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Friday, November 30, 2012
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Coming at you a bit early today as we gear up for championship weekend in Indy ...

Scott from Forney, Texas, writes: Nice words, Adam, about Nebraska's Rex Burkhead. My question, that I have not seen an adequate response for, is why did Nebraska not consider/seek a medical redshirt additional season for Rex Burkhead after he was hurt in the season's very first game? Am I missing some NCAA rule in Rex's case? I told my 15 year-old son as soon as it occurred in that first game, if they don't do it, Rex will likely face a nagging bad knee for much of the season. NU trainers/docs obviously have much more info than I do. But, it appears to be a mostly wasted senior season for Rex after two attempted comebacks that ended during those two games with Rex limping badly off the field. Rex is a special Nebraska running back who only comes along once in a generation.

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, in order to apply for and receive a medical redshirt, you need evidence to show the injury is severe enough to cost a player the season. An MCL sprain in Week 1 isn't sufficient enough, and, as we saw, Rex returned to the lineup a few weeks later. Teams can't hold a player out when he could be cleared to play and then seek a medical redshirt. That doesn't fly. If it had been a completely torn ligament that required surgery, it would be different. So Nebraska had to play Burkhead after he was ready to return. Could the school have sought a redshirt after Burkhead first aggravated the knee against Ohio State? That's possible, but then you're dealing with questions about number of games played. It's definitely an unfortunate situation for such a great player, and I wish we could have seen Rex all season. But I don't think Nebraska had many options given the nature of his injury.



Bryan from Eden Prairie, Minn., writes: With the story that the Big Ten championship game ticket market is extremely cold, do you think there's a possibility that a change could occur and the conference goes the Pac-12 route of having the team with the better record host the championship game? Or is this just currently a bottom period & things will look brighter once the times that Ohio State goes to Indy against a Michigan/Nebraska, creating a little bigger buzz?

Adan Rittenberg: Bryan, it's something for the Big Ten to consider, but the league has made a commitment to Indianapolis through the 2015 game, and I expect the next three games (at least) to be played there. Commissioner Jim Delany and his staff love how Indianapolis puts on big sporting events. The game will generate more buzz when it has an impact on the national title race, when it features two ranked teams and even when it features two division champions. This year's game has none of those qualities. The first time Ohio State or Michigan plays in the game, the crowd should be pretty big. The same goes for Penn State, Iowa or other teams with large fan bases that like to travel. Although I'm a little surprised the Nebraska turnout won't be better, I'm not surprised by the smaller contingent for Wisconsin. Bottom line: the game needs to mean more to draw bigger crowds, but the Big Ten shouldn't dismiss campus sites in the future.



Jon from San Jose, Calif., writes: The Big Ten said it may open up an East Coast office. But Adam, would you open up an office for 2-3 schools out of 14? Would it make more sense for 4-5 schools out of 16 (meaning some more ACC are in play)?

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, good question. The Big Ten technically sees Penn State as an East Coast school now, as it attempted to build a "bridge" from Penn State to the coast with the Maryland/Rutgers additions. But I agree that you don't open up a second league office unless you really want a presence in that part of the country. From talking to several folks, my sense is the Big Ten's primary expansion targets if it chooses to go to 16 are in the ACC -- North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech, maybe Duke. The interesting thing will be if the ACC makes itself attractive enough to retain those schools after Wednesday's addition of Louisville.



Cardiac Kev from Chicago writes: Little has been talked about the overall youth of 9-3 Northwestern. The 'Cats are ranked in all polls right now. If they win and get the monkey off their back in their bowl game, do you expect Northwestern to be ranked in the preseason next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely, Kevin, and most likely in the top 20. Northwestern would have a 10-3 record, a bowl win against a very good SEC team and, as you mention, almost all of its key players returning for 2013. I even think the voters who actually study Northwestern's roster going into 2013, regardless of the bowl outcome, might consider ranking the Wildcats. This was seen as a rebuilding year, and coach Pat Fitzgerald instead had his best team in his tenure. With most of that team coming back -- Kain Colter, Venric Mark, Ibraheim Campbell, Nick VanHoose, Chi Chi Ariguzo, the list goes on -- Northwestern has a chance to be very good next fall.



Alex G. from Ames, Iowa, writes: Reading your article on Greg Davis, I want to know your personal opinion on the matter. After all, this is the worst scoring offense under Ferentz since Jake Christensen led(?) the offense to just 18.5 ppg. Not to mention, there have only been 22 worse seasons than 2012 in the 123 years of football played at Iowa, and it's hard to blame the 34h best defense in the nation for that. Additionally, Iowa was only 1 of 4 teams in the nation (other 3 went a combined 9-38 this season) to be ranked 100th or worse in BOTH passing and rushing this year. To me, there is no excuse for any of that. This team had enough talent to be respectable, and coaching failed. Where do you stand?

Adam Rittenberg: Alex, if it were me, I never would have hired Davis in the first place. But Ferentz, like it or not, is only going to hire certain types of offensive coordinators. Guys like Kliff Kingsbury or Chad Morris aren't going to be walking through the door in Iowa City as long as Ferentz has the big office. They just don't fit Ferentz, even though they do fit what college football has evolved into the past 5-10 years. The bottom line is I understood why Ferentz hired Davis, and as bad as this year was, it's not surprising to see Ferentz keep him for another year. It's hard to transition from doing things one way under Ken O'Keefe for years and then work under a new coordinator. I do think if Ferentz was under any real pressure, he might make a change, but he isn't. Davis' system should click better in 2013, but the play-calling also must improve. It left a lot to be desired this fall.



Bart from Columbus writes: Way to write an entire article about the subject without mentioning the fact that it's been 33 years since OSU won CotY (Coach of the Year). What else could you have talked about in your post, Adam? Maybe you could have told us when exactly the award stopped being about coaching and started being about rewarding plucky underdogs. Maybe you could have discussed all the things that should have disqualified certain coaches from winning the award such as not having your team ready to play until week 3 or losing to a mac school. Instead we get a fluff piece that does nothing but make excuses for the Big Ten coaches celebrating mediocrity. Any chance this is the reason our conference can't compete nationally... because we reward teams for going 8-4 instead of winning?

Adam Rittenberg: Reading is a skill, Bart. What part about this sentence -- "Buckeye fans were hopeful Meyer would be the first Ohio State boss to win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors since Meyer's mentor Earle Bruce got it in 1979" -- don't you understand? That's 33 years, just spelled out in a different way. And the post illustrates much of what you say, that the award is mainly about rewarding coaches who turn around programs. For a lot of people, that's the definition of coaching. If you bothered to read our Big Ten Coach of the Year endorsement, you'd know I endorsed Urban Meyer over Bill O'Brien. Wednesday's post merely explains why the award would go to O'Brien over Meyer. It doesn't justify it. And it's also a stretch to say this type of award voting has any bearing on how the league performs on the field.



Joe C. from South Bend, Ind., writes: What future do you see for Zach Zwinak? Since he took over the starting job, he continued to one up himself, finishing with 1000 yards over 9 games. He has some issues with fumbling, but he was only a sophomore. Would you put him in your preseason top 25 countdown next year?

Steve from Milwaukee writes: Just an idea -- in the downtime in the coming weeks before the bowls, you guys should do a quick evaluation of your preseason top 25 -- maybe 5 a day for a week. Not a re-rank (I know that's coming for postseason), but simply some quick comments on each player and how they fell short/met/exceeded expectations based on your predictions.

Adam Rittenberg: To answer Steve first, we'll definitely look back at the preseason top 25 player rankings and see how guys did. And we'll also do a postseason top 25 ranking after all the bowls are complete. Should be fun to see who met expectations, who exceeded expectations and who underperformed. Joe, I really liked what I saw from Zwinak during Big Ten play. He's a no-nonsense, hard-nosed runner who seemed to fit in well with Bill O'Brien's offense. He took advantage of Bill Belton's injury/inconsistency and established himself as Penn State's top back. Will he be in the preseason top 25 for 2013? Hard to say. Depends on who comes back, as the Big Ten will have quite a few good running backs in 2013 (Venric Mark, Ameer Abdullah, Carlos Hyde, James White, maybe Le'Veon Bell). But Zwinak certainly deserves some consideration.