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Friday, May 10, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailbag

By Adam Rittenberg

Wishing you a great weekend. Be sure to follow us on Twitter if you aren't already.

To your questions ...

Tons of fun from Champaign, Ill., writes: I've seen a lot of comments and disgruntled fans talking about the neutral site games for the Big Ten and how it takes away from the student and campus atmosphere that college football is known for. As a graduating senior however, I remember some of the most memorable games I attended being neutral site games. The Arch Rivalry games between Illinois and Mizzou were some of the most exciting college atmospheres I had experienced despite never winning (I wish it would come back). Also, the Illinois/Northwestern game at Wrigley Field was a blast being able to go out in Wrigleyville before and after the game (fortunately for me I was in the "scoring" endzone), and I look forward to the Washington game at Soldier Field next year. I feel that the neutral site games bring the campus atmosphere to these NFL stadiums and it creates a unique experience away from campus. The fans for the most part show unprecedented sportsmanship that you don't often see at the campus tailgates. As a current student who has experienced these neutral site games I hope they don't go away just because of poor attendance and traveling distance. Or maybe I'm just the only one... Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good thoughts here, especially about better sportsmanship at these games. You're definitely not the only person who likes neutral sites. From a tradition standpoint, there's a drawback as teams only play 6-8 home games a year, and each of those dates is special for the fans. There are different types of neutral-site games, from rivalries like Illinois-Missouri, Oklahoma-Texas and Florida-Georgia that have strong ties to a neutral site, to novelty games like Illinois-Northwestern at Wrigley Field. My take: if neutral-site games get us more attractive non-league games, I can sacrifice a campus-site game here and there. I'm so tired of unappealing non-league games, and if this is the only way certain schools will upgrade their schedules, fans should get on board. Who wants to see Nebraska-Idaho State or Illinois-Charleston Southern? I'd much rather trade those clunkers for appealing neutral-site games.


Seth from Chicago writes: Hey Adam - Bobby Stoops recently ruffled some southern feathers by suggesting that while the top few SEC teams are ahead of the rest of college football, the rest of the conference is no better than any other conferences bottom group. Sports Nation lined the SEC up with the Big 12 - any chance you and/or Brian will line the Big 10 and the Pac 12 up (something we actually could have seen on the field if the scheduling agreement didn't blow up before it started)?

Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely, Seth. Maybe we'll do a more in-depth comparison with the Pac-12 blog, but here's my very quick analysis of the matchups, based on the most recent Pac-12 and Big Ten post-spring power rankings.

Ohio State vs. Stanford (edge: Ohio State)
Michigan vs. Oregon (edge: Oregon)
Northwestern vs. Arizona State (edge:  Northwestern)
Nebraska vs. UCLA (edge: Nebraska, but we'll find out Sept. 14)
Wisconsin vs. Washington (edge: Washington)
Michigan State vs. Oregon State (edge: Michigan State)
Penn State vs. USC (edge: USC)
Minnesota vs. Arizona (edge: Arizona)
Indiana vs. Utah (edge: Indiana)
Purdue vs. Cal (edge: Cal)
Iowa vs. Washington State (edge: Iowa)
Illinois vs. Colorado (edge: Colorado, I guess)

It's a true 6-6 split in my view, and several games (Northwestern-ASU, Penn State-USC, Michigan State-Oregon State) are really tossups. The leagues are comparable entering 2013. Ohio State and Stanford both are national title contenders, and you can never count out Oregon. The Pac-12 might have a slight edge at the top, while the Big Ten seems a little stronger in the middle of the league.


Dan from Pittsburgh writes: Adam, Now that the B1G divisions are set for the foreseeable future, how do you think the conference will be handling Thanksgiving Weekend rivalry games? Aside from what has already been announced (UM/OSU and Nebraska/Iowa), the conference could set itself up with some very appealing match-ups, think Paul Bunyan's Axe or the Battle for Chicago. No disrespect to a steadily improving MSU, but I'm hoping my Nittany Lions will finally get a real end of the year rivalry with either UMd. (not sure if the B1G can make a trophy out of the Mason-Dixon Line) or Rutgers (the losing state must claim Filthadelphia for the next 365 days).

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, I think you can pencil in most of the rivalry weekend matchups right now. Two factors to keep in mind are division games and proximity, as many fans won't have as much time to travel because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Ohio State-Michigan and Purdue-Indiana are guarantees. In splitting up Purdue and Indiana, the Big Ten agreed to keep the Bucket game on its traditional day. Although the Nebraska-Iowa series needs a little bit of juice, it makes sense for Thanksgiving weekend because of proximity. I really like the Friday game because it provides an exclusive national TV window, and I think Iowa fans will warm up to it in time.

Illinois-Northwestern isn't a huge rivalry and has moved dates a lot in recent years, but it also makes sense for that weekend because of the schools' proximity. So that leaves four East division teams: Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers. PSU-MSU was more of a faux rivalry with a hilarious/hideous trophy than anything else, but it could go there and then the Big Ten could pair the two new members. I'd also be fine with Penn State-Maryland and Michigan State-Rutgers. The proximity component doesn't really work for Michigan State, but there really aren't other options. What I like is that aside from Purdue-Indiana, every game is in the division. Right now, the Big Ten has way too many cross-division matchups on that Saturday and down the stretch in November.


Fred from the Land of Sky Blue Waters writes: Hi Adam,Will Wisconsin continue to be one of the better B1G teams? Last year they struggled to get through their non-conference schedule, and then were basically gifted a ticket to the conference championship game. And now you add in a new coaching staff, which may or may not work out. As much as everyone seems to think they are one of the B1G elite and the ship will continue to sail as usual, things could also start taking a slide (see Iowa), don't you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Fred, last season was unusual all around in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin definitely went through a transition period with its new assistants. Another transition period could be on the way with Gary Andersen coming in and seven new assistants. But remember that Wisconsin returns 25 seniors, a group that only knows winning. Bret Bielema pointed to 2014 before last season as the year when he could possibly have his best team in Madison. It's possible Wisconsin takes a step back, but the foundation is in place, the facilities are finally being upgraded (long overdue) and Andersen understands the positions (wide receiver, defensive back) that need an upgrade in recruiting. I get the Wisconsin-Iowa comparison, but Wisconsin has been consistently good longer than Iowa has, and while both programs face some recruiting challenges, I like what Wisconsin is doing so far. So we'll see, but I'd be surprised if Wisconsin falls back too far, especially in the seemingly easier West division.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, let's not go too far. "Everyone wants to know who will have the important and unenviable task of choosing the field of four for the Playoff each year." Important. Sure. Millions of dollars are involved. Unenviable? How many college football fans do you think would find the task of picking the playoff unenviable?

Adam Rittenberg: Samuel, most fans I deal with freak out at the mildest critique (read: truth) about their team. You honestly think they could handle the immense pressure and scrutiny the selection committee members will face? No way. Sure, it's a huge responsibility, but there are a lot of smart, qualified people in the business who want no part of being on the committee because of the intense spotlight. I deal with a portion of irrational Big Ten fans in my job -- not everyone, but some of you are -- and it can grade on you. I can't imagine the lengths some college football fans (cough, SEC, cough) would go to contact, criticize and pressure committee members. It'll be a largely thankless job, and a tough one.


Randy from Marengo, Iowa, writes: It looks like a lot of B1G schools are working to upgrade their schedule. Iowa is stuck playing Iowa State, and with the 9-game schedule coming, that may be the only decent out of conference game they get. Assuming Iowa gets their act together and gets back to the level of 2009-2010, and ISU stays where they traditionally have been, what harm might that cause Iowa, if any?

Adam Rittenberg: Randy, while we could talk about Iowa's lack of recent success against Iowa State and Iowa State's recent upgrade under Paul Rhoads, your point about Iowa State being Iowa's only marquee non-league opponent every year is a valid one. I'm not opposed to Iowa playing good mid-major teams like Northern Illinois, but there's a lack of diversity on Iowa's schedule that seems a little troubling. Like all Big Ten teams, Iowa needs to decide its program goals and whether the College Football Playoff is realistic. If so, Iowa needs to think seriously about adding a bigger-name opponent to its non-league schedule. How that would impact the annual Iowa State rivalry remains to be seen. I'd be all for Iowa playing Iowa State and bigger-name non-league foe, but that might not be realistic for the Hawkeyes. If so, do you suspend the Iowa State series for a year or two and play a big-name SEC/Big 12/Pac-12 team? I'd be OK with that.


Corey from Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but when you say MSU hasn't won an outright B10 title since 1987, it bothers me greatly. OSU had the loss to Wiscy, Wiscy lost to MSU and all three had one loss. not to mention OSU (vacated) all of its wins from that season. I understand why it was a co-championship before the scandal (even though I never agreed with it). But why was the outright title never given to MSU after the "Tattoo 5"? Is there a 2010 B10 championship trophy still at Wisconsin? Again I'm sorry for bringing up something so old, but to me these are important questions that I have yet to find answers to

Adam Rittenberg: Corey, there still wouldn't have been an outright champion in 2010. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin finished with one loss (MSU to Iowa, Wisconsin to MSU), so they share the title. The Big Ten didn't have a championship game at the time so any teams that tied atop the conference shared the title, even if one beat the other. The same thing happened in 2008 with Penn State and Ohio State (shared title even though Penn State beat Ohio State). The bigger issue for MSU is that the Spartans would have gone to the Rose Bowl, based on their win against Wisconsin, if the Ohio State scandal had broken earlier. But it still would have been a shared title.