Big Ten mailblog

As always, you can contact me here and follow me on Twitter.

Lance from Bedford, Pa., writes: Hi Adam, I may be beating a tired drum here but how much of Penn State's lack of success can really be attributed to youth (and how much to leadership and intangibles)? We see college freshmen perform solidly on the field all of the time (Matt Barkley, Chad Henne, T. Pryor to name only a few) without the luxury of a running back who is about to shatter the school's rushing record and a defense that has held its own despite injuries and turnover after turnover. I think this team as a whole looks beaten when they come out of the tunnel and at times, particularly against Illinois, completely disinterested. Throw in the recent finger pointing and this is surely a symptom of a messy locker room and not lack of talent or youth. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, totally agree with what you say here. It's never easy to start a true freshman at quarterback like Penn State is doing with Rob Bolden, but team leadership seems to be a bigger issue. A large part of it is guys like Daryll Clark and Sean Lee don't come along every year. Throw in Joe Paterno's absence for a large chunk of the offseason and I think Penn State isn't sure who to turn to this year. Running back Evan Royster clearly is frustrated, and while I love how honest he was about the rushing record before the season, you have to wonder if he's taking the right mind-set to the playing field. The other thing with Penn State has been injuries to key players. Can't overlook those. But leadership is a problem, and it's up to captains Brett Brackett and Ollie Ogbu to get it corrected.

Ben from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam, what do you think the Big Ten's chances are of sending two teams to BCS bowls this year? Do we have a better chance if our squads don't get selected for the BCS Championship, given the selection rules the Rose Bowl is following this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Until the streak of two BCS bids per year ends for the Big Ten, I'll always list the chances at very high. And I don't think it matters too much if the Big Ten sends a team to the BCS title game and loses its Rose Bowl spot to Boise State or TCU. The Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl will jump at the chance to select Big Ten teams with large traveling fan bases, certainly ahead of some Pac-10 teams being considered and maybe ahead of those from the SEC and Big 12, too.

Watson from Marshalltown, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, great job on the blog. I really like your rewind/preview posts every week. Here's an idea: in the rewind, how about rehashing your picks from the previous week? It would probably make for some interesting comparison, as to whether some of them were spot-on or others were way off.

Adam Rittenberg: Watson, I'm going to put this question out there for everyone who reads this blog. I've added to my already full plate of posts this year with Big Ten stock report, so something had to go and it was the picks rewind. I can bring back the picks rewind but the stock report would have to go. Sorry, just not enough time to do it all with everything else asked of us. Which would you like to see more: stock report or picks review? Majority rules.

Daniel from Battle Creek, Mich., writes: Adam, I was wondering after just one game how can you write off the Wolverines as an explosive offense. I understand the turnovers were bad and sloppy play on offense, (we know that their defense is always sloppy) but we are one of the best offenses in the conference.

Adam Rittenberg: Don't be so sensitive, Daniel. The video post was about offensive evolution around the league. I didn't mean to slight Michigan, but Rich Rodriguez's scheme has been proven over time and once again is thriving with Denard Robinson calling the signals. I was looking at teams that have tweaked the scheme this year like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue (last week with Rob Henry). Michigan's offense remains potent, as it has throughout Rodriguez's coaching career other than 2008.

Greg from Carbondale, Ill., writes: Are you serious with your midseason selection for best coach? Not to knock what MSU has done, but Vic Koenning clearly deserves consideration. He's taken one of the worst defenses in DI last year and made it a top 20 defense -- through games against #1 OSU and noncon opponents with more offensive firepower than any other Big10 team has played. WITH injuries to two key starters that have kept them out the entire season so far, and brand new starters at safety and corner. That's fantastic coaching.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, the "best coach" category applies for head coaches or, in Michigan State's case, a coach handling the head-coaching duties like Don Treadwell did in Mark Dantonio's absence. I've given Vic Koenning a ton of credit on the blog -- more than any other national media member -- and I'd venture to say he has been the most effective first-year coordinator through the first half of the college season. He has some talent to work with, but unlike others, he's getting the talent to play together so far. It's great to see. Still, what Treadwell and Dantonio have done at Michigan State is phenomenal.

Jeremy from Minneapolis writes: Adam, you said this about the Wisconsin 2-point conversion: "Bielema claimed he was following the coaches' guide on when to go for two, but Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and many others saw it as an attempt to run up the score. Brewster might not get a chance for revenge in the rivalry..."That last sentence baffles me. Everyone here in Minnesota expects Brew to be fired as head coach of the Gophers. And if he isn't, you can mark it down, that pretty new stadium we have will be full of other Big Ten team's fans. My question for you is, is there REALLY any chance of Brew keeping his job (as your post almost seems to point to)? I guess it's kind of fitting, Brews first and last year as the head coach, Minnesota went 1-11.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, I know Minnesota fans see this as a done deal, and I had major concerns about Brewster's future even before the season began. But we still have six games to play, and Minnesota has some winnable games the next two weeks against Purdue and Penn State before Ohio State comes to town. Brewster clearly needs to show some major progress ASAP, and he might not be able to save himself, but most people thought Ron Zook was finished at this time last year and look where Illinois' program is now. Anything can happen, but it doesn't look good for him or the Gophers.

Matt D. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam,I'm really struggling as a Spartan fan this year. When I watch MSU games this year I no longer have that feeling of excitement mixed with dread and fear. When it's the forth quarter I'm not standing 18 inches away from my TV hoping the next play doesn't spell the end for the Spartans. Is everything OK? Is this how it feels to cheer for an elite program? It's all so new and I'm scared!!!

Adam Rittenberg: Haha, Matt, great e-mail. And I'm sure you're not the only Spartans fan to feel this way. Enjoy the ride! I'm sure it beats waiting for that second-half collapse. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if you're a bit nervous on Saturday against Illinois. This is a classic trap game.

Christopher from Chicago writes: Simple question: does Northwestern need a running game? I'm only asking because it seems like they've moved the ball/controlled the clock fine against everyone through the air....yet continually fail with the running game as they try to achieve 50-50 run-pass balance. And it finally cost them this past week vs. Purdue....

Adam Rittenberg: It's something Northwestern has to evaluate closely during the bye week. Conventional football wisdom says you can't win, especially in the Big Ten, without a consistent rushing attack. But Northwestern won eight games last year with a woeful run game, and Dan Persa has been so efficient as a passer that he doesn't need much help from the ground game. Now throwing the ball 45-55 times has its risks -- sacks, interceptions -- but I'd like to see Persa throwing it more than he has. Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore are major weapons, and running the ball just for the sake of it rather than throwing to them doesn't make much sense. Northwestern didn't lose to Purdue solely because of the run game, but the Wildcats didn't attack the Boilers' secondary nearly as much as I thought they would.

Jordan A. from Washington writes: Adam, reflecting on Michigan's loss vs MSU on Saturday, does it feel like a perpetual problem with Rodriguez to get his teams up for big rivalry games? Before the game, it seemed like Michigan wasn't "up" at all, and the emotion pre-game seemed to be with the MSU players. For me, it felt a lot like the WVU-Pitt game in 2007, where a rival was just far and away more psyched for the game than Rodriguez's players were. It feels like this is two things happening: first, Rich Rod's out of state recruitment (and his own background, for that matter) makes MSU a minor rival--the Florida kids like Robinson and Coach Rod himself didn't grow up with this rivalry; and second, just Rich's personality, not to make big games a focal point on the calendar. This is, of course, in sharp contrast to Michigan's rivals in East Lansing and Columbus, who make beating Michigan a priority both privately and publicly. Do you think there is something to be said for this? And if so, do you think that, even if Michigan can win 7 or 8 games this year, beating MSU and OSU in 2011 is a must for Rich to keep his job?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Jordan. You're not the only Michigan fan making the argument that Rodriguez and his players aren't connected enough to these rivalry games and perhaps lack the emotional fuel to win them. Quite frankly, I don't buy this at all. Rodriguez hasn't beaten Michigan State or Ohio State because he doesn't have a better team than the Spartans or the Buckeyes. Emotion can help you for half a quarter or so, but it doesn't typically lift you to a victory against a superior opponent. I thought Michigan came out with great energy Saturday and moved the ball downfield on its opening drive before Robinson threw the interception. Michigan will beat Michigan State and Ohio State when it has the better team, not when Rodriguez plays up the rivalry enough to satisfy Michigan fans (who might never be satisfied). A Michigan alum could coach a bunch of homegrown players and if his team wasn't better, he'd probably lose, too.