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Friday, August 2, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Preseason camps are finally here in the Big Ten. Who's excited?

Let's get to the mail, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Carson from Janesville, Wis., writes: Is it me or are Wisconsin's rivalry games boring? I am younger so I have never known the Gophers as much of a threat. Iowa has at least shown that they can beat us more than twice since 1995 (which Minnesota can't) and I get that the overall rivalry is tied which is interesting. But, I guess the point of this is that I want to see Wisconsin play a high level team in a rivalry game. A team that our fan base can build a friendly hatred for (if that's possible). Nebraska and Wisconsin have had interesting games the past couple years and I would love to see them have a trophy/last game of the year rivalry especially now that they will be in the same league soon. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Carson, you're certainly not the only younger Wisconsin fan who feels this way. The Minnesota series has a ton of tradition and longevity -- not to mention a great trophy -- but it simply hasn't been very competitive in the past two decades or so (only four Gophers victories since 1991). The Wisconsin-Iowa series has been much more competitive, as you mention, and the fact that both teams will be in the West division is a good thing. But I definitely sense momentum building for Wisconsin-Nebraska, both among fans and Big Ten folks. It certainly has the potential to become a rivalry weekend game. Minnesota and Iowa can play that weekend and still satisfy the rivalry component. The Big Ten wants to have as many appetizing matchups the Saturday after Thanksgiving as possible, and Wisconsin-Nebraska could be a better choice than Nebraska-Iowa or Wisconsin-Minnesota.


Rob from New York writes: Adam, I know there is a lot of chatter about OSU and Michigan's recruiting and how we're moving towards a Big 2 Little 12 again, but I think what people are missing is how little this matters. It's not as if Michigan and OSU suddenly have had a major uptick in recruiting. Both have had top 10 classes for seemingly forever. They might be winning more high profile battles but it's not as if that's a "major" change in recruiting. Their recruiting ability has never been the issue--the issue, if any, has been that neither school has effectively evaluated talent and developed it. To me, that's all about coaching/scouting. Certain schools (Wisconsin, Michigan State and in the past Iowa) are particularly good at doing that, despite "bad" recruiting classes. I might have faith in Urban Meyer's ability to coach (less so to develop), but what possible evidence do I have that Brady Hoke will do that? All that leads me to believe that this Big 2 Little 12 discussion is nothing more than a PR assault originating in Ann Arbor and Columbus, which the media has unfortunately bought into.

Adam Rittenberg: You raise some interesting points, Rob. I agree that some are too quick to write off programs like Wisconsin and Iowa, which have been very competitive in the Big Ten for a sustained period. Michigan State finally is a consistent winner under Mark Dantonio, while Northwestern is enjoying its steadiest run of success in team history. Nebraska also can't be discounted after reaching league title games in three of the past four seasons. I think the theory is that Ohio State's and Michigan's recruiting, combined with their strength in coaching, will lead to some separation. But you raise a valid point about Michigan's Hoke and his ability to prove himself as an elite coach.

He's certainly not Meyer in terms of coaching track record, and while he has a good staff at Michigan, there are legit questions about Hoke's ability to win at the highest level. Ohio State has been the Big Ten's dominant program both on the field and on the recruiting trail, although Wisconsin has been right there, too. The big question is whether Michigan can truly dominate again and separate itself. The talent is there, but as you note, it has been there before.


Scott from Houghton Lake, Mich., writes: Hey, Adam, big MSU fan here and looking at the polls, they are just outside the top 25. Say Maxwell completes about 60% of his passes in the first 4 games and they begin the season 4-0 or possibly 3-1 (pending a ND team that has some question marks), do you think they would have a shot at a BCS game or the Rose Bowl if they continue that kind of performance or do you think it is going to take more than that for them to possibly get a BCS bid?

Adam Rittenberg: You hit on a key point, Scott, as Michigan State doesn't need Andrew Maxwell to become Johnny Manziel or the offense to become like Oregon in order to reach high goals this season. The Spartans defense once again should be among the nation's elite, and the unit should put MSU in every game this season. If the offense can simply make marginal strides, Michigan State could go from a 7-win team to a 10-win team fairly easily. I don't think the Spartans are BCS worthy because of all the hurdles they must overcome on offense. No Le'Veon Bell, no Dion Sims and question marks at every position. The offense will cost Michigan State at least a game or two, even if the overall performance is better. So I can see the Spartans winning more games for sure, but a BCS game probably isn't in the cards.


Scott from DeKalb, Ill., writes: Hey Adam, big fan of the blog.I think Nebraska fans need to slow down with putting Bo Pelini on the hot seat. Sure, Nebraska hasn't won a conference title yet. But they've been consistently good, competing for championships every year (3 conference title game appearances in 5 years, falling 1 second short once). Bo does things the right way and runs a clean program. He's one of just 11(!) coaches in college football history (at BCS schools) to win at least 9 games in each of his first 5 seasons (Another to do the same: Tom Osborne). Only 8 coaches have more wins over the last five years.I'd think Nebraska fans would appreciate what they have, have some patience, and not forget how Tom Osborne's tenure started: lots of 9 and 10 win years (in a much weaker Big 8) and couldn't beat Oklahoma for about a decade (meaning no outright conference titles). It wasn't until his 10th year that the program made the jump and got to 12 wins and then a near-national title the following year. And even after that, there were seasons where they went back to 9-10 wins, including three straight 9 win seasons right before the run of national titles. Maybe Bo can follow that path and lead the Huskers to the next level. Maybe not. But he gives Nebraska quality teams that have a chance every year and I think he deserves to stick around. You're just not going to win a national title every year (recent Alabama notwithstanding), and it's okay to be a touch below that level. It's not 1995, Nebraska. It's more like 1979.

Adam Rittenberg: Some really good thoughts here, Scott. It's important for fans to have some perspective, and the comparisons between Pelini and Osborne are valid. One point you made that often gets overlooked with Pelini is that he runs a clean program. Nebraska performs very well academically as a team and has few major off-field incidents. You could argue the team's character under Pelini has been more admirable than it was under Osborne, even though Osborne won at a higher level. It's also worth noting that few programs, even historically successful ones, have won as much as Nebraska has in the past five seasons.

Nebraska fans have high expectations and rightfully so, as they are some of the best fans in the game and invest greatly in their program. At some point, Pelini must show he can get the Huskers to the next level -- league championships and BCS-level bowls. The consistent success is great, but Nebraska has the ability to go further and Pelini must prove he can get there. But I agree that he shouldn't be on the hot seat this season unless Nebraska manages to lose five or more games.


Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam -More an interesting thought than a question, but I am curious if any in the media have considered this: a heavily favored OSU team runs the table in 2006 with one (ahem: major) hiccup - the NC to an Urban Meyer-coached FL team. This starts the SEC on it's current 7-straight national championships. How odd would it be for OSU to break the SEC's NC run with...an Urban Meyer coached OSU team. I get that a whole lot of things have to happen for a scenario like this to play out, but it'd make an interesting story if it happens.

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I think a lot of us have considered this, and several preseason predictions have Ohio State reaching the BCS title game against an SEC team (typically Alabama). Not as many are picking the Buckeyes to beat the Crimson Tide, but if you polled media about which team will eventually break the SEC's streak, quite a few would pick Meyer and the Buckeyes. It would cement Meyer as one of the game's greatest coaches, especially in the modern era, as he would not only start the SEC's unprecedented run of dominance but end it, too.


Raul from Akron, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, big PSU fan here. What would Penn State be ranked as in the preseasons rankings if eligible?

Adam Rittenberg: Raul, I think Penn State would get some votes in the polls, but I don't think the Lions would be ranked. There are too many concerns about the quarterback position, the loss of an extremely talented senior class and the second year of dealing with major NCAA sanctions. Pollsters have a lot of respect for Bill O'Brien, and those who really study Penn State's roster see talented players like Allen Robinson, Deion Barnes, Adrian Amos and the group of tight ends led by Kyle Carter. But the Lions will be going with an unproven quarterback and lack the depth in the defensive front seven they had in 2012.


Gregg from Baltimore writes: Love the blog. Hazell has impressed me so much this offseason that he seems to be the perfect hire for Purdue. If he does have a lot of success in West Lafayette, could you see him taking a better job in three or four years? Also, predict the starting QB for first BIG game- Henry or Etling?

Adam Rittenberg: Gregg, I've covered this sport long enough to know that almost every coach could/would leave for a so-called better job. If a school like Ohio State came calling, Hazell would have a very tough time saying no because of his ties to the Buckeyes program. But let's see where things go in the next few years. I don't see Hazell hopping from job to job throughout his career if he's having success. Purdue has made a good initial commitment to him. The same must continue if he elevates the Boilers program. I really think Danny Etling will emerge as Purdue's starter before the end of the season. The future is now in West Lafayette, and Etling has really impressed the staff. Will Etling be Purdue's starter for the opener? That's tougher to say. I think Rob Henry gets the nod but Etling eventually overtakes him.