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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Big Ten mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Let's get to those questions ...

Billy Joe from Mohawk, W. Va., writes: With the divisional alignments not being released yet, is there a reason on the delay we are not being told? Perhaps, are they talking about adding two more schools? Is Jim Delany and Co. waiting on the Maryland lawsuit to poach one or two more ACC schools? Who would you say is most likely to join the B1G if they are waiting on setting the divisions due to them poaching 1 or 2 more schools? Or is the B1G set with 14 schools and they are just that divided on whether Indiana, Purdue or another team will be on the West side?My initial feeling is that there is more behind the crystal ball than deciding whether Indiana or Purdue will make the West stronger. I have a feeling they are talking to a school or two. If this is the case, I would say the most likely schools are, in order: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt (I know, a stretch, but it keeps the B1G schools connected.), North Carolina, and Kansas. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Billy Joe, I've been told the wait in announcing the divisions has more to do with logistics than the possibility/likelihood of future expansion. The Big Ten certainly could expand beyond 14, but I've confirmed with multiple sources that none of the discussions involving the divisions included models beyond 14 teams. They're only working with the number they can confirm, and while expansion is never truly on the back burner any more, it doesn't really apply here. Either Purdue or Indiana is going West, but schedules need to be worked out and so do rotations. It will be done at the latest by the Big Ten presidents/chancellors meetings June 2 at league headquarters. I don't hear that an announcement is imminent.


Scott from Houghton Lake, Mich., writes: Looking back at the last year that MSU played, Maxwell only completed 53% of his passes (I rounded up from 52.5%) and this coming from a guy throwing missiles at all of his receivers. I know the QB job is up for grabs, but let's say that he lands that job as the starter. If he is able to throw with a little touch this next year along with completing close to 60% of his passes, do you think that will be enough to get MSU to 8 or 9 wins? Or do you think we lost too much on the offensive side of the ball with Bell and Sims gone?

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, I agree Andrew Maxwell has to put a little more touch on his passes. I first noticed that in last year's opener against Boise State, and it continued to a degree, although the receivers still dropped far too many passes. You bring up a good point overall -- Michigan State doesn't need Maxwell to be an All-Big Ten quarterback to win the Legends division this season. The defense once again has the makings of being a top 10 or top-5 unit nationally, and Michigan State was right there in five of the six games it lost last fall. It likely won't take much improvement from Maxwell and the offense to translate into a few more wins, as long as the defense performs to the lofty expectations. One concern I have is running back as Michigan State won't have a Le'Veon Bell-type player. The Spartans really need Aaron Burbridge, Bennie Fowler and the rest of the receivers to take major steps in the offseason to help Maxwell or whoever wins the top QB job.


Jerome from Toronto writes: Hey Adam, I think Michigan will be the best team in the Legends division in 2013 and beat all the Legends teams. However, Nebraska will be the team to go to Indy with a better overall record even with one loss to Michigan. I see Michigan getting upset on the road at PSU and also losing to Ohio State which means Nebraska would be division champ. With that said, when the B1G goes to 7 teams per division, do you think the conference should decide the division champ first by looking at division games, then crossover games used as tiebreakers? Should a team that beats all their division foes take a backseat if they have a more challenging crossover schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Jerome, I see your point here as the crossover schedule can vary greatly in degree of difficulty. But I'd be very surprised if the Big Ten doesn't keep overall league record as the chief factor in determining which teams go to Indianapolis. Division games obviously play a big role, but I can't see the league telling a team that went 8-1 in league play to stay home in favor of a team that went 7-2, even if the 7-2 team won the head-to-head tiebreaker. It's never perfect when you have a league that lacks a round-robin format, and there always will be discrepancies in crossover schedules. Your argument has some value, but I wouldn't expect a change.


Mitch from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I was reading through all the recaps of games and some of the articles from lunch time links and noticed that everyone had barely any fans. Ohio State had a bunch of hype about playing in Cincinnati but only 30,000 attended. Some had 8,000 or even 2,000 at their practices and games. Is it really that Husker fans are that crazy that we can get over 60,000 people to our spring game with a state that has about a sixth the people in the state of ohio. Maybe there are other reasons why others were so low and i missed them but the difference in attendance was staggering to me.

Adam Rittenberg: Husker fans are extremely passionate about their team, and they'll turn out under almost any circumstances to get a glimpse at Big Red. There are some important factors involved in spring games, mainly the weather, which was beautiful in Lincoln on April 6 but not nearly as nice around much of the Big Ten last Saturday. Although Big Ten fans turn out in force for real games, rain or shine, crummy weather can make some folks think twice about attending a glorified scrimmage (and in some cases, less than that). Nebraska fans also missed out on last year's game because of bad weather.

I'm a little surprised Ohio State didn't draw more fans, but Cincinnati isn't as centrally located as Columbus, and attending the game itself wasn't that cheap when you factor in extra driving, parking, etc. I also remember Ohio State drawing a spring game-record 95,722 in 2009 on a gorgeous day in Columbus. But your point is valid, and spring games for the most part aren't a huge deal in the Big Ten, even at schools with huge stadiums like Michigan and Wisconsin.


Jon from Columbus writes: Adam, you recently said that you thought Michigan was about a year away from being among the nation's elite. Does your outlook of 2013 and Team 134 change now that Brady Hoke has stated that he expects Fitz Toussaint to be a full go by the start of the season and Jake Ryan to be back on the field by October?

Adam Rittenberg: My statement about Michigan's numbers factored in Toussaint's likely return for the season. Ryan certainly would be a major boost for the defense, but he might not be the player we saw in 2012, at least not right away. The larger point is I think it will take one more year for Michigan's depth on both sides of the ball to be at nationally elite levels because of Brady Hoke's last two recruiting classes. More of those players will be two-year starters or in bigger roles to contribute. Michigan can be a really good team in 2013, but there are still too many question marks -- interior offensive line, defensive difference-maker, running back -- to call the Wolverines a nationally elite team.


K from Iowa writes: Ohio produces more FBS players than any other Midwestern state, maybe more than the next two combined. It's been pretty well documented that Urban Meyer's looking beyond Ohio for recruits. He's already offered more kids in the 2014 class from Georgia than the Buckeye State. Meanwhile, there are teams with new coaches with strong Ohio ties, specifically Purdue, Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, not to mention Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State. If Urban's opened the gate to the fence and made it open season on kids who Ohio State might have previously offered under Jim Tressel, who do you think is in the best position to benefit from it?

Adam Rittenberg: First of all, Ohio State isn't ignoring its backyard and opening the gate for other teams to land top players. Although Meyer and his staff wisely will invest time and energy in the South, where, by any measure, there's a larger concentration of elite prospects, they'll never turn their back on Ohio. Five of the seven 2014 recruits committed to Ohio State are from the state of Ohio. You're absolutely right that all of those other teams will recruit Ohio and get their share of good players out of the talent-rich state. I think Purdue in particular has a chance to recruit well in Ohio because of head coach Darrell Hazell and assistants like Marcus Freeman, a former Ohio State star linebacker. Michigan always will get its share of Ohio prospects, especially from northern cities like Cleveland, Toledo and Akron. Teams like Michigan State and Northwestern also do well in the Buckeye State, but I don't see one team benefiting dramatically more than normal because Meyer is casting a wider recruiting net.


Dave from Camp Randall writes: Adam,Do you think I am crazy for thinking that if Indiana improves on D, the Hoosiers have a good chance to get to 8-4 this year? Starting with a stunning upset of Missouri, and taking advantage of eight home games (Michigan, State, OSU and Wisconsin all on the road), to go undefeated in Bloomington electrifying the fan base, and the Hoosiers find themselves planning a beach day in Jacksonville. Throw in a road upset, (hopefully in Columbus) and I see a ticket to Tampa. After watching their practice, is there any chance the Crimson and Cream can do it?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, an Indiana question from Camp Randall? You do realize what has happened to the Hoosiers in their last few appearances there, right? Indiana definitely should improve upon last season's four-win total, and with the eight home games you mention, a bowl appearance is a reasonable expectation. But eight wins? I'm not so sure IU gets there. As Brian Bennett pointed out in Monday's mailbag, the schedule isn't a cakewalk. The Hoosiers not only play Missouri but also Navy and Bowling Green in non-league play. They should have beaten Navy last year, but there are no guarantees. IU's league schedule includes five of the top seven teams -- Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State -- and misses only Nebraska and Northwestern. So it won't be easy. The real key is getting a big road win or two, but the trips are very difficult (East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Madison and Columbus). Bottom line: I see Indiana getting to six wins, but eight seems a little too much.