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Big Ten Friday mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A day away from the start of the Big Ten bowl season, it's time to see what's on your mind.

Jason from Springfield, Mo., writes: First off, I have enjoyed the blog tremendously this season. I hope it continues since it keeps me up to date not only on my own team but the rest of the teams, and thanks so much for your hard work this year. I do have a question that has been kinda nagging at me a bit. People have said all year long that Michigan didn't have a lot of talent to work with this year. But after looking at the recruitment rankings from the past 5 years (I know they don't mean a whole lot, but the top classes usually have a decent amount of talent) the Wolverines have had top 10 or close to top 10 classes every year. Why do people think that Michigan has little talent?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Jason. The talent is there at Michigan, but not enough of it was developed in the past two seasons to prevent a drop-off this fall. I believe Rich Rodriguez when he says the competition and overall skill at several positions wasn't up to par, especially after so many good players graduated or left for the NFL. One of the problems with multiyear starters at key positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, left tackle) is that the reserves are often neglected. Not saying that happened at every spot, but it's clear to me Michigan would have had some major drop-offs in several places no matter what system or coach was brought in this fall.


Mike from Parts Unknown writes: Hey Adam- love reading your blog! As an Iowa fan, I'm feeling very good about the Hawks bowl game against South Carolina, and I'm feeling very good about their chances for a Big Ten title next year, even if Shonn Greene leaves for the NFL. Besides Greene, Mitch King and Seth Olsen, all big losses to be sure, they return just about everyone else. Am I wrong to think this could be another Top Ten Kirk Ferentz team in 2009?

Adam Rittenberg: A hot Iowa team should take care of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and if several spots are filled, the Hawkeyes could make a title push in 2009. As much as I love Shonn Greene, I'm not as concerned about the running back spot if he chooses to leave for the NFL draft (an extremely likely possibility). Jewel Hampton looked solid when he got his opportunities this season, and Jeff Brinson adds depth at running back. By far the biggest losses will be defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. You rarely get four-year starters at any position, much less interior defensive line. Iowa will have a very hard time replacing those guys, and that's not a dig at the younger players behind them. If the Hawkeyes fill in the gaps on the offensive and defensive lines, they should be pretty good in 2009.


Tim from West Chester, Pa., writes: Adam, First of all I love reading the blog and keeping up with PSU through this page, but what is the deal with you going to the Fiesta Bowl over the Rose Bowl? The perception of OSU and Michigan being more important than the rest of the league is increased by this. Why aren't you going to the rose bowl? That is the game that will define the big ten more than the Fiesta bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, let me start by saying we will have a blogger (or two) at every BCS bowl game, so all games will be covered well. I don't decide what games I cover, but I do think the Fiesta -- as well as the Rose -- has plenty of intrigue this season. The BCS has two Big Ten teams and only one Pac-10 team, so that influences where the conference bloggers go. I will have several Penn State-related items in the coming days, and I'll be tracking the Rose Bowl from Arizona, so all bases will be covered, trust me.


Andy from Holt, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, I was just wondering what you think about Michigan State's running back depth for 2009. We recruited two 4 star running backs, but we have a bunch of running backs that backed up Ringer.

Adam Rittenberg: The Spartans have plenty of depth, but none of those backs has much experience, which could present a problem. Michigan State didn't do much to develop a second option at running back, so there could be some transition issues after the graduation of Javon Ringer. I liked what I saw from Andre Anderson in preseason practice, and my sense is he'll be the featured back in 2009. But it could be more of a committee system, and the two freshmen (Edwin Baker and Larry Caper) will be in the mix.


Joe in Chicago writes: Adam, I find it endlessly irritating every time I read your postings that "Penn State was clearly the best team in the Big 10 this season." Yes, they beat OSU in Columbus, but that win was not nearly as emphatic as you suggest. They trailed OSU for the majority of the game, and were defending their own end zone in the last minute. According to your characterizations, that game was a rout, and the OSU season an unmitigated disaster. Each team lost once during conference play, and each played terrifc down the stretch: you might ackowledge this more frequently rather than treating your blog as a platform for "outright" championships--PSU gets their reward in the automatic Rose Bowl berth.

Adam Rittenberg: My statement about Penn State has more to do with the entire season than the game in Columbus. And I never said Ohio State's season was an unmitigated disaster. But most informed Buckeyes fans would agree this season has been a minor disappointment given all Ohio State had coming back from a two-time national runner-up. Penn State was clearly the Big Ten's best team because it won 10 games by 14 points or more, because it led the league in scoring offense and scoring defense, because it led the league in total offense and total defense and because it had great balance in all three phases. Unlike Ohio State, which couldn't figure out an offensive identity until November, Penn State's offense surged all season. While Ohio State certainly found itself in position to beat Penn State on Oct. 25, the Lions made fewer mistakes and came out with the win. You're right, both teams played well in the last few games, but Penn State's body of work is stronger.


Jeff from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Since you typically seem to leave out Michigan players in your Big Ten rankings, how do you see the team performing in the coming years? A 6-6 season next year? Or perhaps worse?

Adam Rittenberg: I would say 6-6 seems about right for 2009, maybe seven wins. Much depends on the quarterback situation. Michigan should be fine at running back, and the offensive line shouldn't be a major question mark like it was this season. There's still some uncertainty on defense with a new coordinator coming in, and Michigan must replace at least three starters on the D-line. The top priority is obvious: finding a capable quarterback. We'll see some improvement next year, but 2010 is the critical season for Rodriguez and the Wolverines.