Friday, August 23, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
Last weekend of the offseason. Enjoy it and then gear up for some football.
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Some Guy from Michigan writes: Adam, I'm not sure I understand all the hype around Michigan. They have to replace a lot of their offensive line and there isn't a whole lot of depth with the receivers. Their defense returns a lot, but Ryan is also a huge loss. Looking at their schedule, there are potential losses at Penn State, MSU, Northwestern, Iowa, and home to ND and OSU. I don't see Michigan beating MSU, OSU or ND, and could definitely lose to Northwestern. Last year was definitely an off year for the Hawkeyes, but don't underestimate them. And Penn State probably won't be a cake walk, either. That being said, I think 10 wins is a lot for a team rebuilding the entire middle of its offensive line, even with arguably the best tackle tandem in the nation.
Adam Rittenberg: You make some good points, Guy, and Michigan by no means is a shoo-in to win 10 games. The schedule isn't overly taxing, but Michigan isn't simply going to roll over teams like Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern. There are some legitimate questions entering the season, mainly the interior of both lines and wide receiver. Although Devin Gardner has given us every reason to think he'll have a big season, he could endure some speed bumps, especially against a great defense like Notre Dame's. Gardner also is the most indispensable player in the league, in my view. If he gets hurt, you can forget about Michigan winning the Legends. As for Ryan, he's recovering extremely well from his injury and should be back for the Big Ten season. How he responds from a major knee injury remains to be seen, but his absence shouldn't be a huge factor. I think Michigan makes strides this year, but I also could see the roster as being a year away from a true breakthrough.
Philosopher Joe from Spartan Nation writes: Adam, in your over/under for MSU, you predict my Spartans will upset ND and still have three losses to finish out the season 9-3. If we win in South Bend, where do the other three losses come? I suspect we will have trouble with Nebraska on the road, but you really don't think we can beat U-M or Northwestern when both of those were two of the "bad luck" close losses from last year that you are predicting will swing our way this season? What gives? Are we going to win the close ones or not, and if we are going to win a few of them, how do we lose three games, anyway?
Adam Rittenberg: I don't buy the bad luck/close-loss deal with a team like Michigan State. Remember that the Spartans also won some close games like Wisconsin, which had momentum before losing starting quarterback Joel Stave to a broken collarbone. If Stave stays healthy, I think Wisconsin wins that game. The point is it goes both ways. I once again expect a lot of close games for a Michigan State squad with some huge question marks on offense. Remember, you're removing a pro running back and a pro tight end from a pretty bad unit to begin with. You have to evaluate the opposing teams, too. Michigan and Northwestern both look like better teams than they were in 2012. Could Michigan State go 2-1 or even 3-0 against the class of the division? Sure. But I see the Spartans struggling a bit down the stretch.
Craig from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: You've written several times that the national championship is all that determines national perception. I'm continually boggled by this. Why is that? Is the media driving it or more the fans driving the media? There is no intelligent basis for that idea (especially since only one league could be "respected" using that criteria), so what causes it?
Adam Rittenberg: It's a good question, Craig, but the idea of championships driving perception really applies to most sports, pro or college. What made college football unique for years was that the national championship was largely subjective and could be awarded to multiple teams based on polls, media outlets, etc. In many ways, the championship wasn't the focal point. The bowl system as a whole carried greater weight, and there was less conference vs. conference debate. There could be more than one celebrated team or conference at the end of the season. That changed with the BCS, which gave us a national championship game, despite the controversial method for determining the matchup. It narrowed the focus, just as the College Football Playoff will.
How did we get here? I'm sure it's a combination of media and fans, but it's really not unlike other sports. I've found that more fans these days want clarity in their sports. While I'm sure some college football fans long for the old days when the national championship was blurry and the bowl games mattered more, but my sense from covering the sport is the majority would rather focus on a playoff/championship game.
Steve from Seattle writes: Hi, Adam. I was watching a movie and I saw a guy that looked exactly like you. He was a doctor. So what I want to know is: Are you hiding your talents from us -- your blog fans? Or do you just have a twin out there? To my real question. I know you went to Madison and watched the Badgers for the second scrimmage. I know everyone is saying that the weakness of the defense is the secondary, but by the articles that I've been reading it seems like the secondary is in better shape. Maybe it doesn't have the same amount of experience, like last year, but it seems like they should be fine for the year.
Adam Rittenberg: No twin that I know of, although I often get called Alan. The guy who just painted my new condo calls me Mr. Alan. Anyway, I'm guessing you saw the man my wife wished she had married. And I'm stunned that a nerdy-looking guy was playing a doctor. Just stunned. On to Wisconsin (pun intended), the secondary didn't look too bad and Darius Hillary made several nice plays, both in the morning practice and in the afternoon scrimmage. But keep in mind that Wisconsin's secondary is facing one of the weakest wide receiver corps in a major conference. Jared Abbrederis is awesome, but there's a sizable dropoff after No. 4. You have to wonder how much the new-look secondary is really being tested. I'm a little worried about how they'll fare against a really good group of receivers, such as Arizona State's in Week 3. Wisconsin will try to mask the secondary with more blitzing, but teams that can protect and pass the ball effectively will score against this defense.
Curtis from Nebraska writes: It's that time of your when all I have to do is drink Husker Kool-Aid and dream. I think this year could be special if the Husker D can find some consistency and eliminate the major breakdowns and the offense can pick up where they left off. Do you think there is any reason to believe that the defense will be improved?
Adam Rittenberg: The biggest reason to believe is the Huskers secondary, which could be one of the Big Ten's best. It boasts good depth and talent and both the corner and safety positions. Nebraska can go three deep at most spots and boasts an All-Big Ten candidate in corner/nickelback Ciante Evans. The hope among Bo Pelini and his staff is that even though the front seven lacks experience, there could be more talent and more overall depth than Nebraska had in 2012, where it was moving Cam Meredith to defensive tackle because no one else could play there. Junior college transfer Randy Gregory could be an impact player at defensive end, and Avery Moss is another exciting young prospect. Nebraska clearly needs a big season out of middle linebacker David Santos.
Adnan from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Do you expect the B1G to schedule games on a semi-regular basis at FedEx Field and MetLife Stadium for Maryland and Rutgers, respectively, when Michigan, OSU and PSU visit?
Adam Rittenberg: Always good to hear from my hometown, Adnan. The Big Ten doesn't schedule games for its schools but can assist with guidance, reaching out to venues, etc. Ultimately, Rutgers and Maryland must make those decisions. There are pros and cons to playing Michigan/Ohio State/Penn State at NFL venues. You get more exposure and attendance, but you lose the true home-field advantage that on-campus venues provide. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Rutgers play a marquee opponent at MetLife Stadium. Maryland might be less likely to move games off campus, but it's certainly something to explore.
Chris from Louisville writes: Adam, are you doing the Big Ten Podcast this year? Really enjoyed it last year and hope it is continued this year. Can you please let me know?
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, unfortunately, the weekly Big Ten podcast won't continue this season. More of a production issue than anything else. We hope to restart it again in the future. The good news is that Brian and I will have similar elements on the blog -- you'll find out soon -- and we'll appear more regularly on the ESPNU podcasts with colleague Ivan Maisel.