Chat with Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, ESPN.com's Big Ten reporter 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 Thursday at noon ET!
Adam Rittenberg (12:00 PM)
Happy Halloween, everyone. Hope you're in costume for the chat, and please share what it is. Let's gets started!
Unfortunately, Miller was injured for a few games and wasn't 100% for the showcase games vs UW and NU and that's enough for voters to unfairly DQ him. However, do you think can he do enough to at least get an invite to the Heisman presentation if he continues to play like he is? Or, theoretically, would impressive performances vs a 2 loss team up north and 1 loss MSU defense in the champ game be enough to push him into serious contention?
Adam Rittenberg (12:01 PM)
It is unfortunate that injuries limited Miller early this season, but I don't think he can get back into serious consideration for the Heisman. That has more to do with what Mariota, Winston and Manziel are doing. I guess it's possible, but he would need to have huge games from here on out.
doug (san antonio)
Adam-I will be shocked if UW/Iowa is not a nail-biter. I just have a feeling that Jack Russell of all people will kick a late FG for the W. "My" Badgers are so due to get help from a kicker. Not asking for your prediction, but what do think the keys to the game are for each team? Thanks Adam
Adam Rittenberg (12:03 PM)
Well, I picked Wisconsin to win 28-21, so if that holds true, Russell will only need to make his PATs. I'm really excited to see this rivalry renewed for the first time since 2010. The line of scrimmage will be huge as both teams have strong offensive lines and several good backs. It could come down to which quarterback performs better, as both teams can be vulnerable to the pass. Special teams certainly loomed large in Wisconsin's 2010 victory as the fake punt boosted the Badgers in the second half.
Do you think Sparty will keep single coverage on Gallon and Funchess? Even though the defensive backs are great, I see Gallon exploiting this very well if max protect is used.
Adam Rittenberg (12:04 PM)
Good question, Ryan. Darqueze Dennard is the best cornerback in the Big Ten, and I think he's capable of stopping Gallon in single coverage. But if you were to bracket one of them, it has to be Gallon and then take your chances with Funchess. Michigan State is pretty strong at the safety spot. Both players are dangerous, but Gallon merits more attention than Funchess does.
Chris (Columbus, OH)
Adam, doesn't the Big Ten really need a 1 loss Michigan State vs an undefeated Buckeye's in the championship game to garner any type of respect nationwide? How much would a showdown with a 1 loss Spartans team help the Buckeye's chances at a national championship?
Adam Rittenberg (12:06 PM)
Chris, I was discussing this the other day with Ivan Maisel on the ESPNU podcast. We agreed that Ohio State would benefit most from Michigan State winning out. I don't know if beating Michigan twice helps Ohio State's overall profile. Then again, it still will take losses by two of the top three teams right now -- Alabama, Oregon, Florida State -- for Ohio State to have a chance to reach the title game.
Adam, is the sky (and Bo Pelini's job) falling in Nebraska? Can't think of a much more deflating loss than last week. At least Northwestern is in a bigger free-fall. Tell me it's going to be OK!
Adam Rittenberg (12:07 PM)
I can't tell you that, MB, especially since I picked Northwestern after going back and forth on that game. I just have a bad feeling about Nebraska right now, as the team doesn't seem to be making major strides during the course of the season. There's uncertainty at quarterback, and the defense remains young and vulnerable in the front seven. Northwestern has a lot of problems, too, but at some point, the Wildcats should put a good offensive performance together.
Chris (Ann Arbor)
Looking at your prediction for UM/MSU this weekend (as well as other predictions from others), the general feel is that MSU will need something special to win. (Bennett suggests a pick six for a 3 point win while you predict a key interception for a 4 point victory). Am I right in reading that the implication is that if Michigan can play error free, they'll come away from East Lansing with a win?
Adam Rittenberg (12:10 PM)
Ha, yes, if a team plays error free, it almost certainly will win. These teams are fairly evenly matched, but Michigan has been its own worst enemy at times this season. The Wolverines need to play a smart game on the road, especially against an MSU defense that will capitalize on mistakes. I'm also interested to see if Michigan's defense steps up after getting blitzed by Indiana. Coordinator Greg Mattison challenged the group this week to start playing like a Michigan defense, not just talking about being one. This is the pivotal moment for Michigan.
Pee Jay (Commerce Twp., Mi.)
Adam, I was glad to see Minnesota get the win last weekend. They have struggled for a while now so I thought they deserved it. I thought they pretty much dominated the Huskers. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg (12:11 PM)
Yeah, Minnesota controlled the game in the final three quarters after falling behind 10-0 in the first eight minutes. The Gophers realized they could control the line of scrimmage and complement the power run with a few passes here and there. Minnesota's offensive line clearly has improved and stayed much healthier than it did last season. The Gophers also are getting production from several backs, including David Cobb last week.
Bradley Roby: Abberderis torched him, and he got the boot early vs. Iowa, but he stepped up last week to contain Robinson on an island, and he has proven to be a very capable run stopper. Do you still feel like Roby has the tools and talent to be a 1st Round pick after his first half hiccups?
Adam Rittenberg (12:13 PM)
I do, Rick, and I expect a good second half from Bradley. He'll be tested in Ohio State's final two regular-season games against Indiana and Michigan, as he'll likely be matched up with Cody Latimer and Jeremy Gallon. Those are opportunities to show the NFL folks that he's still a good first-round choice. Roby responded well to Urban Meyer's challenge last week.
John (Oviedo, FL)
To get a sense of how razor thin the line for conference perception is, how much better does the B1G look nationally if the Badgers had won at ASU and if MSU had gotten past ND?
Adam Rittenberg (12:14 PM)
The Wisconsin-Arizona State game is the one that stands out because Wisconsin, in my view, would be ranked 5-7 spots higher if it had won in Tempe (or had the chance to win). Michigan State also would be a top 15 team if it had rallied late at Notre Dame. The thing is, neither team has many signature wins to date, although both have some opportunities down the stretch (especially Michigan State).
Sean (East Lansing)
What's wrong with Northwestern?
Adam Rittenberg (12:16 PM)
Sean, there are several factors going on, but I think you're seeing a program that is struggling to take that step from good to elite. Northwestern is still too vulnerable to key injuries, and the Venric Mark/Kain Colter situation this year reminds me of the Dan Persa situation in 2010/2011. That offense has only been together for one game (Ohio State). I'm also seeing less discipline from Pat Fitzgerald's crew, whether it's turning the ball over, not finishing drives or committing costly penalties. Northwestern isn't good enough to overcome those errors. The defense has played well enough this year, but the offense has taken a big step back the past three weeks.
Is there some concern Chris Borland may not play Saturday? He still hasn't practiced this week.
Adam Rittenberg (12:18 PM)
He's supposed to practice today, Zac, so we'll see what Gary Andersen says after practice. I'd expect to see Borland on Saturday, but possibly in a limited role, which could be good for Iowa's power run game.
Jon (Seattle, WA)
The ESPN Bowl Projection experts* have Wisconsin penciled into the Orange Bowl. I know the Badgers have a lot of work left to do to make that happen, but if they do, would they stand a chance? Although it's not the title game, that is absolutely a game that could help change the Big Ten's perception, right?
Adam Rittenberg (12:19 PM)
Any BCS bowl victory helps a league's perception, Jon. Without knowing Wisconsin's opponent in the Orange Bowl, I can't really offer an opinion on the Badgers' chances in the game.
How much have you watched Dontre Wilson this year? He seems poised to break out the next few weeks. Teaming with Miller, Hyde, and their wideouts, do you think OSU can stay in a shootout with a high powered SEC offense or Oregon?
Adam Rittenberg (12:21 PM)
Rick, I've been impressed with the snippets I've seen, and I wonder if Wilson's touches will increase down the stretch. He certainly can be lightning to Carlos Hyde's thunder. Ohio State likely would have to win a shootout with Alabama, FSU or Oregon, although the Buckeyes defense is making gradual strides.
What is Venric Mark's status going into Saturday's game against Nebraska?
Adam Rittenberg (12:21 PM)
He's out. Might redshirt this season. Too bad, as he's one of the league's most exciting players.
Nick (St Paul)
How can the Gophers get no love against Indiana despite being 6-2 against a 1 win team?
Adam Rittenberg (12:23 PM)
Well, it's actually a 2-win team vs. a 1-win team, if you're talking about Big Ten play (Indiana actually has three wins overall). I love what I'm seeing from Minnesota, but I don't like this matchup for the Gophers. Unlike Northwestern and Nebraska, Indiana is completely healthy on offense and more dangerous than the Wildcats and Huskers through the air. Indiana also is in a must-win situation to keep its bowl hopes alive. Minnesota certainly could control the clock and the game with its rushing attack, but I like Indiana coming off of the open week to win on its home field.
terri (visalia ca)
In your opinion, does Derrick Carr (Fresno State QB) have a chance for the Heisman?
Adam Rittenberg (12:24 PM)
Not a realistic chance to win, Terri, unless Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel all fall apart. Those three are the frontrunners right now. Carr is in that second tier with players like Jordan Lynch, Bryce Petty and Melvin Gordon.
Mark (Knoxville, TN) [via mobile]
Doesn't Iowa win and a Michigan State loss make Iowa potentially more than just a spoiler in the division race.
Adam Rittenberg (12:26 PM)
Iowa would have to win out in my view to have a realistic chance at the division. The Hawkeyes are basically 2.5 games behind Michigan State because MSU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. So an MSU loss is a must for Iowa to have any chance at the division. Iowa's crossover schedule hurts its chances this year, as the Hawkeyes play Ohio State and Wisconsin, while MSU misses both teams.
Tyler (Los Angeles)
Was Northwestern underrated last season, or overrated this season? And do you think they can contend for the divison next season?
Adam Rittenberg (12:28 PM)
Northwestern was a bit overrated entering this season, although those of us that studied the Wildcats schedule saw potential problems, especially if key injuries cropped up (which they have). Last year's team was somewhat underrated as few saw Northwestern winning 10 games. I think the Wildcats can contend for the division title next year as they'll be much more experienced in areas like the offensive line.
Geoff (Easton, PA)
It's been a long time since Penn State produced a top WR in the NFL... do you think Allen Robinson has what it takes to be a star receiver at the next level?
Adam Rittenberg (12:29 PM)
I do, Geoff. Robinson has all the tools to be a good, potentially great, NFL receiver. He's excellent in the red zone and can make catches in traffic. He's also a good athlete and route runner. I'm excited to see what he can do at the next level.
Charles W (Louisville, KY)
How important will be the running game from Fitzgerald Toussaint? Everyone talks about the passing game and Gardner's ability to run. Does UM plan to have running backs play?
Adam Rittenberg (12:31 PM)
It's huge, Charles, as OC Al Borges still wants to be a power running team, even if Michigan doesn't have the offensive line to do so. Toussaint has a huge role in this game as he can force Michigan State to commit to the run rather than forcing Devin Gardner to win the game with his arms and his legs. Gardner has had turnover issues, and if MSU knows what's coming from him, Michigan will be in some trouble.
Wouldn't it be fitting if in this last season of the BCS, 4 or 5 major conference teams go undefeated? Bama, Oregon, Florida St, Ohio St, Baylor all have a chance. I know we panic over this possibility every year and it never happens, but humor me here.
Adam Rittenberg (12:33 PM)
It would be fitting, Alex, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen. Florida State and Ohio State really should go undefeated, and Alabama has been exceptional since surviving its early test at A&M. This would be a great year for the four-team playoff. Unfortunately, it's not coming until 2014.
Sheldon (Comic book store)
Elephant in the room question. Sort of. What are your thoughts on the "onside kick" and "4th down challenge" by Urban? Personally, if it was an onside kick I don't think the line would have been starting to run down the field. As for the challenge, I think it was the right decision for 2 reasons 1) it was a bad spot and should be challenged and 2) OSU's 2nd/3rd stringers got the stop and deserved to be rewarded for their efforts. Besides, all PSU had to do was fall forward 2 feet, right?
Adam Rittenberg (12:36 PM)
I think people need to stop being so sensitive, especially in the Big Ten. The whole style points and running up the score thing seems to be amplified in this conference more than others, where it takes place all the time. None of it really bothers me. Wisconsin's explosion against Indiana a few years ago didn't bother me, either. My view: have some pride and make a stop. Don't let a team score at will.
Jon (Seattle, WA)
Wisconsin v FSU in the Orange Bowl. Off the top of your head, what would be your prediction? Would Wiscy keep it to a one possession game?
Adam Rittenberg (12:37 PM)
It would be interesting to see the contrasting styles, and whether Wisconsin could contain a QB like Jameis Winston. I also would be interested in seeing how Melvin Gordon performs against FSU's athletic defense. Would be a fun matchup, and I'd be surprised if Wisconsin got blown out.
Kevin (Easton, PA)
Weather forecast looks like its calling for rain in East Lansing Saturday. If the conditions get wet and sloppy, do you think that will have big impact on the outcome. It might hurt Michigan more because they rely on passing more and don't have a solid run game.
Adam Rittenberg (12:39 PM)
Yeah, I agree that poor weather would favor Michigan State. Both teams want to establish the run game, but Michigan certainly relies more on big pass plays, especially after lighting up Indiana with Jeremy Gallon two weeks ago.
Northwesterns problems start and end with injuries. With a healty Colter, they win both at Iowa and Minnesota. One hangover loss to Wisconsin, and a tight game with OSU. This isn't even getting into their D injuries, which may have helped in that one score game with Ohio St...
Adam Rittenberg (12:40 PM)
Jason, while no Big Ten team has been negatively impacted more by injuries than Northwestern, which was remarkably healthy last year, I think there are other issues, too, like turnovers in plus territory and stupid penalties, which likely cost the Wildcats a win at Iowa. The offense also hasn't been able to finish drives since the Ohio State game. Just not enough touchdowns being scored.
Kevin (Easton, PA)
I read an article about a recent interview with Pat Narduzzi and he says hes ready to be a head coach but won't leave unless the right position becomes available so he could have a chance to win. What type of program could lure him away and do you have any specific colleges that will be looking for a HC in the off season?
Adam Rittenberg (12:42 PM)
Pat has the luxury of waiting for a good job to come open. He doesn't have to go to the MAC or another smaller conference for his first head-coaching position. I think he'd be interested in Illinois if the job came open there. I could also see him going back to the East Coast and coaching in the ACC somewhere. He'll certainly get some attention following this season.
I've heard a lot about MSU and Michigan's offense/defense. Who has the edge on special teams?
Adam Rittenberg (12:45 PM)
Good question, Zeke. Michigan State punter Mike Sadler might be the best in the Big Ten, so I'd give the Spartans the edge there. Neither team is great on returns, but I'd give Michigan the edge because of Dennis Norfleet. And while Brendan Gibbons really struggled at Penn State, I'd still give him the edge on field goals. So overall, Michigan gets my vote. Then again, Michigan State has pulled off several great special teams fakes, and Brady Hoke told me he expects something creative from Mark Dantonio on Saturday.
You're right - a 49 point lead against a team weakened by sanctions through no personal wrongdoing on their part deserved to have a trivial spot challenged. Urban Meyer embodies class and sportsmanship.
Adam Rittenberg (12:46 PM)
Maybe he doesn't, Joe. So what? He wins games. He's a nationally elite coach who has won championships and recruits well. The Big Ten can't simply be the nice-guy conference. Let's move on from this topic.
doug (san antonio)
all kidding aside, do you think Bielema ever wishes he stayed at UW, or does he know it is a process and it might take 3-5 years to win at Arkansas?
Adam Rittenberg (12:48 PM)
He might have regrets a few years down the line, but not now. He wouldn't have taken the job if he didn't have confidence he could win big at Arkansas. It was a significant risk in my view, but Bret isn't the type to second-guess himself.
Ron (North Carolina)
What is your favorite Holloween candy?
Adam Rittenberg (12:48 PM)
Love the mini Crunch bars.
Minnesota struggles against the pass, which is not a good recipe for success at Indiana this week. Is this a terrible matchup for the Gophers, who if they fall behind, won't being to rely on their rushing attack?
Adam Rittenberg (12:49 PM)
Great point, Lane. Minnesota has to start fast in this one, as the Gophers want to control the clock and keep Indiana's offense off of the field as much as possible. The thing is, Indiana scores so quickly that the Hoosiers can come back from a double-digit deficit. This game will strain Minnesota's secondary more than any other to date. Really interested to see how Brock Vereen and the crew perform on Saturday.
BenDair (out there)
Does a one-loss Stanford and/or undefeated Baylor jump tOSU in the BCS at season's end?
Adam Rittenberg (12:51 PM)
I think it depends on how Ohio State and Baylor look the rest of the way. Stanford already is ahead of Baylor now, and the Cardinal would have wins against Oregon, possibly UCLA and Notre Dame if they were to run the table. This is the only scenario where I think style points come into play for Ohio State. If the Buckeyes are impressive in victory from now until Dec. 7, they should get in the title game as long as Alabama, FSU and Oregon stumble at some point.
Adam, do you think that drug use may be common among big ten (or college football in general) coaching staffs?
Adam Rittenberg (12:54 PM)
It's an interesting topic, Tom, in light of the Carl Pelini news Wednesday. Drinking certainly has been and continues to be an issue for college coaches. It's an extremely stressful job and a stressful lifestyle. While I don't think drug use is as common, I highly doubt Carl Pelini is the only college coach to smoke weed.
Looking at UM's road record versus their home success do you think Hoke and staff shut it down too much on the road. Is this an old school thought on how to coach or does he just try to drive us crazy on purpose? BOO!
Adam Rittenberg (12:56 PM)
BOO! Good question, Glenn, but I don't know if Michigan's play-calling is conservative on the road as much as it's puzzling. I think back to the offensive approach in road losses against Michigan State (2011) and Notre Dame (2012). OC Al Borges said he couldn't get into the playbook nearly enough last year at Ohio State. It does seem that Hoke's teams lack a killer instinct on the road. He told me Michigan "flinched" too much last time at Michigan State. The Wolverines will have to be mentally tougher to win Saturday.
You will probably ignore this as you have "moved on," but THE questions are still good ones. While Alabama, Oregon, Florida State et al have big score victories, the perception is that it is because of who they have and who they are, not who they play and how they play. Meyer has himself admitted to watching the national landscape as it pertains to the unbeaten. Do you think the Penn State game helped, hurt, or was neutral from a national perception?
Adam Rittenberg (12:58 PM)
Sally, I think the Penn State game showed Ohio State can be dominant in league play, which we had yet to see in the first three contests. But the final score didn't get Ohio State any closer to being in the top two. Ultimately, the Buckeyes will need two of the top three to lose to have a realistic chance of making the championship in Pasadena.
Adam Rittenberg (12:59 PM)
Last one for the day ...
All around the country we hear about Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Jameis Winston of Florida State, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Bryce Petty of Baylor.Other than Miller ;) why aren't we producing elite QBs in the B1G? Is it the schemes, or?
Adam Rittenberg (1:01 PM)
There are more run-oriented schemes in the Big Ten, but there are also enough offenses that can help quarterbacks reach the next level. This year has been a bit disappointing at that position, in part because of injuries (Colter, Martinez, even Miller) and in part because of poor performances. The coaching in the Big Ten might not be as QB friendly as it is in other conferences. Other than Bill O'Brien and Kevin Wilson, how many true QB gurus are there in this conference? That could be a factor in the overall play.
Adam Rittenberg (1:01 PM)
OK guys, time's up. Happy Halloween to all and enjoy Week 10!