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Friday, September 7, 2012
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Should be a fun Saturday of games. Hope you enjoy 'em.

Victor 614 from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Whats up with all this hate on the Big Ten? I know Michigan got killed by alabama, but I think everyone knew they were overrated. And I know that the rest of the teams struggled, but Wisconsin is breaking in a new QB, Iowa isn't the Iowa of 4 years ago, and Northwestern has always been shaky at best. Michigan State beat Boise State, who all of a sudden is a bad team without Kellen Moore and Doug Martin, even though they've proven to be a consistent program. I know Michigan was expected to compete for a Big Ten title in the preseason, but it was just that, preseason. The Big Ten isn't on SEC level or even USC or Oregan's level, but this is really a rebuilding year for the conference as a whole. Am I wrong to think that there is alot of unfair animosity toward the Big Ten compared to other conferences?

Adam Rittenberg: Victor, I agree that any win against Boise State means something, and while I think some go too far in using Michigan's performance to paint the entire Big Ten, you can't spin Week 1 as a positive one for the league. Other than Nebraska and, to a certain extent, Illinois, no team notched a truly impressive win. Part of that was the schedule, but the week would have been a bit better had Wisconsin pounded Northern Iowa, Northwestern held onto its big lead at Syracuse and Penn State beaten Ohio. That said, it's way too soon to say the Big Ten is down or a bad conference this year. The league clearly can't compete with the nation's elite at the very top, and its recent record against top 5 teams is downright shameful. But as I've written many times, it's all about building depth in the Big Ten. I see progress there with Ohio State on the rise again, Michigan State and Wisconsin racking up wins, Nebraska stabilizing and Michigan recruiting really well. The overall depth in the league could turn out to be decent this year, although we'll likely only find that out when the bowl season rolls around.

Decker from Hastings, Neb., writes: Adam, Haven't heard much about DeAnthony Arnett so far, after quite the buzz during the offseason. What can you tell me about his status right now and also whether you expect the Spartan wideouts to pick up their game. I know Maxwell was rushed on plenty of throws on Friday but we saw a handful of miscues from the receivers. This weekend should be good for Maxwell and the rest of his offensive squad to find their rhythm. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Decker, I was really surprised not to see more of Arnett against Boise State, especially given the Spartans' struggles in the pass game. Michigan State receivers coach Terry Samuel said this week that Arnett should have a bigger role Saturday against Central Michigan. While Arnett might not have had the best offseason as far as standing out among the receiver group, he seems to be picking things up now. Plus, the guy had 24 catches last year in the SEC as a freshman. Can't hurt to make him a bigger part of the game plan this week.

 JT from West Coast Hawk Town writes: You and Brian both picked Iowa over Iowa State this weekend. That gives me some relief. The clones seem overly confident in this game. The clone fanbase is usually delusional, but I'm still not confident in my Hawks yet. What do you guys see, aside from the game being in Kinnick, that gives Iowa the edge?

Adam Rittenberg: Playing at Kinnick obviously benefits Iowa. Only two of the Hawkeyes' seven losses to Iowa State under Kirk Ferentz have happened at home and none since 2002. Iowa usually takes care of its turf, even against the dreaded Cyclones. Also, I was pleasantly surprised with the defensive line play against Northern Illinois. Steele Jantz had his way with Iowa last year, and the Hawkeyes must put more pressure on him Saturday. I feel better about that happening after seeing what Joe Gaglione, Dom Alvis and co., did against NIU. I also don't think Iowa State can handle Iowa's rushing attack for four quarters, especially if Damon Bullock duplicates what he did in the opener, getting stronger as the game goes on. It'll be close, but Iowa should prevail.

Ben from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam, today you posted an article saying that Penn State and OSU ARE eligible to be named Leaders Division champs. If this is true, and, say, Wisconsin finishes second or third in the standings behind them yet beats the Legends Division champion in the B10 championship, Wisconsin would officially be named Big Ten Champion, but not a division champion. That, like Alabama being National Champions but not Conference Champions, just doesn't sound right. Penn State and OSU are banned from the postseason and B10 championship, they shouldn't be a champion of their division.

Adam Rittenberg: I hear ya, Ben, and it sets up some potentially embarrassing situations, like having to present a team on postseason probation an official Big Ten trophy for winning the division. The Big Ten's rationale is that because Ohio State's and Penn State's games count in the division race, they should be part of that race. It would be odd to have a division champion go against a division "representative" in Indianapolis and for that representative to win the title. But that's the path the Big Ten has chosen to go down with two of its marquee programs on postseason probation.

Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: Adam, Longtime Northwestern football fan, which I know seems like an oxymoron (don't worry, Illini fans; it's OK that you don't know what that word means). Given the incredible disparity between the offense and the defense for the past few seasons, is it legitimate to question whether Fitz should replace Hankwitz? I know we had a good defensive season or two, but the recruiting is getting better and the results don't show on the field. I know Fitz is loyal, but there has to be a limit, right?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, while I'm not in favor of coaches making rash changes whenever things start to go downhill, everyone on a staff needs to be held accountable. I think this is an important season for Hankwitz and the rest of Northwestern's defensive staff. Hankwitz boasts a ton of experience, but he has been dumped before (Wisconsin) and is far from foolproof. It's more than fair to question whether Fitzgerald is too loyal to certain folks, whether they be moderately talented veteran players or assistants who aren't getting the job done well enough in the Big Ten. I think Fitzgerald has a lot of great qualities as a head coach and clearly represents Northwestern well. But part of the job is making tough decisions with personnel and assistants, and if the defense doesn't improve, Fitz will face some difficult choices after the season.

Amit from New York writes: Adam, as a Michigan fan I'm deeply disappointed (although not unexpected) with the outcome of the Alabama game. It really seemed like Denard regressed during the game. I know you guys read MGoBlog, so I wanted to pass along the play-by-play analysis that Brian Cook did for the game: Interesting enough, he deduced that Denard actually played well, and the stagnancy/regression on offense was more so a combination of poor OL play, playcalling from Borges, inconsistency and lack of separation from the WRs, and simply fantastic DB play (from Milliner in particular).Thoughts? Passing it along not b/c it's making excuses for Denard, but it's actually insinuating that Denard played well (which I haven't heard anyone in the MSM contend).

Adam Rittenberg: Amit, good stuff. Brian and the MGoBlog crew do an excellent job, especially with play breakdowns like these. I think it's a stretch to say Denard played "well," but the game definitely showed me bigger issues at offensive line and running back than it did at quarterback. If you get dominated up front like Michigan did, you can't execute the majority of your game plan and either have to scrap it entirely or go with a limited set of plays. I'm not absolving Borges, either, but it's hard to scheme your way through an ineffective line. Michigan had to be a lot better up front in order to hang with Alabama. While it doesn't excuse some of the bad decisions Denard made, he doesn't deserve the bulk of the blame for the loss. He didn't have much of a chance to attack the Tide.

Travis from St. Louis writes: Adam- I recently located a summary B1G football schedule and noticed a trend. Four teams (Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, and MSU) get two weeks to prepare for Northwestern. Several teams in the B1G (most notably OSU and Nebraska) do not have to worry about teams getting two weeks to prepare for them at all. I realize it is not absolute that teams will win if they get two weeks to prepare for an opponent, but don?t you think there is a distinct schedule disadvantage Northwestern has to overcome?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting observation, Travis. I'll check with the Big Ten about this and see if there are rules to prevent potential disadvantages for certain teams. That said, I think the bye week is vastly overrated as something that helps teams. We've seen examples here and here of teams struggling quite a bit following open weeks. While these breaks in the schedule allow teams to rest and recharge, the evidence doesn't show that they give teams huge edges as far as preparation.

Michael from Columbus, Ohio, writes: With Oregon State game cancelled this past weekend, how much of a disadvantage is Wisconsin at for preparing for OSU with no game tape available. I know this team needs to works on things and Wisconsin doesn't play to well on the road against Pac-12 opponents. What must the Badgers do to stymie the upset on the road?

Adam Rittenberg: It's always nice to have tape on your opponent, Michael, but I think Wisconsin just needs to play its game and not get too wrapped up in Oregon State. The Badgers destroyed this team last year and had a terrific performance on the defensive side. If Wisconsin can establish the run and the play-action pass, and generate a good pass rush up front, I don't think Oregon State can hang with the Badgers for four quarters. The Oregon State program is trending downward, and even in good seasons, Mike Riley's teams get better as the fall goes along. While I'm sure Oregon State will have some schematic things to throw off Wisconsin, it's a four-quarter game and the better team should win if it plays its game.