NCF Nation: Mailbag 091412

Happy Friday.

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To the notes!

Colin from Macomb, Ill., writes: I saw you were in ASU newly renovated football offices interviewing CTG. What did you think of the make-over and do you think that type of thing makes a difference for a program?

Ted Miller: Funny you ask because that was a discussion topic between athletic staffers and me while I wandered around the football offices. Things really look good up there. Major upgrade, from colors to design to just a basic "well made" look.

Does it make a difference? Heck if I know. My first response would be making something look good is always better than not. But USC's football building was mostly a dump during the Pete Carroll years, and that didn't seem to matter. It almost was a source of pride.

But the big-picture takeaway from renovated offices -- really, just a few coats of paint when you get down to it -- is that everything matters because it might matter.

To me that's part of new coach Todd Graham's oft-noted emphasis on attention to detail. Details matter. It's best to have great athletes, but great athletes get beaten all the time by athletes -- and teams -- who prioritize the details.

Does being on time to everything matter? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a detail that successful coaches emphasize. Does hustling from every Point A to every Point B on the practice field matter? Maybe, maybe not. But it does seem that coaches who demand constant hustle win more.

Arizona State, at present, can't snap its fingers and produce facilities that are as sparkly as those at Oregon and, now, California. But it can put up a new coat of paint in its coaches offices and care about how things look.

Coincidence that the Sun Devils looked like they had a new coat of paint during a 2-0 start? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm a strong "maybe so" lean.

Pete from Denver writes: Do you think the pressure rises on Cal and Tedford to have a good showing in Ohio after watching UCLA, OSU, UA and ASU play so well this weekend?

Ted Miller: I think other Pac-12 teams playing well while the Bears don't is, yes, a bad thing for Jeff Tedford. Particularly teams making immediate improvements with new coaches.

Now, keep in mind that we're two games into the season. We don't know whether these nice starts for Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA are going to hold. But if they do, and those teams all earn bowl berths or, perhaps, one or two of them win eight or nine games, and the Bears finish with a losing record, that would fuel Tedford's critics.

How could it not?

I think Jon Wilner does a nice -- and fair -- job of pointing out the challenges ahead for Tedford, as well as his contract situation that includes a potentially hefty buyout.

With a visit to USC coming after the road date at Ohio State, it's not unreasonable to go ahead and project a 1-3 start. Most folks in the preseason envisioned a 2-2 start, with an opening win over Nevada, so Cal is beneath expectations. Further, you have to wonder whether the Bears have the confidence and mental toughness not to let a 1-3 start take the starch out of them.

The uptick of several Pac-12 teams that appeared middling at best in the preseason also doesn't help. There are no gimmes on Cal's remaining schedule. Heck, the lone gimme on the schedule, a bad Southern Utah team, pushed the Bears well into the second half.

These are trying times in Berkeley. In the preseason, this looked like a bowl team with the potential to finish as high as third in the Pac-12 North. That might still happen. But at present, getting to six wins requires optimistic math. And a second losing season in three years certainly won't cool Tedford's already warm seat.

JP from Salt Lake City writes: I'm dropping you a line to express disatisfaction over the grief the Utes took about not pulling their weight for the rep of the conference when they dropped a game to [Utah] state. That was their first non-conf loss since joining the pac 12. And they provided 1 of only 2 bowl wins for the conference last year. I thought folks were a little quick to grab pitchforks and torches.

Ted Miller: Welcome to the Pac-12. Losing to Utah State will never get you a conciliatory pat on the back here. Just like Cal's loss to Nevada was greeted with indignant head slaps from Bears fans and from Pac-12 observers.

As a member of what I guess we still call an "AQ conference," you cannot escape ridicule when you lose to a "non-AQ conference" team. Even losses to Boise State or BYU or Nevada -- quality programs -- invite ridicule. Mostly because they invite ridicule from fans of other AQ conferences, and we'd prefer to avoid that.

This, you are going to find, is the way things are for you now. As I once told Spiderman, "With great power, comes great responsibility."

I know Utah won its bowl game last season. I know that, coupled with its wins over BYU and Pittsburgh in the regular season, gave the Utes one of the more distinguished nonconference performances in the Pac-12 in 2011.

Check your calendar: It's 2012.

This is how the Pac-12 blog works: You win, we write nice things about you. You lose, we don't. Often we call for perspective, and the loss to Utah State certainly merits perspective. But we typically ridicule first, then offer perspective. That way we produce two stories and get more blog hits and hopefully avoid getting beaten by our bosses for one week.

Further, there was a timing issue. The loss to Utah State stood in stark contrast to what other Pac-12 teams did last weekend. And it was easy to lump the Utes in with poor old Colorado because: 1. You both lost games to teams you shouldn't lose to; 2. You both are new members of the conference.

Hey, beat BYU on Saturday. Then the Pac-12 blog will single out your grit and mental toughness for bouncing back despite losing starting quarterback Jordan Wynn.

Rob from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: Nearly every year USC travels across the country to play someone. It cracks me up that people expect them to travel so much and win each game by 5 TDs.I will ask you again: Did USC travel more miles this weekend than Alabama has in the past 3 seasons?

Ted Miller: I'm not going to do your math, but I hear you. Ask the Big Ten about going from coast to coast. It's not easy. That's why Georgia recently chickened out of a series with Oregon. It strongly suspects it would get butchered in Autzen Stadium, so it went all coward and begged out of a signed game contract.

Reality, Bulldogs. Don't waste our time with excuses.

And I hear you about interpretations of that game. I keep reading how Syracuse's defensive line won the battle with the Trojans' O-line. Er, the Trojans rushed for 258 yards and yielded two sacks.

But the reality is style points matter for USC, fair or unfair. A two-touchdown win over what I suspect will be a bowl team apparently wasn't very stylish for some.

Still, USC's task is simple, whatever the micro-analysis week to week: Win every game. If the Trojans do that, they will play for the national title.

Duck fan in Texas writes: how much should the duck fans make of the severe second half struggle in Fresno game? A couple of fumbles, and the defense allowing 25 to a team that is lower echelon in comaprison to the teams they will face in the future.

Ted Miller: I don't think it matters at all.

You'd like your team to play four great quarters every week, even when it's ahead by 40 or 29 at the half. It just doesn't happen, particularly with reserves on the field.

I don't put too much stock in how a team looks in wins over inferior foes until we see how that team looks against quality teams. Then, if you wish, you can extrapolate back and say, "See! I saw this coming when the third string gave up 14 fourth-quarter points to Arkansas State!"

I mean, Alabama gave up 21 points and 341 yards to Georgia Southern on Nov. 19 last year. Didn't seem to be an issue in the national title game. Or the NFL draft.

Tom from New York writes: I'm from The NOC, one of YouTube's new partner sports networks. I wanted to share a new PAC-12 comedy piece we just produced. We sum up every stereotypical PAC-12 fan in a single sentence! Check it out it. We'd love you to share it if you enjoy!

Ted Miller: There you go.

Mailbag: Is Tennessee for real yet?

September, 14, 2012
It's time to kickoff the weekend with some questions from our faithful readers:

Marcus in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Is there something from Tennessee this year that I'm not seeing? Obviously they should be improved over last season, but the start of the season so far has been just like last year. They blow out Montana and Cinci and Bray throws for 700 yards and 7 touchdowns in two games, then they go on to a 5-7 record. Why are people so high on them this year when the start of the season has looked much the same?

Edward Aschoff: I think the main reason people are higher on this team is that there is actually depth on both sides of the ball. That's something Derek Dooley just hasn't had in Knoxville. His offensive line entered the season with 99 combined starts and against NC State I saw Tennessee rotate in and out as many players as possible at nearly every position. But to tell you the truth, we really don't know how good this team is because of its first two opponents. NC State didn't look great in the win over UConn, so we're nearly back to square one with the Vols. We know there is talent on offense, especially in the passing game, but the running game still has to prove it can get the tough yards when needed. And lets see the defense adjust against a good offense. I think Tennessee is a much better team because of depth, but I'm curious to see what happens this weekend against Florida. That will tell us a lot. It's also interesting to look at Tyler Bray's SEC stats. In his seven league starts, he's 4-3 with 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

Wolf writes: Ed, before Petrino's departure national champ talk surrounded Arkansas. Is it coaching/injuries, combination, overhype, or what the heck happened? Are they just dangerous spoilers now?

Edward Aschoff: I think you have to look at coaching first because Bobby Petrino is gone. He gives you at least seven points just by being on the sideline. His loss really hurt this team mentally, and while the players did a great job of masking their pain, I think it caught up to them when the season started. Arkansas had the offensive talent to compete for an SEC title, but the defense was always suspect. We found out exactly why last weekend. With Tyler Wilson out Saturday, we're really going to see what this team is made of. Can this team rally? Can John L. Smith motivate these players the right way? Can he command respect after that embarrassing loss? I don't know. I really don't. But we'll know Saturday. As far as being dangerous, I don't think this team is without Wilson under center.

Matt in Memphis, Tenn., writes: How hard of a time do you think Mississippi State will have in getting recognition? Clearly they have a straightforward schedule to possibly go 7-0. When will they receive the rewards for finally starting to put this program together? Do you believe it will take something major, like a win against an Alabama or LSU?

Edward Aschoff: I think a 7-0 start (which means beating Tennessee) is a great start. Listen, the stigma that Dan Mullen couldn't beat a West team not named Ole Miss is gone, so that helps. This team has been far more entertaining and respectable under Mullen and it's slowly starting to garner more national recognition. Just look at Johnthan Banks. But to truly start getting the respect I think you're talking about, this team has to beat one of the big guys -- Alabama, Arkansas or LSU. Getting a win like that this season or getting to 10 wins for the year would be huge for this program. As long as Mullen is around, this team will only get better, but he needs that bigger signature win.

Will in Jackson, Miss., writes: What is your opinion of the Elston suspension in terms of the SEC arbitrarily applying this by-law. There have been at least 2 hits on national TV that were far worse than this, yet Elston is the first suspension, and probably will be the only this season. What are you thoughts?

Edward Aschoff: Honestly, I don't think Trae Elston should have been suspended. Was UTEP's Jordan Leslie defenseless when Elston hit him? Yes. But was it a dirty hit? No. And there wasn't even a flag thrown. In the video, it looks like he hit Leslie with his shoulder first and then there's contact with his helmet. But there isn't much contact at all with Leslie's head. If Leslie catches that ball and Elston still hits him, this is a non-issue. The fact that Leslie held up to embrace the hit is probably the issue the league had. Now, what if Leslie catches the ball and Elston doesn't go for him? Then, coaches and fans are getting onto him for not making a play and allowing a touchdown. I think with all the concern around leading with your helmet and head/spinal injuries associated with football, the league looked to make a statement about safety.

Ned in Atlanta writes: You should stick LB Javis Jones on that Heisman List, much more deserving than the QB/RBs at this point. Best player right now in the SEC.

Edward Aschoff: Not a question, but a suggestion I've heard a lot since I put my list up. I almost put him on. I think he's the best player in the league, but I just don't know if he's Heisman worthy just yet. Sure, he's had two very good games and was particularly excellent against Missouri, but it's going to be tough for a linebacker to be a serious Heisman contender. I mean, he didn't even score a touchdown on his interception return! Ask Charles Woodson or the Honey Badger about that. Look, Jones is great --the best defensive player in the country. But I want to see another big game from him. The ball is in your court, Mr. Jones!

Daniel in Seattle writes: C'mon guys, you said that all of your picks were not the same for week 3. But the only difference is the UF & UT game. That is sad, one of you needs to go on a limb here if and I quote "We'll have some separation this week, because our picks aren't all the same." Give us an upset or something.

Edward Aschoff: I don't pick for fun. I pick to win. Same as Chris. I'm competitive, and I hate losing. Just ask my soccer team and my softball team. Or any of my friends. I could go out on a limb, but what's the point in picking something that I don't believe will happen? I can't help it if Chris cheats and looks at what I pick beforehand. You'll have to take that up with him. Also, if I start picking random upsets and I get them wrong, then I'm having to hear about how dumb I am for picking them. I know how this works. I pick to win!

David in Nashville writes: I'm a little upset that you posted an article about how the new quarterbacks in the SEC this season are faring and failed to include Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers on the list. You yourself defined a new quarterback as someone who, "had never gone into a season in this league as the full-time starter until this year," and if you recall Larry Smith started the first half of last season for Vanderbilt at quarterback before Jordan Rodgers came in to get more playing time. I would have been fine had you placed him on the Slow Start list but to ignore him altogether is downright offensive.

Edward Aschoff: We discussed putting Rodgers on the list, but decided against it because he started seven games last year. He played enough meaningful minutes last year that we didn't count him. While you're right that Rodgers didn't go into last year as the full-time starter, if you continue reading the same sentence in which we state that, you'll also see that we said "or had never been the full-time starter for any length of time." I know I only went to Florida, but by my calculations, starting seven games during a 13-game season is a length of time.

Notre Dame mailblog

September, 14, 2012
Lots of good questions this week. Let's get right to it.

Harry from Dalton, Ga., writes: Hey Matt. I'm wondering where this puts Hendrix in as far as getting playing time. It appears he is number 3 now and might not get much playing time with Rees having the more experience.

Matt Fortuna: Harry, [Andrew] Hendrix is certainly caught in a bit of a rough situation. He's not good enough to supplant [Everett] Golson as the starter, and he doesn't have the intangibles and experience that [Tommy] Rees has. But I think he still has assets Notre Dame likes. Brian Kelly has not named either the No. 2 quarterback. I'd expect Hendrix to see mostly late-game action in contests that are already decided, much like the Navy opener. Whether that will be enough to help his development -- or enough to surpass either quarterback in their respective roles -- remains to be seen.

Evan Sharp from South Lyon, Mich., writes: Hey Matt. With all of the recent injuries to the defense especially how do you think that will affect an already questionable defense against RB Bell and an improving QB Maxwell next week? Also what is YOUR input on who will get more reps in East Lansing between Golson vs. Hendrix, Rees and Riddick vs. Atkinson and a returning Wood? Thanks, Evan

Matt Fortuna: Evan, I don't think any of the injuries were serious enough to limit any of the defensive players this week. The only player who won't be able to go is kicker Nick Tausch, who hurt his groin late last week. Golson will start, and the plan is for him to finish. But if he has trouble late like he did last week and the outcome is still up in the air, it will be very interesting to see if Kelly makes the switch to Rees. Theo Riddick will start, and though Cierre Wood and George Atkinson are listed as the co-No. 2 running backs this week, I'd expect Wood to see more carries.

Mike Lozano from Orlando, Fla., writes: Hi Matt, I'm not sure how to feel about the recent move by ND to affiliate with the ACC. While I'm happy ND will get more exposure to recruits in the southeast & access to the Orange/other bowl games, the 5 game scheduling requirement against ACC teams makes me feel uneasy. Your thoughts?

Matt Fortuna: Mike, it shouldn't. Notre Dame plays four ACC games this season already, if you include Pittsburgh. It played four last season, if you include Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. This move is a home run for the Irish, and it gives them plenty of bowl access, which has been arguably the biggest issue the program has faced in recent years.

Jason from Fishers, Ind., writes: I am just curious where the idea that the Purdue rivalry doesn't have the same history as the others in the Big Ten comes from. ND has played something like 84 games against the Boilers all time, which I believe puts it second on the number of times played list behind Navy. I have been having a discussion with my buddies about this and they are sort of in your camp, believing that the Purdue rivalry will be sacrificed with the new scheduling that takes place. I argue that this rivalry is more important to keep going than all others aside from Navy and USC. The Michigan rivalry has been on again, off again and Stanford is not a true rivalry, just an excuse to get out west. I am of the belief that now, more than previously, the Purdue game matters most because it continues to help recruiting and relevance to the midwest. My thought is that the west coast connection is already fulfilled by USC and always has been. The ACC games give you the southeast on up the east coast. A neutral site game can give you the east and even Texas/Oklahoma. If you get rid of all of the B1G rivalries, you basically remove all annual Midwest games that aren't played at home. Keeping Purdue is very important because it keeps an in-state rival to help bolster area recruiting. I know that ND recruits itself many times, but many kids that want to play in the ACC or out west would be better served by just going somewhere in the conference. To truly continue to be "National", ND should play Nationally, not just out west and down south, when away from Notre Dame Stadium. What are your thoughts on this idea? I can't find many that agree with my stance, but I truly see the Purdue rivalry as one very rich in history and necessary for the future. It gets the nod over MSU because of the fact that it is in-state, which holds its own importance.

Matt Fortuna: Jason, I think there will be some kind of scheduling cycle with all of the Big Ten rivalries that Notre Dame has, so I'm not sure the Boilermakers would be just wiped off the schedule for good. As for recruiting? I really don't think playing two hours down the road does much for the Irish. They're pretty well-known in the Midwest regardless. None of those Big Ten rivalries, in Notre Dame's eyes, are as important as the tradition that a Navy game has every year, or as valuable as getting West every year at USC and/or Stanford.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

September, 14, 2012
Some questions and answers before another weekend of college football. Enjoy.

Evan from Bradenton, Fla., writes: Hey Adam, I understand that B1G had a rough weekend against the Pac-12 last week, but I don't understand why the coverage is so negative for the B1G. Point in case, last year the conference dominated the Pac-12, going 5-2 against our west cost opponents, but we didn't get any recognition for it. And one of those loses was USC barely getting by a very bad Minnesota. However, all the sudden since the Pac-12 won four home games (including Arizona) the Pac-12 is getting so much media love. So why is it when the B1G does something good, like consistently get two teams into the BCS or win the Sugar Bowl for back to back years, it never materializes into good press?

Adam Rittenberg: Evan, you bring up some fair points here. The Big Ten didn't get much credit for taking care of business against Pac-12 foes. The difference this year is that two Pac-12 teams (Oregon State, UCLA) pulled off upsets, and, in Oregon State's case, a significant upset against the defending Big Ten champ. You also had some new Pac-12 coaches -- Rich Rodriguez, Jim Mora, Todd Graham -- notching their first signature wins at their respective schools, which generates more national attention. As for the Big Ten getting "credit" for multiple BCS entries every year, that's a tough case to make when you don't win more of those games. Several Big Ten teams have received BCS invites based on name recognition and fan base more than what they've done on the field. Lastly, the standards are high for the Big Ten. It's the wealthiest conference and the most tradition-rich. The league will get credit when it starts winning Rose Bowls and national titles again.

Ryan from Fairfax, Iowa, writes: Adam, As a Hawkeye fan I'm obviously upset with the first two weeks of the season. I do find it hilarious that Ken O' Keefe haters are asking for him back. I've learned as a Hawkeye fan that we have to take the good years with the bad years. I come to the realization that we are a developmental program and we're going to have some tough to stomach years, but we will also mix in some exciting years where we will compete for BCS bowls. With that being said I do find some reasons to still be optimistic about this season. Number 1 being our defense. No one expected our defense to be this good, this early in the year. I think they could actually be a quite scary defense come B10 play. Number 2.. the offense can't get any worse haha.. You can't blame Davis and Ferentz for our WR's dropping balls that hit them between the numbers, but I do think they need to put Vandenberg in a better position to be successful. There has been a ton of negativity surrounding this team after 2 weeks. There is plenty of time left for this offensive unit to put it together. But everyone calling for Vandenberg to be benched and crying for O'Keefe to return.. all I gotta say is C'mon MAN! Just wanted to share a little optimism and get your thoughts on where our DEFENSE might be able to take us this year.

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, a very level-headed email here. It's comical to me how some fans are asking for O'Keefe back and likening James Vandenberg to Jake Christensen. Please. Yes, the offense looks terrible so far and Davis hasn't found the right play-calling mix, but it's too soon to make sweeping judgment. Especially, as you say, when no one can consistently catch the ball (which was a problem last season). I agree the defense provides reason for optimism, and it's encouraging to see what Iowa has done in the red zone defensively so far. But you need to score touchdowns and you need to execute better on offense. I can't imagine what the negativity will be like if Iowa loses to Northern Iowa on Saturday. Maybe fans will start a movement to get O'Keefe to replace Ferentz.

Mark from Lakewood Ranch, Fla., writes: Disclaimer(MSU Alum) Curious your take on Frank Clark being allowed to play for Mich. Since you were so vocal on Dion Sims who sat out a year to get his affairs in order,will there be similar outrage on this ? Brady Hoke had to know he was going to plead guilty yet still allowed him to play vs AF. Not sure the message this sends,but a felony charge seems much worse than the MSU tweets that generated National attention.

Adam Rittenberg: This was one of about 100 emails I received from MSU fans this week, which is pretty disappointing given that the Spartans have a huge game coming up. I'll address this once as I don't like folks demanding for equal outrage or whatever without actually examining whether the situations are remotely similar (not singling you out, Mark, but it's really the worst side of college fans). Frank Clark should have been suspended longer than a game. To equate his situation to Fitzgerald Toussaint's and give them both the same length suspension doesn't send a good message. Clark's situation was more serious (i.e. felony), and he should have been sitting against Air Force and at least another game. Brady Hoke has to live with this. I was "outraged" about the Sims situation more because it had to do with a crime ring stealing computers from Detroit Public Schools. I didn't feel Michigan State acted inappropriately regarding Sims (had bigger issues with Glenn Winston mess). My "vomit" comment was about the nature of the crime ring, not how Michigan State handled the Sims case. As for the Michigan State tweets, I can't help that it attracted more attention than it probably should. We posted something here but didn't hammer on it like others.

Kyle from Denton, Texas, writes: Adam,With Notre Dame basically selling it's soul to the ACC I think the Big Ten has to make a move here. It doesn't have to be in the form of actually expanding, but it does need to be in the form of preparing for the future. I think the Big Ten should come out and say that in the case that it would expand, it would not be opposed to adding a non-AAU member to the league. Looking at the members list of the AAU you really limit yourself TV market wise by saying you really want that in your members. Otherwise the only thing that would make a splash in the College Football world would be for the Big Ten to invite Toronto University and expand into Canada...

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, you're not the first person to bring up University of Toronto as an expansion option for the Big Ten. It certainly would be an out-of-the-box move by Jim Delany. There would have to be assurances about how successful college football would be North of the border, and I'm not sure the Big Ten could get those. I can guarantee you the Big Ten isn't turning its eyes away from what's happening around college football, but the league's presidents are also very happy at 12. As for the AAU issue, it's interesting. While I understand what you're saying about limiting yourself by AAU status, it really does resonate with the Big Ten presidents and chancellors. I've heard that had Nebraska lost its AAU status before being admitted to the Big Ten, there would have been hesitation about adding the school. I think there are some decent non-AAU options out there that might help the Big Ten. However, I maintain that the Big Ten shouldn't expand just to expand, and there aren't many home-run candidates. Again, as the richest league, do you want to feed another mouth just to "keep up" with other leagues?

From @SpencerLeone (via Twitter): Would you agree the two best teams in the #B1G this year are in the Legends Division?

Adam Rittenberg: It's a close call right now between Michigan and Ohio State, which has looked better but hasn't played anyone near the caliber of Alabama. I've felt the Big Ten champ always would come out of the Legends division, and I feel even stronger about that after Wisconsin's struggles early this season. Michigan State and Michigan could be the class of the conference, especially with Ohio State ineligible for postseason play. But the Buckeyes might end up being the No. 2 or No. 1 team in the league by the end of the season.

Eric from New York writes: Hi Adam! I love reading your work on the blog. It makes my job tolerable. My question is: How do you feel about Penn State's future? I'm trying not to be biased (since I'm a PSU alum), but it looks like Coach O'Brien is running an excellent offensive system. There are obviously some big gaps to fill like red-zone scoring, but the staff has improved the passing game tremendously. McGloin looks more confident than ever. With a potential star QB like Hackenburg leading the way (fingers crossed) and our typical strong defense, I don't think Penn State will completely fall off the map like everyone predicts. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Eric. I agree with you about Penn State's offense under O'Brien and McGloin's improvement as a passer. O'Brien should be able to use the offense as a selling point to recruits, even in the next few years as the NCAA sanctions continue. As I've written before, O'Brien and his assistants have to become really selective with scholarship offers and who they bring in. With only 15 scholies per year beginning with the 2013 class, they simply can't afford to miss on the same number of guys as most programs. They'll also need walk-ons -- or run-ons, as BO'B says -- to contribute in major roles. I think there will be some more tough days ahead, but I also don't expect Penn State to start going 3-9 every year. It really comes down to this staff and its ability to scout and develop players because of the limited roster size.

Eric M. from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Given the conference's performance last weekend, what are the chances that a Big Ten team digs deep and somehow finds a way to lose on the road this weekend?

Adam Rittenberg: That would require some serious digging, Eric. All 12 Big Ten teams play at home Saturday.

Chris from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: I have noticed MSU is very talented, deep, and athletic, despite youth/inexperience. Maxwell also showcases good mechanics and a strong arm. If this group comes full circle saturday night, do you see them beating ND? Would they become a more legit NC darkhorse?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I have Michigan State winning 17-10. I also think it's too soon to label the Spartans a national title contender. They at least need beat Ohio State in the Big Ten opener, and they most likely need a signature road win against Michigan on Oct. 20. The stretch that gives everyone pause about the Spartans is the Michigan (road), Wisconsin (road), Nebraska (gauntlet) midway through Big Ten play. The Wisconsin trip doesn't look as tough as it did a few weeks ago, but it's not easy to survive that stretch, plus Ohio State, without a loss. I do think that Maxwell and the passing game are the missing pieces to a Big Ten championship formula for the Spartans, and, who knows, maybe more.

Big East mailblog: Talkin' Notre Dame

September, 14, 2012
So you want to talk Notre Dame ...

Paul in New Jersey writes: AA, Thoughts on ND and the ACC: It's a great day for the Big East -- the albatross has been taken off our back. We can now concentrate on becoming a great football conference in the future. John Swofford now has a co-commissioner in Jack Swarbrick. The ACC for sure is now a hoops conference. Watch the outcry when a full member ACC school has to give up a bowl game to ND. Again, a dreat day for the Big East.

Andrea Adelson: I can already hear that outcry, Paul. I do not think this news spells the death of the Big East, as the football product remains largely unaffected. But I am not going to say this news is great for the Big East, either. When Swarbrick talked about the bowl possibilities in the ACC, I took that to mean the Big East could be in trouble in gaining some excellent bowl tie-ins. The Big East was able to use Notre Dame to better its bowl status. It will not have that any more. I do not think you can discount the hit in perception, either. The Big East has lost its most high profile members. No matter what some might think, I can guarantee the Big East would have rather kept Notre Dame on board.

BIGPGM IN New Jersey writes: Hey Andrea, I think with the loss of ND, the Big East obviously takes a hit, but I think with the negotiators we have at the table, the Big East can still hammer out a good media deal. The loss of ND also brings the opportunity to bring on a 14th football member who can actually now come on for all sports. As such, I think they should make a hard sell to BYU (good football and hoops) or UNLV (great basketball, bad football, and great location in Vegas). The Big East has always rebuilt on its strength, which is basketball, and the football came along (Louisville and Cincinnati). Who is to say these new teams will not do the same? At the end of the day, the Big East will remain a great basketball league that plays pretty good football.

Adelson: I am not sure how eager the presidents are to add a full-time member out West. That team would be an outlier, and travel would be extremely difficult on most every team remaining in the league. I am not sure what the league gains by having St. John's, for example, travel to UNLV in all sports. They cannot combo that with another trip. There already was talk about how to manage so many basketball teams. I am not sure it is necessary to add an all-sports member with Notre Dame gone.

Ron Natale in Morgantown, W. Va., writes: It seems that a lot of people are trying to make this into a football downgrade for the Big East. How I see it the Big East football stability doesn't change from a day ago, am I wrong about this statement?

Adelson: The football lineup does not change, Ron. You are right. The only implication that fans should worry about is what type of impact this has on the bowl lineup.

Mike in Phoenix writes: Andrea, Everyone is poking fun at Syracuse and Pitt for being 0-4 and saying the Big East will be better next year, but they ignore the fact that future big east teams are a combined 2-10 against the bowl division with wins only against Akron and Army. Let's keep a running tally and see where these numbers go as the season goes on.

Adelson: I have no problem with that, though I want to make sure everybody knows that we will not start covering the incoming teams until next year on this blog. I did, however, mention the combined record of the incoming teams following Week 1.

Craig G in South Philly writes: What was more pathetic, Temple's first half performance against Maryland or the fact that only 20,000 showed up to the Linc to watch the Owls play a regional rival only an hour and a half down the road?

Adelson: Temple has struggled to get more than 20,000 people to its games, so I was not surprised to see that number. Still, I had the hope that more people would come out for this game.

Aaron in Cincinnati writes: Andrea, first of all, just want to say that I totally agreed with you before the season started about the major concerns with the Bearcats replacing all of those stars on offense, but I was glad to see a great performance from our team last Thursday. Looking ahead a couple weeks, what do you think UC will need to do better in order to take down VT, and what is the best outcome of the Pitt/VT game this weekend for UC/Big East?

Adelson: First, I think Munchie Legaux has to work on his passing. That was an area of concern for me against Pitt. Second, I think the defense has to work on giving up fewer big plays. Though the Bearcats dominated overall, there were still some long plays Pitt made in the second half. Virginia Tech has started slowly on offense in its first two games, and has had some shaky offensive line play, so I think Cincinnati has an opportunity to control this game at the line of scrimmage. As for the Pitt-Virginia Tech game question, I think it would probably be more beneficial for Virginia Tech to win and remain highly ranked and undefeated when Cincinnati gets its shot.

Brian in Arizona: If Pitt loses to Virginia Tech this upcoming Saturday, then would you put in a new quarterback like Chad Voytik and get him some experience for the future (especially playing a team like Gardner-Webb the following week)?

Adelson: I would go with the quarterback that gives me the best chance to win, and right now that remains Tino Sunseri. If Pitt is going to burn a redshirt on Voytik, it better not be for a game against an FCS team. It better be because he can lead this team to a bowl game and Big East title. Not sure he is there right now.

Friday mailblog: Notre Dame edition

September, 14, 2012
There was one topic that filled the mailbag this week: The Irish. Here we go ...

Jon in Charlottesville, Va., writes: Do you see the ACC getting a better bowl line up with Notre Dame in the mix? Have to imagine bowls like the attendence/ratings Notre Dame brings, but it didn't seem to help the Big East much.

HD: Well, Notre Dame will definitely benefit from it because it's coming into a better bowl lineup than what it had in the Big East. The potential for a better ACC lineup has greatly increased because of Notre Dame's presence, combined with some of the relationships that are already there. It's not just the addition of Notre Dame, though. With the playoff and contract bowls, the potential for an elevation across the board exists.

Jim Colman FSU 78 in Elkhart, Ind., writes: Hi Heather;Trying to get excited about Notre Dame and the ACC, but I have a question regarding the bowl affiliation. I think I understand that ND will not play for the conference championship or get the automatic assignment to a BCS bowl game but, what happens if a 7-5 ND is invited over a 8-4 NC State to a bowl game because the bowl committee decides that ND is a better draw? Will the ACC lose the revenue all to ND? What happens when ND elbows a full time football team completely out of the bowl lineup? Thanks for your input.Jim

HD: If they are competing in the ACC bowl lineup, those dollars still go to the ACC. Notre Dame would share in that part of the revenue. It would be 1/15th of the bowl revenue for anything other than non-BCS bowls.

Howard Corbett in Anderson, S.C., writes: Heather,How is the revenue shared should ND fall below BCS bowl status and, in fact, bumps another ACC team? Do they share equally ( 1/15th) or does ND keep all their share?

HD: Yep, 1/15th for all non-BCS bowls.

Chris in Roanoke, Va., writes: Hey Heather, with all this excitement about Notre Dame joining the ACC except football, why are they bringing up talk about a 16th member? if I understand correctly, since they are technically not part of the conference in football, that means that they are not eligible for the ACC Championship right? so there would be no need for a 16th member untill their contract ends to see if they join fully right?

HD: Let me have John Swofford answer that for you:

"There is no need to add a 16th team to the league, and there's no intention of doing so," Swofford told reporters this week. "In fact, from a practical standpoint, it really is illogical.

"And by that I mean we'll be 15 members. In basketball we'll have a 15-team playing lineup. We're not in divisions in basketball. In football we'll be 14, with two even divisions. Obviously if we brought a 16th member in, then that causes an imbalance in our football divisions. So we will be a 15-team league."

The Clemson Tiger in Clemson, S.C., writes: HD, question regarding Notre Dame and it's new deal with the ACC, particularly football. How will the 5 ACC games per year rotate (if at all)? My question pertains to three schools: Clemson, FSU and GT. If the conference stays at it's proposed 9-game conference schedule and those three schools play their in-state rivals (SCar, Florida and UGA, respectively), will they also have to face ND, making 11 games out of the 12 set in stone? Doesn't seem fair to those three in any given year that they will have that extra game with ND while other teams get to schedule the Savannah States of the world. Of course, there have already been rumors that the ACC may scrap the 9-game schedule and go back to 8 games, which would seem to be better. What have you heard, or what's your take? Will ND rotate ACC teams or will there be a set (ie-BC, Pitt, Cuse, etc.) that they will play yearly?

HD: Again, John Swofford addressed this issue on Wednesday:

"Well, I think the schools in our league that have a rival such as Clemson has South Carolina and a few others in our league that are outside the conference that they play every year, it is a little more of a challenge," Swofford said. "But I also think that those schools are very excited about the opportunity to play Notre Dame in addition to those rivalry games at least once every three-year period, once we get started with the rotation.

I think also when you consider the BCS going forward and how strength of schedule is going to be evaluated and monitored, this arrangement is good for our teams as well, and I think it will be good for Notre Dame because that will be more of a factor in a team's ability to get into the semifinals.

Q. John, to follow up on that question, would the ACC since you're renegotiating your contract with ESPN, do you go back and revisit that nine-game conference schedule?

JS: Well, we may. That's really up to the athletic directors, and if they want to revisit it. If enough of them want to revisit it, it will be revisited. I don't say that to suggest that it's likely that we would go from nine back to eight. But if the ADs want to rethink that and retalk about it, that certainly could happen.

David on the USS Kentucky in Bremerton, Wash., writes: HD,technical question you may have to forward: How will it be treated if an ineligible team ties for a division chamionship, e.g., UNC, GT, and VT all end up 6-2 in the league? Would UNC be a part of the tiebraker process, or would it be treated like a two way tie between VT-GT?

HD: Yes, all of North Carolina's games count, and are a factor in the race, they just can't play in the postseason. North Carolina could very well have the best record in the Coastal Division this year, but the second-best team could wind up playing in the title game.

Mailbag: Big 12 vs. SEC, expansion, TCU

September, 14, 2012
Thanks for all the emails this week. It was an active few days in my Mailbag. Got more to say? Send it to me.

Here's the best of the bunch from the past week:

Chris in Sioux Center, Iowa, writes: I love the blog Ubbs, but I noticed though you said the SEC won the past six national championships, but then like most SEC-hating people you said the one or two teams comment. C'mon Ubbs, Auburn, Florida, LSU, and Alabama have all accounted for those National Championships. It annoys me when people make that comment, and you cant even apply the two teams comment this year as it has 4 in the top ten currently.

David Ubben: Hey, I hear you on this one Chris. The fact that four teams have won those six titles is impressive. I don't necessarily argue that the SEC's not the best league. My biggest argument is that the difference between the SEC and the Big 12 isn't as vast as some would have you believe.

The Big 12 didn't have two title contenders last year, but it had one really good candidate, and Oklahoma State didn't get their shot to measure up the Big 12's best offense against one of the SEC's best defenses. My guess is LSU wins that game, but I still believe Alabama had an inferior résumé to Oklahoma State. As for the league comparison, my argument's been the same for the past year or so: The Big 12's depth rivals any league in the country, even the SEC. We'll see how West Virginia and TCU measure up over time to Missouri and Texas A&M, but I'm betting it levels out in the Big 12's favor.

This year and last year, the Big 12 had nine teams playing really, really good football. Arkansas, the supposed third-best team in the SEC, needed a late rally to sneak by six-win Texas A&M in the final minutes. This year, that same Arkansas team lost to ... Louisiana-Monroe? Doesn't bode well for the SEC's depth. More like S-B-C! S-B-C!

This year and last year, I don't think the Big 12 has a team that would have beaten LSU or Alabama. But it's so silly to measure a league by its best teams. That's how it always ends up, and it really doesn't make sense. If you want to compare the Big 12 to the SEC side by side, top to bottom, it's much closer than some would have you believe (minus that whole, having four more teams thing).

Dan in Fort Worth, Texas, wrote: Hey David. Got a question about the TCU receiver corps. It's arguably the Horned Frogs' deepest position, but I'm not sure that's an excuse for not getting Lardarius Brown involved in the game. I was at the game I didn't count a single target for Brown, but every report out of camp is that he's been a force in practice. My conspiracy-theory question: could Coach Gary Patterson (CGP) be keeping Brown under wraps so that Big 12 coaches don't have any tape on him? He's the only one of our top few receivers that hasn't appeared on game tape. Is CGP crazy like a fox?

DU: That was definitely the weirdest thing about that rout for TCU in the opener, and something that didn't get as much attention as I thought it would. Considering TCU was playing without suspended receiver Skye Dawson, it was even more surprising. I'm not sure I buy your conspiracy theory, but I don't think the Brown hype this offseason was misguided. He'll get in the mix eventually. The only thing that hangs that up is TCU doesn't really need him to be effective through the air. I think he can add another weapon in the red zone if he and Pachall develop a little chemistry on the fade route, but Josh Boyce is already pretty good at going and getting jump balls. Brandon Carter and Boyce are plenty of firepower for Pachall to be very, very productive, but be patient with Brown. He'll catch on eventually, and even if he has a disappointing 2012 season, the Horned Frogs offense will still be fine.

Zach in Tampa, Fla., wrote: What are the chances of BYU, and Louisville going to the big 12 in 2014

DU: Not very good, especially that soon. For your first suggestion, BYU presents more problems than it solves. The Cougars like to get their way, and the Big 12 already has one alpha dog in the league's meeting room: Texas. A second is a recipe for disaster. Nobody in the Big 12 is clamoring for more cash these days after the most recent TV deal was officially inked, so that sort of negates the biggest positive for BYU. For your second suggestion, the need for a geographic partner to help West Virginia assimilate is nice in theory, but nobody in the league's going to sacrifice money to make an expansion move that doesn't need to happen. Louisville is no slam dunk, and the general consensus is that the Cardinals wouldn't add enough value to the league to make sure that everybody's pie piece in league revenue got bigger, not smaller.

Additionally, with 2014, that's a little too soon. The Big 12 will sit pat for now, and see how this new playoff plays out. I don't think the league seriously considers expansion before then.

Curtis in Iowa writes: Do you think with how often bubble screens are used we shouldn't view all completion percentages the same? I'm an ISU fan and they throw a lot. Watching OK state and WVU they throw most passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. I saw your note on Ash's improvement and it is something to look at for his development, but think we should concentrate more on turnovers and more stats down the field. That would show more of an ability to read coverage than catch and throw to the wide receiver right away. any thoughts?

DU: Yeah, I'd agree, but it's hard to keep track of who is throwing screens how often. You have to take into account those screens when you look at everything, though. That includes yards, touchdowns and interception/attempt ratios. Thing is, by now, just about everybody in the league is throwing a pretty high percentage of screens. A lot of offenses in this league see them as extensions of the running game, but they go under passing stats.

Dana Holgorsen brought the "Colorado School of Mines" play to the Big 12, where the QB flips the ball to a receiver running full speed laterally as soon as he touches it. Oklahoma State loves it. WVU uses it with Tavon Austin and other guys. Texas' Daje Johnson scored on a variation of the play last week, too.

In this league, you have to keep that in mind, but ultimately, it evens out. Oklahoma doesn't throw as many bubbles as it used to with Ryan Broyles, but plenty of quarterbacks in this league throw passes around or behind the line of scrimmage. The best ones are the guys who stretch the field, and they make themselves known.

Matt in Waukee, Iowa, writes: How is pounding an bad FCS team more impressive than going on the road and beating a Big 10 team? Are you saying that points is more important in your rankings than defense and strength of opponent?

DU: I don't care how many points a team scores necessarily, but you have to factor in how a team looks while beating a team. Iowa's not that good. Tulsa's probably better, but not by much. Beating Iowa means a lot to ISU, but the truth is that team's not very good. Iowa's worse this year than last year, and a beat-up Oklahoma team beat the tar out of Iowa in the Insight Bowl, shutting them out in the opening three quarters before a 31-14 final score.

Iowa State had some awful stretches in that game, and against Tulsa, too. The defensive numbers look good, but Iowa's offense is nothing like what ISU will find in the Big 12. That offense might not even be better than KU's. A win is a win, yes. Iowa State's beaten better teams than Texas Tech. Tech, though, has looked more impressive, even though they've played against inferior competition. It's close, but I'm going with Tech for now. Iowa State will get their chance eventually. That's what you've got to love about the new Big 12: Everybody plays everybody.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

September, 13, 2012
Is it time to tailgate yet? Well, let's answer some mail until the meats hit the grill.

Nick from GoBlueBABY writes: Unlike most of the Michigan faithful I'm not going to be naive and think Michigan is positioned for a repeat of last year. Obviously there are some big question marks about the strength and depth of the O and D line, but I think people are hitting the panic button a little early for Big Blue. I'm a numbers guy and if you look at Michigan's first two games this year compared to last year it's not that different. They allowed 848 yards and 66 points so far this year compared to 792 yards and 41 points last year. However if you look at the turnover margin they were +5 last year compared to -3 this year so there is a need for the defense to step it up and create turnovers and take some pressure off the offense. At this point last year Michigan was unranked and nobody expected them to beat Ohio, get a BCS bowl bid and win, make it to 11 wins, and finish as a top 10 team. Last year's start wasn't pretty but it turned out pretty darn good so isn't it a little early for everyone to be jumping ship?

Brian Bennett: You make some solid points. Michigan's defense was not nearly as good in the first two weeks last year as it would become. Anyone remember the Notre Dame game last year? It really seemed like things started to click last year in the fourth game against San Diego State. I guess the big difference, besides the competition level this year, is that last season was the first under a new coaching staff. Even with new starters, there was an assumption that the Wolverines would be able to pick up where they left off. It's far too soon to write off Michigan, however. This team should be in the thick of the Big Ten race all year long.

The thing that has concerned me ever since the spring is the lack of depth on the lines and what would happen if there were injuries. The Wolverines already appear to be hit harder by injuries this year than they were last season. A lot of freshmen are playing, and it's tough to win the Big Ten with so much youth in key spots.

Adam from Ann Arbor writes: I hate to remind people of last weekend, but I have a question about the B1G playing on the West Coast. I saw an article on NPR today about NFL teams from the East playing on the West coast at night - - turns out over the past 25 years West Coast teams that play east coast teams at night win 70% of the time due, in part, to our natural body clocks. I know this is starting to sound like another excuse, and I'm not excusing the B1G's horrific play, but I was curious if anyone has bothered to conduct a similar study in college sports. College kids keep strange schedules and the effect might be better or worse on them. If there is a similar effect, shouldn't the B1G at least try to schedule day (3:30) games when they go out West (not that it would have helped Wisconsin)?

Brian Bennett: Anyone who has traveled across several time zones can tell you that it takes a while for your body to adjust. It would be naive to think the time change plays no role. But Big Ten teams played at several different times last week out West -- Wisconsin played at 3 p.m. Central time, Nebraska at 6:30 and Illinois at 9:30. And of course all three lost, with the Illini looking the most listless. College students should have more energy than pro players in their 30s, and charter flights make the trips more manageable. I'm not sure how much of an excuse the Big Ten can make for that showing last week. Oh, and Cal will be at a potentially bigger disadvantage this week at Ohio State, playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time.

Nathan from Denver writes: I can understand the reactions to the B1G losses this weekend. And maybe this is the weakest the conference has been in several years. My concern is for the Spartans, who no one seems to be taking very seriously. Will the bad view of the B1G, in general, effect MSUs chances of playing the title game if they end the year undeafeated? I truly believe if Maxwell can line things up with the unproven WRs on this team, they will be nearly impossible to beat.

Brian Bennett: While it's too early to be thinking about undefeated seasons, that's an interesting question to ponder. A 13-0 Michigan State team might well suffer from the Big Ten reputation if there are more than two undefeated, major conference contenders out there. If it's a choice between, say, Michigan State, a 13-0 Alabama and a 13-0 USC, then the Spartans wouldn't get the benefit of the doubt (and they started way behind both in the polls). If there is only one undefeated team, a 13-0 Michigan State team would likely make the title game, though you can already imagine the howling and crying if there's a 12-1 SEC champion out there. The Spartans need to root for Boise State and Notre Dame to have strong seasons to bolster their reputation.

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