Big Ten mailblog

Your questions, my answers ...

Andrew from Lansing, Mich., writes: Something occurred to me reading your recap of the B1G's NFL departures: there are a TON of defensive linemen leaving the conference this year. You mentioned Illinois loses both its starting DTs; Indiana does as well, MSU loses Anthony Rashad White as well as Gholston, OSU's entire line is graduating or leaving, PSU loses Jordan Hill, Purdue loses Kawann Short, Michigan loses Campbell and Roh...I know it's early in the offseason, but with a comparatively small contingent of offensive lineman leaving, and a lot of talented RBs coming back as well, do you picture substantially higher rushing totals next year in the conference?

Adam Rittenberg: Good observation, Andrew. One of my b0ld predictions for 2013 is that the Big Ten will have seven 1,200-yard rushers in 2013. That might be a low estimate, as I really like what the Big Ten returns at both running back and dual-threat quarterback (Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez, Kain Colter, etc.). It doesn't necessarily mean the league will struggle along the defensive line, which recently has been the strongest position group around the Big Ten. But as you point out, defensive line is either the biggest question (Ohio State) or one of the bigger question marks for several Big Ten squads entering the offseason. All of the first- or second-team All-Big Ten selections at defensive line depart the league. There are a few familiar names -- Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Wisconsin DE David Gilbert, Northwestern DE Tyler Scott, Penn State DE Deion Barnes -- but there will be many more fresh faces in bigger roles next fall.

K from Iowa writes: Adam, so much of the discussion of B1G realignment seems to revolve around the assumption that it will stay at 14 teams, which validates the current 2-division model. But what happens if the B1G expands again? If the B1G were to add two more teams to get to 16, why not create four 4-team divisions? Call them A, B, C and D. Using "A" as an example, its four teams would do a home and away with each of the four "B" teams over two years, then switch divisions and do a home and away with each "C" team for two years, and then switch divisions again and do a home and away with each "D" team for two years. So, over a six-year period, each team would play every one of the four teams in its own division every year and each of the other 12 teams twice, once at home and once away. That means the B1G could get by with an 8-game conference schedule--3 division games + 4 against another division an annual "cross division rivalry" game so that if traditional rivals like Ohio State and Michigan end up in separate divisions, they can still play each other every year. And an 8-game conference schedule still allows for four OOC games. Four 4-team divisions is more manageable than two 8-team divisions, which means a 9-nine schedule, which means 7 division games plus 2 games against the other division's eight teams, which means it would take 8 years to play each of the other 12 teams twice.

Adam Rittenberg: K, many Big Ten fans have brought up this idea for a 16-team league, which seems inevitable. We're in the process of surveying athletic directors right now about the big-ticket items in the league, and part of me thinks all their work is pointless since the league eventually will be at 16. The big question with the four-team pod system, which I really like, is how you determine which teams advance to the Big Ten championship game. You're going to have ties and you'll have tied teams that don't play one another, especially if the Big Ten stays at eight league games. So how do you break those ties without upsetting most of the league? Not easy to do. I actually like keeping eight league games because it affords the nonconference scheduling flexibility that leads to more exciting matchups.

Craig from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: What would you think of changing the scholarship rules to penalize teams whose kids leave early? For example, a scholarship is for 4 years, if the kid leaves early, the spot is still tied up. Or giving coaches a % of the 85 scholarships based on the % of kids graduating?

Adam Rittenberg: Craig, while I like the idea of rewarding programs that graduate their players, I don't think teams should be penalized if their players are talented enough to jump to the NFL a year early. I'd love to see all of those players either earn their degrees before departing or return later to earn their degrees, but I don't fault a guy like Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins for turning pro when he'll likely be a top-15 pick and make a bunch of money for his family. I also don't think it's fair to penalize Ohio State or any other team for one of its players making a personal decision based on personal circumstances/needs. Graduation rates are important and if a program has a large number of players drop out, that's a different issue. But when it comes to NFL draft decisions, those should be left alone.

Jared from Georgia writes: As a Michigan fan I really can't disagree with UM at 5 in your early Power Rankings for 2013. UM has been looking for an elite pass rusher since Brandon Graham got taken #13 over to the Eagles and didn't generate much of a push with the D-line last year. The O-line and WR positions are concerning as well. I think if the O-line comes together, which with Taylor Lewan announcing his return seems possible now, RB will shore up with young talent at the position. If UM shows development of an elite pass rusher this spring and the O-line starts to mesh well, where do you see my Wolverines in y'alls Power Rankings going into summer?

Adam Rittenberg: Taylor Lewan's return definitely will improve Michigan's position in the next set of our power rankings. Although the offensive line is still a question mark, the group has a proven leader and a nationally elite player in Lewan. Huge boost. Running back still is a big question mark, although Michigan can help its cause by securing a commitment from blue-chipper Derrick Green this weekend. I don't know how much the defensive line can sell us in spring and fall practices to improve the team's power rankings spot. Ultimately, teams make the biggest moves when the season actually kicks off. But I'll say this: Michigan's offseason is off to a really good start with Lewan back in the fold.

Matt from Columbus, Neb., writes: Adam,In your Friday blog, you mentioned that the Big Ten is giving consideration to a 10 game conference schedule once Maryland and Rutgers join the league. What will this do to non-conference scheduling? I see the teams scheduling cupcakes in order to ensure 7 home games per year. In a league that has a recent unfavorable perception nationally, could this lack of marquee non-conference matchups prevent the Big Ten from gaining more respectability?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I have the same concern if the Big Ten goes to a 10-game league schedule. In recent months we've seen several Big Ten teams add blockbuster-type nonconference games. Ohio State has been particularly aggressive, adding series with Oregon, Texas and TCU. Would these series disappear with a 10-game league schedule? It'd be awfully tough to play those teams out of conference, plus 10 league games, and still compete for a playoff spot. The ideal model is that more conference games will mean fewer FCS/cupcake games, but it could go the other way and teams will be more cautious to schedule attractive nonconference opponents. I know the Big Ten's athletic directors are weighing the pros of better nonconference games versus the pros of a more attractive overall schedule (more Big Ten games = better attendance/interest).

Seth from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, I think if in the new divisions Wisconsin and Ohio State get separated, I think most Buckeye fans would rather play Wisconsin every year even although Illinois is technically a trophy game for us. With Wisconsin's recent success and being so competitive with OSU, I have heard some Buckeye fans say that they think they might hate Wisconsin more than Michigan. If the BIG 10 is serious about TV money, I think Ohio State-Wisconsin on a yearly basis is going to bring in better ratings than Ohio State-Illinois. I am also 100% in favor of Michigan and Ohio State being in the same division. I would also like Purdue to stay in the same division as OSU just because they are one of the lower BIG 10 teams who always seems to play OSU tough for some reason. On a completely unrelated note and this isn't really a BIG 10 question, but what do you think of Cincinnati, if it can't get into the ACC soon, joining the MAC for football and placing the rest of its sports with the 7 Big East Catholic Schools in their new conference?

Adam Rittenberg: Seth, good points on the growing Ohio State-Wisconsin rivalry. It would be nice to keep it on an annual basis, even if Wisconsin moves out of Ohio State's division. There's more long-term history with Ohio State-Illinois (Illibuck), but recently the Ohio State-Wisconsin series has been a lot better. It'll be really interesting to see what the athletic directors do with the two Illinois schools and the two Indiana schools. There's definitely some flexibility there, and I hear ya about Purdue giving Ohio State all it can handle in recent years, but you can't have everything. Cincinnati is in a very tough spot, but I can't see the program going into the MAC, even just for football. Although whatever the Big East becomes will be closer to the existing MAC revenue-wise, Cincinnati still will be leaving money on the table if it makes that move.

Eli from New York writes: 2012 end-of-season schedule:Iowa/Nebraska - Division; Minnesota/Michigan State - Division; Michigan/Ohio State - Cross; Northwestern/Illinois - Cross; Purdue/Indiana - Division; Penn State/Wisconsin - Division. You keep saying that there are too many cross-divisional games to end the season, but I only see two of six. And out f those two, only one is a "protected date". If that's the big deal, why not move all cross division games to the early part of the schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Eli, you're right about the games on the final weekend, but there are quite a few other crossover games that have been played later in the season, in the final two to three weeks. We've seen Penn State and Nebraska play late in the year. Purdue and Iowa also have played later in the schedule. I agree you can move these cross-division games earlier -- Wisconsin-Minnesota usually is played in October -- but you'll have resistance with the Ohio State-Michigan game for sure. That's one game that really should be played on its traditional date, and strengthens the argument for putting the rivals in the same division. I think the best alignment proposals make the division rivalries more significant than the cross-division ones. The more division rivalries, the fewer issues about when games are played and which ones are played.