - unlike last year. Illinois on the other hand is a mess. It seems as though the players just give up if something doesn't go their way. They have talented guys, there's just a marked lack of motivation between the coaches and team. With all of that said, did Illinois make a bad hire in Beckman? Did the extenuating circumstances in the cases of both OSU and PSU make the coaching transition easier - especially for O'Brien and PSU? Or did OSU and PSU just catch a lucky break on the new coaching hires?

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State was extremely fortunate that Meyer just happened to be available after the program endured its darkest season in recent memory. The fact Ohio State came out of such a mess with Meyer as its coach is still a bit hard to believe. There wasn't much easy about O'Brien's transition to Penn State, but I do think he found himself in a position where he could rally the team and the fan base because of all the issues that took place. That certainly doesn't minimize what O'Brien has been able to do, but along with the support of a special senior class, he has Penn State buying in and playing very well. As for Illinois, I get the sense the players are just tired of all the transition and flux. The defensive players loved former coordinator Vic Koenning and seem to be struggling with the new staff. Offensively, some of the older players are in their third system in four seasons, which can be really tough. I also see a team struggling with injuries that had very little depth in the first place. Is Beckman a bad hire? The program certainly is regressing, but it's probably too soon to make that statement.