Friday, September 6, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
As you read this, I'll be en route to Ann Arbor. Anything going on tomorrow night?
To the inbox ...
Alex from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Adam, there is some talk going around saying Michigan needs to replace the Notre Dame game with an annual series against another big-time opponent. Who do you think would be the most ideal candidate(s)? What about the most realistic? I like the idea of a Michigan/ACC matchup (VT, Florida State and Clemson all seem like they could be great rivalries). Living in ACC country there really hasn't been much overlap between the two conferences. I feel like we see the SEC/Pac-12/Big 12 a lot during the bowl season.
Adam Rittenberg: Alex, I'd rather see a variety of opponents for Michigan than just one on an annual basis. The Notre Dame series was unique because of the schools' histories, their proximity and other factors. Wouldn't you rather see Michigan play a home-and-home with Florida State, followed by one with Virginia Tech, and then one with Clemson? The Virginia Tech series is already set for 2020 and 2021. The upside of the Notre Dame hiatus is that Michigan can mix it up with its opponents. I'd like to see the Wolverines play some prominent Pac-12 schools in non-league play (Stanford, UCLA, USC).
Nick from Howard, Ohio, writes: Listening to sports radio locally an interesting question came up: of the out-of-conference games Ohio State has, which conference would fans like to see them play annually? I think this could include all B1G teams. Personally, I'd like to see Ohio State play an SEC team every year as one of the first games of the season, as well as all B1G teams. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: I'd love to see it, too, Nick, as the SEC will be the measuring stick for every other conference until someone dethrones it for a national title. Unfortunately, what we'd like to see in scheduling often doesn't match up with reality. Most SEC programs have shown no interest in venturing to Big Ten country for true home-and-homes (Alabama being the lone exception). They'll do neutral-site games, typically those closer to SEC country like at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but there's not much push to play the Big Ten.
The playoff will help with overall scheduling and we've already seen several good moves, including those with the SEC (Wisconsin opens against LSU in 2014 and 2016, and against Alabama in 2015). One drawback with Ohio State is that athletic director Gene Smith seems lukewarm at best about neutral-site games, which often are the best way to schedule high-profile SEC opponents. I could see the Buckeyes playing a neutral-site game every once in a while, but with the nine-game Big Ten scheduling coming, facing the SEC annually doesn't seem realistic.
Dan from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Thought I'd write in from over at the Big 12 blog today. Going through the Big 12's future bowl lineup, there are no games against Big 10 teams. Living in Big 10/12 country in Iowa, I look forward to those matchups. Is there some sort of rift between the two conferences that we're unaware of, or is this simply a matter of the Big 12 trying to increase its matchups with the SEC and the Big 10 with the Pac-12/ACC? Thanks.
Adam Rittenberg: It's a shame the Big Ten and Big 12 won't meet in the postseason beginning next year. I thought they would match up in the two Dallas-area bowls (Heart of Dallas, Armed Forces), but it sounds as if they'll actually share those tie-ins but go against other leagues (Conference USA, American). It's the only thing I don't like about the Big Ten's lineup, as I felt a push into California was long overdue and much needed. The problem with the recent Big Ten-Big 12 bowl pairings has been mismatched teams. It always seemed like a mediocre Big Ten team would face a Big 12 squad that entered the season with BCS bowl aspirations. The results have been pretty ugly for the Big Ten. If the two leagues could match up in a higher-tier bowl like the Alamo, it would be great, but the Pac-12 has replaced the Big Ten there. Just an unfortunate situation, but there's no bad blood I'm aware of between the leagues. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is a Big Ten guy (former Iowa athletic director).
Misplaced Gopher from Fargo, N.D., writes: Adam, I need you to explain something to me. Why are so many writers and TV talking heads willing to project improvement for Indiana but not for Minnesota? Why the reluctance to credit the Gophers for improvements in personnel, execution and wins? All summer we've heard encouraging words about Indiana, but Minnesota's future has been downplayed. Now I'm looking at your Week 2 picks (both yours and Brian's) and you're both making their game against NMSU a close affair. Why is it so easy for you to see Indiana getting better, but so hard to perceive any improvement on Minnesota's part? Case in point: Indiana gets gushing praise from all quarters for blowing out a bad FCS team last week, but Minnesota gets criticism or faint praise for a four-touchdown win against a team that took them to triple OT last year. Personally, I think it's a lack of imagination. Not in the dreamy la-la-land sense, but in terms of vision. You commentators have a lot to keep track of, and your job is easier if you can generalize. So you embrace a herd mentality, rarely expressing an opinion different from the consensus, assuming (for the sake of ease) that bad teams have to stay bad, and considering it a surprise if any down program ever improves.What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: A Minnesota-Indiana hype debate?!?! Bring it on! Seriously, Gopher, I'm surprised you're getting upset by this. Is Indiana really getting that much more praise than Minnesota? Maybe a little, but look where Indiana is coming from (1-11 in 2011), while Minnesota has stabilized under coach Jerry Kill following the Tim Brewster mess. Both programs are viewed as being on the rise, at least by the Big Ten blog. But the truth is neither team deserves a ton of praise for beating lowly UNLV and Indiana State.
The Minnesota score was misleading, as the Gophers sputtered on offense for much of the night and couldn't stop UNLV on fourth downs. Credit Minnesota for making big plays, especially on special teams, and Ra'Shede Hageman looks ready for a huge senior season. But you're deluding yourself if you think there isn't a lot of room for improvement. Indiana looked great on offense, but it should against Indiana State. And the Hoosiers' historically poor defense still allowed some garbage-time points. Do our Minnesota-NM State predictions really bother you? They shouldn't. Neither of these teams deserves any real praise until they go out and beat somebody. For Minnesota, the big game comes on Sept. 21 against San Jose State and standout quarterback David Fales. We'll learn a lot more about the Gophers' trajectory after that contest.
Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Ohio State only ran 69 plays Saturday against Buffalo. Is this the "Jet Tempo" pace Meyer has been talking about? When Oregon is running 84 plays a game, 69 is pretty slow if you ask me.
Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State is not Oregon, Paul. The Buckeyes aren't trying to be the Ducks on offense. Urban Meyer has said that the 2012 season was the first time he really used a hurry-up tempo with his offense, and even then, it's not at the core of what they do. Sure, it'll help from time to time, but Ohio State's version of the spread -- based around the power-running game and vertical passes -- differs sharply from Oregon's sped-up version.
Chris from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: My question is in relation to the QB situation at MSU, obviously a popular topic. How many QBs do you project will play on Saturday and which ones? I have been a loyal Spartan fan for about 14 years, and I have never seen MSU struggle so much finding the right QB. Also, considering all of the MSU QBs that went on to play in the NFL, this problem is hard to fathom.
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you're certainly not alone in your frustration with the situation under center in East Lansing. I expect Michigan State to play three quarterbacks against South Florida: Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor. There's a chance the Spartans play only one or two if the starter or backup gets hot, but I think the coaches need to evaluate all three in game situations before the Week 4 trip to Notre Dame Stadium. Maxwell has been unable to take charge of the job, and Cook didn't do much to help his cause last week against Western Michigan. I expect O'Connor to get an extended look against South Florida. It's probably not Damion Terry time just yet, as coach Mark Dantonio seems concerned about hurting the confidence of such a young player. "He just got here," Dantonio said this week. "So you don't want to ruin a person."
Rich from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, help me out with this no-helmet rule. Last week, OSU's Curtis Grant was flagged for continuing to play after his helmet popped off. Is he supposed to just freeze and risk taking a hit that could lead to a serious injury (especially with no helmet on)? I can understand him sitting out on the next play, but a 15-yard penalty?
Adam Rittenberg: The rule states that if a player's helmet pops off, he cannot attempt to make a tackle, continue a block or keep running a pass route. So yes, he has to just freeze because he could risk a serious head injury. The thinking is that the injury risk for a player who freezes isn't as great as the one for a player attempting to make a tackle without a helmet. That, to me, makes sense. The rules are a little weird because the play is whistled dead only if the ball-carrier's helmet flies off, so the rule applying to Grant hurts the defense because he's effectively taken out of the play.
Aaron from Minneapolis writes: So I realize that it is just one week, but did this weekend show that maybe the ban on FCS opponents was a bit off the mark? Sure, most FCS programs are still not up to facing Big Ten competition, but the last few seasons have shown that the top-tier FCS football teams have closed the gap on their FBS counterparts considerably, and teams like North Dakota State and Eastern Washington could probably consider themselves better than a number of non-BCS conferences teams that the Big Ten will continue to schedule. I realize that money and TV ratings play into all this, but I guarantee that an NDSU game against Iowa or Minnesota would garner more attention locally than one against New Mexico State or Ball State.
Adam Rittenberg: Aaron, I wrote about the FCS success in Week 1, and I completely agree that some of the power programs at that level are superior to the bottom rung of the FBS. The tricky thing is how to regulate the scheduling. Do you identify a set of FCS teams (North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Northern Iowa) that are OK to schedule? Those teams can change from year to year, and teams projected to do well can falter and create unappealing matchups. I think the Big Ten views it as an all-or-nothing deal. The league understands Minnesota-North Dakota State resonates more than Minnesota-New Mexico State, but if it eliminates the really lousy FCS teams from the Big Ten schedule, it's a win in the long run.