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Big Ten mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Another overdue mailbag. I'll run some gassers later today.

As Charlie Weis would say, fire away.

Dan from Minneapolis writes: Adam, you pointed out the unique nature of first time coaches in the UM - MSU rivalry. I also wanted to point out uniqueness about first time coaches in the UM - OSU rivalry. Aside from Cooper, going back to WW Hayes, first time coaches have WON their first meeting in the series. Correct me if I am wrong but that is quite impressive

Adam Rittenberg writes: You're correct, first-time coaches have fared well in the Michigan-Ohio State series, perhaps because the games typically are played later in the season when coaches have a better feel for their teams. Woody Hayes lost his first meeting with Michigan, 7-0, in 1951, but Earle Bruce beat the Wolverines in 1979 and Jim Tressel did the same in 2001. The Buckeyes went through four coaches during the 1940s who went 1-2-1 against Michigan. Michigan hasn't had a coach lose his first game against Ohio State since Harry Kipke in 1929. Kipke's first game, interestingly enough, was played midway through the season on Oct. 19. Rich Rodriguez will have a tough task to keep Michigan's run alive, but it helps that the game is at the end of the season.


Zach from Sumpter, S.C. writes: Adam, I'm a Purdue Boilermaker grad and Air Force officer stationed down in the heart of SEC and ACC country. Its rough being a Big Ten fan down here and not getting the usual dose of Big Ten and Purdue football news that was readily available back when I was living in West Lafayette, so I appreciate your blog. My question to you is this: who would you pick to be the top three darkhorse teams to crack the top three spots in the conference aside from the preseason list of favorites like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State; and provided darkhorses do emerge how would you forecast the conference standings to look at the end of conference play? Finally, I have one sort of "biased" question for you. Do you see Purdue cracking the top three in the conference as a darkhorse candidate? We are returning a ton of seniors to both offense and defense this year and while not all are returning starters, this large corps of seniors will be leading our talented juniors and sophomores. If injuries are kept to a minimum and things go well on and off the field, I feel Purdue could have a strong showing this year. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Zach, thanks very much for the note. I would put Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan in the "dark horse" category, though I wouldn't call Illinois a dark horse after last season's Rose Bowl run. Michigan State has some momentum after last season but a lot of preseason hype to back up in its opener at Cal. Michigan will be a big mystery until Aug. 30. Purdue could make a run, especially if the offensive line stays healthy, but I don't see the Boilers finishing in the top three. The schedule is brutal with Oregon, Central Michigan and Notre Dame to go along with trips to Ohio State and Michigan State. A lot depends on how quarterback Curtis Painter performs in those big games.


Ross from Minneapolis writes: Do you have any interviews with Iowa players or coaches coming up in the B10 blog? I love the blog, but I haven't seen many interviews with any Hawkeye players or coaches, aside from a very good interview with Ferentz right before B10 Media Day. Have they not available for comment? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg writes: I've received several e-mails about this and wanted to address it. Iowa has very limited access to players and assistant coaches during the preseason. I was sent to Michigan's practice the day of the Hawkeyes' media day [Aug. 4], and because of a conflict, I can't attend the scrimmage this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. I've been informed that coach Kirk Ferentz doesn't permit players to do phone interviews before the first game. The blog will definitely feature the Hawkeyes more after the season gets underway, but for now, I'll do what I can.


Steve from Hoboken [I'll assume it's N.J.] writes: What is your take on the Justin Boren situation? I'm a UM alum and tend to believe the scuttlebut that Boren never seemed fully committed to the program, but I also can't tell the extent to which it's sour grapes. I do find it interesting that all the cheap shots have been fired by the Boren camp. (I suppose that comment could be construed as sour grapes also)

Adam Rittenberg writes: Every coaching change prompts transfers and unhappy players. Obviously the difference here is the guy transferred to Michigan's archrival. I doubt RichRod and his staff keep things G-rated during practice, but on the other hand, this is football. As the late Randy Walker used to say, "it's not koom-ba-ya out there." My guess is Boren won't sound off too much more until the Michigan game, though you've got to wonder how much his comments rankled his former teammates. This will be a hot story the next three years until Boren graduates.


Brendan from Maryland writes: What kind of QB system do you think penn state will employ, and how would each QB affect the team when they are on the field?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Penn State will use more of a spread offense this season, and the idea is not to have too much variation between the two quarterbacks, if the Lions choose to play both. It means Daryll Clark, the likely starter, needs to prove himself as a passer and exploit the senior-laden receiving corps. It also means Pat Devlin needs to display his ability as a running threat. If a quarterback, especially a first-year starter, can be categorized, defenses will find a way to stop him. That's why Penn State will look for versatility from both candidates.


Greg from Princeton, N.J., writes: Are the Badgers' running back corps still the best in the Big Ten even after Lance Smith was dismissed from the team. How will this affect Wisconsin this season?

Adam Rittenberg writes: A Wisconsin source told me the group dynamic among the running backs has improved without Smith. Though he certainly would have helped this fall, Wisconsin is still pretty stacked back there. It puts a little bit more pressure on backup Zach Brown, who has a different body type and style from starter P.J. Hill and John Clay. Smith and Brown are comparable. Ultimately, the key for Wisconsin could be Clay, who has all the tools to be a star but is still grasping the system. A couple times during Saturday's scrimmage he didn't know where to line up. One time he found his place at the last minute, took the handoff and still gained about seven yards.


Bill from Terre Haute, Ind., writes: Why no love for the hoosier in any of your rankings? You need to look harder into what they got coming back. Dont be surprised if they end up with 9 wins this year, especially if Finch is cleared to play.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Jerimy Finch would certainly provide a boost if the NCAA allows him to play [not sure how much luck Indiana will have], and safety Austin Thomas is a nice player. But cornerback will be a mystery until the opener. You can't discount what Indiana lost at that position -- Tracy Porter was very underrated around the country. As for the team as a whole, the schedule is beneficial, with eight home games and no Michigan or Ohio State. I'm still not sold on the defense, but 7-8 wins is definitely possible.