Some questions and answers before our first weekend without Big Ten football since August (tear).
Jay from Litchfield, Minn., writes: Adam,After Minnesota's near upset of USC at the beginning of the year, a lot of us, including you, thought with Jerry Kill they were good enough to pull some upsets against Big Ten foes. Then after the first three conference games a lot of us, again including you, didn't think they would ever win another game for the year. It was nice to see at least some progress and the victory over the Hawkeyes was sweet (especially if you have in-laws from Iowa!). Combined with the victory over a reeling Illinois team (and a close one at East Lansing), were these the games you were thinking they could pull off?Also, since Coach Kill doesn't have a bowl game to prepare for, this allows him time for recruiting. What kind of things does he say to kids and their families to get them to come to Minnesota?Thanks,Jay
Adam Rittenberg: Jay, I think Kill sells the fact that Minnesota is building something, and that players can come in and be a part of a turnaround. He also could use the prospect -- not the guarantee -- of early playing time as a selling point. Both of the Gophers' Big Ten wins surprised me, but Minnesota certainly finished on a good note against Illinois, even though the Illini were in free fall by that point. I have little doubt Minnesota will be a solid offensive football team in 2012. MarQueis Gray will have another year in the system, and he'll be surrounded by some good weapons. The big key going forward is the defense, which made some strides late in the season but loses its more productive players.
Brian from Fleming Island, Fla., writes: Hey Adam, love the blog. As a lifelong PSU fan who fondly remembers the days prior to PSU having sold their souls for inclusion into the cash cow that is the Big Ten, what do you think are the chances that PSU jumps ship to the ACC? Geographically and culturally, we have much closer ties to the east coast than the midwest, especially now that Pitt and Syracuse are there. If the ACC could pull off a two-fer and grab both PSU and Notre Dame in one fell-swoop, wouldn't the ACC be the new IT conference in college football, and wouldn't PSU want to be a part of that?
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, you're not alone in this sentiment, and I know some Penn Staters feel like they never were accepted by the Big Ten. Thursday's statement by the Big Ten presidents and chancellors likely reinforced the perception. But Penn State would be leaving a lot of money on the table, and the Big Ten in my view always will have more prestige than the ACC. The ACC is directly in the SEC's shadow and repeatedly falls short in its head-to-head matchups with the SEC. The Big Ten is a little more removed, in a different part of the country. While Penn State and Notre Dame would add prestige to the ACC, you're still talking about a league that has a lot to prove on the national stage. I maintain Penn State would get more mileage out of becoming a dominant Big Ten program, consistently beating the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and others, and making Rose Bowls. The ACC seems like the easy way out.
David from Chicago writes: As expected, Michigan got a BCS bid while the loser of the Big Ten championship game (MSU) did not. If Wisconsin had lost the championship game, the same thing would have happened to the Badgers. So here's my question: Unless there are national championship implications, who wants to go to the Big Ten championship game? Assuming the Big Ten gets two BCS bids in a given year, one will go to the winner of the championship game while the runner up will get passed over for another team. I would much rather be the third best team in the conference than one of the two teams playing for the conference championship because the team with the best odds of making a BCS game is the highest rated team that doesn't play in the championship. And the benefits (exposure, etc.) from playing in a BCS game far outweigh those of playing in Indianapolis. Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with that system?
Adam Rittenberg: David, you bring up some great points. I would add, though, that there will be some seasons where the Big Ten title game loser earns an at-large berth. If Michigan State or Wisconsin entered the game at 11-1 rather than 10-2, I could see the loser earning an at-large berth, depending on the year, the national landscape and the bowls doing the selecting. But yes, for the most part, you're right. Losing a league title game usually takes a team out of the BCS at-large mix. It's not fair, but then again, BCS at-large berths have never been about fairness. They've been about fan bases, program prestige, the location of the bowl games and other factors that have nothing to do with how good a team has played.
Sam from New York writes: Hey Adam! Great blog! I'm a huge Badger fan and just read that Montee Ball will most likely jump to the NFL if he's projected to be a 1st or 2nd rounder, but will stay in Madison if he's projected to go later than that. Just wondering, where do Kiper and McShay have them on their boards? What are they saying about him? Selfishly, I'd like to see him play his final year in Madison but completely understand him jumping early, especially since he's an RB. Also, since Peter Konz missed the last few games, do you think he'll still jump to the NFL?
Adam Rittenberg: Neither Todd McShay nor Mel Kiper has Ball or Konz projected in the first round of the draft. Kiper has Ball as the nation's No. 5 junior running back and Konz as the nation's No. 1 junior center. Both men certainly could make the jump, particularly Ball because of the position he plays. Ball also loves life at Wisconsin and could try to better his stock with one more season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. My sense is Ball will go and Konz will stay, but we'll see.
Don from Vancouver writes: I am reading a lot about the "plus one" game. Where is a good explanation of how it would work? What would be your top 3 reasons it would work or be a bad idea?
Adam Rittenberg: First off, Don, I LOVE your city. Awesome place. I'm in favor of a plus-one because it would keep the bowls involved and set up a playoff situation to determine a national champion. There are different plus-one models, but the one I like is to have the Cotton Bowl designated as the fifth BCS bowl and have two bowls designated each year to host national semifinals on a rotation. How would the four national semifinalists be determined? I'm in favor of a selection committee, which would eliminated the ridiculous polls we now use. While this could mess up the Big Ten-Pac-12 pairing in the Rose Bowl from time to time, I also think the traditional matchup could be accommodated as much as possible. You then would have a national title game one week after the BCS bowls.
Joe from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Keep up the great coverage! Wondering where you think the root of BIG bias stems from? Obviously Ohio state embarrassed itself in championship twice and we havent succeeded into our difficult bowl lineup. That seems to be a major factor, though other conferences typically dont show up in main BCS bowls (see ACC, Big East, Oklahoma, Oregon lately). The BIG gets bashed more regularly than worse conferences. I think it may stem from the fact that we are a bit pompous and expectations are for us to be great and this top threat to stop the SEC, but obviously we have not. Plus bashing the Big East and ACC would be like hitting your little sister? It ain't right. Your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I think you have a good handle on why the Big Ten bashing takes place. There's a perception that the Big Ten is an arrogant conference living off the past that hasn't been a national factor nearly enough in the past 10-15 years. And looking at the recent BCS bowl results and national championships, it's hard to argue that point. The Big Ten also is viewed as a roadblock to a college football playoff, in large part because of commissioner Jim Delany's opposition. Delany has done a lot of good things for the league and has grown the Big Ten brand throughout his tenure, but he doesn't win over the national media like, say, Pac-12 commish Larry Scott. The Big Ten always will be relevant because of the schools and the massive alumni/fan bases. But until the Big Ten starts to win some national championships, it will be seen as a popular conference but not a very good one on the field.