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Friday, January 18, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

These questions may or may not be real ...

Anthony from Dayton, Ohio, writes: On your and Brian's piece about divisional realignment, I have a question concerning protected cross-over games. First, if there is one protected cross-over game for each team, that would keep that team from playing the other members in the other division except once every 6 years (6 against your division, 1 against protected cross-over, 1 rotating over 6 other teams). Next, say there was a cross-over game for Ohio State is Illinois, and Michigan had Minnesota. How would this be fair balance every year if say, Illinois gets better and Minnesota stays down (or vice versa) over the next few years and this helps decide overall who goes to the B1G championship game. I rather just rotate the 2 cross-over games to guarantee that the teams will play at least each team in the other division once every three years instead of once every 6. This argument doesn't bring in the pros and cons of 9 conference games which is a whole other subject. Thanks for your time and answering my question.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for taking the time to write it, Anthony. I can tell you a 9-game conference schedule certainly is on the table for Big Ten athletic directors, and a 10-game conference schedule -- which creates an even number of home games and road games -- also will be strongly considered. The crossover question relates more to preexisting rivalries than the quality of the opponents in certain years. I included Michigan-Minnesota as a crossover because of the Little Brown Jug rivalry. Same with Illinois-Ohio State (Illibuck rivalry). If those rivalries aren't worth preserving, the crossovers aren't necessary. That's a debate that must take place among the ADs. Clearly some rivalries are worth preserving, while others maybe aren't. If no potential crossover rivalries are worth preserving, let's eliminate the crossovers altogether and just have a rotation so teams play one another more often.




Jason from Rochester, Minn., writes: Adam, I was hoping for a bigger splash for WI's new coach (bigger name and/or someone with strong ties to a hot recruiting area), but I'm happy with Anderson. Can you share some thoughts on Anderson's best & most questionable assistant coach hires?

Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I'm going to reserve judgment on the assistants Andersen brought with him from Utah State, because I don't have much familiarity with them other than what they did this past season, which was obviously great (11-2 record). Andersen made a great, great decision to retain running backs coach Thomas Hammock. Wisconsin's running back tradition started before Hammock arrived as an assistant, but he has continued it and created an environment of friendly competition that typically produces more than one great back per season. I wasn't crazy about the Andy Ludwig hire as offensive coordinator, mainly because I follow Cal closely (grew up in Berkeley) and wasn't impressed with what Ludwig did there. Ludwig wasn't the only offensive coordinator to struggle working alongside former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, but he needs to show he can maintain Wisconsin's success on offense.




Brian from Omaha writes: Adam, love your columns, keep up the great work! One question, Rex Burkhead was listed as #18 running back in the draft and isn't even going to the Senior Bowl. Why is that? He can run inside or outside the tackles, catch and block well. I think he averaged around 8 yards a carry this year on a hobbled but now healthy knee. He is going to be a late round jackpot for someone much like LaVonte David falling to the second round last year cause of his size.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, it comes down to the injury and what it did to Rex's senior season. If he had been healthy all season and put up the numbers many of us thought he would -- numbers like we saw in the Capital One Bowl against Georgia -- he could be off to Mobile, Ala., next week. Burkhead originally was scheduled to participate in the East-West Shrine Game, considered the No. 2 predraft all-star event, but he decided not to go, and instead will focus on the NFL scouting combine next month in Indianapolis. Burkhead can be a successful NFL running back and will do great in the team interviews, but when players who have serious knee injuries during their senior seasons will face some doubters. It's up to Burkhead to prove his doubters wrong at the combine.




Charles from Wichita, Kan., writes: I am a Big Ten grad lost in Big 12 country (seriously, a KU EXHIBITION basketball game was on 3 channels). I saw today you guys posted divisional realignment ideas and I'm curious what you think of one that crossed my mind; a North-South alignment. Most Big Ten rivalries can be split on a North-South basis and the rest of the strong rivalries can be saved by their alignments. The divisions would be North: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers. South: Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland. By this the protected rivalries would be: Minnesota-Iowa, Wisconsin-Nebraska, Northwestern-Illinois, Purdue-Indiana, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan State-Penn State, Rutgers-Maryland. I understand this doesn't really incorporate Rutgers and Maryland into real rivalry games and you can argue that Nebraska has to travel to Maryland for a divisional game, but it keeps the traditional powers separated evenly and the good games lost are Purdue-Illinois, Northwestern-Iowa, Wisconsin-Iowa, Purdue-Ohio State, Ohio State-Wisconsin, Michigan State-Ohio State.Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Charles, you present an interesting option, but my beef with the current setup is that too many rivalries have to be protected through crossovers rather than grouping rivals in the same division. One common complaint among Big Ten fans is that we have too many cross-division rivalry games at the end of the season rather than division games that have greater bearing on which teams go to Indy for the league championship. I think the best alignment models are ones that not only create balance in the divisions, but preserve as many rivalries as possible through division assignments rather than crossovers. The crossovers should be the last resort in preserving rivalries. That's why of my crossovers, the only really important ones are Indiana-Purdue and Michigan-Minnesota. I think the crossover rivalries are too big a part of your setup and would create some of the same frustration we see right now.




Evan from State College, Pa., writes: Why is everyone making division alignment so complicated? Why not just send Illinois over to the Legends and slide Maryland and Rutgers into the Leaders? It seems like many rivalries are upheld, geography works out, and balance is maintained.

Adam Rittenberg: Evan, you outline one approach to alignment. My concern is whether the Leaders division would be strong enough. It's possible that both Rutgers and Maryland struggle for a while as they acclimate to a new league with higher demands. Purdue's program has been down several years, and while Indiana seems to be on the rise, the Hoosiers aren't a legitimate Big Ten title contender. My fear is that you have at least four mediocre to poor programs. If you follow your plan, you have to hope Penn State remains successful throughout the sanctions period and suffers few long-term effects. Maybe that proves to be the case, but as a league, I don't think you can take that chance, no matter how good of a coach Bill O'Brien turns out to be. My concern is that division becomes Ohio State and no one else, while the Legends division has a better mix of squads.




Kyle from Seattle writes: We've seen a number of posts about the Big Ten needing to raise the ceiling of the best teams to compete on a national level. Can we see an article about how it appears that the Big Ten has been raising the floor where the worst teams are becoming less easy outs? It just seems like Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana, and Minnesota have gotten much better in recent years with Iowa being the only program that appears to have backslid at all.

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, we've written about the improvement each of those programs has made in recent years, particularly Michigan State and Northwestern, which haven't been part of the bottom-feeder group for a while. The stability both Mark Dantonio and Pat Fitzgerald provide in East Lansing and Evanston, respectively, is helping both programs become consistent bowl participants -- MSU has six straight bowl appearances, Northwestern has five -- and, more recently, bowl champions. Minnesota doubled its wins total in Year 2 under Jerry Kill, whose teams typically take an even bigger jump in Year 3. Indiana certainly took a step in Year 2 under Kevin Wilson, although the Hoosiers still have a long way to go on the defensive side. I think it's a little tough to make the case the Big Ten is bringing up the bottom when you still have teams like Illinois this year or Indiana in 2011 that are among the nation's worst major-conference squads. When the Big Ten no longer has a 2- or 3-win team, maybe your argument is a little easier to make.




Chris from Traverse City, Mich., writes: Just a point of reference; Michigan's 2013 recruiting class that will be announced in a couple weeks already has commits from "9" different states.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I'm guessing you're referring to this week's podcast and our discussion with recruiting expert Tom VanHaaren about Michigan's recruiting and whether the Wolverines are branching out enough. While it's true Michigan has commits from nine states, the bulk of the Wolverines' class hails from the Big Ten footprint. Michigan has just four recruits from outside the footprint -- one from Colorado, one from North Carolina, one from Massachusetts and one from Maryland -- and one of them, Baltimore native Henry Poggi, soon will be from the footprint when Maryland joins the conference. Although Michigan's Midwest recruiting efforts are strong, it's fair to ask whether the Wolverines are spending enough time and energy in the nation's top recruiting hotbeds -- Texas, Florida, California -- or in regions like the South and Southeast where, by any measure, there are more elite prospects. As Tom said on the podcast, "To compete at a high level, so many prospects come out of those areas -- the Southeast, the West, Texas -- you're really going to have to eventually win with those guys." He added that while it's not a huge problem right now, Michigan must put greater emphasis on those areas in the future and is doing so (already offered five juniors from Florida).




Dan from Dallas writes: Greetings, A'dam! I have a question that I'm sure all B1G fans have been aching to have answered: Since Ohio State vacated all of its 2010 wins, does that mean that Michigan State actually won a trip to the 2011 Rose Bowl by virtue of its tie-breaking win over Wisconsin and, as a logical consequence, did Michigan State subsequently beat TCU in that game, which was officially called the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl?

Adam Rittenberg: But of course! I love revisionist history. I'll get on the phone with the Big Ten and make sure the official record shows Michigan State's Wings Bowl win against TCU actually counts as a Rose Bowl win from two years before.