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Jack from Champaign, Illinois writes: The Illini recently have been getting commitments from some good offense prospects. However, it's hard not to notice the fact that the number of defensive commitments have been lacking. Is there a chance from all these good offense recruits committing that we start to see more defense guys look at Illinois, will that come from the defense showing progress this year, or what exactly should I be looking. Maybe I'm being optimistic, but I'm beginning to feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Illinois football. Am I right to feel this way?
Adam Rittenberg: Jack, it still depends on the team taking a step forward this season. The recent recruiting success is encouraging, as Illinois has landed commits from players like receiver A.D. Miller and ESPN 300 offensive tackle Gabe Megginson. The offense appears to be in good hands with Bill Cubit and should put up points again this season. But another bowl-less season leaves athletic director Mike Thomas with a big decision about coach Tim Beckman's future. A coaching change, as you know, often leads to recruiting changes. So it all comes back to how the 2014 Illini perform.
Sparty from Marquette, Michigan writes: Hey Adam, as a Spartan fan I've been thrilled that MSU has been able keep Narduzzi around as long as they have. (My pipe dream is that he'll stay and take over for Dantonio, although maybe a more realistic dream would be that he comes back after Dantonio retires). That being said, do you have any thoughts as to who would make a good replacement? Should Dantonio promote from within or look elsewhere? I have to believe this is something he's put some thought into by now.
Adam Rittenberg: He definitely has put some thought into it, as all head coaches must be prepared to replace assistants every year. Mark Dantonio and athletic director Mark Hollis both think Pat Narduzzi is ready to become a head coach, and the move should come relatively soon, possibly after the 2014 season if the job is right (Connecticut was not).
Dantonio loves his staff and his track record shows that he will promote from within. He did so with his last two offensive coordinators (Dan Roushar and Dave Warner). I would expect him to give both secondary coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers coach Mike Tressel strong consideration for the coordinator job. Defensive line coach Ron Burton hasn't been with MSU as long but could get a look. If I had to make a prediction of Narduzzi's successor, I'd go with Barnett.
D.L. from Corpus Christi, Texas, writes: For your freak list: Ameer Abdullah, at 5'9" and 190 lbs, has ran for 1,137 yards in 2012 and 1,690 yards in 2013. Ameer has proven himself to be a workhorse while being an undersized RB and on the list of top RB's in the country. Not to mention he choose to finish his education before he turns pro.
Adam Rittenberg: D.L., Bruce Feldman actually puts together the "freaks" list, a must-read in the preseason. But if I put together a Big Ten "freaks" list, I probably would include Abdullah. He has been incredibly productive and durable despite a smaller frame in a very physical conference. I don't know all of his weight-room specifics but imagine they are pretty impressive. Good choice.
Truman from Chicago writes: You said a couple weeks ago, "It would be a major surprise if a Big Ten team that went 13-0 -- including 10 league wins -- is left out of the playoff." A lot of analysts have Ohio getting a spot in the playoffs as well, but is that based on reason or hope? Looking at the calculations a bunch of 1-loss and a few two-loss teams would get the spot before an undefeated Ohio. The only "quality" win will be against a Michigan St team with a loss to a good Pac-12 team that is iffy on winning the conference.
Adam Rittenberg: Truman, it's presumptive to suggest Ohio State's only quality win would come against Michigan State when you don't know how teams in the Big Ten West division will perform, or whether a non-league foe like Virginia Tech makes noise in the ACC. But if the long-awaited playoff keeps out an undefeated team from a major conference, the committee members aren't doing their jobs.
We saw in the BCS era how difficult it was run the table in a major conference. You rarely saw multiple teams finish the season without a blemish. Now there are four spots to offer a potential champion, not two. If a 13-0 Big Ten champion doesn't get in, the system is flawed and the league has a bigger perception problem than I imagined. Remember that a huge initial driver for a playoff system was the 2004 Auburn squad, left out despite a perfect record.
Matt from Ypsilanti, Michigan, writes: Preseason hype for teams is something that is always interesting to me. It seems that how a team finished the prior season has more of a hype impact than what players are returning. MSU and Oklahoma are perfect examples of this. Both finished very strong last season BUT OU starters gone are 4 o-line, TE, 2 WR, RB and entire secondary. MSU loses 3 starters on OL and half the defensive starters. I think both teams fall drastically short of the playoff expectation that many have for them as other teams with more experience leap them in on field performance. Amy I way off with that or do you see why I think this way?
Adam Rittenberg: Definitely an interesting topic, Matt. You could be right about some folks overrating teams that finished 2013 on a high, although I don't see that as much for Michigan State, which sits behind Ohio State on the Big Ten preseason pecking order despite its win against the Buckeyes in the league championship. Returning starters versus starters lost is an important metric, but you also have to look at who is departing and who is back. I don't think MSU's offensive line is in trouble, and while the losses on defense are bigger, Narduzzi has a proven track record of reloading. Both MSU and Oklahoma also return quarterbacks who ended the season with big games. That can't be overlooked.