Big Ten mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

To quote White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, I love e-mail. Even from you haters out there (quick tip for future correspondences: Moron is spelled with two O's, not three).

This is long overdue, and I apologize. The frequency will be much better once the season starts.

Let's get to it.

John from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam, Just a comment on the "longevity" aspect to rivalries. I don't feel like it should be the reason to discount the Ohio State - Illinois rivalry. The Illibuck trophy has been passed between the two for longer than any trophy in the Big Ten besides the Little Brown Jug. They even played the game as the regular season finale for a number of years at the beginning (1919-1933). I mean, you can definitely make the argument that it has been a lopsided rivalry (OSU leads the series 56-23-2), but you can't argue against its longevity.

Adam Rittenberg writes: I've gotten a lot of e-mails about the Illinois-Ohio State series, and fans are pretty divided. Some, like you, point to the long history and the trophy, arguing there's more to it than the last couple of years. Others say annual meetings like Purdue-Indiana or more competitive series like Penn State-Ohio State are bigger rivalries than Illinois-Ohio State. I can see both sides, but with the recent games and Illinois upgrading its talent, the buzz around this game should continue to grow.

Brian from Kingston, Pa., writes: I have the best replacement for JoePa after the 2009 season. Bill Cowher, what a GREAT fit that would be. As a PSU football fan I would LOVE to see that happen. Everything about him makes him the most ideal candidate. His experience, his toughness, his knowledge of the game, his similar style of play, his ability to motivate players. Man, that would be a marriage made in heaven. I realize it will never happen, I can't see him coming back to coaching anytime soon (and certainly not at the college level) I just feel he could really turn around the mindset and the thinking that goes on @ PSU. Hiring a guy not-in-house is the best decision as well, get somebody who has no strings to the program that can come in and put their stamp on the team. Oh, by the way, I am not a Steelers fan, I just feel it's a tremendously great fit. Any opinions?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Hmmm, interesting thought, Brian. But Cowher is comfortable living his life in North Carolina, and he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in March that he has no intentions of pursuing the Penn State job, if it ever comes open. Cowher's hyped-up style could translate well to college football, particularly in recruiting, an area Penn State needs to upgrade with its next hire. But Cowher is an NFL lifer who actually seems content spending time with his family away from the game (imagine that!). So I don't see this happening.

Justin from New Orleans writes: On your list of clutch players, I have to disagree with the inclusion of Ron Dayne, if only for the fact that he never had a big game in leading them to victory against Michigan. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, the only year he may have gone over 100 yards was as a senior, and he barely did it with a lot of carries. You can't be a clutch player if you can't consistently beat a certain team that is always at or near the top of your league.

Adam Rittenberg writes: That's a good point, Justin. Wisconsin never beat Michigan during Dayne's tenure, and Dayne almost saw his Heisman hopes disappear in 1999 after being held to zero net rushing yards in the second half of a 21-16 loss. I still point to the Rose Bowl performances and what he did in leading the Badgers to two Big Ten titles, but you're right. Performing well against the league's other elite team is a big part of being clutch.

Adam from Bergstein, Ind., writes: How well do you shape the Hoosiers to do this year, and what is your thoughts about the quarterback controversy with Kellen Lewis supposedly needing to compete for the starting spot in fall camp? Who is more of a physical specimen between [Martez] Wilson and [Matt] Mayberry? I recently read an article about Mayberry's training with Tom Zbikowski...impressive...would love your input!

Adam Rittenberg writes: How is Bergstein this time of year? As imaginary towns go, that's a good one. Indiana's coaches had to make Lewis compete for the job again after his suspension, if only to show other players what happens if you mess up. Though Ben Chappell has improved, I see no way Lewis doesn't become the starter again. He has way too much talent and he'll be perfect running the no-huddle. I've received a ton of e-mails about Mayberry, definitely a fan favorite. He had 42 tackles as a reserve last season but looks to be on the brink of special things. Same goes for Wilson at Illinois. I'm very excited to see both of them practice in the coming days.

John from Milwaukee writes: Michigan's team did lose some talent. But they've got 7 returners on defense, and they've had Top 10 or Top 12 recruiting classes the last two years. I think the biggest factor, which people are missing, is Mike Barwis, the new trainer. This could be the fastest, strongest and most well-conditioned team ever. The things he does are ground-breaking. Even if they lose to WI, ND, OSU and Penn State, they could still go 8-4. They've got 6 or 7 home games, too. A lot of other teams are getting undue credit by being in the Top 25, and I think a program like Michigan, being ranked No. 24, is a reflection of reality. It's not like they're ranked 5th or 10th or even 15th.

Adam Rittenberg writes: You're right about the young talent being there, especially at the skill positions. And I don't think anyone is overlooking Barwis, who gets as much publicity as Barack Obama. He has obviously done a lot to change the conditioning standards at Michigan, and it could pay off this fall, particularly with the offensive linemen. But Rich Rodriguez is a realist and so am I, and looking at this offense, there's just no way this is a Top 25 team before the season. Go out and beat a veteran Utah team with a quarterback (Brian Johnson) who has actually thrown a pass in college. Go out on the road and beat a Notre Dame team that should be a lot better on offense. Win those games, and I have no problem putting Michigan in my Top 25. But I just can't justify putting a team with so many uncertainties and so much scheme left to learn in a preseason poll. Rodriguez said Monday that Michigan probably got ranked based on reputation. I agree with him.

Jim from Marysville, Mich., writes: Can any of Michigan State's freshman receivers be expected to step in and help replace the production of Devin Thomas in the offense and on special teams?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Several of them will be in the mix. Fred Smith didn't look like a freshman to me when I saw him at Tuesday's practice. He provides more size to a receiving corps that needs it. B.J. Cunningham is a redshirt freshman, but he'll definitely be a factor out there along with Keshawn Martin, a true freshman who was under the radar in high school but put up some dominating numbers. Doubt there's another Devin Thomas there, but as a group, Michigan State's young wideouts look strong. Several of those players will get a look on returns as well.

Derek from St. Louis writes: I think you got it wrong about IL being #4. Your arguement was that they needed a running back and more receivers. The running back is a big question mark - I agree, but please take a look
a look at our receiving core before writing the article. Arrelius Benn is going to be an all american this year and it is going to be extremely hard for teams to match up agains Jeff Cumberland (6-5, 250)... not to mention chris duvalt, briant gamble and chris james. This is an extremly deep WR core at UI. Look into it.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Rejus Benn will be one of the league's most dominating players this fall, especially since he's fully healthy. But I'm not sold on any of Illinois' other wideouts. James has some experience but he's coming off a torn ACL. Cumberland is a tremendous athlete with great size and ridiculous leaping ability, but he played mostly tight end and has only one 100-yard receiving game. Duvalt is a converted defensive back, so I'm not ready to brand him a stud wide receiver. The talent is there, which is true at a lot of positions for Illinois, but I'd rather wait and see on a lot of those guys.

Chris from State College, Pa., writes: Looking back over the past ten years, the two quarterback system has never been successful at Penn State.For some reason, the coaching staff moves the starting QB to wideout when the running QB comes in. Is there any reason to think that more of the same won't continue? Will the coaching staff finally figure out that it is okay to take the starter off the field for a couple series to keep the defense guessing? On a similar note, watch classic PSU games on the Big 10 Network, and you'll notice that the gameplans haven't changed one bit over the last 20 years (maybe more!). The difference is that in 1994 and 2005 they had a QB who could overcome the deficiencies of the coaching staff. Do you think [Daryll] Clark or [Pat] Devlin have the ability and mental awareness to do the same?

Adam Rittenberg writes: You're right that a lot of coaches are hesitant about playing two quarterbacks and rarely know how to manage them both. Clark definitely seems like a good fit for Penn State's evolving offense, the Spread HD. But the Lions also could use Devlin's arm, particularly with an all-senior wide receiving corps. My feeling is Clark will get the first opportunity to cement himself as the starter, but they'd be foolish not to play Devlin against Coastal Carolina. The coaching staff might need to use both against Oregon State's veteran secondary in Week 2.