Chat with Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, ESPN.com's Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg will stop by to talk college football.
Rittenberg joined ESPN.com in 2008 after four years at the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald, where he covered sports at Notre Dame, Northwestern, DePaul and several other colleges. He lives in Chicago.
Send your questions now and join Rittenberg Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Adam Rittenberg (3:00 PM)
Hey guys, thanks for joining me. Let's talk Big Ten. Ready, set, go.
Pete (Harrisburg, pa)
I know this is not the "PSU way" but what do you think about them going after JUCO players. I think it is a good idea. This could help them be competitive for the next 2 years.
Adam Rittenberg (3:01 PM)
Pete, it depends on who can get in the school. Several Big Ten schools, including Penn State, just don't go the juco route. And I don't think Penn State is going to compromise its admissions standards.
Do you think Bo has maybe tried to retain too much control over the football team? I realize you're the HEAD coach, but all the hiring from within (for OC and DC) seems to point to being a little too controlling. Look at Oklahoma's defense under Mike Stoops, someone Nebraska could've had a legit shot at. Bo may be a great defensive coach, but imagine those two minds coming together. Even with seeming lackluster talent, I like to think we'd be fielding a better product at this point.
Adam Rittenberg (3:04 PM)
Dan, this is a common complaint about Pelini, that he makes safe hires and surrounds himself with yes-men. I don't know if that's necessarily true. I think John Papuchis is a good coach who will run his own team sometime. But whether he was ready for this role at such a young age remains to be seen. One thing worth debating is whether Nebraska can attract truly elite coordinators. I think Nebraska can, but Bo has gone a different route in promoting from within. We'll see if it pays off or not at the end of the season.
Adam, after watching the OSU defense play good and bad this year. The team has two SERIOUS issues, neither of which are named "Fickell". First, OSU needs some linebackers BAD!!!. Second, like with Michigan's defense, UM DC Greg Mattison and OSU DC Fickell are getting their defenses directed to the right places, the players just aren't doing anything once there. With my alma mater, I am seeing some serious discipline issues with players not finishing plays. Especially, when the Indiana kid ran around the OSU player to get the ball and throw it back in-bounds. OSU needs some discipline, something Meyer's was not known for at Florida. If they have the team speed and talent, you can get away or mask that, but NOT OSU....not NOW. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (3:06 PM)
Jason, completely agree with you about the lack of depth at linebacker. It's a killer, especially when you lose one of few veterans like Etienne Sabino. I also think discipline has something to do with the struggles. All season, I've seen Ohio State defenders go for the big play -- the interception, the big hit, the sack -- and struggle to make the simple play with good fundamentals. That has to be Luke Fickell's big focal point going forward. Ohio State didn't always have the flashiest defense in terms of takeaways, sacks, etc., but the Buckeyes also were barely on the field because they were so fundamentally sound.
RPF (Minneapolis, MN)
What's your take on the Gophers back-tracking on it's schedule? I believe it to be quite silly, and makes the entire program look very backward given the progress seen in only the first 2 years of Coach Kill's tenure. Does this put the U of MN in an even larger hole in the B1G? Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (3:07 PM)
I don't understand it, RPF. Jerry Kill won't be still "building the program" in 2015 and 2016. If he is, there are some serious problems. I love what Kill has done for the most part, but he has used the "building a program" thing too much as a crutch. He did it last year a lot and he's doing it now with the schedule. Getting to six wins shouldn't be Minnesota's top goal by 2014-15. Contending for the division title should be.
Who is the best QB in the B1G? Miller, Martinez, Robinson?
Adam Rittenberg (3:09 PM)
Is this Matt Canada from Wisconsin, or just Matt from Canada? Hard to tell. Miller is the best QB. He's a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate and the single biggest reason why Ohio State is 7-0. He hasn't had a bad game, like both Martinez (Ohio State) and Robinson (Notre Dame, Alabama) have had. I'd actually put Penn State's Matt McGloin in this mix, too. He has been terrific for the Lions.
Do you think the conference suffers by not having enough good QB's? There are some great dual threat QB's (Miller, DRob, Martinez) but where are the classic throwers? Seems like the Big 12 took all of our mojo.
Adam Rittenberg (3:11 PM)
Mitch, I definitely think this is a problem. And the lack of elite pro-style quarterbacks is a bigger problem. There are some good spread QBs (Miller, Robinson, Martinez), but Matt McGloin has been the only consistent pro-style passer in the league. I think you'll see upgrades at Michigan as they go away from the spread, and Joel Stave has some potential at Wisconsin, but in terms of elite quarterbacks, the Big Ten is lacking there.
How long does Kevin Wilson have to "build the program" before his seat starts warming up?
Adam Rittenberg (3:12 PM)
Eric, you need to start seeing defensive improvement by the end of this season and in the first half of the 2013 campaign. Kevin Wilson's offense is brilliant, and he made a great hire with coordinator Seth Littrell. IU can put up a ton of points and has multiple weapons at quarterback and receiver. But we've seen this movie before with the Hoosiers: great WRs, good QBs, all offense, no defense. Two years should be enough time for Wilson to show some real improvement on defense. If it's not there by this time next year, then he should have some pressure.
Straight up - how do you see the NU v. NU tilt unfolding Saturday? I see Northwestern's defensive line being one of the main factors: stop Nebraska's rock-solid running game and the probability of winning increases; if Nebraska's offensive line and running attack slice and dice the Wildcat front-7, it's a win for the Huskers. Do you agree that the war of the front line is the key? And which team do you think wins that war?
Adam Rittenberg (3:15 PM)
John, you'll have to wait until Thursday for my prediction (not sure about it yet, actually), but Northwestern's rush defense certainly is a factor against Martinez, Burkhead and Abdullah. The Wildcats did well against Nebraska's run game last year and have a better rush D this year. But Nebraska has the type of big-play offense that can give Northwestern trouble. I think the key is Northwestern's offensive game plan, whether the Wildcats can stay on the field a little more and whether Nebraska can handle some adversity on the road, which is a problem under Bo Pelini. Should be a good one at Ryan Field.
Mauti and his omission from the Lombardi award aside, which Penn State player has the best chance of winning an award this year?
Adam Rittenberg (3:17 PM)
It's Mauti. Whether it's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year or another award, Mauti has the numbers and the name recognition to win regional or national awards. Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill could get on the radar, too, but Mauti is your best bet.
Stan (The Great Midwest)
I'm confused by Michigan State. On the one hand, they have looked pretty darn bad. On the other, they barely lost to OSU and their 4-point win over Indiana doesn't look as bad after OSU almost lost. So, yeah, they're worse than last year, but are they just a couple improvements away from being good again? They seem to just be coming out on the losing end of the close games they've grown accustomed to winning.
Adam Rittenberg (3:19 PM)
Stan, that's true to a degree, but Michigan State hasn't had the killer instinct at all this season. Great teams come out and take control, especially on their home field. The Spartans haven't done that. They could have lost to Indiana and had to rally to beat both IU and Boise State. So it could be worse. The offense needs a lot of improvement, not just a few, starting with a banged-up line. Although I still think MSU's defense can win a game or two, there are some deeper issues on the team. I just don't think the leadership is nearly as good as it was the past few seasons.
@HuskerInsanity (Lincoln, NE)
Bo Pelini said he wants his to team to play angry. Don't you think if Nebraska plays angry, that would lead to mistakes on the field?
Adam Rittenberg (3:21 PM)
Nebraska needs consistency and composure more than anger, in my view. I understand that Pelini wants to see his team fired up and ready to prove the Ohio State game was just an aberration, but Nebraska has had this fragility about it in recent years. Once something goes badly, like Braxton Miller's long run in the second quarter, the Huskers seem to fall apart. So while it's important to come out strong at Northwestern, it's more important to show consistency and handle adversity like a good team should.
Mitt R. (Salt Lake City)
Adam, What about the Nittany Lions travelling to Kinnick? I think PSU has the edge. They have a defense similar to last year's, where they held Iowa (and the bear/deer-slayer) in check. But the PSU offense is better this year. I suspect you and Bennett are going to split on your prediction for this game.
Adam Rittenberg (3:24 PM)
Let me consult my binder, Mitt ... Not sure what Bennett will pick yet -- we'll do picks after this chat -- but he needs to catch up in the season standings and needs to trim my three-game lead. If Mark Weisman is out, I agree Penn State has the edge. Remember that Vandenberg plays better at home than on the road, and Penn State plays poorly at Kinnick Stadium (four straight losses). But if PSU's offense can keep up its momentum, I like the Lions' chances against a Weisman-less Iowa team.
Will (Fort Worth, TX)
Why aren't the number of tackles taken into consideration when talking about defensive impact? I hear basically nothing about Anthony Hitchens for awards even though he leads the nation in tackles.
Adam Rittenberg (3:26 PM)
Will, I have mixed feelings about the tackles stat as a measure of a defender. I've seen a lot of very average defensive players finish among the top 10 nationally in tackles. While it shows a player is always around the football, it doesn't necessarily show that player is one of the league's best or one of the nation's best. Chris Borland at Wisconsin gets a lot of tackles. He also does a lot of other things to help the team win and stand out in games. Hitchens has been very solid for Iowa, but until he makes some game-changing plays, he won't get recognition just for having a lot of tackles.
Dan (Waukesha, WI)
Is Wisconsin a legit B1G/Rose Bowl contender? Or do they get stomped in Indy?
Adam Rittenberg (3:29 PM)
Dan, there's no dominant team in the Big Ten this year, so the Badgers absolutely are a Rose Bowl contender, especially if they keep improving. I can envision a scenario where Wisconsin wins its remaining games and goes to Indy at 10-2. Wisconsin has to keep making strides on offense with Montee Ball and the line and get more contributions throughout the defense. But they seem to have gotten past their early season woes.
We hear so much about the struggles of the B1G and how it needs to improve recruiting. Correct me if I am wrong but I seem to remember you and Brian not thinking the B1G would revert back to a Big 2 and Little 10 League. But UM and OSU are currently the only teams pulling in top tier talent and I firmly believe recruiting rankings are not everything but I will take a top 10 ranking every year if possible. If other teams do not start getting better talent isn't there a real possibility that the B1G could be the Big 2, Medium 4 or 5 and Little 5 or 6? Thanks.
Adam Rittenberg (3:32 PM)
Matt, I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and you definitely could be right about the Big 2 and everyone else. I've always felt the Big Ten would benefit most from its good teams -- Wisconsin, Nebraska etc -- becoming nationally elite on a semi-consistent basis. But those teams aren't quite there, and Ohio State and Michigan are closer to being nationally elite because of their recruiting. Ohio State will be there next year, and I think Michigan gets there in 2014. While other Big Ten teams could make the leap, too, they'll have to do so with recruiting classes not ranked as highly as Ohio State's and Michigan's.
How much does Danny Hope regret saying this is his best team since arriving in West Lafayette? and if that's true how does Purdue keep him after this year?
Adam Rittenberg (3:34 PM)
I don't think he regrets it because on paper, it's true. The Boilers have more talent than they've had the past three seasons. For various reasons, including coaching, it hasn't come together on game day. I don't think Hope could have kept the expectations low heading into the season. It's Year 4, he has recruited pretty well and comes off of a bowl win. That's not a time to lower the bar. Unfortunately, the team hasn't backed up what he said.
Adam Rittenberg (The FUTURE!)
DO NOT DRINK THE COFFEE IN THE MORNING! IT IS POISONED AND YOU WILL GET THE FLU!Also, what do you think about Indiana making such a huge offensive stride? Bowl Eligible?
Adam Rittenberg (3:36 PM)
Uh, thanks, future me. Although I rarely drink coffee. ... As for Indiana, it's very impressive to see what Kevin Wilson and Seth Littrell are doing with the offense. The Hoosiers are very dangerous on that side of the ball. Bowl eligibility still will be tough, especially if IU doesn't win at Navy. If the Hoosiers win this week, they have a chance but will need to take care of business at home (Iowa, Wisconsin) and win a road game or two (Illinois being the best bet).
Michelle (Greenville, SC)
Why are so many commentators so hard on the B1G this year? Their top 10 opponents (including ND 3 times) have a combined record of 55-6 a 90% win ratio. Do you think if stats like that were brought to the attention of the media and masses that their perception of this B1G season might change a little?
Adam Rittenberg (3:38 PM)
No, Michelle. All that says is the Big Ten hasn't beaten any good teams. Listen, you don't get credit for playing tough teams and losing. That's just not the way the sport works. If that was true, the Big Ten would be extolled every bowl season for playing such a tough lineup. People look at results -- you win, you lose. Aside from Boise State, the Big Ten didn't beat any good teams in the non-conference season. You don't deserve credit for that type of performance, no matter which teams it comes against.
If Rutgers was in the Big 10, they'd be the ______ best team.
Adam Rittenberg (3:40 PM)
I'd say second or third best team, Kyle. Rutgers has been very impressive, and Kyle Flood is doing a terrific job after taking over at a tough time. I'd have Rutgers behind Ohio State and most likely Michigan, only because the Wolverines have played a tougher schedule than the Knights. But that No. 2 spot is debatable.
Mike (Denver, CO)
Which BIG teams if they win this weekend, show in the Top 25 on Sunday?
Adam Rittenberg (3:40 PM)
Michigan should be in the BCS Top 25 with a win against Michigan State. A strong performance by Wisconsin could get the Badgers ranked again. And a Northwestern win against Nebraska will put the Wildcats back into the rankings.
Lou (Gaithersburg, MD)
So, let's say PSU wins this week, setting up an almost de facto Leaders Championship game next week. Would your bosses consider sending the GameDay gang to State College? I mean these guys thought it was a good idea to hire Rush Limbaugh, so stranger things have happened right?
Adam Rittenberg (3:43 PM)
Ah, the weekly GameDay question, something I have no control over. Lou, it always depends on what is happening elsewhere. With Notre Dame-Oklahoma, Florida-Georgia and Texas Tech-Kansas State on the docket, I wouldn't hold your breath about getting the GameDay crew in State College. But ya never know.
what do u think of the Michigan vs MSU game?
Adam Rittenberg (3:44 PM)
It has a lot less hype than it did before the season. If you told me neither Brian nor I would be in Ann Ann for this one before the season, I would have said you're crazy. But Michigan State's struggles have taken some luster off this one. It's definitely a chance for Michigan to finally get over the hump against MSU. It's also a chance for the Spartans to save their season a bit and remain alive in the division race. So there's still a lot on the line Saturday.
Disgruntled Purdue Fan (Everywhere)
Is it to early to be thinking about who might replace Hope? I'd love to see Narduzzi
Adam Rittenberg (3:45 PM)
Not too early, Disgruntled, although Purdue paying buyouts to get rid of coaches. Pat Narduzzi definitely will get opportunities to be a head coach soon. He would be an interesting choice. No real connections to Purdue, though, other than facing them in the Big Ten.
Do you think the Indiana vs Wisconsin game will decide who goes to Indy representing the Leaders?
Adam Rittenberg (3:46 PM)
Probably not. If Wisconsin wins its next two games -- Minnesota and Michigan State -- the division race is essentially over in my view.
So if Nebraska wins against Northwestern they don't get ranked? Is that because pollsters don't look at Northwestern as a good win?
Adam Rittenberg (3:47 PM)
It's possible they're ranked, Justin. Northwestern has more love in the Coaches' Poll than the AP, so Nebraska likely would have a better chance of being ranked in the Coaches than the AP. Depends on how the Huskers play.
Chris (Carmel, IN)
Do you think the window of opportunity is closing for my Spartans? This was supposed to be the year we took the next step, but that obviously isn't happening.
Adam Rittenberg (3:48 PM)
Chris, I've thought about this a lot. I still like the way Michigan State is recruiting on the defensive side, but with Michigan back on track, recruiting will be tougher in the region. The Spartans won't be able to keep DC Pat Narduzzi much longer, which will be a big loss. But the consistency Mark Dantonio provides, along with stronger support for the program, leads me to believe that Michigan State's long-term future still looks good. This was a big year, though, and it hasn't gone well to date.
Adam (New York)
From the conference's perspective, the worst possible outcome of this weekend's games is: ?
Adam Rittenberg (3:49 PM)
Michigan loss, Wisconsin loss. While some fans won't like reading this, the Big Ten's best-case scenario at this point, for branding purposes, is a Wisconsin-Michigan matchup in the Big Ten title game, with both teams coming in at 10-2.
Illini Mike (Chicago)
Vegas as Illinois as two touchdown underdogs to the bye week. I am thinking of taking the points, is this too crazy of a wager?
Adam Rittenberg (3:50 PM)
I don't provide gambling advice, Mike. But idle can be a crafty opponent. He has a heck of a defensive line, I've heard.
Hank (Washington DC)
What are your thoughts on Vegas having Michigan as a 10 point favorite over MSU?
Adam Rittenberg (3:51 PM)
I'm not that surprised given how Michigan is playing and how much Michigan State has struggled offensively. It seems a little high, but Michigan is playing at home and can put up points (although it hasn't against MSU lately). I also was surprised to see MSU as such a big favorite against Iowa, so Vegas clearly has soured on the Spartans a bit.
Don't you have to like watching PSU this year (ok so you don't have to like watching them)..but I mean this team has nothing to lose.....they can just go out and play the game...let it all out there on the field...that is a dangerous combination...the nothing to lose just play the game attitude and the talent that remained with the team.
Adam Rittenberg (3:52 PM)
Shawn, I do really enjoy watching Penn State. And the approach on offense to go for all the fourth downs is fun. You don't see this in the overly conservative Big Ten. I also like seeing how Penn State operates with a truly modernized offense. You have to wonder how much potential Penn State wasted over the years offensively in being so primitive and conservative with its scheme.
Do you think you and Brian aren't going to MSU vs UM because the wolverinenation staff already is covering the game?
Adam Rittenberg (3:53 PM)
Ah, you're a smart one, Tony! That is part of the reason, but if Michigan State were 6-1 instead of 4-3, one of us would be there, too.
So far, you have answered questions from Matt Canada and John Denver. So, please take this question from former Mets starting pitcher, Jon Maine. Assuming Wisconsin reaches the Big Ten Title Game, what teams represent the best and worst matchups for them?
Adam Rittenberg (3:55 PM)
Love it, Jon. Keep 'em coming. Wisconsin matches up better against teams that run similar offenses, so I'd say Iowa or Michigan State is a better matchup than, say, Michigan. Although Michigan State has the type of defense to contain Wisconsin, I think the Badgers could outscore the Spartans. Michigan's offense will give Wisconsin's D some trouble, and the Wolverines also could bottle up Montee Ball and co. Northwestern would be an interesting matchup -- spread offense team, average defense but good against the run.
Rufus (Athens, OH)
Adam! Ah, yes! Minnesota is going to play my Ohio U Bobcats. Any other B1G schools want a shot at the future, possible, maybe "Boise State of the East"?!?! Anybody else brave enough!?!?
Adam Rittenberg (3:57 PM)
Ha, Rufus, I did like seeing Ohio on the Gophers' future schedule. Frank Solich has done a great job with the program. How long the Bobcats keep this up remains to be seen, but the past few seasons have been encouraging. I don't see any other Big Ten teams on Ohio's schedules, but things could change.
I know Navy's the home team, but favored by 3.5? We aren't that bad, are we?
Adam Rittenberg (3:58 PM)
Eric, I think it has to do more with Navy playing better the past few weeks after a rough start. And Indiana, while competing hard, hasn't gotten over the hump and ranks 109th nationally in rushing defense. That's not good against a Navy team that runs the ball more than anyone.
Gordon (Columbus, OH)
So if 10-2 Michigan v. 10-2 Wisconsin is the best possible matchup from the conference's perspective, they'll love our 12-0 season won't they?
Adam Rittenberg (3:59 PM)
Well, a 10-2 Wisconsin team includes a win against Ohio State. But I'm sure Jim Delany will love handing you guys the Leaders division trophy. Oh, well. Should have taken the bowl ban before the NCAA slapped it on you. Love the bowties, by the way.
Adam Rittenberg (3:59 PM)
Last one for the day ...
Mochila (Grand Rapids, MI)
It's Axe Week, Adam! You have to answer one question related to this game (a suggestion; not an order). Can the Gophers can the Badgers sleeping? I think their defensive line could have a good day and frustrate an improved Wisconsin run game.
Adam Rittenberg (4:01 PM)
Love the axe! Think you mean "catch" the Badgers sleeping. It's possible, but Wisconsin seems to be rolling now after the last two weeks, and Minnesota has so many injuries, including MarQueis Gray. The Gophers need a stellar effort from their defense and a much more polished performance from QB Max Shortell. Going to be tough to end the losing streak to UW.
Adam Rittenberg (4:01 PM)
OK guys, time's up. Thanks for your questions. Enjoy Week 8!