Big Ten mailblog

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Chris from Appleton, Wis., writes: I'd like to hear what you think are potential dark horse Heisman contenders from the ranks of Sophomores in Big Ten? What do your colleagues think across the nation? I think Jewel Hampton( or even Robinson) looks the part and if Iowa takes off in the running game and make a run at NCG ala Alabama of '09 then why not a Hawkeye Sophomore RB for Heisman?

Adam Rittenberg: Hampton obviously has to re-establish himself as The Guy at Iowa, but he certainly has a ton of ability and a feature back look to him. If the knee stays healthy, Hampton could be a big-time running back in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's Montee Ball is another sophomore running back who could have big days ahead, although impressive true freshman James White likely will push him for carries. Michigan State also has a pair of sophomore backs in Larry Caper and Edwin Baker, one of whom might develop into an elite player. It's tough to project so early, but it's fun, too.

Daniel from San Diego writes: Hey Adam! Love the blog. I read your Big Ten Season Predictions column and I couldn't help but notice that you didn't have a comeback player of the year? I would personally nominate Adam Weber don't you think? You have made multiple comments throughout the year that this would definitely be a possibility because of the new simplified system. So what do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Excellent call, Daniel. If we had the category in our predictions, Adam Weber would have been my pick. This guy has a ton of experience and he should be much more comfortable working under Jeff Horton as a senior. I'm still not sure about Minnesota's receiving corps, but Weber won't beat himself like he did last year. Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, Iowa's Hampton and Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams are three other candidates for Comeback Player of the Year. All three come off of injuries that cost them most or all of the 2009 season.

Nevin from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: Adam,Not gonna lie, you standing next to these massive human beings for interviews always makes me laugh.My question though, is the time of year the OSU/Michigan game is played REALLY that big of a deal? The argument everyone falls back to is that historically, that game was like a faux Big Ten title game. But now we will actually HAVE a Big Ten title game. So who cares when the game is played?To me it sounds like a bunch of old men throwing a fit because their favorite diner closed down and they don't want to change but can't come up with a good explanation why they don't want to change...

Adam Rittenberg: Nevin, glad my vertically challenged frame provides you with some entertainment. ... I see your point about actually having a Big Ten title game, but both Michigan and Ohio State always went through the season building toward their annual matchup at the end. That one game serves as a portion of the season schedule, just like the nonconference portion and the conference portion. I know one thing: if they move The Game to earlier in the season, I'd love to be the coach facing Ohio State or Michigan the week after they play. Can you say letdown? Here's another argument for keeping The Game on the final Saturday of the regular season: You play Ohio State-Michigan at noon ET and Penn State-Nebraska at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Big Ten can OWN the day in college football. Would it be good for the league if Ohio State and Michigan met in the championship game? Sure, but it's far from a guarantee. Just look at the ACC with Miami and Florida State.

Brian from Atlanta writes: At first glance on the Michigan State depth chart, nothing looked surprising, except that they have 4 defensive linemen slated to start, and 3 linebackers. I know they were planning on using a 3-4 primarily, but may use a mix of each, so I guess it doesn't matter who they pencil in to start, but could they possibly use more 4-3 after the decision to move William Gohlston to DE? Dantonio said he was going to get Gohlston in some to "get his feet wet", but he's listed third at rush end. Also, I was surprised to see Mackey watch lister Brian Linthicum at 4th on the TE depth chart. Again I'm sure he'll be used, maybe that's just a sign of the depth MSU has at tight end.

Adam Rittenberg: Most teams will list four down linemen on their depth chart even if they play a lot of 3-4. Michigan State still will use the base 4-3 quite a bit, and the rush end spot where Gholston is listed is somewhat of a hybrid position. Gholston requested the move to defensive end after gaining about 15 pounds in camp, and at his size, the switch seems to make a lot of sense. The guy can be a dynamic pass-rusher, and it's not like Michigan State is scrambling for linebackers. Linchicum is actually listed as a co-backup at tight end with Garrett Celek and Dion Sims, so I wouldn't read into his placement on the depth chart too much. But you're right about Michigan State's overall depth at tight end. The Spartans have more there than any Big Ten team.

Nate from Cleveland writes: Why in the last four years and the coming four years has Ohio State not scheduled a one of their tough early nonconference games againt an SEC foe?They started in the Big 12 with Texas, then the PAC 10 and now we go to the ACC and then back to the PAC 10 with Cal.Is this a strategy, or is there something else I am missing here.A game against an SEC team could really changed how the Buckeyes and the Big Ten are percieved, but it could also mean a loss.

Adam Rittenberg: Nate, keep in mind that it takes two sides to play ball on scheduling. The reason you don't see many Big Ten-SEC matchups is stadium size for both leagues and a general reluctance to give up home games. Do you think Florida would come to Columbus? Highly doubtful. Ohio State is supposed to face an SEC foe in 2018 and 2019, as a home-and-home against Tennessee has been finalized. Every Big Ten team is re-evaluating its future schedules after expansion this summer, but I'd still expect the Tennessee series to take place. I don't think Ohio State is scared of the SEC one bit. The Buckeyes scheduled USC the past two years, and Texas in 2005 and 2006. SEC teams actually have to be willing to leave the south once in a while.

Matt from West Hartford, Conn., writes: Adam, you wrote in your Big Ten Season Predictions: "But Clayborn makes more impact plays than any defender in the Big Ten," justifying your choice of defensive MVP.2009 Sacks per game: Kerrigan 1.08 (#3 nationally), Clayborn 0.882009 Forced fumbles per game: Kerrigan 0.58 (#1), Clayborn 0.312009 TFLs: Kerrigan 1.54 (#8), Clayborn 1.54Which "impact play" stats are you using? Please don't go down the same path that led to the travesty of Anthony Spencer getting bypassed for awards despite a far superior season compared to Woodley at UM in 2006. Thanks.Glad the Big Ten has you as a blogger!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Matt. Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan is an outstanding player, but a decent chunk of those numbers you present came in one game, albeit a very big one against Ohio State. Kerrigan recorded three sacks, four tackles for loss, two forced fumble and a fumble recovery en route to earning National Defensive Player of the Week honors. I'm not saying he wasn't a factor in other games, but Adrian Clayborn's big-play ability was more noticeable throughout the season. His punt block and return for touchdown against Penn State changed the course of the Big Ten race. He had huge plays against Arizona, Michigan and Ohio State, and dominated the Orange Bowl in a nationally televised game. Look, I love Ryan Kerrigan and won't overlook him one bit this fall, but Clayborn makes a bigger impact game in and game out.