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)
Hey everyone, I'm here. Let's chat!
Adam, considering the staff that Coach Franklin has assembled at Penn State do you see them being a B10 Championship caliber staff?
Adam Rittenberg (12:02 PM)
I think so, Dsloc. It's essentially the same staff that helped Vanderbilt to consecutive 9-win seasons and three straight bowl appearances, and Vandy plays in a tougher conference. I like that Franklin brought Herb Hand to Penn State. Hand is perhaps the team's most important assistant, even though he isn't a coordinator. Time will tell if this staff can win at the highest levels in the Big Ten, but Franklin showed a lot of loyalty to his guys at Vandy.
Is MSU the only legitimate title contender this year for the B1G or will tOSU be back in the mix as well? Who else should we keep an eye on.
Adam Rittenberg (12:03 PM)
In terms of national title, I'd say MSU and OSU are the Big Ten's best bets. Braxton Miller gives Ohio State a chance, although the Buckeyes have to get a lot better on defense and reload along the offensive line. But it always helps to have a great QB, and Ohio State has one in Miller. MSU can validate itself as a title contender by beating Oregon in Week 2. Very few teams win at Autzen Stadium, so it's a huge and telling game for Mark Dantonio's crew.
doug g (San Antonio)
Adam-thanks for the chat. I am a bit tired of some of the Joel Stave "bashing". In his first full year as a starter, he led us to a 9-4 record. I really do not see any loss this past season as his fault. I agree he needs to be more consistent. Arizona st-Stave put us in position to kick a 32 yard fg and win the game. Ohio st-national and wisconsin media said he played very well. Penn st-probably his biggest opportunity to have connected on more plays, but the experts and media put the loss on the defense. Bowl game-has us up 14-13 at half after two nice td drives, and we were clearly still in the game when he got hurt. I can see if we use more wildcat and have a package or two for a dual threat guy, but again, I think he should start. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks
Adam Rittenberg (12:06 PM)
Doug, you bring up some good points about Stave, who is still a young player capable of developing as he gets older. But I think you're being a little kind. He had a big role in the loss to Penn State with three interceptions, and the consistency Wisconsin needs at that position wasn't always there. To be a truly elite team in today's college game, you need your quarterback to make key plays at critical points. Stave has done that at times, but we need to see it more often for Wisconsin to make a push for the Playoff. There will be a competition this spring at QB, which could be good for Joel.
Reese (Downers Grove, IL)
It seems the Illini offense should be fine this fall. There wasn't much hype around the group of WR's they had last year, but they got the job done. Can we expect similar results from the Juco additions and holdovers? Also, the key to the Illini getting bowl eligible is having just a mediocre defense. What are the odds of that happening? The key is the front 7, but I am not sold.
Adam Rittenberg (12:08 PM)
Reese, I agree it's mainly about the defense for Illinois. A lot of players return, but Jonathan Brown will be tough to replace at linebacker. Illinois definitely needs to see immediate impacts from all these jucos. It's why you bring them in. There are enough playmakers on offense to get it done, especially if the line maintains its level of play. There's a path to bowl eligibility for Illinois, but you're right that it really comes down to the defense.
Which tOSU defensive coordinator will really be setting schemes and calling plays next season?
Adam Rittenberg (12:10 PM)
Bernard, I'd be surprised if it isn't Chris Ash doing the play calls. Why would Ash leave a play-calling role at Arkansas -- he called plays at Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012 -- for a lesser role at Ohio State? Doesn't make much sense. Coupled with the questions/criticism around Luke Fickell, it makes sense for Ash to move into that role.
I am a husker grad and fan...I do not understand how you say husker D will be good etc...we lost 4 games every year under Pelini....we beat a 5 loss Georgia team that would have won without a dropped pass.....we survived Northwestern on a hail mary and got pounded by Iowa at home...Why the optimism ..Pelini has NEVER delivered a signature win??
Adam Rittenberg (12:12 PM)
James, I agree Pelini has more to prove and arguably should have been replaced after the Iowa game. But you have to acknowledge the defense made strides toward the end of the season, from the second half against Northwestern onward. There are a lot of young players on defense, particularly in the front seven, and a bona fide star in end Randy Gregory. So there's a decent foundation there. It doesn't guarantee anything, but it's OK for some Husker fans (clearly not all) to feel a little better coming out of the bowl game.
Brandon (Madison, WI)
Can Badger fans anticipate a worse, simular, or better 2nd year under Coach Andersen? I personally think we have a great chance to get to Indy. Your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (12:14 PM)
Wisconsin definitely has a chance to get to Indy, especially in a division without MSU, OSU or Michigan. The Badgers do lose a sizable senior class and have some holes to fill on both sides of the ball. I have some concerns about the way UW ended the season and whether Andersen can get better results in 2014. But several things go in Wisconsin's favor, including Melvin Gordon's return at RB and a favorable schedule (no OSU, MSU or Michigan).
Larry Johnson an upgrade over Vrabel in both recruiting and coaching?
Adam Rittenberg (12:16 PM)
Hmmm, good question. In coaching, I'd say yes, mainly because Johnson has way more experience than Vrabel and a track record of producing elite defensive linemen. As a recruiter, I'd also give Johnson a slight edge because of his long-term success, but Vrabel had quickly developed himself into an outstanding recruiter.
Richard Sherman (Space)
Comparing the divisions I think most would agree the East will be the strongest division most years. Any possibility that next year the West will be stronger. While the two strongest teams appear to be MSU and OSU the following 5 I'd contend are in the West.
Adam Rittenberg (12:18 PM)
It really hinges on Michigan, Richard. If Michigan plays to its potential -- a big if -- the East will be stronger because of its top. We should see more parity in the West with potentially five division title contenders (Neb, Wis, Iowa, Minn, Northwestern), but a lot depends on whether teams like Nebraska and Northwestern improve, and whether Iowa and Minnesota can string together good seasons.
Mike (New Jersey)
Do you think Rutgers has a chance to break into the top half of the Eastern Division this upcoming season?
Adam Rittenberg (12:20 PM)
It's going to be tough, Mike, and Rutgers will need to get a lot better on defense under new leadership. The combination of two new coordinators and a shift to a tougher conference, and a potentially brutal division, might be too much for Rutgers to overcome. But I'm interested to see how Kyle Flood's squad holds up in what could be a pivotal year for the coach.
Do you have any insight as to what the strength and conditioning philosphy is of the strength coach that Franklin is bringing into State College? During the Paterno era it was all about HIT (high intensity training). When O'Brien took over they completely re-vamped that portion of the football program.
Adam Rittenberg (12:21 PM)
That's a really good question, Nate, and one I'll look into a little more here in the coming weeks. Craig Fitzgerald did a fabulous job at Penn State, getting players to buy into his philosophy. It would be wise for Franklin and his strength staff to maintain some of the principles Fitz emphasized.
Jeff (Ice Station Zebra)
Adam-Two questions, and forgive me if you addressed the first in your column about early departures, I'm on my lunch break and haven't had a chance to read it yet.1--Since the B1G doesn't have a lot of early departures, is that a sign of the "lower" caliber players that the B1G has or is there more at play here?2--What have you heard about the B1G players who at participating at Senior Bowl this week, any surprises?
Adam Rittenberg (12:24 PM)
Jeff, better start reading, buddy! Just kidding. I think the low number of early entries underscores the lack of truly elite players in the Big Ten. We certainly could have seen more players make the jump, but overall, the Big Ten is lacking players who have an NFL decision to make. I also think some Big Ten players are more inclined to finish their education than those in other conferences (cough, SEC). As for the Senior Bowl, some Big Ten players who have stood out are: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Kain Colter, Chris Borland, Ra'Shede Hageman and Christian Kirksey.
Casey (Michigan )
With the strong coaching staff and success since Dantonio came, do you think MSU is taking over the state of Michigan as "the" program?
Adam Rittenberg (12:26 PM)
No doubt, Casey. He has dominated Michigan during his tenure and does an excellent job of ramping up the rivalry, much like his mentor Jim Tressel did while Tressel was at Ohio State. Whether Dantonio can maintain this over the long term remains to be seen, and Michigan still recruits at a slightly higher level than Michigan State. But this has been a historic period of success for MSU, in part at Michigan's expense.
Do you expect Nuss to lean heavily on running the ball next year (something UM was horrendous at in 2013) or lean on Gardner to sling it around?
Adam Rittenberg (12:27 PM)
It's very hard to use your playbook as a coordinator when you can't consistently run the ball between the tackles, so I think the work starts there for Nussmeier. But he also would be wise to use Gardner like Borges did in games like Ohio State and Notre Dame. Having Gardner in a strict pro-style system without the ability to spread the field doesn't make much sense. But the run game and the O-line must be the priority.
While on paper just judging by names it looks like the east is stronger, I think its fairly even. Nebraska has been very mediocre in our 3 seasons in the B1G but our record against the new west isOSU :1-1Michigan: 2-1MSU: 2-1PSU: 3-0(havent played, Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland)Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (12:30 PM)
That's a fair point, Corey, but I'd add that Nebraska's win against Ohio State came against the worst Buckeyes team in the past quarter-century. So there's still something to prove there. Nebraska's success against the others could bode well for the future, although the Huskers now need to worry more about Wisconsin, Iowa, etc.
Rob NitLion (Morristown, NJ)
What is your honest take on Franklin flipping recruits from Vandy to PSU? I hear a lot of other teams fans talking about how we were up in arms when other programs were poaching our players once the sanctions were handed down...as much as many of us were upset that recruits like Noah Spence and Amani Reeves flipped to Ohio State...there is no comparison, we were upset that other schools were trying to flip our CURRENTLY enrolled players...just wanted to get that out there...
Adam Rittenberg (12:32 PM)
Rob, we both know that no fan base likes it when coaches flip their recruits, but fans also should know by now that it happens all the time and will continue to happen unless there's an early signing period. James Franklin was honest about it when asked: players do pick coaches, not schools, and will follow coaches if they leave. Is it unfortunate? To a degree. But it's the nature of the business, and Penn State has experienced both sides of it in recent years. I agree that the attempts to flip current players -- looking at you, Tim Beckman -- annoyed PSU fans more than losing recruits to Urban.
Peter (Bear Pit, AK)
Adam, love the blog to death. Where does the B1G rank in your mind against the other conferences moving forward? I don't mean how they did in bowls. I mean how you think they will fare in 2014.
Adam Rittenberg (12:34 PM)
Wow, to death? That's serious, Bear Pit Peter. Glad to hear it, though. ... I'd need to study the other leagues a little more closely, but I'd put the Big Ten behind the SEC and Pac-12 at this point. I still don't buy the ACC beyond Florida State, but the Pac-12 should be very good again with top QBs like Hundley, Mariota and Mannion all returning, not to mention a better overall coaching roster than the Big Ten. The SEC might not be as strong as it was 2-3 years ago, but it's still stronger than the Big Ten.
TB (Champaign, IL)
What are the odds of me keeping my job with the Illini after 2014 and finishing off my "Fighting Force 2015" recruiting class?
Adam Rittenberg (12:37 PM)
It could happen, TB, but you need to make a bowl game this season. Few coaches with three bowl-less seasons are going to survive, especially those who have never won over the fan base/boosters. So how do you get to six wins? It's certainly possible with a schedule that includes three likely non-league wins (Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State), and a crossover schedule that doesn't include Michigan State or Michigan. The road schedule is once again brutal (Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), so your team must play well on its home field.
Isn't saying a player shouldn't change schools to follow a coach analagous to saying a kid from Iowa must go to an Iowa college? I don't care what school or what situation, why shouldn't a student pick any coach/school/educational program they want, right?
Adam Rittenberg (12:40 PM)
Right, I'm totally with you, Cal. The thing that upsets me is when coaches put these ridiculous restrictions on where players can transfer. They'll jump at the next best job without looking back, but they won't let a player pursue his career at his school of choice? Incredibly hypocritical. But I have no issue with recruits following coaches. They can talk all they want about how you pick the school, but no one actually believes that.
Adam, Who do you see winning the starting OSU RB job? They have a crowded backfield which is a good thing to have!
Adam Rittenberg (12:43 PM)
Dave, it's way too soon to make a pick here, but I'm very interested to see how the competition plays out. Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball all are possibilities, and Dontre Wilson likely will see his role expand in his second year. I doubt we'll see a Carlos Hyde-type back emerge from the group, and it could be more of a committee thing. I also wonder if a freshman like Parris Campbell could work his way into the mix.
Adam, with a new OC at Michigan, do you think they may go in the direction of using a 2 QB system similar to Northwestern? It would be nice to see Gardner line up at wide receiver while also getting snaps at QB.
Adam Rittenberg (12:44 PM)
Rick, while you can't rule this out because Michigan loses both Gallon and Dileo, the team would like to keep Gardner at quarterback if all possible. The Wolverines have some talent at tight end with Funchess (essentially a WR) and Jake Butt, but they must develop some other options at receiver this spring. Shane Morris' progress at QB also will be key. Can he really push Gardner or will a healthy Gardner separate himself in spring ball? Should be really interesting.
Johnny "the Jet" Rodgers (Hall of Fame)
OK enough of the "insert this team from the West" should have a great shot to reach indy nextr year because they won't share a division with OSU, MSU, and UM. This is just silly. Both Nebraska and Wisconsin have beat MSU twice out of the last 3 years. Nebraska has split with OSU, and Michigan has a lot prove before they can be considered even a middle tier team for next year. Stop with name recognition. The West representative will not be at some great disadvantage. Sure the East team may have a better record since they will face Indiana and the new teams in Rutgers and Maryland while the West gets a pass at only Illinois and Purdue.
Adam Rittenberg (12:47 PM)
First of all, you're wrong about Wisconsin beating MSU two out of the past three years (MSU has owned Wisconsin as of late). Also, as I mentioned earlier, Nebraska beating a historically average Ohio State team in 2011 does nothing for me. Nebraska also easily could be 0-3 against Northwestern in the Big Ten. Michigan State dominated the Big Ten last year, won the Rose Bowl and returns most of its offense. Ohio State has the best talent in the BIg Ten year in and year out. Those are your two top teams. Deal with it. I'm not saying Nebraska can't rise up and win the Big Ten next year, but it does help, in my view, not to be in the same division with those two. I agree completely about Michigan, but you can make the same "name recognition" argument about Nebraska.
Don't forget about Ezekiel Elliot in the Buckeye backfield. I would say he's the early favorite.
Adam Rittenberg (12:48 PM)
Good point about Elliott. Forgot him. So Ohio State clearly has options there as it tries to replace Hyde.
Rob NitLion (Morristown, NJ)
Purdue question since I haven't seen one. What is truly holding them back? Poor recruiting classes in the past? lack of true fan support? lack of proper funding? or just coaches not being able to develop players recently? IF NW can turn things around, why can't purdue?
Adam Rittenberg (12:50 PM)
All of those factors play into it, Rob. Purdue had a really nice thing going under Joe Tiller, particularly from 1997-2004. But Purdue is simply a tough place to win. The state doesn't produce a ton of high school players, the stadium is rarely full and the funding doesn't match what you see in most of the league. Purdue historically has built its program through quarterback play, so it's a good sign to see strong recruits like Danny Etling and David Blough coming to West Lafayette. If the QBs improve, Purdue should be back in the bowl mix. But it's a very tough job, as many coaches have told me.
Adam, Does Venric Mark's return give Matt Alviti a better chance to play next year? Trevor Simien isn't all that strong running the option but maybe the Cats could replicate some of the 2012 success with a mobile QB. If not, is it possible that we could see Mark lined up as a receiver every once in awhile like he did during the OSU game?
Adam Rittenberg (12:52 PM)
Some good questions, Simon. The Mark-Alviti combo is more like Mark-Colter, so that could help Alviti's cause. But Siemian has way more experience and has has some good moments, despite his struggles in Big Ten play last fall (while injured). Northwestern has to decide what it wants to be on offense, and it may be more of a pass-oriented attack like we saw from 2007-09 with C.J. Bacher and Mike Kafka. I don't think the 2-QB thing is a strong long-term option. Mark will help just by being on the field, especially on special teams, and he has the versatility to excel in several styles of offense.
Adam, is money really the biggest reason why the Big Ten's coaches are considered "worse" than those in other conferences? As far as I can tell, many head coaches in the Big Ten get hired after having success at mid-major schools or as a top assistant, but that is no different than how most SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12 coaches are hired. Is the Big Ten just not picking the right guys, or are the top major-conference coaching prospects just holding out for spots down south or out west?
Adam Rittenberg (12:55 PM)
For starters, the Big Ten is stepping up money-wise for coaches (we'll have more on this next week), which is a good sign. I think the relatively weak Mid-American Conference hasn't helped the Big Ten since many of its coaches come from the MAC. But the bigger issues are picking the right guys, establishing some continuity and supporting the coaches with the right resources. The Big Ten has enough money to be great, but it needs to be more willing to commit them to its signature sport.
Adam, really miss chatting with everyone since the turn to Facebook, but oh well. As for the B1G East this year. I have no trouble giving OSU credit for what they did, although you have to admit, many of their games could have gone either way. MSU looks very strong. UM hasn't shown much of late. And PSU, even with the sanctions, is still hanging on. My point is, the winner of the East could be any of those four based on how the ball bounces. In the West, I really only see Wisc and Neb, with NW and Iowa having an outside shot.
Adam Rittenberg (12:57 PM)
Steve, I guess I wonder why you think Wisconsin and Nebraska are far and away the favorites in the West? Wisconsin loses an enormous senior class and has QB questions. Nebraska lost to Iowa and Minnesota and was a Hail Mary tip from losing to Northwestern. Will the Huskers suddenly eliminate their sloppiness and become dominant in 2014? Maybe, maybe not. I think the West is pretty even with the top 4-5 teams, while the East likely will be a 2- or 3-team race, as I don't think Penn State has enough to keep up.
Between Roberson and Sudfeld, does one of them finally break away from the other one, or will they be sharing playing time again like this past year?
Adam Rittenberg (12:59 PM)
Chuck, it will be interesting as Kevin Wilson has been careful not to declare one guy the starter. I think Indiana would benefit if one QB separates himself this spring. There was too much shuffling last year, and while Indiana continued to put up yards and points, I'm a believer that you're usually better off with one QB.
Adam Rittenberg (12:59 PM)
OK, last one ...
Ken (Ft Benning)
How much credit did OSU lose by losing to Clemson. I know there is a difference playing the end of season vs the begininng, but Georgia was fully loaded (no injuries) and the put up basically the same score. Georgia was by far the front runner in the SEC East until the injury bug hit them.. As a Buckeye fan in SEC country... do I have a point?
Adam Rittenberg (1:01 PM)
Ken, Ohio State definitely didn't help itself with a sloppy performance against Clemson, but the Buckeyes were clearly undermanned and seemed to be a little checked out in my view. Just a bad vibe around that team entering the game, which isn't unusual for a squad that saw its national title hopes go bust. It's important for Ohio State to show it can win games like that going forward, but we learned more about the Buckeyes' shortcomings in the Big Ten title game loss to MSU.
Adam Rittenberg (1:01 PM)
OK, everyone, time's up. Thanks for the questions. Let's do it again soon.