Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
The Michigan State spring practice live blog kicks off at 1 p.m. ET -- be sure and follow along throughout the afternoon -- so the mailblog comes to you a little early.
To your emails ...
Ben from Chicago writes: I personally love the idea of an East/West division split. In my book, even if the divisions are not perfectly balanced in terms of competition from top to bottom. The best team from the West in any given year, be it Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, or anyone else, is still going to be pretty good, enough to provide an entertaining championship game match up, and if the divisions are really as unequal as people fear, the runner up in the East will still get the at large BCS appearance.
Adam Rittenberg: Ben, you make a really interesting point about the at-large BCS bowl berth. History has shown that the loser of league championship games almost always strikes out in the BCS, while a second-team place in one of the divisions often gets an at-large invite. Michigan benefited from this in 2011, when it went to the Sugar Bowl as an at-large selection even though it had lost to Michigan State, the Legends division champ and a team that fell just short in the Big Ten championship. I understand the arguments that the proposed divisions place too much power in the East, but there's also a case to be made to let things play out. I expect Nebraska to be challenged by Wisconsin, and in some years Northwestern and Iowa. Illinois won a Big Ten title in 2001 and reached a Rose Bowl in 2007, so there's some history there. And Minnesota seems to be headed in the right direction under Jerry Kill. I agree with you that in most seasons, the Big Ten title game will remain entertaining.
Eric from Ramer, Tenn., writes: Adam, SEC country coming at you with a B1G question. Will Rob Henry finally be "The Man" to lead Purdue at the QB position this year? Or is it a Hope(less) endeavor with the new coaching regime?
Adam Rittenberg: Is there an official end date for the "Hope" puns now that Danny Hope and Purdue have parted ways? I guess we can let it go a little bit longer. Henry could win the starting job and brings more experience to the position than any other candidate. Remember, he would have been the starter in 2011 if he hadn't torn his ACL weeks before the season opener. We don't know much about the other candidates -- Austin Appleby, Danny Etling and Bilal Marshall -- because they're so young. There's a lot of buzz around Appleby, and he and Henry could be the top two candidates. But the competition should spill into preseason camp, so there's a long way to go.
E.J. from Big Red Nation writes: I question your selection for coach on the hot seat in the Big Ten in the "smoke and fire" video posted by ESPN. As much as Beckman had a disappointing season this past year I think the coach on the biggest hot seat is Bo Pelini. Pelini has (as we all have heard many times) not been able to get over the 9 or 10 win seasons. His seasons have been a failure since after the 2009 season. His last year in the Big 12 had high hopes of a conference championship only to be ruined by a stunning Washington rematch loss and no conference championship. First season in the Big Ten most of us husker fans felt winning our division was essential and that never happened. This past year a conference championship was the goal at least in mid-season play, but once most of us were so sure this was the year to win the conference championship we got demolished in the big game. If he doesn't get 11 wins he's gotta be shown the door right? Your thoughts (and thanks in advance)?
Adam Rittenberg: E.J., while I believe 2013 is a crucial year for Bo Pelini, his seat isn't anywhere near as hot as Beckman's at Illinois. Although Beckman enters just his second season in Champaign, he has to show tangible progress or athletic director Mike Thomas will face considerable pressure to make a change. Thomas faced some pressure from donors/fans after Year 1 of the Beckman regime, but couldn't pull the trigger so soon. Attendance is dropping and despite Beckman's obvious enthusiasm, many fans are skeptical at best about the program. They need to see results and Beckman must deliver this fall.
While I understand the criticism for Pelini, whose teams have been good, but not great, at Nebraska, the guy still has reached the conference title game in three of the past four years and averaged 9.6 wins in Lincoln. Although Pelini must impress his new boss (Shawn Eichorst), I'd be surprised to see a change unless Nebraska takes a substantial step backward this season. Yes, the schedule is favorable and Nebraska will be a popular pick to win the Legends division. Pelini must show he can take the next step with Big Red. But after the Frank Solich situation, I don't think the decision-makers at Nebraska will be too keen to part with a coach who has won as much as Pelini has. Remember, it can always get worse.
Rob from Amherst, Mass., writes: Hello Adam, You had mentioned that Ohio State would be a more natural rival for Penn State than Maryland. Maryland is more than 100 miles closer to PSU than OSU. There is also a history between Maryland and Penn State that could be resurrected. I do remember (from the Rip Engle and early JoPa days) when PSU regularly played Pitt, WVU, Syracuse and Maryland as well as JoPa's efforts to form an Eastern Conference long before the Big East formed.
Adam Rittenberg: What I actually mentioned is that while I think Ohio State will always be Penn State's top Big Ten rival, there's potential to have Penn State and Maryland play on Rivalry Saturday (final Saturday of the regular season), when Ohio State obviously will be playing Michigan every year. The proximity and history between Penn State and Maryland lend itself to an end-of-season series, although, as many have pointed out, Penn State has dominated the series in football (35-1-1 edge for the Lions). Maryland's football program doesn't come close to Penn State's in terms of success. Ohio State is a much better comparison there. But in discussing end-of-year possibilities for Penn State -- when Ohio State is already locked in to the Michigan series -- Maryland seems to make a lot of sense.
rtXC1 from Denison, Texas, writes: Hey Adam! With the success of the Chic-fil-a Kickoff and Cowboys Classic, along with the emergence of the Texas Kickoff Classic and New York's College Classic, do you think we'll see even more of these games pop up? I'm not suggesting it will expand to 35 games like the postseason, but 8-12 of these could work well (and also provide Big Ten country with some opportunities).
Adam Rittenberg: I absolutely think we'll see more and more of these games. They allow marquee teams to play one another without giving up a home game that meets the increasing budgetary demands. If the college football playoff selection committee values strength of schedule, as we expect it will, teams will look to upgrade their schedules without always playing home-and-homes. Some athletic directors don't like the neutral-site games, but I see an increasing number warming toward them. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez recently told me about the benefits he sees in neutral-site games. The next day, Wisconsin announced its game against Alabama in Arlington, Texas. You bring up a good point about other venues getting involved, and it would be nice to see some of these season-opening blockbuster games in Big Ten territory. Weather isn't a factor in late August or early September, and there are some great indoor venues as well (Lucas Oil, Ford Field) that could put on a good show. If Dallas and Atlanta are the only sites for these games, they'll feel more like a road environment than a neutral site for Big Tens squads.
Ben from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: It seems to me that within different fanbases, there is a disconnect as to what constitutes a rivalry, and that is what causes a lot of the divisional disagreements. To many fans, the most important aspect of a rivalry is tradition and history, and the level of competition in the rivalry is secondary. Also inter-regional hate, that extends beyond just football, is very important. This is why Paul Bunyan's Axe and Floyd of Rosedale will always be so important to their fanbases, even if its lopsided. On the flip side, some fans (many Husker fans for example) want to see a high level of competition above all else, which is why there is such a disagreement about what is most important in creating new divisions.
Adam Rittenberg: Ben, some excellent thoughts here. I couldn't agree more with how different fan bases view certain rivalries. In some cases, history and regional hate, as you put it, really makes records or recent history irrelevant. In other cases, it's all about the level of competition. I look at how Nebraska fans reacted to the Huskers' Colorado schedule announcement (with a collective shrug) versus the Oklahoma schedule announcement (euphoria). Although the Huskers have history with both programs (much more with OU, obviously) the excitement about facing Oklahoma, a nationally elite program, is much greater than it is for Colorado, which has backslid considerably in recent years. It's also important to note that Nebraska is still forming rivalries in the Big Ten and lacks much recent history with its new league brethren. There's regional distate with Iowa, but that series needs a jolt in a near future. I can understand Nebraska fans wanting to face Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on a regular basis because they identify more with those programs.
David from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Do you think the former rivalry between MSU and Penn State had anything to do with the decision to place MSU in the East division? Because not only would MSU have the Michigan rivaly but we would have back the Penn state rivalry. Will the battle for the Land Grant Trophy come back with MSU and Penn State in the same division? The trophy sitting in the MSU Skandalaris Football Center as we speak.
Adam Rittenberg: The Land Grant Trophy will be at stake whenever Penn State and Michigan State next meet, whether or not it's in the same division. Grouping the Lions and Spartans together allows the Land Grant series to once again become annual, but it's not a driving force behind the proposed divisions. A bigger issue in my mind is if Michigan State moved to the West, the Big Ten would have to use a protected crossover for both MSU and Michigan because that game has to take place every year. The downside of that, for the Big Ten at least, is both schools would have a weaker crossover rotation than the other 10 schools. There would be fewer showcase type games between Michigan and Nebraska, etc. It's a little easier to have Purdue-Indiana as the only protected crossover because the Big Ten doesn't lose as much if those teams have a weaker overall crossover rotation.