Enjoy the first Saturday of Big Ten play!
Chris from Madison, Wis., writes: Adam, your faces are looking good on the video blogs although I wouldn't mind cameo appearances of the "funny faces" every here and there for old times sakes. Moving on, I'm growing more and more nervous for this game against Michigan St. on Saturday. How big of an impact will Nick Toon and David Gilreath have in this game? Do you see John Clay getting significantly more carries than he did in preseason action to bruise and soften up Big Ten defenses for later in the game? In short, how nervous should I be and what is the likelihood of me celebrating on State Street Saturday night?
Adam Rittenberg: I see what I can do for you on the faces, Chris. ... I really think having Toon and Gilreath back will be huge for Wisconsin. Lance Kendricks has been doing a great job the last two weeks, but it's different for a quarterback to have his No. 1 receiver back in the fold. Toon and Gilreath allow Wisconsin to really utilize the play-action pass and have better balance in the offense. I also think Clay will get more than 25 carries, and most likely more than 30, against Michigan State. The Spartans' D-line is unproven and Wisconsin will try to wear it down in the second half. Still, you should be nervous. All the intangible factors -- crowd, enthusiasm, drama -- point in Michigan State's favor, especially with Mark Dantonio returning to the coaching booth. But I have Wisconsin winning a squeaker, 31-30.
Travis from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I was looking at some statistics today and I noticed that Stazi's rating was at 179.4. This wouldn't be as big of a deal if it was an Iowa offense of the past with more running. They are letting him pass quite a bit, and he's a hair shy of 1000 yards through just 4 games with 9 TDs and only 1 int. What do you think he would have to do to actually solidify himself as a legitimate Heisman candidate in the next few games?
Adam Rittenberg: Ricky Stanzi needs a really big game against a really good defense. Fortunately for him, Penn State comes to Iowa City on Saturday with a really good defense. If Stanzi can attack downfield to DJK and Marvin McNutt, he could put up the type of numbers to get noticed. The other good thing is he still has games against Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, games that people will be watching nationally. If he keeps up this type of efficiency in Big Ten play, he'll possibly get some Heisman love. What's working against him are all the great players elsewhere, including two within the Big Ten (Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor).
Dan H. from West Lafayette, Ind., writes: how can you call ryan kerrigan the big 10's best defensive player, but say he's the second best defensive end? wouldn't being the second best at your position mean you are not the best player on your side of the ball?
Adam Rittenberg: I hate to quote a PSA from the 80s, but reading is fundamental. Mel Kiper called Ryan Kerrigan the second best defensive end prospect for the 2011 NFL draft, not me. In my view, Kerrigan has been the most impressive Big Ten defensive player by a sizable margin through the first four games. His big problem is that he plays for a struggling defense. It's a lot like Brandon Graham from Michigan in 2009: incredible statistics, but hurt by playing on a lousy unit. Kerrigan is legit, though, and he's looking like a first-round draft pick so far this season.
Ryan from Traverse City, Mich., writes: Adam, I love your blog. But I've got to say, I don't get the MSU-Wisconsin pick. I understand, Wisconsin has John Clay and a great O-line. But, here's my thing, MSU has Coach D coming back, and the game is at home. It seems MSU plays its best when the Badgers come to town. I just think that the crowd will give Tolzien problems and Greg Jones and Eric Gordon are tackling machines. I have MSU in this game, and don't get me wrong, it will be close. Still, you have to think about the frenzy surrounding the game. We'll see what happens, but I think you're really going to take some heat and will be wrong.
Adam Rittenberg: You make some good points, Ryan, and as I mentioned several times, the Wisconsin-Michigan State pick drove me nuts this week. Really went back and forth on that game. I'm not sure how I'm going to "really take some heat" for picking a 1-point win when you yourself admit it'll be close, but that's another discussion. The intangible factors of having a fired-up crowd and Mark Dantonio back in Spartan Stadium certainly favor Michigan State, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see the Green and White start fast. But I'm not sold on this Spartans defense, and Wisconsin, when it's clicking, has more firepower on offense. Again, could go either way, but I'm sticking with my Badgers pick.
Logan from State College, Pa., writes: Adam,23 FOR IOWA?! We give up 13 to Temple and you only give Iowa 23?! Haha, just messing with yuh, bud. I'll be in Kinnick Stadium this weekend so i'll give you the first hand account when i get back!Go State!Logan
Adam Rittenberg: Logan, I see you're back for more, my friend. Brave man. Enjoy your trip to Kinnick Stadium. It should be electric in there.
Alex G. from Fairfield, Iowa, writes: If Ohio State were to lose to Iowa and Iowa and OSU finish the year 11-1, do you think Ohio State still has a shot at NC? I say this being an optimistic Hawk fan that also wants the best for the BT. That would give 2 definite BCS bowl contenders. But would a loss that late in the season for OSU be deadly? Or might that even put Iowa back in NC talk?
Adam Rittenberg: Alex, late-season losses are almost always killers for a team's national title hopes. You can often survive an early loss (see: Florida in 2008) and get back in the voters' good graces, but a Nov. 20 loss just three weeks before the final BCS standings come out would be almost impossible for Ohio State to overcome. Never say never, as Ohio State made the title game in 2007 despite a November loss, but that was a once-in-a-generation type of season. I wouldn't worry too much about the Big Ten getting multiple BCS berths because it keeps happening, but I really think the only way a Big Ten team makes the title game is by going undefeated. My concern for Iowa going forward is that the team it lost to, Arizona, might be just the third or fourth best team in the Pac-10.
Brad from Chicago writes: Northwestern always seems to win at least one game that it should lose, and lose at least one game it should win. Looking at the conference schedule, I'd say that the "should win" column includes @Minnesota, Purdue, @Indiana, and Illinois; the "should lose" column includes Michigan State, @Penn State, Iowa, @Wisconsin. Where do the Cats stumble, and where do they pull the surprise upset?
Adam Rittenberg: Best chance for a stumble would be this week against Minnesota or Oct. 30 at Indiana. Best chance for a surprise upset would be against Michigan State or against Iowa, a team Northwestern has done well against the last six years. You're definitely right about this trend, though. The Wildcats seem to play up or down to their competition more than most Big Ten squads.
Disconsolate Purdue Fan from Biloxi, Miss., writes: Adam, What's your honest opinion on Purdue finishing 6-6 and making it into a bowl game? Is it unrealistic of me to think that we legitimately have a chance to beat Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana and hope that we can pull an upset against one of our other Big Ten opponents?
Adam Rittenberg: I wouldn't give up hope, DPS, but it's not looking good right now. The defense has to start playing a lot better because you can't expect this offense to score a ton of points without Robert Marve, Ralph Bolden and Keith Smith. Purdue's coaches will really be earning their money as they try to make do with a redshirt freshman quarterback in Rob Henry and a patchwork rushing attack. Things could turn around for Purdue like they did in 2009, but it's a lot easier to stop committing turnovers than it is to develop young players not quite ready for prime time. It'll be interesting to see what happens.