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Friday, September 20, 2013
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

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To the inbox ...

Mike K. from Boston writes: The list of host cities that ESPN reported as bidding for the 2016 and 2017 national championship games not so conspicuously was missing any Midwest representation. The B1G already is at a disadvantage with the decision to use bowl sites for the semifinals. There are plenty of viable Midwest host cities with indoor stadiums (Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minneapolis). What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, I couldn't agree more, but we knew this was probably coming, at least for the first set of title games not played at existing bowl sites. Several of those indoor venues expressed interest in hosting the title game when I reached out to them this spring, but some of the organizing groups are focused more on bidding for other events, including Super Bowls. Indianapolis would be the most realistic possibility in Big Ten territory because of its tremendous track record of hosting major sporting events. But Indiana Sports Corp, which brings the events to Naptown, has said it won't bid on the initial set of college football title games. Colleague Brett McMurphy has reported Minneapolis could bid on the game. It would be a shame to have a national championship never take place in the Midwest, especially since there are some excellent indoor venues here.


Tim from Niamey, Niger, writes:Living where I do, I miss a lot, but last weekend it was certainly fun to read about Ohio State's backup QB doing what he did. Then I read all about how OSU needs to be starting Kenny Guiton over Braxton Miller? really? He played the 120 worst defense in the nation. Not exactly a difficult task when you have the running game OSU has. He did still make some very good throws and I think OSU is blessed to have two really good QBs. I am glad that our backup takes his role seriously to be prepared to go in and not miss a beat, but before we lift him high on this pedestal, let's not forget who he played against.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, I couldn't agree more. Kenny Guiton deserves all the credit he's getting right now, and it's great to see how he has developed after being an extremely late addition to the Buckeyes' 2009 recruiting class. But I also don't understand the talk about Guiton replacing Miller after Miller returns from his knee injury. Another email I received suggested that Miller should redshirt the season. C'mon, people. I know Urban Meyer and his coaching staff understand what they have in Miller, and so do most Ohio State fans. He's an elite athlete and can be a better passer than he has shown. When the competition gets tougher, which it soon will, you want No. 5 in there. This all speaks to the fact that Ohio State has way more weapons on offense than it did last season, when Miller carried the unit for much of the season.


Mitch from East Lansing, Mich., writes: College football fans know that the B1G isn't exactly in the best shape right now. But you should realize that media members like you, who write full, front-page articles explaining how terrible the B1G is, aren't doing anyone any favors. There are still a lot of good teams in B1G who are either in the top 25 or close to it. Also the B1G is still very popular all over the country thanks to the huge alumni groups. Maybe if people actually stopped continuously saying that the B1G is so bad, then maybe the national perception wouldn't be so bad.

Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, Mitch, national perception doesn't work that way. It baffles me how six seasons into this gig, I'm still expected by some fans to "promote" the Big Ten or tell you how great it is. That's not my job. Perception is about performance, and the Big Ten for the most part hasn't performed well against other conferences in recent years, whether it's in regular-season games or bowls. Last Saturday provided an opportunity for the Big Ten to show it had turned a corner after a historically poor season. Instead, the league provided much of the same underwhelming results, and it would have been worse if Michigan had lost to Akron. When the Big Ten performs better on the field, its perception will improve and you'll see fewer columns like the one I wrote last week.


Thomas from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, I know it is WAY too early, but Penn State is looking like it will take home back-to-back freshman of the year awards. This can only help Bill O'Brien in recruiting, right? If this is the case, how long does it take for PSU to contend for the B1G title once the sanctions are over (IF BO'B stays?)

Adam Rittenberg: Thomas, it can't hurt. Wisconsin had back-to-back Big Ten freshmen of the year -- linebacker Chris Borland in 2009, running back James White in 2010 -- and Penn State certainly could do the same if quarterback Christian Hackenberg keeps it up. O'Brien can sell an NFL-style offense to recruits, as well as a chance to see the field early because of the roster situation. If you're an elite recruit, you could claim a starting role faster at Penn State than other programs because there are fewer players ahead of you. It's hard to project three or four years down the road, and I'm interested to see how the sanctions will impact Penn State the rest of this season and next, but I doubt it will take O'Brien long to put together a contender once the Lions are eligible again.


Not an ASU/Pac-12 Officiating Question from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam, I know you and Brian have been swamped with Wisconsin-ASU questions, comments, and rants this week, but I have a different Badger question for you. Do you think that the Wisconsin loss* to ASU is a blessing in disguise? Let's be realistic here (which may be a little too much to ask from college football fans). My Badgers had no chance at a BCS title this season, so the best thing we could hope for is a Rose Bowl victory. I know that Ohio State is deservingly the favorite to win the Leaders Division, but in your opinion does what happened in Tempe give the Badgers a chip on their shoulder and a little extra edge to take with them into Columbus? I realize we have Purdue between now and then, but my thought is that the ASU game may have sparked a fire and awoken a monster from inside Camp Randall. Is this a legitimate thought? Or is it a delusional coping mechanism I'm using because drinking the wells of New Glarus dry has done little to ease the pain of last Saturday.

Adam Rittenberg: It's never a blessing to lose, especially the way Wisconsin did at Arizona State, but you're probably correct that the Badgers' realistic ceiling this season is another Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance. The benefit of playing a game like Wisconsin did -- win or lose -- is the experience gained in traveling to a hostile environment and pushing a good opponent to the end of the game. Wisconsin won't be intimidated at Ohio Stadium, even though the Buckeyes are better than Arizona State. Wisconsin is a veteran team that has won some tough road games in the past, and players can draw on their experience in the desert, even though it didn't end well. We knew Wisconsin would be the older team in this matchup before the season, but the Badgers also have faced more adversity than Ohio State. It could help them as they attempt to pull off what would be considered a fairly big upset.


James from Wichita, Kan., writes:In regard to the Huskers, do you think the team could use this latest situation as a rallying cry for the rest of the season? Simplifying the offense should help, and by the time Northwestern rolls to town, the defense will have another month under their belt. We have seen how this team plays when there is an us-against-the-world mentality; maybe they can use this as fuel to power through conference play to finish the season 11-1 or 10-2. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: That's what they have to do, James. Nebraska knew going into the season that November would be the make-or-break month, and it still is. Although Illinois and Minnesota could be tricky games next month, Nebraska enters a favorable stretch featuring two open weeks and no ranked opponents. This is definitely a time to regroup and clean up the problems on both sides of the ball. Nebraska needs Taylor Martinez to get healthy, and the defense must grow up a bit, especially up front. My concern is that the competition level goes up so much in November and stays there. Will Nebraska be ready? I have my doubts.


Chris P. from Clemson, S.C., writes: Is it possible that Michigan struggling against Akron improves their long-term outlook for the season? Of course, there are many red flags raised, but a positive is that this teaches them that not preparing can have dire consequences, no matter who they are playing. Now they will prepare fully for games against Minnesota and Iowa, whereas they may have brushed them off had they not learned their lesson this past weekend. I think barely beating Akron decreases their chance of a major upset later in the season.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you echo the hope of many Michigan fans after watching that debacle last week. Brian and I actually discussed this point, and he tends to think Michigan had its letdown game and should be OK going forward. And he/you might be right. I tend to think that Michigan, like a lot of younger teams, will have some great performances and some lackluster ones, looking at times like a team that might win a championship this year and, at other times, one that's a year or two away. There were too many problems in the Akron game to write it off as a one-time letdown. Michigan's defense has yet to impress, especially up front, and while linebacker Jake Ryan will provide a big boost when he returns, I wonder if the Wolverines have enough impact players on that side of the ball.

On offense, the turnovers are adding up for Devin Gardner, who has to improve his decision-making when the competition improves. And here's another troubling nugget from ESPN Stats & Information: "The Wolverines have had 34 rushing plays of zero or negative yards, the second-most among BCS automatic-qualifying schools. Michigan also has zero broken tackles on rushing plays this year, the only team in the Big Ten without one, and just 128 rush yards after contact, second-fewest among Big Ten teams."

Maybe Michigan had its hiccup game, but I can't dismiss some other issues with the Wolverines, a team that could win a Big Ten title this year but also one that could lose several games down the stretch.


Dan from Los Angeles writes: Please, I beg you, don't taunt AIRBHG. He is an angry, petty, vengeful deity.

Keith from Reverence, Iowa, writes: Adam,I enjoyed your article about Iowa's Mark Weisman, save one line where you tempted the AIRBHG. Know this: no mortal running back has escaped the AIRBHG (Shonn Greene is the exception; he was Herculean, and able to battle back to return and prove the follies of the AIRBHG). If the AIRBHG shows his wrath, I hold you entirely responsible retroactive to 9/17/13, at 5:30 ET.

Adam Rittenberg: Yikes. I should know better. The AIRBHG has seemed to be preoccupied lately, building His brand on social media and the like. At some point, He will be defeated, and I think it'll be this year. But I realize the perils of challenging Him, and for that, I am truly sorry.