Friday, November 9, 2012
Big Ten Friday mailblog
By Adam Rittenberg
Week 11 is nearly here. Enjoy.
Steve from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: Who will get the most pursued Nittany Lion this offseason, Deion Barnes, Allen Robinson, or Bill O'Brien?
Adam Rittenberg: All three men likely will have chances to leave, but I'd expect all three to remain. It will be interesting if any NFL teams pursue O'Brien, who has excelled both as a coach and as a motivator in his first season as a head coach. My sense is he wants to see things through in State College, where his legacy likely would be much greater than if he went to the NFL, which spits out coaches every few years. Barnes and Robinson both have stated they intend to remain with Penn State, but that likely won't stop other teams from recruiting them. Both men can be multi-year starters at Penn State and play for coaches (O'Brien, Larry Johnson, etc.) who know what it takes to get them to the NFL. While every player wants to compete for championships, it won't stunt Robinson's or Barnes' long-term development if they remain at PSU.
Michael from Ft. Picklett, Va., writes: Adam, I have been wondering. Why is it that the Huskers are not able to land the top prospects? Is it location? I see Ohio State and Michigan are able to take about anyone they want. What can the Husker do to improve? I feel this is the reason the Huskers are not able to be as dominate as the teams of the 90's.
Adam Rittenberg: Michael, Nebraska still gets some top prospects, but there are some challenges for the program. The location doesn't help, because Nebraska has to extend itself nationally more than other programs. And for recruiting purposes, being in the Big Ten provides some challenges, too. Nebraska's recruiting success in Texas stemmed in part from the pitch that players could play near home a few times a year (Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas A&M). That's not there any more. Dirk Chatelain addressed the Texas recruiting issue this week, noting that Nebraska recruiting coordinator Ross Els still thinks the team can have a good presence in the Lone Star State. I guess time will tell, but I'm not so sure. The key is for Nebraska to increase its presence in the Big Ten footprint, particularly Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Husker coaches have ties to the region and should be able to pluck more high-level prospects in the years to come. A Big Ten championship this season -- plus a Rose Bowl championship -- certainly will help.
Nate from Iowa writes: Adam, I have one that if you are brave enough to answer it will start a great debate on the message board below. I had a very spirited debate with a good friend that wasn't settled and wonder if you can give your input. No one can deny the great legacy and tradition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. 5 National titles, 3 Heisman Trophy Winners, Top 5 All-time Wins in NCAA Football. But can you really say that Iowa, although they haven't beat Nebraska since the 80's, hasn't had more success than Nebraska in the past 10 years? I'm not one to measure success on wins alone, I look at the entire picture. What are your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Nate, if you're going purely by on-field results, you can make a case for Iowa against Nebraska from 2002-2011. Keep in mind Nebraska endured a major dip in its program under Bill Callahan, while Iowa had a historic run from 2002-04 and another surge in 2009, when it won an Orange Bowl championship. Both teams were very good in 2009, but Nebraska since has been the stronger program, winning nine or more games in each of the past four seasons. The Huskers have lacked the major breakthroughs Iowa had in 2002, 2004 and 2009, but they've been a little more consistent as of late. It's a fun debate, and you can make good arguments for either team.
Rob from Omaha writes: Adam -- You and Brian have been down on Michigan State and Maxwell, but really a 9 point differential from 5-5 to 9-1. I think Maxwell has played very well this year, a few poor decisions and a couple balls that sailed, but otherwise, I think he is very strong. Assuming no early departures, I say Sparty is a top 5 program next year. What are you thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Rob, love the optimism, but a top-5 program? That's setting the bar very high for a team that will finish with at least five losses (no matter how close they are). I guess it's possible, but that's an enormous jump to make. I also have a hard time seeing how Maxwell has played "very well" when he's completing barely than half of his passes (54.2 percent). While at times people have been too hard on him, as his receivers are either unproven or unreliable, a drop-back quarterback with limited mobility needs to be completing at least 65 percent of his passes to be doing very well in my book. While Ohio State's Braxton Miller completes just 56.9 percent of his passes, he does so much more as a runner to help his team win. Maxwell needs to get a lot better for Michigan State to contend for the Big Ten title in 2013, and I think he could make those strides. But it might be tough for Michigan State to maintain this type of defense year after year, especially if/when coordinator Pat Narduzzi leaves to become a head coach. The offense also will have question marks, namely line depth and possibly running back if Le'Veon Bell bolts for the NFL. I agree that Michigan State will be an improved team next year and most likely a contender in the Legends division, but let's pump the brakes on the top-5 talk.
Chris from High Point, N.C., writes: Hey, Adam, with the lack of depth at LB for the Buckeyes and all of the talent that they are seemingly stockpiling on the D-line, do you think that some of those players might switch to LB or work in a modified role like Nathan Williams? Thanks for considering my question.
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, some players might work in a rush-end role like Nathan Williams or former Buckeye standout Thaddeus Gibson. Freshman Noah Spence, at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, might fit into that spot. But for the most part, Ohio State's younger defensive linemen are big enough and strong enough to play up front, and likely wouldn't work well at linebacker. I agree building depth at linebacker is a challenge for Ohio State, but you don't want to force a player at a spot where he doesn't naturally fit physically. Keep in mind, too, that Ohio State has a lot of youth at linebacker that could turn out to be good in the long run, players like Joshua Perry, David Perkins and Camren Williams. Linebacker will be a fascinating position to watch in 2013 as those guys get a little older.
Solomon from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, in your Week 11 predictions, you predict that Iowa "ensures the Boilers won't be bowling for the second straight year." This isn't quite true as Purdue played in the Pizza Bowl last year and beat WMU 37-32. Just keeping you honest.
Dan from Carmel, Ind., writes: You stated in this week's predictions that Purdue won't go bowling for the 2nd straight year, better check that, they played in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2011. Not that it should help Hope keep his job.
Adam Rittenberg writes: I think that sentence has been misunderstood, and for that, I apologize. I was trying to say a loss would prevent Purdue from going bowling for a second straight year, not that a loss would keep Purdue home for a second straight year. I should have been more clear, but I'm well aware Purdue played in the postseason last year and gave the Big Ten one of its three bowl wins.
William from Denver writes: Adam, what do you think are the chances of Fitzgerald leaving for Auburn or Arkansas if, big IF, those coaching positions open up?
Adam Rittenberg: Almost zero chance, William. You don't turn down Michigan, which would have been a really good fit, and then leave for mid-level SEC jobs where you have no connections. Also, Pat Fitzgerald is a Big Ten guy through and through, and I don't see him enjoying some of the challenges in the SEC (not talking about on-field competition, if you catch my drift). It wouldn't surprise me if an SEC team or two pursued Fitzgerald, but I'd be really surprised if he leaves Northwestern any time soon. He received a 10-year contract last year, and Northwestern recently approved the on-campus facility he really wanted. Fitzgerald has ties to Chicago and wants to see things through at Northwestern with the new facility.