Friday, December 27, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
A few questions and answers before Big Ten bowl season kicks off!
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Jeff from San Diego writes: As I begin to think about potential future bowl situations, I'm not sure how I feel about the B1G taking over selection. Mainly, my fear is that the traditional "mid-tier" teams (namely my Hawkeyes) could suffer the most. It feels a tad more likely that a team like Iowa will drop a rung or two to "spread the wealth" to teams like Northwestern or Minnesota more often than a team like Ohio State drops a rung to make room for the Hawks. Using this year as an example, how do YOU think the B1G would place the bowls?
Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, remember that the Big Ten taking greater control of the bowl selections is designed to produce fresher matchups and avoid repeat sites or opponents. Those are good objectives and fans should celebrate that. Iowa fans might disagree, but I don't think bowl selections should be based primarily on how well a certain fan base travels, especially at the expense of good pairings.
If the Big Ten had control of the selections this year, I think after the Rose/Orange picks, it would go like this: Wisconsin to Capital One, Iowa to Outback, Nebraska to Buffalo Wild Wings, Minnesota to TaxSlayer.com Gator and Michigan to Texas. There's no way the Big Ten would want Nebraska facing the same bowl opponent it did a year ago, or Minnesota returning to the Texas Bowl.
Jay from Milwaukee writes: Do you think the BWW Bowl would have opted for Nebraska if they knew Gardner wouldn't be playing, or were they set on not having an "old Big 12" matchup?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Jay. It certainly could have impacted the selection process. I was told that Michigan's final regular season performance, especially compared to Nebraska's, played a role in the Wings Bowl choosing the Wolverines. It was more important than Nebraska's head-to-head win at Michigan Stadium. Gardner obviously played a huge role in Michigan's strong offensive showing against Ohio State, and his absence creates more uncertainty for the Wolverines offense. I heard there was more interest in Michigan-Texas than Nebraska-Texas, but once K-State fell to the Wings Bowl, Nebraska seemed to make more sense.
Bill from Marshall, Mich., writes: Michigan State football has generally been ranked from 25 to 40 in recruiting over the past several years. Yet they have been successful three of the past four years and are currently ranked number four in the polls. Is there something about the recruiting ratings that is incorrect?
Adam Rittenberg: Bill, recruiting evaluation is an inexact science, which bears out in rankings that can turn out to be off base. Recruiting rankings are based on what players show at the high school level. A lot of players mature after they get to college and work with coaches that can develop their full potential. Michigan State's staff has become one of the nation's best in identifying players who fit the system and then developing them while in East Lansing.
As Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason recently told me: "They might not have a lot of four- or five-[star] recruits in their program but they play like four- and five-star." That's a tribute to head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. I do think the Spartans' success will attract higher-level recruits, especially on the defensive side.
Travis from Austin/Minnesota writes: To what or whom do you attribute the turnaround in Iowa's program in the past year?
Adam Rittenberg: Strong grammar skills there, Travis. I think Iowa got back to what it does best, especially along both lines. Kirk Ferentz's best teams have been solid up front, and Iowa had gotten away from that a bit, especially on defense after losing a bunch of players to the NFL. The defensive line was Iowa's most improved unit this season, thanks to the emergence of players like Drew Ott and Carl Davis. Iowa also improved along the offensive line, anchored by tackle Brandon Scherff, and established a nice power run game with a group of backs who amazingly managed to stay healthy. The offense found its identity and Iowa's seniors stepped up, especially at linebacker, which is always key.
Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: With Bill O'Brien reportedly interviewing with the Texans, PSU fans are once again assessing a list of candidates, especially since BOB hasn't replaced any departing coaches yet. I think James Franklin should be a guy to take a run at. Who'd be on your list at PSU if there is an opening?
Adam Rittenberg: I've been more lukewarm on Franklin than many in the media, but I'm definitely warming up to him as a good fit at Penn State. The guy can flat-out recruit and has ties to the region. He would clean up in the fertile Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia area, especially if Larry Johnson remains on staff, and bolster the talent level in State College. Mike Munchak could be another intriguing name, but I think you start with Franklin, who seems eager to make a move after several good years at Vanderbilt.
Mike from Hiawatha, Iowa, writes: Adam: Every year we hear how the Big Ten underachieves in bowl season. In order to know if this is really true, can your top-notch researchers at ESPN go back 5 or 10 years and compare the Big Ten's record versus how many games they were actually favored to win? Is the conference underachieving or just perennially matched up against better teams due to their bowl contracts?
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, as I've written for years, a lot of it has to do with the matchups, which are annually tougher than any other leagues. The current bowl lineup, while ambitious, sets the Big Ten up for failure, especially with the league's track record of sending two teams to BCS games each year. The Big Ten basically plays road games and often has its lower-rated teams against higher-rated teams from the SEC and Big 12. The future lineup is much more navigable, especially with the Big Ten taking greater control of which teams go where. Ultimately, the league is underachieving to a degree in the postseason, but the lineup certainly doesn't help.