Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Friday, April 26, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Happy draft weekend to you. We'll have a full Big Ten recap on Monday.

Dan from Dallas writes: Hi, Adam. A couple of years ago, you referenced a very good article about demographics and college football fan bases. The basic argument in that article was that the size of fan bases (interpreted as approximate market share) was very important in conference realignment. It also was important for determining long-term balance between divisions. But by this measure, the expected B1G divisions will be vastly unequal. Using the numbers from that article, the West division will have some 7 million fans, while the East division will have almost 12 million fans. To me, this seems like a major problem when it comes to programs in the West division seeking to gain additional exposure. Am I wrong in thinking that the long-term consequences of this inequality could be similar to what happened with Nebraska in the Big XII North?

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, demographics is a great topic to discuss. It's why I was so adamant the first time around that the Big Ten should split the four major brands -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- into two divisions. There's definitely potential in the proposed divisions for the West to be forgotten or pushed aside. In seasons where Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are all good, the national and regional spotlight will be on the East. That division will get more exposure, period. But you still have Nebraska and Wisconsin in the West, along with a Northwestern program that is making steady progress and an Iowa program that has been in the national spotlight from time to time. Nebraska is a national brand, and Wisconsin has been a better program than Penn State or Michigan State in the past 20 years. It's up to Nebraska and Wisconsin -- and Iowa and Northwestern and the rest -- to avoid a Big 12 North situation. But the potential is there. The Big Ten went competitive balance/branding in its first alignment. This time, it's all about geography, which has its pluses (rivalries, fan-friendly trips) and minuses (brand inequity).




Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: If Tanner McEvoy is not starting for the Badgers as QB he could be a great receiver opposite Abby. Check out his high school you tube video's and you will see he can run and catch.

Adam Rittenberg: Christopher, you're not the first Wisconsin fan to bring up the possibility of McEvoy at receiver. He's obviously familiar with the position after playing it for most of his high school career. I can see the move happening, too, but maybe not until midway through the season. Remember, he came to Wisconsin to play quarterback, and coach Gary Andersen has been adamant that McEvoy will get a fair chance to compete for the job in preseason camp. Even if that "chance" lasts only two weeks, he'll have limited time to practice at receiver, learn the routes, work with the quarterbacks, etc. If Wisconsin thinks McEvoy can help at receiver this season, it should make that move sooner rather than later.



Jon from Columbus writes: Adam, I'm sorry, but how can you call Penn State a contender? If Bill O'Brien sticks around and can whether the sanctions (which like USC will take an increasing toll as time goes by) I think he'll be able to do some good things at Penn State once the program re-emerges. Still, in the immediate term, they're likely in for a rough stretch. Then there's the basic fact that they're ineligible for post-season play, which eliminates them from contention for anything simply by definition. Convince me I'm wrong, but I just don't see it.

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, you might be right, but people were making the same arguments last year and Penn State won eight of its final 10 games. Penn State obviously has a major question mark at quarterback, but its personnel at the other offensive skill positions -- wide receiver, tight end and running back -- is already among the best in the Big Ten. Also, if you follow Penn State's recruiting efforts, you'll see O'Brien continuing to bring in high-level offensive skill guys. Penn State historically has been an excellent defensive team, and while you can't assume stars will emerge every year, I'm not too worried about that side of the football. Is Penn State the deepest team? No. Could the scholarship losses hurt the team more this year than last? Absolutely. But there's enough talent in State College to be in the mix for the Leaders division, for which Penn State remains eligible (as I noted in the post).




Scott from Chicago writes: How can anyone say that Indiana didn't get royally screwed over with the new conference alignment? I get that Indiana is not a traditional powerhouse in football but the Big Ten just made sure they never will be. This is a complete farce. The league cares more about TV ratings and catering to Michigan and Ohio State's gigantic egos then creating a competitive atmosphere where a school like IU can build and grow their program. Schools like Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue can build their programs, attract better recruits and go to bowls every year. Meanwhile, IU will just be a perennial punching bag for Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. What a joke.

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, I understand your frustration, but you should have a little more faith in the IU program. Kevin Wilson already has upgraded recruiting efforts, especially on the defensive side, and should continue to do so. You could even look at the alignment as a positive because Indiana will be playing games more often in New Jersey and Maryland, two fertile recruiting territories. The Big Ten made competitive balance the priority the first time around, and many fans were unhappy. This time, they're going purely with geography, and some folks like yourself are still unhappy. I get it, but Indiana still will be playing Maryland and Rutgers every year. The Hoosiers should, in some years, be able to beat Michigan State and Penn State. And Michigan and Ohio State? Sure, those are going to be tough games, but Indiana has come close to beating both in recent years. Would you feel better if Purdue was in the East division and Michigan State in the West? Again, you can't please everyone.




Eric from Dallas writes: Love the new contender/pretender part of the blog. But I have to ask...why in the world is Michigan already in your opinion listed as a contender? Granted, I think they are, but automatically? Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't they losing half their starters, including the majority of both lines (which is typically where games are won and lost)? They also lose Robinson, who was their offense last year. Couple that with their schedule, I see them losing between 4-6 games next year. Is it that you give their recruits/untested players the benefit of the doubt and not other schools? Because based on returning talent/starters, I see them below at least OSU, Nebraska, MSU, Northwestern. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, this is a fair question, and one I anticipated. It's possible to make a good case why we shouldn't list Michigan as an automatic contender ahead of a team like Northwestern, which returns more starters than the Wolverines, but you have some inaccuracies in your argument. The Wolverines lose three starting interior offensive linemen, but they bring back arguably the nation's best lineman in left tackle Taylor Lewan, who will provide tremendous leadership to the group. Michigan also has recruited extremely well to the offensive line, and while it won't be as experienced, it likely will be more talented at several positions. Denard Robinson wasn't the Michigan offense last year. In fact, the Wolverines' production in many ways went up after Robinson got hurt and Devin Gardner became the starter. Michigan had a much better passing game and racked up a ton of yards with Gardner at the helm. A full offseason should really pay off for Gardner and the Wolverines. You also bring up the schedule, which gets easier, not harder. Look at who Michigan played last year. There's no Alabama this year. The Notre Dame game is in Ann Arbor. Same with the Nebraska game. The Wolverines have some potentially tricky games (Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan State) along the way, but their overall schedule definitely looks more favorable than it did in 2012. Finally, you're right that we're giving credit to Michigan for its upgraded recruiting efforts on both sides. We feel that more of those players brought in the past few seasons are going to make a big impact this year. Perhaps that's presumptuous, but it was a factor here.




Mike from Wyzata, Minn., writes: Saw a tweet out of an Oklahoma reporter listing potential interest in the Big Ten of Oklahoma football. I'm assuming only possible expansion at this point is adding OU/Texas as a package deal and doing a true Eastern/Central timezone division?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, first off, keep in mind that the Big 12 already has the grant of media rights that the ACC announced earlier this week. So poaching teams from the Big 12 isn't as easy as it used to be. Oklahoma certainly appeals to the Big Ten from an athletics standpoint, but it doesn't bring in a huge new market to the league. Also, Oklahoma isn't an AAU member, which still resonates strongly with the Big Ten presidents. Also, would Oklahoma move to another conference without Oklahoma State? That could be tough. And while Oklahoma is a bit of an academic reach for the Big Ten, Oklahoma State wouldn't be seriously considered. Texas obviously works from an athletics/academics/market standpoint.




Nate from Minot, N.D., writes: I was reading an article about how Mike Mauti may not even get drafted so I decided to do some research. If you look at Heisman candidate Manti Teo's stats compared to Mauti's stats through eleven games you could make an argument to say that Mauti was just as good if not better than Teo. So here's my question would you rather take Mauti in the draft knowing his injury history and seeing his latest workout video or take Te'o and the baggage he has. I think Mauti was the better leader of the two but that's just my opinion. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: A lot of people make the statistical comparisons between Mauti and Te'o and conclude Mauti had a better season. That might be true, but Te'o played in more high-profile games and helped get his team to the national championship game. I love Mike Mauti. Loved covering him, loved watching him play every week. That said, I'd draft Te'o in a heartbeat over Mauti. Too much risk there with the injuries. Great, great player, but no evidence he can stay healthy for a long stretch. Te'o doesn't have the same injury history, and despite the dead girlfriend saga, he's still a pretty solid NFL linebacker in my view. I hope Mauti goes on to great things in the NFL, but this decision is pretty easy.




Kyle from Chicago writes: Was at Haray Caray's this week inside Midway Airport with a few fellow UM graduates. Mike Vrabel walks in so we stop him to ask if he's seeing any recruits in the Chicago area, says "Yes a bunch of them. Where are you guys headed? " We tell him Boston and obviously he thinks we are Patriot fans going home. When we slipped in that we all went to Michigan, he couldn't leave fast enough. No words were spoken after, but the rivalry seems to be alive and well.

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed. Ohio State-Michigan is 365 days a year. Thanks for sharing the story.