- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bob from Cary, N.C., writes: How do we measure the competitive strength of East vs. West over time? My hunch is that over the next five to 10 years Maryland/Rutgers will flourish and Iowa/Minnesota/Illinois will flounder. The West teams will be less visible in the media of NYC/DC and recruiting areas of Ohio/Pennsylvania. This very scenario was a factor in Nebraska's decision to leave the B12. Can the B1G avoid the obvious disparity between East and West over time?
Adam Rittenberg: Bob, ultimately you measure the divisions by which teams are winning league titles and which division has more strength at the top. The East Division appears to have an edge, but I don't know if Rutgers or Maryland will flourish simply because of its location. Both programs must invest a lot more into football to keep pace with programs that have more tradition and more resources. Big Ten revenues undoubtedly will help both newcomers, but it's not easy to compete with Ohio State, Michigan and others.
It's important for West Division teams to maintain a presence in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and to recruit well in the new areas. Remember that Illinois had a huge recruiting presence in Washington, D.C., when Mike Locksley was on staff. The Illini didn't need Maryland in the league or the Big Ten TV presence in the market to have success. Do West Division teams have some geographic challenges? Sure. But the right coaches and the right recruiting approaches -- combined with winning -- should keep the divisions balanced enough.
Kenny from Cincinnati writes: Vonn Bell is injured for the spring but as a safety, how important are those practices? I feel like by now they know his abilities. I think watching film and terminology work might actually be more beneficial for a young upstart with a new coach. But then again maybe I am looking for a positive in a suspect secondary.
Adam Rittenberg: Bell is still just a sophomore, Kenny, so he could have benefited from the practices, especially with a new safeties coach -- and co-defensive coordinator -- in Chris Ash. But Ohio State saw what Bell could do in a starting role in the Orange Bowl, where he had an interception and seven tackles. Bell could have locked up a starting safety spot with a strong spring, but he'll still have time to impress Ash in the summer. Ash told me last month that safety Tyvis Powell, along with cornerback Doran Grant, had really stood out in the offseason. I'd be surprised if Powell doesn't start at one safety spot. Bell must earn the other.
Rob from New York writes: I find that one of the underdiscussed factors in the Big Ten's recent, drastic decline has been the improvement of the MAC and, as it's related, the Big Ten's inability to pull in those athletes. There's really no reason why Khalil Mack should be playing for Buffalo instead of any of the Big Ten schools. Jordan Lynch should be playing for Illinois or Northwestern, but he went to NIU. Same story with Eric Fisher, why wasn't he at Michigan or Michigan State? I'd say part of this has to do with the fact that recruiting networks aren't the same in the North as they are in the South, but it's hard not to blame the Big Ten coaches as well.
Adam Rittenberg: Rob, I agree there are some excellent MAC players who could have helped Big Ten teams. Mack, Lynch and Fisher certainly are three of them. But is the MAC really an improved league? I say no. The MAC has declined since the early part of the 2000s, when you had Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green and Toledo surging, and Northern Illinois was starting to break through. Sure, the MAC records some upset wins every season, but Northern Illinois was outclassed in the Orange Bowl and no other league squad has reached a BCS bowl. Maybe Bowling Green will change things, but this league isn't the TCU-BYU-Utah Mountain West. I agree that the MAC has some great players overlooked by bigger schools in recruiting. But that always has been true, just as it is in the Sun Belt, Conference USA, etc. As a league, the MAC, much like the Big Ten, leaves something to be desired.
Anthony from Arlington, Va., writes: Great choice on the week 8 trip to College Park for the Iowa/Maryland game. I'm not sure if you're aware, but the Iowa alumni base in the DMV is huge. So huge, in fact, that I anticipate one-third of Byrd Stadium will be Hawkeye fans. I'll even make a bet. If it's less then drinks are on me postgame. If I'm right, you get to shake your rump to the victory polka!
Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, there are several Big Ten fan bases with a sizable presence in the area. Indiana and Penn State are two others. These existing Big Ten pockets contributed to the league's decision to pursue Maryland. OK, you really want to see me dance the polka? I'll tell you what. If my editors actually send me to Iowa-Maryland, you've got a deal. Just make sure there are no cameras around.
Jon from Chicago writes: Any word on if MSU and Oregon will have new uniforms from Nike for their game this fall? It'd be a great idea, right, especially since this will be one of the biggest games of the year.
Adam Rittenberg: Jon, nothing has been finalized yet, but I would fully expect Nike to make a splash for the game. Oregon has a vast array of uniform combinations, and Michigan State has unveiled a few new versions in recent seasons. Maybe instead of the green vs. green pairing, we'll get something like this from the Ducks and something equally wacky/non-traditional from MSU. As long as the recruits like it, right?
609dAdam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett