Big Ten mailblog

Coming at you a day later than normal, but better than never.

Ryan from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, How much of a true telling of Michigan's season is the Alabama game going to be? The more that I think about it, the more I begin to sense there are too many unknown factors on both teams for people to make automatic judgments for both Michigan and Alabama teams. That being said, do you feel that a Michigan victory would be a solid sign for another 11 or 12 win season?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, I agree that the first game doesn't answer every question about a particular team, and both squads undoubtedly will be improved later in the season. But teams can make national statements in Week 1, like LSU did last season against Oregon in the opener. A Michigan win would be absolutely huge for the program and for the Big Ten, which has struggled to beat the SEC's elite. I haven't hid my feelings about Alabama. In my view, it's the best college program in America and boasts the best college coach in Nick Saban. Any victory against the Tide, no matter what year or how many starters they've lost or where the game is played, resonates in my book. While Alabama certainly won't be Michigan's last major test in 2012, a Wolverines victory would be extremely significant.

Michael from Happy Valley, Pa., writes: hi Adam, you may have already answered this but after your visit to PSU these past two days I have a new and refreshing question about none other than the QB race. What do you think the chances are that Paul Jones, with no game-time experience, is named the starter come september 1st? It sounds like a longshot, but from what I've been hearing around campus and other websites, PJ has been on fire in practice and seems like the real deal when it comes to quarterback. Did he stand out to you at the practice you attended moreso than McGloin (bolden's name shouldn't even be thought of in the QB face ever again or I lose faith in humanity)

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, while Jones remains very much in the mix for the starting job, I think Penn State fans should pump the brakes a bit on all the hype surrounding him. From what I saw this week, he still has some strides to make in a very complex offense, although he clearly has some excellent skills. Granted, I only saw one practice, but he didn't stand out above the others. I realize most PSU fans are sick of Bolden, but it would surprise me if he's not in the final two for the starting job after spring ball. He's a confounding player in many respects, as I saw him make some tremendous, NFL-type throws, but also some head-scratching mistakes. Consistency remains the big key, but I wouldn't write him off despite his struggles in games.

Sam from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, you quoted KF: "Bottom line is we're 4-4 the last two years in conference play," he said. "If that's the best we can do, then that's fine. But we felt like we've left something out there."If thats the best they can do, thats fine? Two questions for you regarding that. First, is than an opinion that permeates the program (from the AD to the players) as far as you can tell from your time in Iowa City. And second, as a professional sports writer, do you think that is a fair of Iowa as a program, with or without KF?

Adam Rittenberg: Sam, I think Kirk's point is that sometimes, a team maxes out at 4-4. Some teams simply aren't better than 5-7. But Iowa has been better than that, in his mind, the past few seasons and has fallen short. When Ferentz first came to Iowa, the team's maximum output was lower than it has been in recent years. Ferentz has built his program on maximizing talent. In some years, the max is 10 or 11 wins. In other years, it's seven or eight wins. I don't think Iowa will have a team, talent wise, that would call a six-win season satisfactory. I also don't think Ferentz's quote means that the team has an attitude that 4-4 is OK. Players and coaches have bigger goals, like reaching the Rose Bowl and winning a Big Ten title. Ferentz's point is that Iowa must max out its ability, which means better than 4-4 in most years.

Chris from Chicago writes: Every year we hear a lot of complimentary things about teams in spring/summer practice -- improved competition, "swagger," guys playing/looking hungry. And then the season starts, and many times this hunger/improvement/swagger is nowhere to be seen. When Adam/Brian visit a spring/summer practice, what do you look for to see if a team is actually looking better than it did the previous year?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, good point about the optimistic nature of spring ball. I've yet to visit a spring practice where the team lacks confidence or expects to lose nine or 10 games. But I do look at body language, and when I'm allowed to see practices, I look for players who look different and play different than they did the previous season. At Penn State, for example, I wasn't closely studying players like Silas Redd and Gerald Hodges (both of whom looked great, by the way). I know they can play at an All-Big Ten level. I was looking for the up-and-comers, and also which position groups are showing greater depth. I also look to see how fluid a practice is, whether there are big plays on both sides of the ball and how many breakdowns occur. But you can tell a lot from meeting with players and coaches, listening to how they say things and how confident they sound about their team.

Brian from Indianapolis writes: Call me ignorant, but what does "Silverstone the links" mean? Is it an inside joke, or something?

Adam Rittenberg: Wish it were, Brian. No, it refers to how Alicia Silverstone feeds her son. Click the link at your own risk.

Tom from Lakeland, Fla., writes: Going into 2012 it appears that Danny Hope is the only coach on the hot seat. Any thought that Bobby Petrino could end up at Purdue?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, that didn't take long, did it? I'll say this: Bobby Petrino will have opportunities in 2013. He's too good of a football coach, and there will be those willing to overlook his lying and transgressions because he can win football games. I don't get the sense Purdue would go that route, and AD Morgan Burke remains supportive of Hope, who he tabbed to succeed Joe Tiller. I also don't know if Purdue could pay Petrino what he'd likely demand.

Jake M. from Chicago writes: Hi Adam. What makes you and Brian so sure that Urban Meyer will succeed with Ohio St.? While he was highly successful at Florida, he also had the opportunity to win with arguably one of the best college players ever (Tebow). It just seems as if OSU has already won a national championship with Meyer before he has even coached a game.

Adam Rittenberg: Jake, there's certainly a group that wonders how Meyer's Florida tenure would have gone had Tebow not been there. And it's fair to wonder whether he's receiving too much praise too early in his Ohio State tenure. My feeling about Ohio State is the program is set up to compete at the highest level and did for most of Jim Tressel's tenure. The damage from the NCAA investigation appears minimal, in part because of what Meyer did on the recruiting trail following his hiring in late December. There's almost a sense that Ohio State is too big to fail. That doesn't mean Meyer and his staff will have it easy this year. They have work to do, particularly with an offense that has underperformed in recent years and needs playmakers to emerge at the wide receiver spot. I like the young defenders returning, and Ohio State should make strides on that side of the ball. It's not as if Ohio State has been far away from winning another national title. Meyer's presence as an elite recruiter, and the more innovative offense he'll bring could be what puts the Buckeyes over the top. But they'll still have to earn it and win what is becoming a deeper Big Ten.