Big Ten mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I probably don't mention this enough, but I really appreciate all the e-mail, both the positive and the negative. I always knew Big Ten fans were passionate about their football, and the last few weeks have only reinforced that belief. Keep 'em coming!

Jan from Washington, D.C., writes: Your Plax posting re Nick "$aban" made me wonder about the attitude of Plax and Co. from the 1999 team toward [Mark] Dantonio, and thus Dantonio's relationship toward his former boss Saban. I know Joe Rexrode (LSJ) has repeatedly said that Saban was not liked by his players, but Dantonio, who was on Saban's staff as secondary coach, has invited those players, including Plax, back to campus and they have journeyed back. It begs the question: does Dantonio respect/get along with/have any nostalgia for his old boss? It's a fine line, because Dantonio wants to be associated with that 1999 winning team, but apparently not the part where Saban was mean to the players/untrustworthy.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Most coaches are extremely loyal to the guys they work for, and Dantonio seems no different. I'm sure he respects Saban -- looking at Saban's record, how can you not? -- and values the time he spent with him. He could disagree about the way Saban left MSU, but he probably knows the guy and the situation a lot better than most people. As I alluded to earlier in the week, Dantonio really gets it as far as understanding the place where he's coaching. Reaching out to former players, particularly NFL guys like Plax, is a critical component of maintaining a strong tradition. Michigan State, despite underachieving for much of the last few decades, still produces a bunch of NFL players. Reconnecting with those guys is key. I doubt Dantonio will make too many Nick Saban references in news conferences or player meetings, but I think he walks that fine line quite well.

B.J. in Boardman, Ohio, writes: I'm an Ohio State fan and I'm definitely psyched for the (mostly) positive media attention OSU has received during the offseason, but with that being said I don't understand why Kellen Lewis has been so under the radar in terms of All-Big Ten honors and coverage in general. What gives? The guy's stats are incredible and it seems like no one has him as All-Big Ten. Is it because of the suspension?

Adam Rittenberg writes: First off, I'm psyched there's actually a place called Boardman, Ohio. I used to think that was the infinite realm where all my readers lived. OK, back to the question. I agree that Lewis is underappreciated, but certainly not here, as I ranked him as the Big Ten's top quarterback. Lewis is a tremendous athlete who has blossomed as a passer. He'll reclaim his starting job soon enough after the suspension and should be a natural in the no-huddle offense. As far as the lack of buzz, the fact that Lewis plays for Indiana probably has more to do with it than the suspension. If IU capitalizes on its schedule, goes back to a bowl and wins, he'll get plenty of ink.

Brad from Somerset, N.J., writes: Hey Adam, I'm a Penn State fan/student and today was analyzing their schedule. I was fidguring which games they can win and lose. The record I came up with was 10-2! I know some people think I'm crazy when reading this (if posted), but I think PSU has an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball. Do you think that they can make a run at the BCS?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Hmmm, let's take a look. They should beat Oregon State at home. Illinois on Sept. 27 is a big swing game for the Lions, but they'll be in good shape if they beat the Illini. The two likeliest losses are road trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State, though I'm a little down on the Badgers. And don't forget that Michigan flat-out owns Penn State, which could be in the back of players' minds Oct. 18. Penn State should get over the hump this year against RichRod and co., but Michigan could have things on track by that point. Bottom line: I project nine wins for the Lions, but if the new quarterback settles in fast and they go to Madison at 6-0, a BCS run is possible.

Andy from Greensboro, N.C., writes: I see Greg Orton of Purdue being a breakout player this year in the Big Ten. This year he will be the number 1 receiver for veteran QB [Curtis] Painter and judging by the system, he should have a good year. However their schedule is tough so how well do you think he will fare this year with this schedule? Also do you think a good year will help him become a first day draft pick?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Orton should do fine as the Boilers' No. 1 receiver. Like everyone else, he was overshadowed by Dorien Bryant the last three years but quietly put up some good numbers. I saw him at media day and he's a good-sized kid (6-foot-3, 199), so a strong season could get him some NFL consideration. I think the passes will be more equally dispersed this year without Bryant there, and Purdue has several other veterans who have waited their turn (Joe Whitest, Brandon Whittington, Desmond Tardy).

Derek from St. Louis writes: Thank you for taking notice of the UI receiving core... impressive, huh. How do you see the Big Ten stacking up against other conferences this year? - Personally, I'll take our top 6 against any other top 6 in the country (including the SEC and Big 12). That would be OSU, UI, PSU, UW, MSU, and Mich.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Seeing Illinois' receivers has been one of the biggest surprises for me during my tour of Big Ten training camps. Rejus Benn will get double-teamed a lot, and I like some of their small, quick guys like Chris Duvalt and Chris James to take advantage. Jeff Cumberland is a monster at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, and he'll be able to outjump most defensive backs. I don't know if I'd put the Big Ten crop ahead of the Big 12 -- that league is stacked at receiver -- but they might be on par with the SEC.

Marshall from Key West, Fla., writes: i continue to be bemused by your claim that the badgers have the best running backs in the big ten. Lamaar Thomas, a freshman, has sub 4.3 speed and is the buckeyes # 5 running back. please.

Adam Rittenberg writes: I might be a little too high on Wisconsin, but it's only because all three of their backs -- P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay -- have the potential to start. Ohio State certainly has depth as well, though a lot of those guys get overshadowed by Beanie Wells, who's such a workhorse. I'm excited to see more of Brandon Saine this fall, and Thomas might be the faster player. He should be fun to watch in the years to come.