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Friday, June 21, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Wishing you a great summer weekend. Check us out on Twitter.

To your emails ...

Martin the Spartan from Okemos, Mich., writes: Adam, you said, and I quote, "Speaking of Michigan, the Wolverines are no longer the program Michigan State outperformed on the field and on the recruiting trail from 2008 to 2011." Since when has Michigan State ever out recruited Michigan? Michigan had Top-10 recruiting classes those years, while Dantonio was developing 1-stars into defensive giants! What gives?

Tom from Grand Ledge, Mich., writes: Adam, in your article, "Built for this year in the Big Ten," you stated:"Speaking of Michigan, the Wolverines are no longer the program Michigan State outperformed on the field and on the recruiting trail from 2008 to 2011. Michigan's recruiting has surged under Brady Hoke, and the Wolverines currently boast the nation's No. 1 class, according to RecruitingNation. "My question is this, what are you smoking? In the entire history of the very RecruitingNation rankings that you reference, MSU has not once been ranked ahead of UM. In fact, other than Brady Hoke's first year (2011), UM has not been ranked lower than 14th in those rankings, while MSU has not cracked the top 25 even once. Why should we rely on these rankings as evidence that the tide is turning when they have never been a good indicator in the past? Pardon my Spartan brethren and me as we politely ask you to stop spewing this nonsense.

Adam Rittenberg: Martin and Tom (and other Spartan fans), outperformed probably was the wrong word to use to describe the Michigan State-Michigan recruiting trend between 2008-11. It certainly applies more to the on-field results. For that, my apologies. But you can't deny that Michigan State's in-state and regional recruiting efforts improved during that period, in large part because of the Spartans' success but also because of Michigan's on-field struggles and Rich Rodriguez shifting the recruiting focus to other areas (i.e. Florida). Michigan State didn't have a bunch of 1-stars those years, Martin.

Brady Hoke not only has improved Michigan's overall recruiting but targeted the state and the region for top prospects. While Michigan State is still recruiting pretty well, there has been a bit of a drop-off in my view, at least with local recruiting, that can be attributed to Hoke and Michigan's success.

RecruitingNation's rankings are one metric, but they're not everything and they don't always reflect some of the specific trends between two programs. Under Hoke, Michigan has become a bigger challenge for Michigan State both on the field and in local recruiting.




Mike from Denver writes: Adam - I noticed a trend in all the responses you are posting for non-conference match-ups ... drum roll please, SEC. Obviously, this is not surprising coming from a fan base tired of SEC national championships, built-in advantages (recruiting, bowl locations), and the hard to swallow truth that the B1G is playing catch-up. What sense do you get from the league office and AD's that this is a priority? There is no comparison between these two conferences and any other in terms of fan base and support. A scheduling agreement (similar to what the Pac12 ducked) would further increase the "inventory" for the next B1G TV deal and with the B1G open to late season non-conference games, maybe you could actually get an SEC to fly north after Sept (I don't think that is against NCAA regulations is it). Could this happen?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, while I wish it could happen and would welcome such an agreement in a heartbeat, it's highly doubtful. As the Big Ten found out with the short-lived Pac-12 scheduling alliance, it's still about the individual schools and their interests/priorities rather than the league's. While Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had the entire conference on board, Larry Scott couldn't deliver the same with the Pac-12, a league that, unlike most of the SEC, has been aggressive with its non-league scheduling and willing to take on all comers.

Delany often uses the phrase "big stadium vs. big stadium" in describing Big Ten-SEC matchups, and the reluctance of either side to give up the money they get from filling those big stadiums likely prevents a full-blown alliance.  The growing trend of neutral-site games has helped create more matchups, whether it was Michigan-Alabama last year or Wisconsin-Alabama in 2015 (and most likely Wisconsin-LSU in 2014). There are a few Big Ten-SEC series on the books, including Michigan State-Alabama, Michigan-Arkansas and Nebraska-Tennessee. But I can't see every SEC school getting on board, especially when some are shying away from programs like Rutgers, Northwestern and Ohio State, and others have non-league series they want to keep (i.e. Florida-Florida State).




Corey from Lansing, Mich., writes: Everyone in the media as well as people I talk to are under the impression msu will continue to field teams carried by defense. I will admit that the defense is a stronger unit, but it also has holes along the DL (I'm not as impressed with Calhoun, Heath, Hoover and Reynolds as everyone else is, not to mention LT's transition inside will take awhile if it works out at all.) People have seemed to forget the fact that since Dantonio started at State it's been the offense carrying the load in most big games with the exception being most of last year. I don't think the past offensive successes where only brought about by past players being better than current players. What I do think is that last year was a complete rebuild that got derailed by O-line injuries. Thinking that MSU will continue to field bad offenses is to me shortsighted and sensationalist.

Adam Ritenberg: Sensationalist? We clearly have different definitions of that term. You raise some valid points about Michigan State's possible holes on the defensive line, especially at the inside position after losing Anthony Rashad White to graduation. But the overall strength of the defense, especially with Max Bullough once again leading the way, can't be overlooked. Yes, the offense has stepped up in big games in the past for Michigan State -- the 2011 regular-season game against Wisconsin comes to mind -- but the defense also played a significant role in the division title that year.

And c'mon, last year wasn't a "complete rebuild" on offense. Michigan State had the same coordinator, the same system, the same standout running back, an NFL-caliber tight end and some receivers with experience. Andrew Maxwell was a first-time starter at quarterback, but he had two full seasons to prepare as Kirk Cousins' backup. It was about as ideal a situation you could have at quarterback without a returning starter. The offensive line injuries certainly stung, but that group is no stranger to inconsistency and, in my opinion, is the biggest thing separating Michigan State's program from the next level.

Could Michigan State turn things around on offense this year? Sure. But the Spartans have big question marks at every offensive position, including some that didn't have those question marks last year (running back, tight end). It's perfectly reasonable to expect the unit to hit some bumps in the road.




Marcus Aurelius from Summerland, Calif., writes: I've been a big proponent of removing 1-AA teams from all Big 10 schedules, but I could see some cases where playing them could be justified as a semi-rivalry game in limited quantities. App State doesn't make any sense for anyone, but Iowa playing Northern Iowa once (or twice if they want a home and home) every 4-6 years might not be the worst thing (like back in the good old days when schools could only count a win against a 1-AA team along with 5 wins to be bowl eligible once every two years). I still think having a 1-AA team on your schedule should disqualify you from the playoff system, but that's a bit of a pipe dream at this point. Hopefully it counts as enough of a penalty in the strength of schedule column to be a virtual DQ.

Adam Rittenberg: I think it will, Marcus, and other power conferences likely will follow the Big Ten's lead and either reduce or completely eliminate games against FCS opponents. You bring up an interesting point about allowing exceptions to the FCS ban like Iowa-Northern Iowa. Maybe the two schools would petition the Big Ten to schedule a game every few years based on their history and the rivalry factor. But would that be fair to other Big Ten programs? It's kind of an all-or-nothing thing, and as I wrote in the post, if the ultimate goal is stronger non-league schedules for the Playoff, I can live with no Big Ten-FCS games.




Tom from Pompano Beach, Fla., writes: Why don't you promote the Michigan assistant coaches, since they are the highest paid and supposedly the best, for head coaching positions like you do [Pat] Narduzzi?

Adam Rittenberg: Greg Mattison and Al Borges are in different places in their career than Narduzzi. Both have been career coordinators, bouncing around to several major-college jobs and, in Mattison's case, the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. Mattison is 63, and in his case, if he was going to be a head coach, it would have happened by now. After his recent contract extension, he said repeatedly that Michigan is his final stop, and I believe him. Borges is a little younger (57), but he's another guy who I think would have made the jump to a top job if it was going to happen. Maybe he still will, but I also see him staying at Michigan for a while. Narduzzi, 47, has been mentioned as a candidate for several recent coaching vacancies, including Cincinnati, where I'm told he would have been a major player if Tommy Tuberville said no. All three are really good coaches, but it's much more likely Narduzzi lands a head-coaching job than Borges or Mattison.




Les from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., writes: In the 62 years beginning with 1950, Big Ten teams have won only 7 AP National Championships. In that time, Oklahoma alone has won more. The SEC has clearly had more. In terms of the national perception you have expressed concern about, the Big Ten has rarely enjoyed the media belief that it is, or should somehow be, "The #1 Conference" (the financial aspects are different!). Maybe that's why it's hard for me to feel one way or the other about the press' and public's perception of the B1G as a football conference. Other conferences and Notre Dame have always been more in the limelight than the Big Ten. I remember in the days of the Big Two and the Little Eight, the joke on the day of The Game was that it might begin with the announcer saying, "Today OSU and Michigan battle it out for the right to go to Pasadena and lose to USC." Too much is being made of some sort of perceived competition between the B1G and other conferences. It's hardly a new thing.

Adam Rittenberg: Les, some really good thoughts here, especially about the so-called glory days that the Big Ten likes to celebrate but might be misguided in doing so. The Big Ten's recent Rose Bowl record is poor (1-9 since the 2000 game), but the league didn't exactly light it up in Pasadena during the 1970s and 1980s, going 4-17 in the game between 1970-90. And besides Michigan and Ohio State, few Big Ten teams finished in the final Top 25 polls. Still, the Big Ten wasn't regarded as one of the weakest power conferences back then, and you didn't have a conference dominating the national spotlight like the SEC has in the past seven seasons.

The Big Ten always garners media attention because of its large fan base. It did back then and it does now. You mention Notre Dame, which receives attention for many of the same reasons that the Big Ten does (history, tradition, national popularity). But the tone toward the Big Ten has grown increasingly more negative during the SEC's rise. I don't doubt the announcers made jokes about Ohio State or Michigan playing for a chance to lose the Rose Bowl, but I don't think the league took nearly as much abuse as it does now.




Gary from Ohio writes: In the Tuesday (6/18) mail blog you described Braxton Miller as indispensable as Devin Gardner or Taylor Martinez. While I agree he is just as important to our team, we actually have a QB who could guide us though a 5 or 6 game stretch. I really think Kenny Guiton might be one of the most stater ready back-ups in college football. He also fits greatly into our offense.

Adam Rittenberg: Gary, I agree about Kenny Guiton, although I don't know if Ohio State could win five or six games straight with Kenny G calling the signals. He played a huge role in Ohio State's 12-0 season with his heroics against Purdue, but it's tough for a backup quarterback to perform week after week, especially against better defenses. Of those three signal callers, Michigan's Gardner is easily the most indispensable as the Wolverines lack any proven players behind him. It's why Michigan will dramatically reduce the quarterback run and do anything it can to keep No. 12 on the field this fall.