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Big Ten mailblog

Your post-media days emails. Let's get to 'em.

Patrick Bohn from Ithaca, N.Y., writes: Adam,Great job on the blog. I was wondering, what can we expect from MSU's skill guys this season? I feel like everything written about Michigan State previewing this year has been a variation of "They need to improve on the lines." I get it, it's important, but seriously, it's getting a little old. Are the Spartans planning on doing anything to get Martin regular touches, or is it just a 6-8 per game thing? How will they deal with the loss of Mark Dell? Is Keith Nichol going to take on a bigger role? Edwin Baker clearly distinguished himself as the best RB the Spartans have, but Le'Von Bell is also talented/ Can the Spartans achieve balance?I know the line gets overlooked a lot, but i think we're going in the opposite direction with Michigan State. There's a lot of intriguing skill questions too.

Adam Rittenberg: Patrick, I understand you're getting tired of hearing about the line issues, but it's because Michigan State has much less to worry about at the skill spots on both sides of the ball. The Spartans have built some nice skill-position depth through recruiting. As to your questions, B.J. Cunningham likely will move into the No. 1 receiver role, but he'll need help from both Martin, Nichol and Bennie Fowler, who emerged late last season. Michigan State would be foolish not to feature Martin as much as possible because of his breakaway speed. Nichol, meanwhile, still needs to prove he's a top-end Big Ten receiver. Regarding the running backs, I absolutely think Le'Veon Bell takes on a larger role if he can recapture the form he showed early in 2010. Bell provides a different element in the run game, and while Baker will be the lead guy, both Bell and Larry Caper give defenses new looks.


Justin from Ft. Mill, S.C., writes: Hey, Adam. I was just wondering what's the situation with Michigan's special teams? Last season they were abysmal, and expected Brady Hoke to really correct that. I haven't really seen any updates on this problem. Have you any information?

Adam Rittenberg: The kicking game clearly is an area Michigan must improve in 2011. The Wolverines should be fine at punter with Will Hagerup, who averaged 43.6 yards per attempt as a freshman. Speaking of freshmen, Matt Wile could be the answer at kicker, which was horrendous last season. Michigan would get a major boost if Wile can provide consistency right away. I'm interested to see if Martavious Odoms can be a bigger factor on returns this season. Odoms could be key, especially if Darryl Stonum doesn't return from his suspension.


Ryan from St. Paul, Minn., writes: Hello Adam! Great blog. I love reading it everyday. Did you see MN got another in state committment this past weekend? Jonah Pirsig to the Gophers is huge! Jerry Kill is getting the state of MN to rally behind him and understand there is no reason you can't win in the Twin Cities. Excellent school, great cities with many things to explore and do. Also reversing the belief that the weather is somehow different in MN when compared to WI, or IA. I think the Gophers are going to have a bulldozing OL in the next few years with Ed Olson, Tommy Olson, Jimmy Gjere, Josh Campion, and Jonah Pirsig pushing guys around. Thoughts? GO GOLDY!!!

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, you have every reason to be encouraged. Kill is targeting homegrown talent and positions such as offensive line where the state typically produces FBS talent. There's no reason Minnesota shouldn't once again have offensive lines like the ones Wisconsin and Iowa typically produce, and Kill's local recruiting efforts should help things. I'm pretty excited to see how the Olson brothers, Gjere and other younger linemen perform this season. While Minnesota can't confine its recruiting to the state -- not enough talent -- the staff shouldn't look far for top offensive linemen.


Tyler from Eden Prairie, Minn., writes: Bo Pelini recently said he hopes for all 3 of Nebraska's incoming freshman RBs to play this year. He could put all 3 on the field with the diamond formation that Oklahoma runs. Everyone knows the Stoops and Pelinis are friends as well.

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, that would be pretty exciting, wouldn't it? While you should expect to see Aaron Green and other backs on the field for the Huskers, Bo is extremely confident in Rex Burkhead as his lead guy. Burkhead seemed to grasp the offense well this spring, and he's helping other guys along. Pelini has full confidence in him, and while teams need two to three backs to maximize their production, Burkhead should have at least 200 rushing attempts.


Kevin from Boston (by way of Chicago) writes: Looking back at 2010 the Northwestern Wildcats let several leads slip away, including a 21- 0 to Penn Sate L and a 17-0 MSU L, as a result the coaching staff taking their foot off the gas while having the lead. Since 2000 the recipe for NU's success has been a dynamic high scoring offense and an average defense. Do you think Mick McCall and Coach Fitz have learned from past season's letups and what do you anticipate for the Wildcats this season?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, playing with the lead seems to be a challenge for Fitzgerald, who tends to get overly conservative. Northwestern always has lacked a killer instinct and seems to be most dangerous when playing from behind, but the blown leads under Fitzgerald (even the historic one in 2006) are a concern. You would think the games against Michigan State and Penn State would help a veteran Wildcats team handle playing with a lead this year. One thing that definitely will help is running the ball more consistently. As for the overall outlook, Northwestern needs a healthy Dan Persa and more speed and athleticism in the defensive front seven. If the Wildcats get those things, they'll be tough to beat.


Dan from SconnieNation, N.Y., writes: Hi Adam,When looking at your 2011 schedule analysis post from May, I noticed that you listed Wisconsin's trap game as Purdue. While I think that's a solid choice, could there also be an arguement for the road game at Illinois to be the trap game? They bring back a strong QB and it is a week before the season finale against fellow Leader Division member, Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, you can make a good case for either game, really. I went with Purdue because it's the only home game in a five-game stretch and falls after the back-to-back road night games against Michigan State and Ohio State, and before the rivalry game against Minnesota. But the Illinois trip could be tough for the Badgers, especially since the Illini likely will have something to play for on Nov. 19. It could be a high-scoring affair featuring two dynamic quarterbacks (Nathan Scheelhaase and Russell Wilson if Wilson wins the No. 1 job).


Bob from Archbald, Pa., writes: Adam,Will be travelling to Chicago for the Penn State/NW game this year with my family (wife and 3 girls - 12, 9 and 3). 10/20 to 10/24. Any suggestions on where to stay - hotel. Just thought I'd ask someone who knows the Chicago area.

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, I definitely would stay downtown near Michigan Avenue. Your wife and kids will love it -- especially the shopping -- and you can get to the game on the "L." You'll have everything you need right there and can hop on the Red Line/Purple Line on game day with a bunch of other fans.


Sky from Norfolk, Neb., writes: Adam, I have to say I like Bielema's idea of an early season conference game, and I think to make it even more nationally relevant, you could make it with your cross over rival. Now granted it wouldn't work with some teams (OSU and Michigan) but with Nebraska it works out fairly well I think. Penn St. in the early part of the season, Iowa to finish up the year. You could even establish a new 'trophy' game between NU and PSU too make up for the abominable "Heroes Game" between NU and Iowa. Heck you could even call it the "Legends and Leaders Game" in homage to Dr. Tom and JoePa, both mythical figures at their respective schools. You've got connections Adam, make this happen ok?

Adam Rittenberg: Haha, my connections aren't that strong, Sky. I also think Nebraska-Penn State works better toward the end of the season. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany often talks about "build" with scheduling, as in building momentum toward the end of the season. The Nebraska-Penn State game is a showcase opportunity for the Big Ten, and typically it will mean more in early or mid-November. That said, I love the idea of playing Big Ten games earlier to avoid slates like Week 4 of 2010.