Big Ten: Mailbag 113012

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 30, 2012
Coming at you a bit early today as we gear up for championship weekend in Indy ...

Scott from Forney, Texas, writes: Nice words, Adam, about Nebraska's Rex Burkhead. My question, that I have not seen an adequate response for, is why did Nebraska not consider/seek a medical redshirt additional season for Rex Burkhead after he was hurt in the season's very first game? Am I missing some NCAA rule in Rex's case? I told my 15 year-old son as soon as it occurred in that first game, if they don't do it, Rex will likely face a nagging bad knee for much of the season. NU trainers/docs obviously have much more info than I do. But, it appears to be a mostly wasted senior season for Rex after two attempted comebacks that ended during those two games with Rex limping badly off the field. Rex is a special Nebraska running back who only comes along once in a generation.

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, in order to apply for and receive a medical redshirt, you need evidence to show the injury is severe enough to cost a player the season. An MCL sprain in Week 1 isn't sufficient enough, and, as we saw, Rex returned to the lineup a few weeks later. Teams can't hold a player out when he could be cleared to play and then seek a medical redshirt. That doesn't fly. If it had been a completely torn ligament that required surgery, it would be different. So Nebraska had to play Burkhead after he was ready to return. Could the school have sought a redshirt after Burkhead first aggravated the knee against Ohio State? That's possible, but then you're dealing with questions about number of games played. It's definitely an unfortunate situation for such a great player, and I wish we could have seen Rex all season. But I don't think Nebraska had many options given the nature of his injury.

Bryan from Eden Prairie, Minn., writes: With the story that the Big Ten championship game ticket market is extremely cold, do you think there's a possibility that a change could occur and the conference goes the Pac-12 route of having the team with the better record host the championship game? Or is this just currently a bottom period & things will look brighter once the times that Ohio State goes to Indy against a Michigan/Nebraska, creating a little bigger buzz?

Adan Rittenberg: Bryan, it's something for the Big Ten to consider, but the league has made a commitment to Indianapolis through the 2015 game, and I expect the next three games (at least) to be played there. Commissioner Jim Delany and his staff love how Indianapolis puts on big sporting events. The game will generate more buzz when it has an impact on the national title race, when it features two ranked teams and even when it features two division champions. This year's game has none of those qualities. The first time Ohio State or Michigan plays in the game, the crowd should be pretty big. The same goes for Penn State, Iowa or other teams with large fan bases that like to travel. Although I'm a little surprised the Nebraska turnout won't be better, I'm not surprised by the smaller contingent for Wisconsin. Bottom line: the game needs to mean more to draw bigger crowds, but the Big Ten shouldn't dismiss campus sites in the future.

Jon from San Jose, Calif., writes: The Big Ten said it may open up an East Coast office. But Adam, would you open up an office for 2-3 schools out of 14? Would it make more sense for 4-5 schools out of 16 (meaning some more ACC are in play)?

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, good question. The Big Ten technically sees Penn State as an East Coast school now, as it attempted to build a "bridge" from Penn State to the coast with the Maryland/Rutgers additions. But I agree that you don't open up a second league office unless you really want a presence in that part of the country. From talking to several folks, my sense is the Big Ten's primary expansion targets if it chooses to go to 16 are in the ACC -- North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech, maybe Duke. The interesting thing will be if the ACC makes itself attractive enough to retain those schools after Wednesday's addition of Louisville.

Cardiac Kev from Chicago writes: Little has been talked about the overall youth of 9-3 Northwestern. The 'Cats are ranked in all polls right now. If they win and get the monkey off their back in their bowl game, do you expect Northwestern to be ranked in the preseason next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely, Kevin, and most likely in the top 20. Northwestern would have a 10-3 record, a bowl win against a very good SEC team and, as you mention, almost all of its key players returning for 2013. I even think the voters who actually study Northwestern's roster going into 2013, regardless of the bowl outcome, might consider ranking the Wildcats. This was seen as a rebuilding year, and coach Pat Fitzgerald instead had his best team in his tenure. With most of that team coming back -- Kain Colter, Venric Mark, Ibraheim Campbell, Nick VanHoose, Chi Chi Ariguzo, the list goes on -- Northwestern has a chance to be very good next fall.

Alex G. from Ames, Iowa, writes: Reading your article on Greg Davis, I want to know your personal opinion on the matter. After all, this is the worst scoring offense under Ferentz since Jake Christensen led(?) the offense to just 18.5 ppg. Not to mention, there have only been 22 worse seasons than 2012 in the 123 years of football played at Iowa, and it's hard to blame the 34h best defense in the nation for that. Additionally, Iowa was only 1 of 4 teams in the nation (other 3 went a combined 9-38 this season) to be ranked 100th or worse in BOTH passing and rushing this year. To me, there is no excuse for any of that. This team had enough talent to be respectable, and coaching failed. Where do you stand?

Adam Rittenberg: Alex, if it were me, I never would have hired Davis in the first place. But Ferentz, like it or not, is only going to hire certain types of offensive coordinators. Guys like Kliff Kingsbury or Chad Morris aren't going to be walking through the door in Iowa City as long as Ferentz has the big office. They just don't fit Ferentz, even though they do fit what college football has evolved into the past 5-10 years. The bottom line is I understood why Ferentz hired Davis, and as bad as this year was, it's not surprising to see Ferentz keep him for another year. It's hard to transition from doing things one way under Ken O'Keefe for years and then work under a new coordinator. I do think if Ferentz was under any real pressure, he might make a change, but he isn't. Davis' system should click better in 2013, but the play-calling also must improve. It left a lot to be desired this fall.

Bart from Columbus writes: Way to write an entire article about the subject without mentioning the fact that it's been 33 years since OSU won CotY (Coach of the Year). What else could you have talked about in your post, Adam? Maybe you could have told us when exactly the award stopped being about coaching and started being about rewarding plucky underdogs. Maybe you could have discussed all the things that should have disqualified certain coaches from winning the award such as not having your team ready to play until week 3 or losing to a mac school. Instead we get a fluff piece that does nothing but make excuses for the Big Ten coaches celebrating mediocrity. Any chance this is the reason our conference can't compete nationally... because we reward teams for going 8-4 instead of winning?

Adam Rittenberg: Reading is a skill, Bart. What part about this sentence -- "Buckeye fans were hopeful Meyer would be the first Ohio State boss to win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors since Meyer's mentor Earle Bruce got it in 1979" -- don't you understand? That's 33 years, just spelled out in a different way. And the post illustrates much of what you say, that the award is mainly about rewarding coaches who turn around programs. For a lot of people, that's the definition of coaching. If you bothered to read our Big Ten Coach of the Year endorsement, you'd know I endorsed Urban Meyer over Bill O'Brien. Wednesday's post merely explains why the award would go to O'Brien over Meyer. It doesn't justify it. And it's also a stretch to say this type of award voting has any bearing on how the league performs on the field.

Joe C. from South Bend, Ind., writes: What future do you see for Zach Zwinak? Since he took over the starting job, he continued to one up himself, finishing with 1000 yards over 9 games. He has some issues with fumbling, but he was only a sophomore. Would you put him in your preseason top 25 countdown next year?

Steve from Milwaukee writes: Just an idea -- in the downtime in the coming weeks before the bowls, you guys should do a quick evaluation of your preseason top 25 -- maybe 5 a day for a week. Not a re-rank (I know that's coming for postseason), but simply some quick comments on each player and how they fell short/met/exceeded expectations based on your predictions.

Adam Rittenberg: To answer Steve first, we'll definitely look back at the preseason top 25 player rankings and see how guys did. And we'll also do a postseason top 25 ranking after all the bowls are complete. Should be fun to see who met expectations, who exceeded expectations and who underperformed. Joe, I really liked what I saw from Zwinak during Big Ten play. He's a no-nonsense, hard-nosed runner who seemed to fit in well with Bill O'Brien's offense. He took advantage of Bill Belton's injury/inconsistency and established himself as Penn State's top back. Will he be in the preseason top 25 for 2013? Hard to say. Depends on who comes back, as the Big Ten will have quite a few good running backs in 2013 (Venric Mark, Ameer Abdullah, Carlos Hyde, James White, maybe Le'Veon Bell). But Zwinak certainly deserves some consideration.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

November, 29, 2012
Happy Thursday, everybody? Who's coming to Indy? I've got a big dinner at St. Elmo's to pay for tomorrow night. At least I'll eat well, too.

J.P. from Washington DC writes: Is it possible that Ohio State actually BENEFITED from their postseason ban this year? You absolutely have to give them credit for being 12-0. Still, isn't it a bit too convenient that they can claim an undefeated season and everything that goes along with that (AP title?) without having to play in the B1G Championship game or face an elite opponent in a BCS game?

Brian Bennett: You know, I had that thought a few weeks ago, as the Buckeyes kept winning but did not look, in my eyes, like one of the best teams in the country. I thought they'd have a tough time handling a team like Alabama in the BCS title game. But then Ohio State's defense kept improving, to the point where, as Urban Meyer noted in his post-Michigan press conference, the Buckeyes could play with just about anybody. Add in the fact that an undefeated Ohio State team would most likely be playing Notre Dame for the BCS title. While the Irish would probably be favored in that game, they're a defensive-minded team that doesn't blow a lot of opponents out. Ohio State, especially if given a month to prepare, would definitely have a shot. That's assuming, of course, that the Buckeyes would get past Nebraska again in the Big Ten title game, but they did win the first one by 25 points.

Michael from St. Louis writes: I'd like to compare the stats of Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller. Martinez had 6 more total yards. Martinez had one more total TD. Combining rushing and passing, Martinez averaged 0.24 more yards per attempt. On paper, it seems like a wash, maybe slightly favoring Martinez. Yet Braxton Miller, with the exception of a handful of coaches, is a consensus first-teamer and Heisman hopeful, while Martinez merely "had a good season". Why is this? Is Martinez's offensive support significantly better? Does Miller possess superior "intangibles"? Is it that Martinez got destroyed in their head-to-head? Or does it ultimately boil down to team records?

Brian Bennett: Martinez didn't have a "good" season. He had an outstanding season. There's no debating that. Miller, though, was simply spectacular at times this year, and made his biggest plays in the clutch. His 12-0 record is the ultimate stat. Martinez developed into a clutch quarterback as well in the second half of the season, but he also had some failures in the UCLA and Ohio State losses, and was pretty loose with the ball at times. It's a closer call than I would have expected, especially with the way Martinez finished the season and how Miller slowed down a bit after his injury against Purdue. Part of it is the early season narratives in college football are sometimes tough to change. But I'd still give a slight nod to Miller.

Brady M. from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Hey Brian, Does the fact that Bo Pelini expected to face Wisconsin in the B1G Championship game give the Huskers any advantage in terms of preparation? I mean, do you think Pelini had a rematch with the Badgers in the back of his mind?

Brian Bennett: As I wrote yesterday, Brady, Pelini knew early on that his team would probably face Wisconsin if it won the Legends title. That didn't take any great deduction, however, as the Badgers were always pretty heavy favorites to come out of the Leaders because of the probation at Ohio State and Penn State. I doubt that was much of an advantage. Pelini still had to concentrate on making sure his team won every week, and I don't think he could have afforded to waste any resources on doing any advance scouting on Wisconsin. If anybody had an advantage, it would have been Bret Bielema and his staff, who wrapped up their trip to Indianapolis with two weeks left and knew Nebraska was in the driver's seat. Again, though, Wisconsin went all out to try to win its last two games, and probably wasn't spending much time thinking about the Huskers.

Matt from Omaha writes: Wouldn't it be smarter for the B1G to adopt the Pac12 way of playing the CCG in a home stadium? Ticket sales in Indy are very low again, and if you can't get Husker fans to a CCG, something is wrong. What's wrong? Not many people can afford to travel to Indy, and then all the way to Cali a month later. I am sure it would be a lot different if the winning team weren't guaranteed to be traveling more than 1,450 miles (over 2,700 if you're a Penn St fan) for the BCS game.

Brian Bennett: That's a good point, Matt, and I think it's something every league but the SEC will have to think seriously about. (That league has ravenous fans, and Atlanta is a pretty easy trip for most schools). It really comes down to what's on the line in the game. When there's a potential national championship bid at stake, there will be a whole lot more interest. This year, it's understandable why the game is under the radar and why ticket sales are low. If 12-0 Ohio State were in this game with a chance to play for a national title, you'd be hard-pressed to find a ticket.

Even with no BCS title bid in play last year, Lucas Oil Stadium filled up pretty well. But there was a curiosity factor for the first-ever Big Ten title game, and Wisconsin and Michigan State had played an instant classic earlier in the season that piqued interest in a rematch. The upcoming four-team playoff likely will mean that this game has serious title implications more often than not. But your point about fan travel is a good one; while Indy is not a bad trip for teams like Ohio State and Michigan, it requires much more inconvenience for the far eastern and western schools. On the flip side, having a neutral site known in advance allows the Big Ten to plan out events around the game and all the infrastructure it requires. Simply playing it at a home site would make that process much more difficult, and the game wouldn't have the same type of atmosphere. There would also be questions about ticket distribution for the road team, which might face just as many travel obstacles, if not more, than Indianapolis would present. (There aren't exactly a ton of hotel rooms in Lincoln, Iowa City and State College, for example).

I think the Big Ten should stay at a neutral site for now, especially with the comfort that an indoors game at Lucas Oil provides to fans. But it's something the league should monitor if it becomes a sparsely attended event.

Matt from Mount Pleasant, Mich., writes: With the addition on Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, the 2014 conference schedules will have to re-done. Will the Big Ten attempt to keep the difficulty with cross-divisional games the same for the 2014 season as already planned, or will teams have to continue playing a more difficult schedule then other teams (Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin are expected to have easier schedules the next two years. Where Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern are expected to have harder schedules the next two years)?

Brian Bennett: That's a great question, and the only answer I can give you is: no one knows. First, the divisions will have to be aligned to accommodate the two new teams, which could totally change the schedule. The league will also at least consider a nine-game conference schedule. I would hope that consideration will be given to competitive balance, but we could be looking at a total reset button for 2014. These questions won't be answered until next year when the league athletic directors start to make these decisions.

Joshua from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Thinking how Ohio State went 12-0, and Michigan had a down year, do you think you could bring back the best case/worst case articles you wrote before the season, and review which one came true? I feel like Ohio State's season was more of the "best case scenario."

Brian Bennett: Sure thing. Here is Ohio State's best case/worst case scenario, in which I said the Buckeyes would go 12-0 (along with some other silly things). I did pick Ohio State to beat Nebraska by 21 in that one, which wasn't far off. Michigan didn't really hit either of its best case/worst case outlooks, in which I had the Wolverines going either 12-1 or 6-6. Although this line was fairly prescient in the worst-case: "Notre Dame extends the pain as the Irish finally manage to slow down Robinson and hold onto a lead in this rivalry. Robinson falls back on his poor passing mechanics, and all those jump balls that magically paid off last season turn into turnovers in 2012."

Megan from Chicago writes: Is there anything that can be done to clean up the coaches' All-Big Ten vote, because there seems to be some sort of grudge being held against certain schools (Ohio State) and coaches (Urban Meyer)? Does the Big Ten office give a damn about the voting?

Brian Bennett: It's hard to say there's an actual bias against Ohio State, since Miller was named offensive player of the year and quarterback of the year, while John Simon won defensive lineman and defensive player of the year honors. If coaches were truly biased against Ohio State, they could have easily chosen Martinez and Michael Mauti for the major player awards. The coaches' All-Big Ten voting is usually better than it was this year, when there were some really odd choices. If only we could throw the red challenge flag.

Jim W. from Naperville, Ill., writes: You didn't mention the most curious of all Big Ten first-team selections. How does an offensive line, blocking in front of a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate running back, get its offensive line coach fired, lose every important game, have the team finish well below expectations (and unranked), rank only 4th in the B10 in yards per carry, give up the 3rd most sacks in the B10, and still put 2 lineman on the 1st B10 team for the writers (and 1 for the coaches). The media must be voting on historical reputations and not on actual performance. Pat Fitzgerald must be doing it with smoke and mirrors. Northwestern only put the kicker on the 1st team, and still had the 3rd best overall record in the Big Ten.

Brian Bennett: As I mentioned in my post, it was a mystery to me how Wisconsin could get four players on the first-team offense with a team that struggled to score against the best opponents on its schedule (16.4 ppg in the Badgers' five losses, all of which came against the best teams on the schedule). I did not think Ricky Wagner or Jacob Pedersen played at a first-team level all season. Some of it, I think, was just reputation. That's my only explanation. Northwestern went 9-3 yet had only two position players on either of the two teams chosen by the media and coaches (Venric Mark, second team by both, and guard Brian Mulroe, second team by media). That seemed like a major oversight to me.

John A. from Ohio writes: I keep hearing the media trying to make a big deal out of the reception Jim Tressel received at the OSU-Michigan game the other day. They are wondering how Ohio State fans could cheer for someone who caused such a mess over the last couple years. I think the issue goes back to the 1990s. Buckeye fans had suffered through watching extremely talented teams miss out on national title chances because of late season losses to Michigan (multiple times) and Michigan State, and John Cooper's awful career record vs Michigan. Now imagine you could ask a Buckeye fan at the end of the Cooper era, would you want a coach to come in, dominate Michigan, win Big Ten titles most years, win multiple BCS games and a National Title, with the catch being it will end very badly with his forced resignation (oh by the way you will get an even better coach in the end). I think that Buckeye fan without hesitating would say yes every time. That is why Tressel received the ovation he did at Ohio Stadium the other day. Yes things ended badly, but Tressel did so much for the program that fans are ready to forgive and move on to possibly even bigger and better things.

Brian Bennett: Hey, I get why Ohio State fans view the entire Tressel era as overwhelmingly positive. I just thought it was tone deaf to cheer him so loudly on the same exact day the current team was finishing 12-0 but couldn't play for a championship because of the very man who was being lifted up on former players' shoulders. That was beyond surreal. I think in some ways Tressel has also benefited from the job Urban Meyer did. It's a whole lot easier to forgive a former coach's transgressions if the program is still in great shape and is winning big. Had Tressel's actions brought more damage to the program -- say, a second consecutive 6-6 type season -- then I believe fans would have been less willing to cheer him and would have blamed him for the team's decline.

Travis K. from Omaha writes: Still waiting on a apology from you and Adam for the lack of response to multiple emails telling you MSU was over rated.... still waiting...

Brian Bennett: We've said multiple times how wrong we were on Michigan State in the preseason. If we issued apologies for every bad prediction we made, we wouldn't have time to do anything else.



Saturday, 10/25