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Friday, August 9, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailbag

By Adam Rittenberg

Wishing you a great weekend. Remember, follow us on Twitter. And keep those emails coming.

Let's check out a few ...

Matt from Omaha writes: You guys are currently have a countdown of the per season top 25 players in the B1G. If you could do a top 25 of the most hyped players in the B1G that haven't taken the field, but expect to play well this year, who would you have on it?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Matt. Let's have some fun with this one. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg would have to be near the top. ESPN rated him as the No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and Penn State fans have waited a while to get a glimpse of Hackenberg, who looks like the team's signal caller of the future. Ohio State's Dontre Wilson also would be up there, as he brings explosiveness to a Buckeyes offense looking for players to fill the Percy Harvin position in Urban Meyer's offense. Michigan running back Derrick Green is another newcomer with plenty of hype behind his name. Veteran Fitzgerald Toussaint wants to be Michigan's bell cow in the backfield, and Green will miss a bit of time with a minor injury, but there's a decent chance the freshman gets a fair share of carries this season.

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, a junior-college arrival, certainly would be in the Top 10 as Husker fans hope he can spark a questionable line. Michigan State redshirt freshman Riley Bullough, who moved from linebacker to running back in the spring and drew good reviews, certainly is one to watch, although he also is reportedly banged up. Others who would make the list include Purdue QB Danny Etling, Indiana CB Rashard Fant, Penn State TE Adam Breneman, Illinois WR Martize Barr, Wisconsin WR Robert Wheelwright, Ohio State WR Jalin Marshall, Illinois LB Eric Finney, Indiana DT Darius Latham and Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike.



Derek from Minneapolis writes: Please help me settle an argument in my family. I argue that the Badgers' best offense ever was in 2011 when they had Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and still lost 3 games. My brother argues that it was the ground attack the year before with Clay, Ball and White all getting 900+ yards. My dad argues that the Ron Dayne years would be the hardest to stop. Which offense do you think is the best and why? We have several beers wagered on your response.

Adam Rittenberg: This is certainly a good problem/argument to have if you're a Wisconsin fan. All three are great options. My sense is to go with the 2011 offense because of the Wilson and Ball, quite possibly the most talented offensive backfield we've seen in the Big Ten in the past decade. If you actually look at Wilson's numbers that year, they'll blow you away, while Ball stats speak for themselves. The only reason I'm hesitant is that the 2010 offensive line was superior to the 2011 version. Wisconsin didn't completely dominate opponents as often in 2011 as it did in 2010, and needed Wilson to work his magic in the pocket quite a bit. The Dayne offenses were great, too, but more one-dimensional than the 2010 and 2011 teams. Ultimately, I have to go with the 2011 version, factoring in a healthy Peter Konz for the entire season. I still can't fathom how Wisconsin managed to lose three games with the backfield of Wilson and Ball.



Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base writes: Hey Adam, I was reading your article ranking Ameer Abdullah at No. 13 in the B1G, and read something that didn't make sense to me. You said that Nebraska doesn't have a lot of depth at RB, when I don't believe that's the case at all! Behind Abdullah, you have manbeast Imani Cross, and the 2 best freshman RBs out of Cali and Texas (Newby and Taylor) now on campus. RB is the least of my concerns going into the season! What was your reasoning behind that?

Adam Rittenberg: Let me ask you this question, Brian. How much better would you feel about the Huskers' depth if Braylon Heard and Aaron Green were still on the roster? Heard and Green are two talented backs, and both opted to transfer from Nebraska. Fans love freshmen because they followed them in recruiting and fell in love with them, but they're still freshmen, totally unproven at the college level. I'm not saying Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor won't be studs at Nebraska, but both have a lot to prove. Cross impressed me last year and might soon emerge as Nebraska's featured back. But to say the Huskers are deep at running back with Abdullah, Cross and two freshmen is inaccurate. The depth would be much better if Heard and Green were still on the roster.



James from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Less than three weeks until Thursday night kickoff. Who starts at QB for Indiana? Rank 'em 1 through 3.

Adam Rittenberg: Very tough question, James, as the race is still too close -- and still too early -- to call. All three players continue to compete, although Indiana will trim the candidate pool to two fairly soon. My sense all along has been if Tre Roberson can make up for lost time, he'll be the starter when Indiana opens the season because of his explosive speed to complement his passing. But Cameron Coffman brings a gunslinger mentality that the coaches like, and Nate Sudfeld continues to impress in practice. Sudfeld, who had a good spring, certainly can't be ruled out of the mix. Check back with me in 10 days or so for a better prediction. For now, I'll go with Roberson, but I reserve the right to change my mind.



Sam from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, it's gotta be nice to actually talk about things that are going on actually ON the field! At Northwestern, where do you see the greatest opportunity for a true freshman to step in and get some playing time?

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it is, Sam. The offseason is too long. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't like to play a lot of true freshmen, preferring to redshirt as many guys as he can. The Wildcats have some holes to fill in the interior of both lines, but I don't see a true freshman stepping in at those spots because of the physical demands. I'd keep an eye on freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike. Cornerback Nick VanHoose praised Igwebuike when we talked earlier this week, and while Northwestern has decent depth at safety, Igwebuike could work his way into the rotation. VanHoose also singled out freshmen corners Keith Watkins and Matthew Harris for their play. You typically see true freshmen see time at running back or receiver, but Northwestern has excellent depth at both positions.



Kevin from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hi Adam-As a Spartan fan I was used to many years of fast starts followed by the usual November swoon, especially during the John L days. I always contended that although most of those teams were mediocre, the schedule played a huge role it. Specifically, soft out of conference games followed by some weaker B1G competition pumped up the record and then a brutal stretch of games to end the season killed it. Looking at the current B1G schedules, this screams Nebraska. I can totally see a hot start (7-0, 6-1) only to be followed by a 1-4 ending. Will Bo suffer the same fate as John L if this happens?

Adam Rittenberg: It would have to be a total collapse, Kevin, and even then, I don't know if Nebraska would part ways with Bo Pelini, who has averaged 9.6 wins per year as the Huskers' head coach. Nebraska learned a hard lesson after dumping Frank Solich, as the program entered a downward spiral under Bill Callahan. Although Pelini's current boss, athletic director Shawn Eichorst, didn't hire him, I don't get the sense Eichorst wants to rock the boat too much right away. You bring up a good point about Nebraska's schedule being backloaded, and the Huskers will need to be at their best in November, but they also get three games at home (Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa), where they've lost only once since joining the Big Ten. I'd be stunned if 1-4 happens.



Derrick from New York writes: Who's your first draft pick in this years B1G Ten Fantasy Draft?

Adam Rittenberg: You'll have to wait a little longer for that, Derrick, as we'll do the draft closer to the season. But let me remind you, and Mr. Bennett, and the whole wide world that I'll be picking second overall. Why, you wonder? Because I throttled Bennett last year and intend to do the same this fall. The Gingers have no shot. They'll hear the sad Trombone [Shorty] again in late November.