Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Big Ten mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
And away we go ...
Greg from Eldora, Iowa, writes: Hello Adam, on your BIG footprint article, the other states BIG teams needs to recruit are states that play high school spring ball, which I think is a much bigger reason than people think for SEC, Big 12, and PAC 12 having improving success. Ohio applied to their high school association to add spring ball and it was turned down. BIG states need to add spring ball for high school for better development of players at least in the higher classes. If I was coaching I would push my state to develop football players in my state, kids that want to play for a home state school. It would be easier developing these kids than every program in the country hovering over the South and California.
Adam Rittenberg: Greg, you make a really good point about spring football. It's a huge advantage for recruits in certain states and also for programs located in or closer to those states. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller talked to me extensively in September about the playing-time advantage for recruits who live in southern states. Here's some of what he said: "Four years ago, Florida with their spring practices and Georgia with their spring practices and Texas with their spring practices, those kids, I know when we recruited them to Purdue, they were just advanced players over the guys we were getting out of the Midwest. They weren't necessarily more gifted naturally, but they were just advanced in the sense that they played so much more football." Tiller also said former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees played more high school ball his final two seasons in Texas (32 games) than many recruits from Indiana did in their final three seasons (30). I know each state high school sports association has to consider the pluses and minuses of spring football, but it definitely provides recruits from other regions an advantage as they prepare to play in college.
Kevin from the Northwest Suburbs writes: Hey Adam a big Northwestern observation here. I believe this season is Pat's Fitzgerald year to actually put Northwestern's name on the national map like Harbaugh did with Stanford. This is arguably Pat's best team and most well rounded team on all three phases of the game since he took over at Northwestern. They play most of the Big 10 best teams. They play their road schedule against Cal (Pac-12), Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska. All those teams are tough at home. They then play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State at home. For those who have never been to Ryan Field there is usually a 60-40 crowd favoring northwestern against the bigger schools and sometimes even 50-50 when playing schools like Michigan. If Northwestern can put up a 10-11 season, its time to put them on the national stage and start to see them as a top team in the Big Ten and to start smelling roses in 2013 as well as the close future. If they only end up with 7 wins or less, they'll still be trying to get their name on top of the big ten. I think this upcoming season will tell us what type of direction and how far this Northwestern program can go? Agree?
Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, I agree that Northwestern has a great opportunity in 2013. Northwestern finally ended the season with a bowl win, which resonates throughout the spring and summer, makes the media pay attention when it otherwise wouldn't and generates hype and expectations for the next season. The Wildcats also return most of their core pieces from the 2012 team, namely quarterback Kain Colter, running back Venric Mark and defensive backs Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose. So there's a chance to take another step, but it won't be easy. The schedule is extremely challenging. As I pointed out Monday, Northwestern appears to have by far the toughest schedule of any of the Big Ten title contenders entering 2013. Northwestern also has struggled to handle high expectations (2001, 2011) in the past. Although recruiting has improved, Northwestern hasn't reached the level Stanford did under Jim Harbaugh (continued now by David Shaw). Northwestern's program definitely is headed in the right direction and 2013 will be a telling season, but I could see Northwestern having a better team than 2012 but one with a worse record (8-4 or so).
Brian from Warrensburg, Mo, writes: Adam, seriously...we need to talk about your final top 25 voting. As an avid Husker fan, my mind is blown that they didn't even make the top 25 and only hit number 25 in Brian's vote. You ranked 3 B1G teams that Nebraska beat ahead of them, and they barely lost their bowl game to a team in your top 5. Please help me and other Husker fans understand, because I know I'm not the only one who was baffled. 10 wins with a really tough schedule, and you think San Jose State is a better team??
Rod Harris from Homer, Neb., writes: No wonder you are a lowly blogger. You have proven once again that you don't know much about how to judge college football teams. I'm just glad you don't have an AP vote! And you are proof of why we need a playoff system in college football because I'm sure there are voters out there that are just as clueless as you are when it comes to rating college football teams.
Adam Rittenberg: These are just some of the emails I received about my final power rankings, which didn't include Nebraska. I didn't include the note asking me to kill myself and noting that Brian Bennett and I are the worst sports writers on the planet (glad we have the market cornered). Honestly, I'm a little surprised so many people are coming to the defense of what is, at best, a fringe Top 25 team. Nebraska finished No. 25 in the final AP Poll and No. 23 in the final coaches' poll. Brian had the Huskers at No. 25 in his final power rankings. If our power rankings included 27 spots instead of 25, I would have included the Huskers. So we're all in the ballpark with ranking this football team. Many folks doing end-of-year rankings didn't think Nebraska belonged much higher than the final few spots of the rankings. When you're a total no-show in the biggest game of the season (against a seemingly weaker opponent) and then lose your bowl game by 14 points -- even while competing well for three quarters -- you're not going to be rewarded in the final rankings. San Jose State pushed Rose Bowl champ Stanford in the season opener, beat a solid BYU team and won its final seven games. That team should be rewarded.
I don't believe in ranking a team because of what it did in late October, which would be the argument for ranking Nebraska ahead of both Northwestern and Michigan (which almost no one did, by the way). Rankings are about what you've done lately, and Nebraska ended the season poorly, even if it hung in there with Georgia for a while. I look at Nebraska and see a talented team that plays an extremely chaotic style (turnovers, penalties, frantic rallies in the fourth quarter). There aren't many teams that can rank 118th nationally in turnovers lost (35) and still win 10 games. I guess that's a testament to Nebraska's talent and resilience, and the Huskers definitely were resilient late in the regular season. But is that a formula for sustained success? No way. And if Nebraska doesn't clean up its play, especially in big games, it won't take the next step and gain respect from the media.
Justin from East Lansing, Mich., writes :Adam,First of all, thanks to you and Brian for your Big Ten blogging efforts. I read it everyday.Now, I know that you have probably heard this idea, but how about making the Divisions--Leaders: Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska; Legends: Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana?I know it would be like a 'Central Division' and 'Everyone Else Division,' but I think that it would work.
Adam Rittenberg: Justin, I like how you keep the Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota cluster together in the "Everyone Else Division," because I think it's important for those teams to play every year. It's also good for emerging rivalries like Nebraska-Iowa and Nebraska-Wisconsin to continue. Although the fan bases in the "Everyone Else" would have some tougher travel than those in the "Central," there would be some easier trips mixed in (Wisconsin-Iowa, Penn State-Rutgers, etc.). I think this could work, but I also see a geographic split being fine and going East-West. The teams that could go in either division appear to be Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern. I'd be OK with splitting Indiana/Purdue or Illinois/Northwestern and giving them a protected crossover game. I'd also be OK with splitting Michigan and Michigan State into different divisions and giving them a crossover game. If you put Ohio State and Michigan in the same division, you have to make sure the other division has enough strength. Would Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State and Iowa provide enough in your model? It's possible.
Chris from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam! I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the Badgers upcoming QB battle. You've mentioned it briefly a few times but the dynamics of it are really intriguing. You have Curt Phillips, the (now) experienced leader who commands respect from his teammates but has yet to really be proven as a passer. There's Joel Stave, the "spark" of the offense early this season who has starting experience and shows great talent as a passer (even just in the 2 plays from the Rose Bowl). Danny O'Brien, while not the favorite to win it, can still fix some things and does have experience and talent. The most intriguing player, and my dark horse candidate, is Bart Houston. In tapes I've watched of him and Stave, Bart seems to have some talent, or edge to him, that Stave didn't quite display to the same level. Houston is more mobile and built to take punishment as well. What are your thoughts? I think this could make a great piece as spring ball nears!
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I agree it's a fascinating competition, and we'll preview all the QB races before spring ball kicks off. I'm with you about Bart Houston. He's the real wild card here: big-time recruit, has the skills to be a special player, but lacks experience and will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig. I don't think Danny O'Brien will be a factor, but we'll see. Curt Phillips did a nice job late in the season and will be another offseason removed from surgery, but he'll need to make strides as well. Stave really seemed to be turning a corner before his injury, and if I had to pick a favorite for the job, it'd probably be Stave. Another subplot here is whether Wisconsin can surround its quarterback with enough capable receivers. Jared Abbrederis was the team's only consistent threat at receiver last season. It's really important for the Badgers to find a No. 2 and No. 3 option at receiver. But I'm definitely looking forward to the competition. It's unique because so many players have starting experience.
Brian L. from Baltimore writes: If the PSU sanctions remain as-is (3 more ineligible seasons), how long do you realistically see BO'B staying put? I can't help but think another 8 win season is not in order for next year or two, thus his NFL stock has a high chance of dropping.
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that's a fair point about Bill O'Brien's NFL stock, but I also wouldn't bet against him after seeing what he did during the final 10 games this season. Penn State's roster situation isn't actually as bad as it seemed to be when the sanctions were outlined, and if the Lions can stay relatively healthy, they should be OK in a mostly weak Leaders division. I think we'll hear O'Brien's name in the NFL mix most seasons, depending on the openings, and I do expect him to eventually make the jump. But it might not be for 3-5 years, which in my view would be a major victory for Penn State. Will some bad seasons at Penn State take O'Brien off of the NFL radar? Maybe, but I don't think so. The guy already was on a path to be an NFL coach, and he showed what he could do as a head coach in 2012. The NFL folks know O'Brien and understand the obstacles he faces at Penn State. I don't see him disappearing from consideration even if Penn State struggles in the near future.
SGTSparty from Detroit writes: Adam,For years we all knew Penn State as Linebacker U. But the past year or so it seems like the entire B1G has been stacked with excellent LBs. It begs the questions: 1) Do you think the B1G is the best linebacking conference in the NCAA? 2) Which team has/will have the best linebacker in the conference? 3) What about LB corps top to bottom?
Adam Rittenberg: SGT, Big Ten linebackers were absent from most of the All-America teams for the 2012 season. The SEC (Jarvis Jones, C.J. Mosley, Kevin Minter) and Pac-12 (Anthony Barr, Trent Murphy) had better representation than the Big Ten. I thought Penn State's Michael Mauti got snubbed on most of these teams, and while Ohio State's Ryan Shazier put up All-America numbers in Big Ten play, he started a bit slowly. From a depth standpoint, the Big Ten is among the nation's top leagues with its group of linebackers. But the best? Hard to make the case. As to your second question, there are several candidates for the Big Ten's top linebacker: Ohio State's Shazier, Wisconsin's Chris Borland, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Michigan's Jake Ryan are the top four. You can't go wrong with any of these four. I'd probably lean toward Borland and Bullough if I had to choose, although I loved what I saw from Shazier and Ryan this season. Regarding your final question, it comes down to Michigan State and Michigan for the league's top linebacking corps. I'd give the nod to Michigan State with Bullough, Denicos Allen and Taiwan Jones (reserve Kyler Elsworth is solid, too).