Big Ten mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As promised, it's time to reopen the virtual mailbag. Eight days remain until the season openers for Big Ten teams, so let's see what's on your mind.

Glenn from Red Oak, Iowa, writes: Three years ago Iowa was usually mentioned as one of the top teams in the conference. Today they are listed as one of the worst. What has happened? It is more than just "off-field" problems. In the past they were willing to take chances on the likes of Bob Sanders, Dallas Clark, Chad Greenway, Robert Gallery, etc. Today they seem unwilling to go after that type of player. Comment.

Adam Rittenberg: You're right, Glenn, it's more than the off-field problems, though the sheer numbers of guys in trouble or dismissed from the team, key guys like James Cleveland and Dominique Douglas, does take a toll. One thing to look at is the 2005 recruiting class. Coming on the heels of three great seasons, this class was supposed to carry Iowa into the future, but so far the group has been a bit of a disappointment. This season should reveal a lot, as 2005 recruits like Shonn Greene, Pat Angerer, Dan Doering and Trey Stross take on bigger roles. Iowa also needs to get back to the strong line play that defined Kirk Ferentz's glory years. The defensive front looks strong, but the offensive line has to be a lot better.

Haslett from Parts Unknown writes: Now with Jehuu Caulcrick out of the picture, shouldnt javon ringer be talked about just as much as beanie wells. I mean isnt Javon going to have to pick up a few of the 21 touchdowns that Jehuu had, especially in goaline situations.

Adam Rittenberg: Ringer's lack of touchdowns last season definitely limited his hype and that should change in a big way this fall. Hype is sort of like fantasy football -- touchdowns are everything. Michigan State isn't wild about any of the running backs behind Ringer, though Andre Anderson could emerge. Still, Caulcrick was a unique player, nearly impossible to bring down on the first hit. Ringer expects his carries to increase and wants to stay in on goal-line situations. If he remains healthy, more people around the country will start to take notice of him.

Kenny in State College, Pa., writes: Do you think PSU could end up leading the big ten in rushing yards this season? They have Daryll Clark, who averaged 8.3 yards a carry in the Alamo Bowl. Evan Royster who averaged 6.3 yards a carry last season. And they have Stephfon Green, who could be the best freshman running back in the country.

Adam Rittenberg: It's definitely possible, especially with the quarterback run becoming a bigger part of the offense in the Spread HD. Royster's production definitely gets overlooked and with Green's popularity, that will continue this fall. But both backs should have strong seasons, especially if Clark transitions well to being the starter. I would put Wisconsin, Ohio State and maybe Michigan State in the mix as well, but Penn State could top the league's rushing chart, especially with such a strong offensive line.

Matt in Minneapolis writes: Adam, if the Buckeyes go out west and win by 3 touchdowns, yet lose in another BCS Championship to the SEC, do you think the Big Ten office should revisit it's policy of ending the Big Ten schedule so early?

Adam Rittenberg: There's no plan for expansion and therefore no plan for a championship game, which would push the season into December. The Big Ten budged a bit and added a bye week -- a wise choice, in my view -- so the regular season will stretch past Thanksgiving in most seasons. Without a 12th member and a championship game, I don't see what else they can do. If Ohio State does get a third chance at the title, it might want to visit the way it prepares for those games with such a long layoff.

Jorge from Chicago and the "desert" writes: Who will win more games this season, University of Michigan or Michigan State?

Adam Rittenberg: I'm guessing you're among the many Chicagoans who spend part of the year in Arizona. Good deal, man. It should be close with those two teams, but I've got to go with Michigan State. The Spartans should go at least 3-1 in the nonconference games and finish with eight wins or so. Michigan could easily start 1-2, with losses to Utah and Notre Dame, and from there, anything could happen. I see the Wolverines finishing with 7-8 wins, so the game with Michigan State on Oct. 25 could give you the answer.

Jeff from Charlotte writes: Would you agree the Big Ten must win its out of confrence games this year to even begin to regain respect in the eyes of the voters?

Adam Rittenberg: No doubt. As I've written before, August/September is one of the most critical months for the Big Ten in recent memory. Almost every team has a game that could alter the league's sagging national image. Ohio State obviously has the most to gain if it beats USC, but look at the other possibilities:

  • Illinois can rid the one-year wonder label by knocking off Missouri

  • Wisconsin can quiet its doubters by beating Fresno State on the road

  • Michigan State, Purdue and Penn State can push the Big Ten ahead of the Pac-10 by beating Cal, Oregon and Oregon State, respectively

  • Michigan can show it hasn't missed a beat under RichRod by beating Utah and Notre Dame

  • Iowa can show its off-field issues and offensive concerns are in the past by beating Pitt, a preseason Top 25 team, on the road

Ryan from Bozeman, Mont., writes: I like Michigan's defense, I think if they can beat Utah it will propel them to a solid season. Where do you see Michigan by the end of the year?

Adam Rittenberg: The defensive line will be excellent with all four starters back. That's also where the new strength program has paid off the most. I'm a little concerned about the linebackers. No one will replace Shawn Crable's production, but those sophomores (Obi Ezeh, Marell Evans, Jonas Mouton) need big years. Overall, I like the unit and it will need to be solid from the opener because of the inevitable struggles on offense.