Big Ten: Rashidi Wheeler

Big Ten mailblog

October, 18, 2011
Mail time. Send your questions here.

Chris from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, we saw Ohio State's success this past weekend running the ball vs. Illinois and completing 1/4 passes. Should Penn State adopt this strategy in two weeks when the Illini come to town?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I think Penn State has to be a bit more balanced. Ohio State's offensive line is pretty darn good with Mike Adams back at left tackle, so the Buckeyes can control the line of scrimmage a bit better than the Nittany Lions can. The Buckeyes also have a more mobile quarterback in Braxton Miller. Both teams have multiple options at running back, although Ohio State has a bit more depth. Penn State, meanwhile, has by far the best receiver between the two teams in Derek Moye, who should be back for the Illinois game, although he might be limited. The Lions shouldn't let Moye go to waste. Bottom line: I don't think a game plan that includes only four passes will work for Penn State, as Illinois has some playmakers on defense and should perform better on offense than it did against Ohio State.

Brendan from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Adam:Parity exists across the college football landscape. The Big 10's biggest issue is marketing. Just 2 bowl seasaons ago the Big 10 went 4-3 beating Oregon in Rose Bowl, Ga Tech in the Orange Bowl, LSU in the Capitol One, and Miami in the Champs Sports. The Big 10 team was the underdog in each game. Yet the media focused on the field conditions between Penn State and LSU, the return of LaGarrette Blount as a distraction for Oregon, etc.Yet when they peform poorly, as they did last year, it's only due to one reason according to the media - a weak conference. The Big 10 needs to get out in front of this and proactively schedule SEC teams. Good luck in getting them to come north though. (see Florida) Beating SEC teams in non-conference games will be the quickest way to turn around broad perception about the conference

Adam Rittenberg: Brendan, always good to hear from my hometown, and you make some very interesting points. There did seem to be a reluctance to credit the Big Ten after the 2009 season when it had a very successful bowl performance. A 4-3 mark with the Big Ten's bowl lineup -- with two wins in BCS games -- is like the SEC, ACC or Big 12 going 7-1 in the bowls. Although the league got credit on the blog and in other places, the national bump didn't seem to be there. I agree that scheduling more non-league games against SEC teams will help the Big Ten, but there's a reluctance on both sides and few SEC teams seem willing to travel up north. The Penn State-Alabama series was a lot of fun, despite two fairly lopsided games. I'd love to see more of these matchups. We should get a few more in the coming years, beginning with Michigan-Alabama next year.

HuskerFan6 from Omaha, Neb., writes: Looking towards the end of Nebraska's schedule, what do you predict the out come of both road games the Huskers have at the Big House and at Penn State?

Adam Rittenberg: Both games will be tough, Husker, and for different reasons. Michigan has a dynamic offense, and Denard Robinson will test a Nebraska defense that has struggled a bit in the first half of the season. Penn State, meanwhile, boasts an excellent defense, and the game could mark Joe Paterno's last at Beaver Stadium, so there will be a lot of excitement. I don't see Nebraska losing both of these games. A 1-1 split seems likely, and if Nebraska can get its defense on track, it could win both. If the Huskers do, they'll have an excellent chance to end up in Indianapolis.

Bret from Las Vegas writes: Adam, I have read elsewhere that there is a gentleman's agreement among B1G coaches that once a player commits to a school, no other B1G coaches will continue to recruit him. For example, I recall RichRod getting into a dust-up at the beginning of his tenure with Purdue over such an "infraction". What exactly is this so-called agreement? How strict is it applied? And finally, are there truths to what's flying about the internet that Michigan is violating this agreement with OSU players?

Adam Rittenberg: Bret, there's no gentleman's agreement. Joe Tiller was upset after Michigan swiped Roy Roundtree away from Purdue, but this happens all the time in just about every league. There's no hard-and-fast rule. Heralded offensive tackle prospect J.J. Denman recently switched his verbal commitment from Penn State to Wisconsin. While Michigan has added some former Ohio State commits -- Kyle Kalis the most notable -- I've seen this happen with a lot of schools in a lot of leagues.

Dave from D-town writes: Adam,You're a blue wall hack. Why don't you mention lewan throwing gholston to the dirt by his face mask before condeming "his conduct in both cases" Twisting d-robs face mask was really dumb on multiple levels, but if gholston deserves a suspension, so does lewan, so do the officials who made so many questionable calls against the spartans. so do you for being such a blue wall hack. This is coming from the same clown that says "the michigan schools can play a little D" as a means of downplaying MSU's domination of the super talented buckeyes. This is coming from the dude that calls our ref induced loss to ND a blow out, while never calling nebraska's emberassment against the badgers a blowout.You're a hack and a clown. You don't know crap about football. You're just a stat studying nerd who has probably never been able to throw a spiral. You're biased and half witted. You represent everything wrong with the American media.Go crawl under a rock and let a real reporter (brian) cover this conference. You belong in the SEC with the rest of the scum.You're why no one trust's ESECPN

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for reading, Dave! Oh, wait, I doubt you actually read entire posts (probably too much work). Otherwise, you would have seen that I repeatedly pointed out the Michigan State-Notre Dame score was misleading and that the Spartans only allowed 275 yards in that game. And the "Michigan schools can play a little D" item was meant to credit Michigan State's defense, nothing more. And I repeatedly called Nebraska's loss embarrassing (as did Huskers coach Bo Pelini, who apologized to the entire state). But it's a lot easier to jump to conclusions, isn't it? Inferiority complex? Check. I'll go serve my suspension now.

TJ from Lake Geneva, Wis., writes: Adam, isn't the 2011 Northwestern team identical to the 2001 Northwestern team? Both had Heisman darkhorses (Persa and Damien Anderson) return after great seasons. Both saw the return of a large number of starters. Both were coming off of a bowl loss. And both took the big expectations placed on them, and stumbled. I know we have a different coach now (and doubt that we will do better than Fitzgerald any time in the next 100 or so years), but is there a mindset that prevents them from performing as a favorite?

Adam Rittenberg: TJ, this is a interesting comparison, and one that other Wildcats fans have pointed out. It was a bit different in 2001, as Northwestern was the Big Ten preseason favorite and endured a preseason tragedy (Rashidi Wheeler's death). But both teams had dynamic offensive players and bad defenses, and both have/are falling well short of expectations. Northwestern has built some consistency, but it remains a program that struggles in the spotlight. The Wildcats typically don't perform well when ranked or favored. They perform better in the 11 a.m./noon games than they do under the lights. Like other programs, they seem more comfortable outside the spotlight. It's hard to pinpoint why, but this season has shown that Northwestern and Fitzgerald haven't truly arrived.

Nic from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, as a spartan fan, I am becoming really concerned that we could end the season 10-3, losing twice to Wisconsin and be the 4th team picked out of the big ten behind Wisconsin, Penn State/Illinois, and Nebraska/Michigan. What are the chances of this happening?

Adam Rittenberg: Nic, it's hard to predict what the bowl committees will do. Michigan State travels extremely well, but there would be some tough competition if Nebraska and Michigan are also in that Capital One/Outback/Insight/Gator mix. I definitely can see Michigan State picked ahead of Illinois and possibly ahead of Nebraska and Michigan, depending on the bowl. But it could go the other way, too. The bigger objective for Michigan State is winning a bowl game for the first time under Mark Dantonio.

Brent from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Can you tell me how the teams that will represent each of the divisions of the BIG TEN will be chosen?By Division Record or by Conference Record?Thanks for any info.

Adam Rittenberg: No problem, Brent. The teams with the best overall conference record in each division go to the title game. If there's a two-way tie in overall conference record atop a division, the winner of the head-to-head matchup goes to Indy. If there's a three-way tie, the team with the best record within the division will go to Indy. There are more tiebreakers, and you can find the full breakdown here.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 6, 2010
Word of the day: Byfuglien.

Fighting the hangover loss

July, 16, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

I was checking out the recent mailbags from's Stewart Mandel and saw several items about traumatic losses -- the type of games that seem to linger not just for a day or a month, but potentially years.

The discussion started when a fan brought up Purdue's loss to Wisconsin in 2004. To recap: Purdue entered the game 5-0 and ranked fifth in the country, had the Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Kyle Orton and held a 17-7 lead with eight minutes left on its home field. Wisconsin scored to get within three points, and then Badgers cornerback Scott Starks returned an Orton fumble for the game-winning touchdown. Purdue wound up losing four straight games. The Boilers went 5-6 the following year and haven't gotten back to such a national pedestal since. Unfortunately for Purdue fans, the Wisconsin game qualifies as a perfect example of a traumatic loss, one with a damaging hangover effect.

Here's a look at some other traumatic losses involving Big Ten teams in recent years. You can let me know some of the ones I missed.

Michigan State at Michigan, 2005 -- The Spartans might need their own list of traumatic losses, but this one stands out. Michigan State entered the game 4-0, ranked No. 11 and surging behind an offense averaging 49 points a game. Michigan came in at 2-2 but knocked off its in-state rival, 34-31, in overtime on a Garrett Rivas field goal. Things only got worse for Sparty the next week in Columbus, as coach John L. Smith went nuts on ABC after his team had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown with no time remaining in the first half. Michigan State dropped six of its final seven games and went 4-8 the next fall before Smith was fired.

Minnesota at Penn State, 1999 -- Nittany Lions fans, avert your eyes. Penn State was 9-0, ranked No. 2 nationally and had its sights on the national title. Minnesota came in at 5-3, with all of its losses coming by five points or fewer. Trailing by two in the closing minutes, Minnesota faced fourth-and-16. Quarterback Billy Cockerham's pass deflected off Ron Johnson's hands into those of Arland Bruce for a first down. The incredible conversion set up Dan Nystrom's 32-yard game-winning field goal, and the Gophers prevailed, 24-23. Penn State lost three of its final four games that season, and then went 10-13 during the next two seasons. The Lions had just one winning campaign between 2000-2004.

Northwestern at Iowa, 2000 -- Northwestern came in ranked No. 12 and still had a shot at reaching its second Rose Bowl in six seasons. But Iowa, which finished 3-9 that season, stacked the box with eight or nine defenders and shut down the Wildcats' dynamic offense in a 27-17 win. Northwestern, which averaged 38.6 points that year, put up just three in the first half. The loss cost NU the Rose Bowl and provided a blueprint for teams to defend the no-huddle spread. Though Rashidi Wheeler's death the following August undoubtedly impacted the 2001 season, Northwestern went 8-18 after the Iowa loss before stabilizing in 2003.

Illinois vs. LSU, 2001 -- It's a bit unfair to include a bowl since it's the final game of a season, but the 2002 Sugar Bowl marked the last relevant game Illinois would play in some time. The surprising Big Ten champions came in ranked No. 7 but got steamrolled by Rohan Davey (444 pass yards, 3 TDs, 4 rush TDs) and LSU, losing 47-34. Things then turned ugly for Illinois, which never built off its title and went 13-45 from 2002-2006.



Saturday, 12/20
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Friday, 12/26
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Thursday, 1/1
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