Big Ten mailblog

Your questions, my answers. Very good response on this piece.

Thomas from Columbia, Mo., writes: In the Rich Rodriguez years, MSU recruited the state of Michigan better than UM did. Now the tide has turned, and Michigan is dominating, with Michigan getting (in the state of Michigan) 5 out of the top 10 and the top 3 prospects(according to ESPN's state rankings). How much of MSU's success was due to RR not focusing on the motherstate AND will MSU's success decline due to Hoke's recruiting magic?

Adam Rittenberg: Thomas, while Michigan State certainly benefited from Michigan's previous staff focusing more on states like Florida, it wasn't as if Michigan landed no players from within the state or in neighboring Ohio. Michigan State deserves credit for elevating its recruiting efforts and bringing in top local prospects like William Gholston, Lawrence Thomas, Max Bullough and Tony Lippett. You can't just assume Michigan would have landed every elite prospect in the state had it had a different staff with a different focus. That said, Michigan has tremendous recruiting momentum right now under Brady Hoke and his staff. The Wolverines have piled up early commits in each of the past two seasons, and the quality of Wolverine recruits undoubtedly is going up.

This will test Mark Dantonio and his staff to keep pace. Michigan State has the momentum on the field, having beaten Michigan four consecutive times and having won 22 games the past two seasons. But Michigan's staff change has increased the competition on the recruiting trail. Michigan State will sign a small class in February, so Dantonio and his assistants need to make smart choices in their offers. The Spartans need a quality-over-quantity type of class.

Andrew K from East Lansing, Mich., writes: About aligning with Wisconsin: I can't do it, at least not this season. I hate the overblown hype around UM and OSU as much as the typical human, but between the intensity of the last two games and the abomination that is Boball, it is not within me to back that team across the lake. That said, after this season we don't play for, what, 3 years in the regular season, so I suppose I'll be returning them to the category of any other B1G team: strategic support for other teams when it benefits me (ie, cheer for Purdue against UM this season, etc). It really does stink that a promising rivalry, with basketball hatred to back it, was allowed to fizzle by the conference schedulers, but the road to Indy looks a lot easier without so many stops in Madison.

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, loved the line about "strategic support," Andrew, and you're not alone there. Several fans of both teams have expressed disappointment that Wisconsin-Michigan State isn't an annual series because the teams are in opposite divisions. Many Michigan State fans would rather have Wisconsin as the Spartans' protected cross-division rival than Indiana. While Wisconsin has stronger ties to the Minnesota series, Michigan State certainly has been a more formidable opponent as of late. It will be easier, though, for Michigan State fans to root for Wisconsin, and vice-versa, when the teams don't play. I don't think Badger fans will be too upset when their team doesn't have to travel to the house of horrors known as Spartan Stadium.

Tim from Hermosa Beach, Calif., writes: Adam, I would agree that a budding rivalry, COMBINED with an alignment of MSU and UW fans rooting for the Spartans and Badgers to beat everyone else, is a NECESSITY if the Big 10 is to make a leap from a classic underachieving league. As it is, sporting networks STILL view the league as the Big 2+ (the same people who still view Notre Dame as relevant). Badgers or Spartans or even Nittany Lions, I'd take seeing one of those three going to the national championship in order to boost the league's visibility/ranking/Q-factor. Michigan and OSU will ALWAYS get their top billing due to history, but for the league, Badgers/Spartans need to come out ahead for a while longer.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, some really good thoughts here. I agree that the default perception of the Big Ten, especially among those who don't really study the league, is that it's all about Ohio State and Michigan and no one else matters. While Ohio State has been the Big Ten's dominant program for the better part of the past decade, other programs have risen up, including Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan State. But reaching the Rose Bowl or recording a few 10-win seasons is different than winning a national title. If the Badgers, Spartans or Nittany Lions raise the crystal football, it not only changes how they'll be viewed, but how the league will be viewed. They would need to follow up a title run with consistent success -- 2010 champ Auburn, for example, is seen as a one-year wonder because of Cam Newton -- but at least in terms of recent national titles, they'd be on par with Ohio State and Michigan. Wisconsin has separated itself more than any other program because of its success during the better part of the past two decades. But the Badgers need to show they can win the big bowl game and potential compete for a national title.

Dennis from Parts Unknown writes: The Big 10 is like a character straight out of a William Faulkner novel: the aging scion of a once-proud dynasty that has fallen from grace, but still demands the deference that everyone used to give but now no one does.

Adam Rittenberg: Dennis, while this description is a bit exaggerated and likely stemming from one of our friends in SEC country -- Faulkner lived in Oxford, Miss., right? -- there's some truth to it. The Big Ten's lingering power and influence in college football stems in part because of its tradition and former glory days. If you're 20 or 25 years old, I can understand you wondering why the Big Ten even matters, given the league's inability to win national titles. The Big Ten is by no means the worst major conference (hello, ACC), but it has been an underachiever, given its tradition and its wealth and the clout its programs have. As I've stated countless times on this blog, the Big Ten always will matter because of its massive, massive fan base, its wealth as a conference and the importance of football in this part of the country. But until the Big Ten starts winning more at the highest levels of the sport, more and more folks will agree with Dennis' take.

Ben from Connecticut writes: Everyone's concerned about bias on a selection committee. What if the conference reps had to abstain when voting for their own teams? Big Ten reps could vote for anyone but the Big Ten and SEC reps anyone but the SEC. Even the legions of trolls would be hard pressed to argue that, say, Phil Fulmer had an agenda towards getting Boise St. or Pitt into a playoff. Knowledgeable reps, no bias. What's to lose?

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, it's not even a question of whether committee members with ties to certain schools or leagues would have to recuse themselves when those teams come up for discussion. They would leave the room, period. The concern is whether reps from certain leagues would go out of their way to vote against teams from other leagues. The Big Ten and the SEC have a rivalry. Would this affect how committee members from the leagues would vote in teams from the rival league? I don't think it would, provided the right people are selected to serve on the committee. I also think having a larger committee of 10-15 members would allow thorough evaluations of teams even if 1-2 people had to recuse themselves. The more I think about this, the more I favor having league/school administrators serving on the committee instead of former coaches. While the former coaches know their football, they're also likelier to have petty biases infiltrate the room.

Steve from Maryland writes: Adam,I thought it would be interesting to point out that when people talk about the NCAA and the death penalty they refer to only the football program. When in reality this was an issue handled by administrators, and poorly handled I may add. The football people were actually the ones to report it. In truth since this was an admin issue if Penn State were to get the death penalty, which I do not agree with as an alumni, it better be against all of our sports teams, because they are just as innocent as the Football team. So you either punish the entire sports program or none at all. This was a criminal act and the NCAA better go after every school with criminal issues because if they do not the precedent they set here will open a can of worms. The reason people care about football is because it is an easy target and people care about football and Paterno. Sandusky was lost in the headlines because it wasn't the best story and that is a shame. I am glad a majority PSU jury put him away. As a PSU alum I'm sorry this happened, but to act like the Football team deserves all the punishment makes no sense, there are many groups that failed these kids and it started in 1998 with the DA and no charges being filed.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, you bring up some really good points, and the best one is that "Sandusky was lost in the headlines." The over-the-top furor about Joe Paterno's departure the Board of Trustees made everyone look bad -- particularly a portion of Penn State fans -- and eclipsed the real story here, which was Sandusky and his despicable crimes. To your larger point, the NCAA doesn't punish programs for criminal acts unless they relate to NCAA rules issues. It sounds odd, but that's how the NCAA operates. If the problems don't fit into its jurisdiction (NCAA rules compliance), penalties aren't imposed. The biggest failures at Penn State were at the highest administrative levels (president, VP, athletic director). I can see your point about punishing the entire athletic program and not just one team. While there absolutely were some failures in the football program -- too much smoke around Sanduksy for too many years and not enough response -- it doesn't make sense for the NCAA to impose penalties when no NCAA rules violations have come to light. Penn State has paid a price and will continue to do so with civil lawsuits, but this situation doesn't fit the description for NCAA penalties.

Kyle from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, A question regarding the Hawkeyes and their upcoming season. Is there any leads yet as to who will get the majority of the carries at runningback this year? I'm guessing they will do a runningback by committee and wait for somebody to emerge. With Canzeri tearing his ACL I would imagine Damon Bullock would be getting most of the reps with the first team. Do you think any of the incoming freshmen such as Greg Garmon can see a lot of reps this season?

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, the safe bet for Iowa is to go into the season with a committee system at running back. None of the team's current backs has a proven track record in games, and Iowa needs to use the non-league portion to audition several players in the backfield. The players who make the most of their opportunities will get more carries. I'd think Bullock and De'Andre Johnson would get the first crack, but if Garmon and fellow incoming freshman Barkley Hill impresses during preseason camp, they'll be right in that mix for carries. Iowa has played freshmen before and been fine, and the Hawkeyes simply don't have the luxury to let young backs develop behind a proven star.

William from San Francisco writes: you can't compare MSU and Wisconsin. Wisconsin has been to 5 Rose Bowls in the last two decades (won 3) and MSU hasn't been to any. A great argument could be made that Wisconsin already IS a national program. They've had a Heisman winner and a Heisman finalist. Certainly their success hasn't been a blip on the radar.

Adam Rittenberg: William, understand your points, and I agree that Wisconsin, more than Michigan State or Iowa or Penn State, has established itself as a force in the Big Ten alongside the two traditional powers (Ohio State and Michigan). But a lot of this is about perception, and a lot of perception is related to recruiting success. That's where Wisconsin finds itself closer to Michigan State and Iowa than to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Wisconsin doesn't pull in the elite classes every year, and while anyone with a brain respects what Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema have done on the field, there's some doubt about whether the Badgers will sustain their success when Ohio State and Michigan both return to prominence. In Bielema's case, there also is a step to be taken: he must win a Rose Bowl or a national title for Wisconsin to be viewed as a nationally elite program. The Badgers got there in 1998 and 1999 with the Rose Bowl wins and Ron Dayne's Heisman, but they haven't quite reached that peak again.