Big Ten mailblog

Let's do this ...

Ivor from Traverse City, Mich., writes: Please help me settle a dispute with my friend. I contend that Andrew Maxwell's receivers aren't helping him at all by dropping most of his passes that are on target, but the qb has been inconsistent. My friend says that "drops have nothing to do with it" and that Maxwell is "just plain awful". please help me by finding a dropped passes statistic for the MSU receivers this season. I am willing to bet they lead the B1G.

Adam Rittenberg: Ivor, there's no official dropped passes stat in college, although Michigan State certainly has had its troubles this season. The answer to your dispute is that it has been a mix of both. The receivers have been more of a problem than Maxwell, in my view. Even though they're young, they have been put in position to make plays Big Ten receivers should make. Maxwell hasn't had great touch on a lot of his passes, and the combination of a quarterback throwing too hard and inexperienced receivers typically leads to a stagnant passing attack. Ultimately, Maxwell is Michigan State's best option at quarterback, and I expect him to make strides as the season goes along. I like that the Spartans are shaking things up a bit at receiver this week and trying some of their younger players in bigger roles. If they can get one reliable target to emerge alongside tight end Dion Sims, they'll be a lot better off in the pass game.

Zach from Indianapolis writes: While I understand the point of your article in theory I don't believe that it is practical. Denard Robinson is the Michigan offense and without him they would be brutally bad. They can't run the ball without him. They were abysmal running the ball against Notre Dame other than his occasional runs. You note that they ran the ball in the 2nd half but that is just not true. They had 1 good 31 yard run from Touissant early in the 2nd half that accounted for 31 of those 56 yards you noted in the article. He opens up the opportunity for plays because the defense has to focus so much attention and discipline on him. There was a play in the ND game where against 95% of other teams Tuitt would have clocked Robinson but he had to respect Robinson and stay within containment. This allowed Robinson to at least get off a 8-9 yard pass iirc. I think it really goes back to playcalling more than falling on Denard. Yes, he has to protect the ball better but Borges and Hoke have not put him in a position to be successful. If you are going to ride with Denard at least put the kid in an offense that is going to take advantage of his unique skills set. They have too many times tried to put the square peg in the round hole with Denard.

Adam Rittenberg: Zach, you bring up some good points here. The play-calling has been suspect at times, as the Vincent Smith pass in the red zone changed the complexion of the Notre Dame game after Robinson had been having success with the zone read play. I disagree that the offensive line was abysmal at Notre Dame, as it deserves some credit for Robinson's runs as well as Toussaint's. While the line struggled early, I saw some positive changes in the second half. It wasn't just Robinson freelancing for yards. Whether Robinson would be better off in a pure spread offense certainly is a good debate, but he had three multi-interception games in a pure spread system in 2010 as well. As I wrote, Robinson is a player of extremes. Maybe that's all he'll be, and maybe that's the only way he'll lead Michigan to the Big Ten title game. But he's also a senior who isn't in a new system anymore and should be able to avoid performances like the Notre Dame game. I think Michigan's defense is turning a corner, and the Wolverines don't need Robinson to go nuts to win every big game. They can live with some average performances as long as they don't include two or three or four interceptions.

Chris from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, love the blog. If Ohio State (hypothetically) didn't have a bowl ban and (very hypothetically) went undefeated, do you think they would go to the championship over, say, a 1-loss Oregon? Or do you think that the Big Ten's underwhelming performance would keep them out?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, gotta love hypotheticals, Chris. It's an interesting question. I think an undefeated Ohio State team would have an easier time getting in over a one-loss Oregon than, say, a one-loss SEC champion (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, etc.). It would depend on whether Oregon's loss is a one-point road setback at USC or falling to Arizona State, Washington or even Oregon State. I would lean toward saying yes, Ohio State would get in, as the Pac-12's overall strength isn't way above the Big Ten's. Right now, the SEC is the only league that lay claim to having a national championship game spot on lock. The Buckeyes would have road wins against Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, and home wins against Nebraska and Michigan. Despite a weak Big Ten, that's not a bad résumé.

Timmy from Cherokee, Iowa, writes: In the 3 games Weisman has started for Iowa, he's averaging 169 yards and 2+ TDs per game. Do you think Weisman can continue is great play for Iowa during the conference schedule, and if he does, will he begin to get some national recognition for awards despite hardly playing the 1st two games?

Adam Rittenberg: Timmy, it's going to be pretty hard for Weisman to keep up this pace, although he has amazed us every week with his production. He's clearly a guy who can do damage at this level, and he'll continue to carry the load for Iowa. If he keeps up anywhere near this pace, or even a little below it, he'll certainly be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors. He'll really have to put up huge numbers each week to have a chance for national awards, as the first two games will hurt him there. The good thing is he'll be facing some solid defenses in the coming weeks, beginning Oct. 13 at Michigan State. If he puts 150-plus yards on the Spartans, the sky's the limit for Mr. Weisman.

Husker Power from Memorial Stadium writes: so, nebraska wins another come-from-way-behind-to-win-it game against wisconsin after starting sluggish and coughing up the ball in the first half. that brings up two questions.(1) as husker fans, should we be concerned at all about the slow start against a team who who is better than our previous four competitors or is this a game that is much like the ohio state game last year and we shouldn't worry about it too much and just celebrate the win.(2) who should get the game ball? defense for making stops, offense for moving the ball, coaches for keeping the team focused, the 86,000 people in the stands, or perhaps a specific person?

Adam Rittenberg: 1) Nebraska can't afford to start like it did against Wisconsin at Ohio State and expect to win. Although the Buckeyes have had their own issues with starting games, they came out quickly against Michigan State. Keep in mind that Nebraska's big comeback last year took place mostly without Braxton Miller on the field. Miller is a different player who will challenge the Huskers, so they'll need to challenge Ohio State's defense from the get-go. 2) Good question, but I'd go with the defensive front seven. They started to take over in the second half against Wisconsin, which allowed Taylor Martinez time to make the big comeback. Although Martinez played really well, too, the defensive line and linebackers really shut down the Badgers, dominating the line of scrimmage down the stretch.

Fox from Burbank, Calif., writes: Hi Adam,So far it has been as close to a best-case scenario for the NU Wildcats as one could imagine. But it hasn't been perfect - twice this year the team has reverted to its 2011 defensive ways of surrendering leads, and two of the other games saw the offense struggling to get into the endzone (the SD game was just awesome). The defense is what it is, but the big question offensively is Kain Colter - I believe he is best used as he was against IU, that is as a versatile offensive weapon rather than a starting quarterback - do you agree or do you think he could be a legitimate starting QB? Realistically, how do you see the rest of the season playing out?

Adam Rittenberg: Regarding Colter, I think Northwestern can keep using him in a variety of roles. He's excellent on the zone read play, and he's also outstanding as a wide receiver. If the Wildcats had two capable quarterbacks other than Colter instead of just one (Trevor Siemian), I'd feel a bit better about having Colter play mostly wide receiver or maybe a receiver/running back hybrid. That doesn't complete discount Colter as a passer, but I don't think he'll be able to pass the ball like previous Northwestern quarterbacks (Dan Persa, Mike Kafka, etc.), while Siemian could be like the others. You can live with Colter as a full-time quarterback, but he seems to be at his best being moved around the field. You have a good perspective on Northwestern so far. Although the Big Ten is vulnerable, I don't see the Wildcats winning 10 games. This is still a young team that has found ways to win despite not playing complete games. Northwestern's weaknesses should result in some losses this month, but the Wildcats still have a good chance to get to eight wins, maybe nine. If they win this week at Penn State, I think you can raise the ceiling on how good they can be. It'll be a very tough game in State College.

Benny from Detroit writes: I know Mich State got shut down fairly well by OSU but going in that game they had the No. 12 defense in the Big Ten. So how has one good defensive showing suddenly made them such a potent defensive unit? Must have read 5 articles today talking up their D but even now they are No. 10 in the B1G defensively. What is your take....good, bad, or ugly?

Adam Rittenberg: Benny, I agree that Ohio State isn't suddenly an elite defense again. I still see too many plays where the Buckeyes go for the big hit or the takeaway rather than just wrapping up and getting the ball-carrier to the ground. That said, the defensive line certainly performed better against MSU, albeit against a short-handed Spartans front five. Linebacker Etienne Sabino also had his best game as a Buckeye, which is a promising sign as Ohio State really needs some leadership there. We'll get a much better read on Ohio State's defense this week as it faces a much more potent Nebraska offense, which ranks 10th nationally in scoring and 13th in yards.