Big Ten Friday mailblog

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Chris from Minneapolis writes: Hi Adam. Great work on the blog! I feel confident the upgrade in talent and addition of Coach [Tim] Davis will make this year's Gopher OL a vast improvement over last years. Plus Gray or Webber have a solid number 2 this year with Carpenter. Assuming Jedd Fisch's system clicks with the players right away, do you think Minnesota will have a chance to become one of the top two or three offenses in the Big Ten this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Chris. There are a lot of new things to digest, not only Fisch's system but a dramatically different approach on the offensive line. I think that group is the key to Minnesota's season. Adam Weber is a very smart player and will pick up the system, and MarQueis Gray really hasn't played in any other scheme. The receivers will be solid, but it all comes down to that offensive line. If that group comes together, Minnesota could definitely be among the league's top offenses.

Tom from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Very sad news about the death of Michael Jackson. To commemorate his legacy, which Michael Jackson song best describes each team in the Big Ten? I think "Man in the Mirror" is appropriate for Indiana. Considering the recent Hawkeye arrests, maybe "Smooth Criminal" applies to Iowa?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, I'm guessing you're not planning any trips to the state of Iowa any time soon. Hawkeye fans won't appreciate that one. But to honor the King of Pop, a few suggestions.

  • "Beat It" for Ohio State, since no one has consistently matched the Buckeyes in the Big Ten this decade.

  • "Remember The Time" for Michigan, which is trying to restore some glory after the worst season in team history.

  • "You Are Not Alone" for Penn State, a former Division I independent now welcomed into the Big Ten.

  • "Thriller" for Northwestern, which has been involved in several of the Big Ten's most exciting games since 1995.

  • "Come Together" for Illinois, which needs to have better team chemistry in 2009 than 2008.

  • "They Don't Care About Us" for Indiana, which needs more support for its football program (and is finally getting some).

  • "Fly Away" for the Iowa Hawkeyes (get it? get it?)

Zach from West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, I keep reading about the loss of D-Will, Norwood and Butler for Penn State and how those are big shoes to fill. While that those are big losses, let's not forget the 2005 season. All 3 of those guys were true freshman who had never seen the field (and Williams was out for the final 5 games). PSU went 11-1 in route to an Orange Bowl victory. This coming season will bring some fresh faces to the starting roles, but keep in mind that several of the receivers have played before. To me, that is an advantage over 2005. The focus for PSU's success this season should revolve entirely around the secondary. If they step up, might as well call us Big Ten champs. Don't worry about the receivers.

Adam Rittenberg: Man, do you Penn State fans worry about anything? Kidding, kidding. I agree that the secondary is and will be the primary concern for Penn State entering the season, but there has to be at least a mild curiosity about the wide receivers. Will Derek Moye or Chaz Powell become stars? Can Brett Brackett and Graham Zug be reliable possession guys? What about incoming freshman Justin Brown? These are questions worth asking. And though I love Daryll Clark, he isn't the playmaker Michael Robinson was in 2005. Let's see how he does with some less experienced wideouts.

Mark from Chicago writes: Adam, I am an Indiana Graduate and I see this is to be the year for the Hoosiers to do something big on the football field with Middleton, Mayberry and Kirlew all on the defense! All three of them should be pretty high draft picks in the 2010 draft. My question to you is why doesnt the coaching staff use Mayberry like they should! Each and every game he blitzed a lot, he caused havic and got sacks or created problems! They dont really use him in coverage that well either and I think everyone's view would be different on him if they would do that to make some more plays!

Adam Rittenberg: Definitely agree with you that if Indiana gets better, it has to happen on the defensive side with the guys you mention. As far as Matt Mayberry, if you blitz him, you lose your best tackler if the offense picks up the blitz. But if you don't blitz him, you lose a guy who can create chaos in the opposing backfield. One telling stat: Mayberry had four sacks last season against Central Michigan, but Indiana still allowed 37 points and lost the game. The coaches need to pick their spots when to let Mayberry loose. If Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew are effective at the same time on the pass rush, the Hoosiers can let Mayberry stay put.

Billy from Boston writes: Hey Adam! With all the talk of how bad the Big Ten is lately, can M*ch!g@n be equally to blame as Ohio State? Their losses in 2006 and 2007 are as follows: Ohio State, (42-39), USC (32-18), Appalachian State (34-32), Oregon (39-7), Wisconsin (37-21), Ohio State (14-3). And let's not forget their 3-9 debacle last year. Does Buckeye Nation and the rest of the Big Ten NEED that team up North to be dominant to gain respect from the rest of the country?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan's losses were not as high profile as Ohio State's, and the Wolverines won their bowl game against mighty Florida in January 2008, so they don't get as much of the blame for the Big Ten being down. But what happened last fall in Ann Arbor is hard to pardon, and it did a ton of damage to the Big Ten nationally. As I've written many times, the Big Ten really, really needs Michigan to be good. So you're absolutely right. Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten needs the Wolverines to bounce back strong this fall so the league gains more respect.