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Big Ten Friday mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Mailbag traffic was a bit light this week, aside from the standard why-do-you-hate-my-team stuff. I know it's the offseason, but if you have questions on recruiting, personnel, coaching changes or scheduling, please send them my way.

Thom from Lancaster, Pa., writes: The prestige rankings are something else ... in some cases, comical. Please run some questions past your ESPN stat guys as to how they came up with their point awards. Why is an NC worth 25 points (why not 20 points?, 30?, 50?) My bottom line question is what was the formula and who/what determined the amount of points to be awarded (ie, what is the logical relationship between +25 points and -2 points (why wasn't it -25 point). (And, how many points did PSU get for 1994 when PSU would have done the huskin')

Adam Rittenberg: I'll try to check into this, Thom, but for now, here's the explanation of the scoring system for the Prestige Rankings. I think a national championship should carry more weight than anything else, even though the system for determining titles is certainly questionable. I'm a little surprised teams weren't docked more points for NCAA violations, probation, etc. According to my calculations, Penn State would have received 60 points in 1994 (10 for berth in major bowl, 10 for major bowl win, 10 for best win/loss record in conference regular season, 10 for final AP top-5 finish, 3 for bowl appearance, 3 for bowl win, 2 for 10-win season, 4 for two weeks as AP's No. 1 team, 3 for first-round NFL draft pick and 5 for All-Americans).


Craig from Parts Unknown writes: do you know the dates of spring games for the big ten teams, especially IOWA?

Adam Rittenberg: Craig, I'm currently in the gathering process for spring football dates. I know some spring games already -- Michigan (April 11), Ohio State (April 25), Michigan State (April 25), Purdue (April 18) -- while others haven't been set in stone just yet. Iowa hasn't announced its spring game, but it likely will take place April 18 or April 25.


Dylan from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam, I was wondering when you were going to mention how Otis Wiley was robbed of the coveted (ok, well not really) Rudy Award. The other three "finalist" failed to even be mentioned as honorable mentions on their all conference team while Mr. Wiley was all Big Ten 1st Team after coming in as a walk-on. And who cares if he exhibited character, courage, contribution and commitment during his college career, the guy was amazing (when healthy).

Adam Rittenberg: Dylan, it's hard to say someone was "robbed" of the Rudy Award, which goes to a player who demonstrates extraordinary courage and character during their time in college football. TCU kicker Drew Combs, who was born with a left arm that ends below the elbow, certainly seems like a worthy recipient. Otis Wiley was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and a tremendous contributor this season. He would have been a deserving recipient as well, but I doubt he's too torn up about not getting this award.


Ryan from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I read your notes and mailbag on a regular basis and became frustrated with the lack of punctuation or spell checking in the last edition. So I had to try to fix the problem. Question: Almost any BCS team throughout the country has moved towards a weaker non-conference schedule over the past few years. But looking ahead at the Big Ten teams non-conference slate, there are almost zero big games on tap other than OSU/USC; and we all saw part one of that film. Only two other games feature a Big Ten vs. a team that finished ranked last season. Why are the Big Ten teams so lax in their non-conference scheduling when it has been justly ridiculed for pounding on directional Michigans, Syracuse and losing to tougher MAC teams for 3-4 years now?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, my apologies if you find errors in my nonmailbag posts, but for the mailbags, we post e-mails from readers verbatim, without edits. Moving on, the Big Ten certainly has taken some heat for nonconference scheduling. The reluctance to give up home games plays a big role in the scheduling philosophy. Notre Dame's recent struggles certainly don't help because the Irish face Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue every year. But it would be nice to see more Big Ten teams take risks in scheduling. I really like Minnesota's approach under Tim Brewster. The Gophers face Cal and Air Force next season and hope to finalize a contract with USC for 2010 and 2016. I also like the Iowa-Arizona series starting next year. Purdue visits Oregon and hosts Notre Dame, and Illinois plays Missouri, Fresno State and Cincinnati next fall. So I think it's getting a bit better, but there's still room for improvement.


Spencer from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I was just wondering, what do you think about 2009 Big Ten football? I've looked around and it looks like it could be pretty good. Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa all look like good conference champion contenders, and teams like Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota have a lot of players returning from decent seasons (Wisconsin with all 11 starters returning on both sides of the ball, I think). Also, Michigan has a history of improving significantly after they've had a sub par season.

Adam Rittenberg: Next fall certainly could be a rebound season for the Big Ten. Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa should be preseason top 20 teams, and though all three have question marks, all three could reach January bowl games again. Minnesota returns a ton of starters and should surge if players click with new coordinators Kevin Cosgrove, Ronnie Lee and Jedd Fisch. Both Northwestern and Michigan State return a lot on defense but must replace their offensive backfields. I'm not sure you're right about Wisconsin, which loses six starters on defense and four on offense. Maybe you're thinking of Minnesota. The Big Ten really needs Michigan to be respectable again and get back to a bowl game. If Illinois also rebounds, the league should be stronger.


Mark from Ontario writes: Hey Adam, glad to see that you make an effort to bring us college football news even in the off-season. I know that preseason polls are not to be taken seriously, but I can't understand why a majority of the polls do not put us in the top 25. I thank Brian Hoyer for his work, but a quarterback who throws 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions is not exactly a big loss even though he played well in the shrine bowl. Ringer is gone but I feel that having 2 feature backs improves our running game because he did wear out in the latter stages. I really feel that Michigan State will be better and a consecutive January bowl is very much achievable.

Adam Rittenberg: I'm a bit torn on Michigan State. The Spartans certainly will be stronger on defense next fall, provided they find a replacement for safety Otis Wiley. I agree that Hoyer wasn't a superstar, but he made clutch plays and seemed to be a solid leader. With Kirk Cousins or Keith Nichol, Michigan State could and should upgrade at the quarterback spot, but it will still be a first-year starter. The key will be the run game. Michigan State didn't develop anyone behind Javon Ringer last year, and though there are some talented reserves, the ground attack could struggle early on. I project Michigan State to rack up 7-10 wins. I'm sure I'll refine the prediction as we get closer to the season, but a repeat January bowl game certainly is possible for Mark Dantonio's team.