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Friday, April 12, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Wishing you a great weekend. We'll recap all the spring games on Monday, so be sure to check in early and often.

To the emails ...

Michael from South Sioux City, Neb., writes: If Taylor Martinez puts up HUGE passing numbers, say 65% pass completion, 3,000+ yards passing and lowers his INT's, what would his heisman chances be? And will he ever be given a shot to play QB in the NFL?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, Martinez certainly could be on the Heisman radar if he improves upon his already strong 2012 numbers and, as you mention, cuts down on his turnovers (not just interceptions but fumbles, too). He has national name recognition, which is critically important for the Heisman, and leads an offense that could be one of the nation's best. Martinez will have to separate himself as the Big Ten's best quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller obviously is in the mix, too -- and perform big in Nebraska's biggest games, which come mostly in November. I think Martinez has an NFL future, but I'd be very surprised if it's at quarterback. Although his mechanics are a lot better than they were two years ago, they're nowhere near as polished as they need to be for a league that wants quarterbacks with no glitches in their throwing motion.




Ryan from Surprise, Ariz., writes: With the expanding conference there is a need for more conference games. I've read the B1G is considering going to 9 or even 10 conference games with the goal that each team will play all of the other teams at least twice every 6 years or something like that. I'm wondering if they are considering rotating between 9 conference games two out of every 4 years and 10 conference games the other two out of every 4 years as an option at all. That way, with the 14 teams next year, each team would be able to play all of the other teams at least twice every 4 years. If the conference ever expands to 16 then it would require 10 conference games every year to maintain the same rotation. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, you present an interesting schedule model, but I haven't heard anything about the Big Ten rotating between a 9- and 10-game conference schedules in the future. From talking with multiple athletic directors and other league sources, the 9-game league schedule is all but finalized and will begin in the 2016 season (8-game schedule will remain in 2014 and 2015). Although there's some support for a 10-game league slate, it's just too ambitious at the moment, especially with the unknowns about the college football playoff. If and when the Big Ten expands to 16, the 10-game league schedule once again will get serious consideration.




Anthony from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: So with the draft coming up in 2 weeks, normally I'm looking forward to seeing which Hawkeyes are going to the next level. However looking over this group of guys on the block, I don't see a single one hitting an NFL practice field. question 1: your take on when and where they might go and question 2: when was the last time Iowa didn't send a single player to the NFL

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, while Iowa doesn't have its typical stable of NFL prospects this year, I think you're being a little pessimistic. Cornerback Micah Hyde and quarterback James Vandenberg were the only Hawkeyes players at the NFL combine, and while neither is a high-level prospect, I expect both to find their way into camps this summer. Hyde could be a late-round selection in the draft. Although Vandenberg had a lousy senior season, it had a lot to do with the system change. Could wideout Keenan Davis make a team? He'd have to really impress folks in individual workouts, but NFL scouts love Iowa players. The Hawkeyes have had at least five players selected in each of the past three drafts (2010, 2011, 2012). The last NFL draft not to include an Iowa player? 1977. Could we see that streak end this year? It's possible, but I think Hyde's name will be called.




Len from Gilman, Wis., writes: What are the chances of Arkansas meeting Wisconsin in a bowl game? If so, who might win?

Adam Rittenberg: Oh, pretty please, Len, can this happen? Like, this year? And maybe next year, and the year after? Bret Bielema's Twitter account might explode if it does. Since the Big Ten and SEC play three bowl matchups this season -- Capital One, Outback and Gator -- there's a good chance we could see this matchup. You know bowl officials would love pairing Bielema against his old team. Coincidentally, Wisconsin and Arkansas last met in the 2007 Capital One Bowl, at the end of Bielema's first season as Badgers head coach. Wisconsin won 17-14 to cap a 12-1 season. I think Wisconsin will be pretty solid in Gary Andersen's first year, but Arkansas comes off of a 4-8 disaster, returns only three offensive starters and plays in college football's toughest division (SEC West). It could be tough for Bielema's boys to get into one of the better SEC bowls against the Big Ten, but Gator isn't out of the question.




Matt M. from Chicago writes: Hi Adam - I once again enjoyed the "Ultimate Big Ten Road Trip" feature. Now that it is complete, I noticed that Illinois was the only B1G team that didn't end up getting a visit from either blogger. If you had to go back and substitute one of your picks for an Illinois game to get them on the schedule, what change would you make?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, I'd probably stay home in Chicago in Week 3 to check out Illinois against Washington at Soldier Field rather than hopping a plane to the desert for Wisconsin at Arizona State. I know my wife would be happy with that decision. Illinois is making a stronger marketing push in Chicago and will have several events around the game at Soldier Field, so that will be interesting to see. We'll also know fairly early on whether the Illini make significant strides from last year's disaster. Washington poses a good test as the Huskies boast an excellent quarterback in Keith Price, a dynamic running back in Bishop Sankey and arguably the nation's top tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins. It will be a tough test for Illinois' defense and it could be a blowout, but I think I'll learn a lot about Tim Beckman's squad either way. It's a gorgeous time of year in my home city, and a Saturday afternoon on the lakfefront should be terrific.




Kevin from Chicago writes: Making it short and sweet, Is there any QB match this year in the Big Ten more exciting than Miller vs. Colter? Arguably the two most athletic guys at the QB position in the country. Both guys who can extend plays when the pocket collapse and always looking to get that extra yard cant wait to see these two guys go at it at Ryan Field.

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, I think the only matchup that might trump it is Miller versus Michigan's Devin Gardner at the end of the year (Miller-Martinez would be nice, but Ohio State and Nebraska don't play in the regular season). But the fact that Miller and Colter haven't shared the field together in their careers adds intrigue to what already could be a huge matchup at Ryan Field. Northwestern will be playing its Big Ten opener after an open week, while Ohio State comes off of its league opener against Wisconsin in Columbus. I would expand the matchup to include the running backs, as Miller-Carlos Hyde versus Colter-Venric Mark should be highly, highly entertaining. Miller and Colter both represent the new-age Big Ten quarterback, top-shelf athletes who can create big plays and are looking to become more complete quarterbacks in the passing game.




Jenn from San Diego writes: Adam, I apologize in advance for the long question, but I think what the Nebraska team did for the little guy with cancer was outstanding. I can only imagine what a thrill it must've been for Jack, a kid from small town Nebraska, to play a down and score a TD at Memorial Stadium. Kudos to the NU staff and players for doing that; and thank you to Jack for giving our world an inspirational lift. The guys lifting him up in the end zone was a truly great scene. The incident got me to thinking about Bo Pelini and his perception nationally. Mostly you hear about him needing anger management, etc., but I think this spring game, and Pelini's eloquent comments- yes I used Pelini and eloquent in the same sentence- after the Penn State game a couple of years ago show me that he gets what's important in life. He's still intense, but he seems to have grown as a coach and lives what he preaches about process and perspective. Do you think Bo will ever be able to shed the initial impressions; or said another way do you think you (the media) and we (the fans) will ever give him the credit he deserves for getting the bigger picture surrounding college athletics?

Adam Rittenberg: Jenn, this is an excellent issue to bring up because Pelini undoubtedly still fights the Mt. Pelini perception, created initially by his blowup at Texas A&M in 2010 and accelerated by the media. As Brian Bennett pointed out in his Thursday mailbag, ESPN has been guilty of this in our view. There's definitely another side of Pelini that comes out in situations like the Nebraska spring game and the Penn State game from 2012. He doesn't always help himself with his sideline behavior during games or his, well, brevity with the media in a football-crazed environment like Nebraska. But I do think Pelini has grown as a coach, and he seems willing to be introspective and try to find new ways to be a better CEO for the Husker program.

You ask whether Pelini can shed his initial impressions. He can, but only if Nebraska wins at a higher level. The Huskers' big-game flops under Pelini -- most notably in last year's Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin -- hurt his image because it's easy to connect the team's erratic play with the coach's (perceived or real) erratic personality. Teams often reflect their head coaches, and Nebraska has been a bit of a wild card, just like Pelini has. When Nebraska reaches that next level -- wins a league title, plays a cleaner brand of football (fewer turnovers) -- I think Pelini will get his due and distance himself from the old image.